A wonderful Christmas it really was

After the most memorable Christmas our town ever knew, they left us for six years to help win the war—first by slaying the forests of Scotland and then plunging into European combat.
Later, they would introduce us to their bonny war brides, mostly from Edinburgh, and it’s been a different, livelier, and lovelier community here ever since.
But that Christmas of 1940, when they all came back from army training in Valcartier, Que., can be recalled by everyone concerned. That concern was very great, no one knowing whether they would ever make it back again, and our admiration for them grew with the good times being enjoyed.
It was very mild weather that Christmas Day, too.
The previous year had been nervous as more than 200 men and boys came together here in August from all corners of the district. Many had spent time in bush camps and most knew what would be required of them.
Our allies needed lumber and what better place to recruit “woodchoppers” than this well-treed corner of creation—the new Atlantis to be sure.
Thus was born the 17th Forestry Corps. Some of the members are still among us with their descendants of at least two generations who probably don’t wield axes or crosscut saws but get to hear the stories.
Their heroes had piled into our old hockey rink for their uniforms and equipment, and made town and district proud.
They were all volunteers—which might surprise others today when their lack of real pay is considered.
They marched around town cheerfully. But then they had the tradition of the old Bull Moose battalion of World War I behind them, as they got on with their training. Some of their officers had been through all this a quarter-century earlier.
But this was a fresh detachment on a fresh mission that soon landed among the big Scotch pines in a camp not much different than those left behind.
Helping compensate for the shortage of the wages was the enjoyment awaiting in the large dancehalls of Edinburgh.
The Palais and Cavendish were notable pleasure centres even before the Canadians arrived to mingle with Europeans also in uniform and speaking several languages.
All this was somewhat beyond the size and style of our own Rainy Lake Hotel ballroom, where our boys later took their brides because the Scots girls were all great dancers. Everyone has since seen Phyllis McFee and Ethel McFarland and the others performing their Highland flings.
It wasn’t all fun over there, even before the forestry corps had eliminated the forests and moved into the real battlefields three years later. Some joined engineer corps.
The war would grind along for three more years before we saw them again in the Christmases to follow. But the mortality rate had been high, possibly upwards of 20 percent. The official figures may not be available even though their veterans do scan the old photos to pick out the missing faces.
First they review all the place names of the Scotland they knew, especially Invernish, where the sawmill was located, miles from their bush camp. They used home base to raise hogs for their own meat and add to the forbidden venison of the stags in the surrounding hills.
They talk of the blackouts protecting Glasgow during air raids and how the three brothers were everyone’s friends.
All gone now; Sam, George and John Harnett—along with the officers who led their corps into glory, Ray S. Holmes and Roy McTaggart, otherwise popular for many years here as storekeepers.
Actually, there are very few survivors of that gallant company around today.
Not everyone was a lumberjack, but everyone who left as a boy had to become a man in a hurry. And while the tributes may have been slow in coming for our “woodchoppers,” they showed the world.
Their honour is still bright, their medals well-deserved—and they brought us a great Christmas always.
• • •
That serious windstorm, which I would label a tornado, left heavy damages in the La Vallee area, both in losses to buildings and in respect for certain property insurance companies that managed to weasel out of writing cheques for coverage.
It occurred July 31, hammering farms and taking that steel quonset shed off Wallace Hughes’ place so violently, it wrenched the walls out of a good concrete base.
• • •
When the Grey Nuns opened La Verendrye hospital in 1941, it made an impression on everyone in high school because we were all invited over there—for about the only time we were allowed to miss classes for any reason.
Prior to our new facilities, which seemed tremendously large and important, the community had been looked after in two small two-storey buildings now used for apartments.
Dr. O’Donnell’s hospital was on First Street central and the Dr. McKenzie hospital was across from the papermill office on Third West.
La Verendrye has been expanded regularly since then, too.
• • •
The veterans in our district beef cattle industry are hanging on. Both Carman Neilson of Sleeman and Wallace Hughes of La Vallee are saying the good prices are pretty persuasive right now.
Caman has 25 feeders he won’t part with, including some attractive heifers, while Wallace is still running 35 head. Look for them in future sales in at Stratton.
• • •
And I almost forgot my rescuers of over a week ago who pushed and shovelled to get my car going during the bad time we were having.
Thanks to Terry Kielczewski and an unidentified friend, who said I should stick to driving tractors.

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