Remembrance Week allows more wartime memories

There is now more time being spent on war history, this being called Remembrance Week and not merely a day. So I suppose this allows me to explain why I was among the few being issued two complete sets of uniforms, both air force and army!
While studying schematics and a theory concerning radio, as well as leading a good life at Winnipeg, a bunch of us volunteered for a secret course offered by a visiting flight sergeant.
Little realizing this would mean good-bye to our kindly RCAF routine and enjoying the “hush-hush” aspect of our future training, around two dozen of us soon found ourselves “welcome” at Kingston, Ont. while ordered to wear only army uniforms there.
Our air force blues only would be worn while away from huge Barriefield station of which our new “Vimy” camp was a small part.
But whoever heard of any airman wrapping his legs in summer with those khaki “puttees” that went with his khaki shirt and shorts! Only our wedge caps stayed blue.
Winter was also khaki, including the greatcoat and hat and army uniform.
Not that all this pleased us much, but orders are orders and many of those were handed out by two buxom “CWACK” (Canadian Women’s Army) teachers.
These presided over our Japanese code, or “KANA,” classes while also teaching us typing as a necessity to wireless code interception.
Well, between the changes in uniforms and a very tough year in class, we were all quite willing to yell “quit” before we even started!
Except for the novelty of our new surroundings! The army life we grew to appreciate included lots of sports, winter and summer. We played all of the winter games, indoors or on the rinks, and besides the ball games in summertime, there was the adjacent St. Lawrence River for our swimming.
Our group featured several great swimmers like the army around us envied—but had to bow to in our weekly swim meets (as our divers also impressed them!)
So we went along well in sports competition, and when I managed to pin some army wrestlers, well, we earned more respect.
Then there was the Barriefield ballroom, where we met the army officers’ wives, daughters, and girlfriends who knew all the jitterbug steps. And we quickly decided being bashful was not fun at all!
Maybe the fact we could wear our “blues” to dances and socials helped promote our popularity with the girls who arrived Saturdays from the city. And while the song “Don’t sit under the apple tree” was going strong that summer, we developed more than a few romances and several courtships that led to promises of matrimony!
The CWACKs and Kingston belles made up much of our Barriefield enjoyment, and some of us hated to start all over again when our code course ended and we moved over to the Trenton airbase for the balance of our service time and another good look around—this time in our blue uniforms.
• • •
My own performances in “P.T.,” or physical training classes, were rarely sensational, either in high school or in wartime training later, but I can report achieving one claim to fame during my air force days.
We had a sergeant instructor named Schroeder who could do almost everything and he insisted we follow him at!
Now I was always hoping that gym classes wouldn’t cancel basketball or other sports. And from high school P.T., I remember too well my failure at “skin the cat,” which is where you let go the overhead ring for the instant it takes to bring your legs below them!
Only, I dropped like stone immediately—and broke my nose on the gym floor! I guess our instructor, Jim Terry, probably just shook his head, but I needed a trip to the doctor’s office.
Well, I became shy about such stunts although seeming to develop more confidence on the padded mats we used.
Sgt. Schroeder showed us a new exercise where, amazingly, I became the only member of his very large squad who could perform it. Try this one sometime!
You lie out flat on the floor with your arms extended straight ahead as far as your fingers can stretch while only your toes and fingertips touch the floor. Then try to raise your entire body!
Glory be, but I was the only one there that day who could do that—and wasn’t Sgt. Schroeder proud of me! For once in my life I was an athletic sensation!
And our sergeant later paid me a special visit to shake hands before I left his air base.
• • •
While the Second World War including naval combat as being shown on TV here the other day, the role of the corvette in our Canadian Navy was praised as well as its sister ship, the mine sweeper, and their combination, the A1.
A number of the latter, including the Fort Frances, were built in the Port Arthur shipyard when I was a welder there before joining the air force. I had just finished a welding course at Winnipeg.
Now the Algerine was designed for double duty—being partially a minesweeper with Azdec equipment for “pinging” on enemy submarine hulls.
And next to the Azdec, and far below decks, we would “shoot” our dice to end the night shifts when our welds were completed. We may have contributed to the war effort by wasting so little time before the gambling began.
And you should know that one of those 90-foot-long boats of ours went to sea bearing the name of “Fort Frances”. A whole Algerine series or fleet was named for communities around Northwestern Ontario!
Our town sent down a delegation for the launching celebration and maiden voyage around Lake Superior!
• • •
And something else from the 1940s. What would be the odds against several people from Fort Frances meeting each other by coincidence on a downtown street thronging with uniforms in 1944.
And this incident occurred in London, England—then the largest city in the world!
I picked up this item right after the war while attending a refresher course at Thunder Bay, where my desk mate was Eric Gustafson. His story was repeated just the other day over coffee with Bruce Murray.
One day, Bruce and his brother, Dan, and Eric kept on meeting other RCAF’ers, including Glen Steele, Henry “Dutchy” Dick (some used to spell his name Dueck), and Ann Jane Brier, also in uniform as a secretary.
What did they all decide to do together? Apparently the movie, “For Whom The Bell Tolls” was playing in a nearby movie house that day, Bruce remembers, and this gave them a couple hours for the surprising reunion so far from home!
• • •
Did you hear the lawnmowers going again in the beautiful sunny weather last Friday as our normally wild November is behaving more like June this year! I just hope I didn’t spoil it with that remark, but really, for the many years I’ve lived here, man and boy, I don’t believe this month’s weather ever before came off so wonderfully well!
November usually gives us such a rough start on winter, remember?

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