If the story of early Canada was written by fur traders, the railways and politicians, between 1939 and 1945, every man, woman and child in the country cut his own notches in Canadian history: Canada came of age in the first world war and the ordinary people brought her to prominence in the second. Schooled by years of economic uncertainty and convinced if Adolph Hitler conquered Europe, the west would be next, the unemployed rushed to join the first Canadian Division which sailed for England in December, 1939. Prime Minister Mackenzie King and his Cabinet took a week to deliberate after Britain’s Declaration of War on Germany before the decision to bring Canada on side September 10th, 1939.
The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was designed for Canada’s vast open skies and bases sprung up near small towns across the country making work in the building and maintenance of schools and airfields. 20,000 pilots from the Commonwealth were graduated each year, as well as young men who had escaped from European countries as the German army advanced. There were so many from Norway that a base on Toronto Island was called Little Norway. The cost of training was 600 million dollars, Canada paid 300 million.
There was no conscription for out of Canada service but when a man turned 21 he had a choice of joining one of the three regular forces or being put in the army for the defense of Canada. This group came to be called ‘Zombies’ and every dirty job was given to them to encourage them to join the overseas forces. Enlistment in the Navy was heavy as well. The ‘wavey Navy’, so named after the braid worn by the officers of the Volunteer Reserve, went to school to learn the intricacies of modern naval warfare. In the beginning of the war, Sonar was used to detect the submarines that plagued the conveys of cumbersome transport ships taking men and equipment to England. Later, Radar came into use and did a better job. The North Atlantic was still an enemy and the small convoy ships of the Canadian Navy escort which were designed specially for the job were made even more uncomfortable by the unrelenting winds and cold. One of the off-duty jobs was chipping the ice from everything on deck which formed almost as fast as it was removed. Many a sailor saved his own life by grabbing at the safety lines when a wave washed him down the deck. Meanwhile 124,000 troops of the Canadian Army waited and trained in England.
As well as the establishment of training bases, old factories opened and retooled to make munitions and supplies to be sent overseas. Boards came off Massey Harris and others who had long been idle on Queen Street. The shipyards were reopened and tradesmen were taken back to work by the hundreds. There was work for everyone and housewives were asked to give as many hours as they could to work in the 95 munitions factories. With the allowances given to soldiers’ wives and children as well as what the wives could earn working part or full time on munitions, there was money to spend but not much to spend it on. Automobiles were not being manufactured and with gas rationing, most people drained their cars and put them up on blocks for ‘the duration’. The factories did not make stoves, refrigerators, washers nor any electrical appliances or furniture for the home. Yard goods was limited to three yards per customer and as the mills were turning out material for uniforms. It was patriotic for wartime brides o be married in short frocks.
Ivy’s husband, Mac, went overseas with the first contingent. She and her children moved to Newtonbrook. Polly was a frequent visitor. She took the streetcar up Yonge as it went, to Hogg’ s Hollow, and then to the stop at Newtonbrook. On a wintry day when there were no tracks in the deep snow that covered their roadway, Polly walked too close to the edge of the road and slipped into the ditch. Snow filled her boots and under her skirts. Struggle as she would, her short legs would not get her up on the road. The countryside was filled with the silence that comes when it is blanketed with snow and there is no one about. She waited and calmly took in her situation, her eyes searching for a branch with which she could assist herself. Two children turned down the road pulling a sleigh and Polly hailed them.
“What are you doing in there, missus?”. “I slipped in and can’t get out. Here give us a hand.” The children were small, but game, and one child took each of her hands and pulled, slipping, falling and getting up for another try. She came up a foot or so and slipped back in again. “Do you know where the MacMillans live further down the road’”” she asked. When the children had thought about it and consulted together, the older one said he thought he new where they lived, but that they had to get on home. Polly coaxed them with the promise of a quarter to go to her daughter’s home and ask for help. They went off slowly, dragging the sleigh and whispering together and eventually arrived at Ivy’s door, saying, “You have to come and get your granny, she fell in the ditch!” Relief was soon on the way and with much laughter; Ivy, Archie and Margaret were successful in pulling Polly onto the road. “Stop your carrying on, you daft apers, get me home. I’m near to freezing.” The young children had that they were late because they were trying to pull someone’s granny out of a ditch.
On another occasion, Polly was visiting Newtonbrook when Archie took meningitis. They were all quarantined with a big sign on the door allowing no one in or out. Ivy ordered groceries by the telephone and they were left on the front step for her to take in. The two women got caught up on all the washing and mending and sat around the fire doing needlework or playing games with the children.
Hector was working again at General Electric. Myrtle and her Jack were still with Eatons, and Our Jack was driving oil tanker trucks. With the economy thriving, in two years prices climbed 15%. The Wartime Prices and Trade Board was formed to keep control over the economy. In January 1942, rationing of basic food items came into effect. This was much more generous than in Britain. When the servicemen came home on leave they brought ration books with them. As a book was rationed to everyone, even babies, it was not too difficult to keep the family supplied if there was sufficient merchandise in the stores. Un-rationed items were the most difficult to obtain. Soap rarely got as far as the store shelves. Clerks would put it aside for their favourite customers.
The National Selective Service was formed to help channel workers into necessary work. No hiring or firing could be done except through this government agency. People were encouraged to put their extra money into War Bonds to help finance the war. Well known and loved entertainers and sportsmen would travel across the country and put on entertainments to raise more and more dollars. Those who couldn’t afford a Bond could buy Certificates in lesser denominations, and there were books in which Wartime Stamps could be collected until there was enough for a Certificate. Children could buy the Stamps in the classroom. Everyone had a nest egg put aside and Certificates were a fashionable gift for all occasions. The first payroll deductions were introduced for the purpose of raising money for the purchase of War bonds.
Toronto and other cities prepared for the possibility of air attack by installing air raid sirens on the hydra poles at the end of each block. When the sirens sounded, everyone found a safe place indoors, covered the windows with blackout boards or turned out the lights. Air Raid Precaution groups would patrol the empty streets and pound on the doors of those who were showing light that might be a guide to possible enemy planes. ARP Wardens knew where to find hoses and buckets of sand in case of incendiary bombing.
Blood donor clinics were established to supply blood for the wounded overseas. The response was immediate. Doctors and nurses worked in the clinics in their free time and volunteers worked for the Red Cross after their regular working hours to clean and prepare the apparatus for the next day’s donations. Doctors and nurses were also joining the armed forces overseas and a distinct shortage was felt in Toronto hospitals. Volunteer nurses’ aides were trained to change beds, take temperatures, feed patients and help the nursing staff wherever possible. Sales girls and office secretaries worked evenings and weekends doing whatever was assigned them on the wards to free nursing staff to do the more technical care-giving.
The Provincial Health Department formed committees of medical personnel to travel throughout the small towns of the province to find locations suitable for temporary hospitalization in case of evacuation of city hospitals. Lists were made of available equipment and where it could be found should air raids make it necessary to treat the wounded in rural areas. Experience in Europe had shown that it was the large cities with their railway terminals that were the targets of air raids.
In the homes, the absence of the fathers overseas and mothers working on munitions, left many teenagers on their own and the women found it difficult to maintain discipline.
Too young for the armed forces and not interested in the many volunteer organizations formed to support the war effort, groups known as Zoot Suiters sprung up. They were so named for the outfits they wore,- wide shouldered plaid jackets, wide trousers tapered at the ankle, broad brimmed felt hats and the ever-present gold chains. These were the children who had money to spend and who saw no future for their generation. Although these gangs were more prevalent in the United States, it did spill into Toronto. There were always a few making noise and trouble for themselves at most public gatherings.
Polly’s sons were not eligible to go overseas in this war, but her grandsons were of that age. Bill King was in the Army and Dick Fulmer went overseas. Norman King was still confined to his wheelchair and Archie MacMillan was in uniform but was too young for overseas service until the end of the war. Jack Bond Jr. worked at Toronto Arsenals and played trumpet in a dance band. Irene Bond was married on July 17, 1942 to Alex Macrae whom she had met at a church dance before he joined the Navy to do convoy duty aboard the H.M.C.S. Brantford. She went to Halifax at Christmas that year and wrote to her Grandmother. ‘Dear Grandma, I missed all of you around the dinner table this Christmas. As you will have heard, Alex didn’t get here for Christmas after all but I have rented a housekeeping room and the family asked me to have dinner with them. Alex was here for two days over New Year and has gone again. Mother wants me to take the next train home but I can’t leave now. I went to the Selective Service and have a good job as secretary with the naval public relations. They are the people who write and take pictures of everything that is happening down here. After it is censored, it is then held until it is deemed to be the proper time to have it published in the newspapers or magazines. It is very secret work – I had to be fingerprinted and take an oath – but I am right where I to be. When the Brantford comes in, I know right away that will not be alone for a few days.
This city must have changed a great deal since you passed through on your way to Toronto. It must be very vexing for the townspeople as Halifax is so crowded and we have to line up for everything. There are only five movie theatres in the city and few good restaurants. We line up for an hour or two and often find it is too late to go in.
The sidewalks are crowded night and day with uniformed personnel of every allied country wandering around while waiting to go on courses or overseas. I have met several from home who are passing through. The other morning I had to walk most of the way to work as the streets were full of marching men on their way down to the transports forming up in Bedford Basin. It can hardly be kept a secret with all the whistles blowing and ships of every size slowly going down the harbour to meet the naval escort vessels whose job it is to keep the ships together on the trip across the Atlantic. Sometimes there is great excitement, horns and sirens of every kind start to go as a submarine has been spotted in wait outside the harbour gate, or an enemy aircraft is coming too close to the coast. When the air raid sirens go here, we are never sure if it is just a drill.
Everyone in my office is armed forces personnel, so when the siren goes, they put up the blackout boards and don gas masks.’ I sit among them, doing my work without one. Everything is so different down here.
We will be home together in the spring, when the ship comes in for refit. We will have a month’s leave, so we will have time for a nice visit. Love, Irene.
There were 90,000 men and-women in the Canadian Navy and 373 warships. It was the third largest navy in the world. There were 45 R.C.A.F. Squadrons of every thing from Spitfires to transport groups. The Canadian Army waiting in England were sent on the Dieppe Raid in August of 1942. They suffered 907 dead and 1946 prisoners. The first division was sent to the Mediterranean in July of 1943.
At home in Toronto, Ivy began work at John Inglis Co. working on Bren guns, and Polly was working in a gun powder room. She had to remove all her clothing and shower before and after work to make sure all danger was removed from her person.
On January 21, 1944, Polly’s first grandchild was born, Valerie Anne Macrae, at St. Joseph’s Hospital, and a second, Sandra Jean Bond was born three months later to Jean and Jack Bond Jr.
On June 4, 1944, Winnie awoke her daughter, Irene, with the news of the D Day Invasion which had been expected for so long. “It will all be over soon,” she said, trying to reassure her daughter who hadn’t seen her sailor husband for more than eleven months. The war dragged on and it was early in 1945, on the day that Valerie learned to walk on her own that Polly made her announcement. It was suspected that she had cancer of the bowel and she was going to have an exploratory operation. The family was particularly worried as it was difficult to get a bed in a Toronto hospital unless the situation was serious and Polly had already been booked for one. She surprised everyone by going back to work after a recuperative period although she didn’t have the same energy to go around to the bingos or visiting.
In May 1945, she received her last letter from Halifax. ‘Dear Grandma,- Well, it is all over now. On the morning of May6th, the radio went off and I could hear church bells. We have rented a house in Armdale, which is outside Halifax, so the bells seemed far away. There was a man cleaning his car in a driveway down the road and I asked him if he thought the war was over. He didn’t seem too interested. It was the afternoon before I found out about it, as Alex phoned and told me not to go downtown. He had been trying to get through on the phone all day but it seemed as if everyone was phoning with the news. There was rioting in the streets of Halifax and he and other officers were going through town with the Share Patrol trying to round up the servicemen. Admiral Edwards had made a great mistake in allowing all the ships and establishments to have immediate leave. They swarmed on to Barrington St. and all the shops and establishments closed except the Salvation Army. All the frustrations of the war years came to the fore, windows were smashed, fights broke out and looting began. Civilians joined in the rioting. The liquor store was broken into and anything that couldn’t be drank was broken.
Alex didn’t get home for two days but he came with the news that ‘first in-first out’ so we expect to be home before long. We will be able to get our home together at last. I am very lucky. Some of my friends have lost their husbands. Love to all, Irene.’
The stores on Barrington Street still had no glass and were boarded up following the V.E. Day Riots, when Irene and her family drove through on the way to the train station and out of the War. On July 18, 1945 Halifax suffered another explosion, not as serious as the one following the First World War, but nonetheless devastating to many. A powder magazine on the other side of the Harbour caught fire. Exploding bombs and other ammunition went off in all directions for hours before it could be brought under control.
Munitions were still being made to help the United States with their continuing war with the Japanese, but Polly had to withdraw from her job. Her health problems had recurred. This time, there was no hope given for her recovery. She was in and out of hospital and although she wanted very much to remain with Myrtle who was expecting her first child, Polly had to return to St. Joseph’s Hospital to get the care she needed.
Even though she was in pain most of the time, Polly continued to give encouragement to the other patients. She got out of bed and moved among the others, talked to those who were waiting to have operations and have comfort to those who waited for news of loved ones. She ‘did for herself’ as much as she could, so not to be a burden on the nurses. When the pain became heavy and she could no longer get out of bed, she asked for a visit from a Salvation Army Officer. They prayed together as she asked to be taken into
God’s Kingdom and away from earthly cares. Her wish was granted on January 9th, 1946 when she went into a quiet sleep from which she didn’t awaken. She was 66 years old. Her body was taken to the Chapel of McDougall and Brown, where there was a service on January 11th. That morning Winnifred paid $17.00 for the re-opening of the grave in Prospect Cemetery to lay the body of Eliza Mary Anne Bulmer next to that of her husband, Daniel, and her mother, Eliza Taylor. The following Sunday there was a memorial service at the Citadel and many old friends spoke of Polly’s kindness to them over the years. Her fervent wish to live to see her last grandchild had not been granted. Barry Allan Murdoch was born in June 1946.
When Polly’s affairs were settled, her bits and pieces divided among her children, her War Savings Certificates cashed and her bills paid, there was $40 for each of her six children.
She left six children, seven grandchildren and two great, grandchildren. At this time of writing, 1989, there remains one child, Ivy; six grandchildren, twenty-three great grandchildren and many great, great grandchildren. Their names are Bulmer, Bond, MacMillan, King, Murdoch, Macrae, LaRue, Kohler, Meyer, and Starmans. They still live mostly in southern Ontario, in and around Toronto, but some have ventured as far as Vancouver Island. They are teachers, artists, technicians, tradesmen, small business entrepreneurs, salespersons and office clerks. There has been a musician in every generation. They have established no large financial empires or political powers. They are still ordinary working people, noted for giving a good day’s work and not being ashamed of putting their hands out on pay day.
And that children, is how we came to be Canadians!