My Wartime Scrapbook

Readers send me lots of interesting tidbits – none of them long enough to form a complete blog post (not without masses of research, anyway). But here I share some of the fascinating photos, stories, and videos that have come my way. 

This brilliant red cover belongs to a photo album from Torbay, Newfoundland – discovered by a reader and purchased online. ("Per Ardua Ad Astra," the RCAF's lovely motto, means “Through Adversity to the Stars.”) There weren't many photos inside, unfortunately, and they were small, but the album cover is striking.

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For starters, I was thrilled to meet blog subscriber Roger Ganley on my book tour in November, because he FLEW his private plane from Leduc, Alberta to see me and buy a copy of my book at the Forestburg Public Library!

And from Roger comes this wonderful little documentary about an American photo reconnaissance pilot named John Blythe, pictured below. This short documentary made in 2005 shows his reaction when it is revealed that some old film footage of him crashing his Spitfire is still in existence!

To watch the video, 14 minutes and 38 seconds long, click this title: Spitfire 944.

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Since this week marks the December 7, 1941 anniversary of Pearl Harbour, the surprise attack by the Japanese air force on an unsuspecting American naval base in Hawaii, it is fitting that the U.S. Naval Institute compiled this list of movies made about the fateful event, including the well-known 1970 movie called Tora! Tora! Tora! 

The first film on the list is a full-length documentary by John Ford that won an Academy Award. To see the complete list, click: Movies About Pearl Harbour.

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Knowing my interest in women in uniform, Jack Gibson of Kelowna, British Columbia, sent me this post-war photo of his two sisters.

Leading Aircraftwoman S. E. (Shirley) Gibson, left, and her sister Leading Aircraftwoman B. J. (Bev) Gibson, right, both of Hope, British Columbia, flank Miss Canada 1952, Marilyn Reddick of Toronto, who is signing one of their autograph albums.

The two sisters were stationed at the RCAF’s No. 2 Fighter Wing, Grostenquin, France. They accompanied Miss Canada on a tour when she visited. 

Both girls served from 1951 to 1954, when they returned to Hope, married and had children. Shirley passed away in 2013, but Bev is still living in Edmonton. Don't the Gibson girls look trim and smart in their uniforms!

(Photo Credit: RCAF)

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From Mel Birnie, a volunteer at the Comox Air Force Museum on Vancouver Island, comes a bit of a mystery: clippings about one Peggy Francis of Regina, Saskatchewan.

Mel says the clippings were found in the personal belongings of a Victoria veteran and nobody knows anything about Peggy – but it looks like she had an interesting wartime!

According to the information in the newspaper articles, she went to England with her parents in 1935, and apprenticed with the famous dress designer Elsa Schiaparelli. Here is a photo of Peggy on the left, examining the quality of a knitted garment, together with two unidentified customers.

When war broke out, Peggy wanted to volunteer with the Canadian Red Cross but found she would have to return to Canada, so she went to the American Red Cross instead. She spent the war entertaining the troops, and after the war she assisted American war brides and their children, escorting them on trains and seeing them safely off to their new homes in the U.S.

In April 1945, according to this article in the Dorset Chronicle and Swannage Times, Miss Peggy Francis took over as Director of the American Red Cross at the Corn Exchange when her predecessor was dispatched to Europe.

She finally sailed for home, and one assumes this was a photograph taken on board the ocean liner that carried her back to Canada.

In January 1947, she was visiting Saskatoon, Saskatchewan when she was interviewed by a reporter from The Star-Phoenix newspaper about her experiences. No other information was located in the file of clippings, and an internet search failed to reveal her fate. Perhaps one of my readers knows more about Peggy Francis!

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Knowing my interest in women in uniform, Ken Hallgren in Coquitlam, British Columbia sent me these photos of his mother-in-law, the former Georgina Harvey of Kelowna (one of the main streets in Kelowna is Harvey Street).

She signed up in Trail, British Columbia on January 23, 1943, trained in photography at Rockcliffe, Ontario; and served at Lethbridge No. 8 Bombing and Gunnery School from August 1943 to November 1944. Georgie currently lives in Coquitlam.

Here she is loading an aerial camera into an Anson aircraft.

Here's another photo of the very pretty Georgie with her camera equipment.

And it isn't surprising that the girls in uniform were well aware of the "wolves" in their midst! This sketch was also found in Georgie's photo album.

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Speaking of wolves . . . it was one of Bob Hope's running jokes that he panted after beautiful young women. He was just kidding, though, since he remained happily married to the same woman all his life. 

Just in time for Christmas comes this link from Anne Keely of Invermere, British Columbia. It’s a 10-minute compilation of some of Bob Hope’s best Christmas performances, spent entertaining the troops. He was beloved by the troops for his efforts to give them a happy Christmas far from home. Here he is pictured on tour with Frances Langford.

To see the video clip, click: Christmas With the Troops.

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And finally, for everyone who has asked me to research and write the stories of their father, mother or other family member – I must decline, with the deepest regret. While I know that there are many fabulous untold stories out there, I just don't have the time.

However, I urge you to consider spending the money to hire a professional. There are people who are available who will help you write and record your loved one's memories before it is too late.

I have become acquainted with two of them since I started this blog. I've seen the work of both, and have no hesitation in recommending them to you. Both are pleasant, sympathetic, and good listeners.

Anne Gafiuk of Calgary, Alberta

I became acquainted with Anne when she wrote a guest blog post for me about a naval veteran called George Crewe. You can read it here by clicking: Tales From an Old Tar.

A former teacher, Anne is now a Personal Historian. She can interview people of all ages, gather their memorabilia, and organize it into a personal scrapbook just for family members, or a printed book for wider distribution.

Her best-known work is a book published by the Bomber Command Museum in Nanton, Alberta, telling the life story of A. Gordon Jones, a flight instructor with the RCAF, titled Wings Over High River. The book is available for sale from the museum.

You can learn more about Anne on her website, www.whatsinastory.ca.

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Rebecca Robinson of Kelowna, British Columbia

For several years Rebecca has owned and operated her own business called Life Story Film. Rebecca interviews and records veterans and other seniors, encouraging them to tell their life story on videotape. 

I saw one of her videos last week in which she interviewed veterans and it was very professional, interspersed with old film footage, still photos and music.

The costs can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. However, I consider such a memento to be priceless.

Rebecca told me the subject’s children often chip in to pay her fee. I urge everyone to give serious consideration to this, especially if you have an elderly loved one with tales to tell. You can preserve his or her voice forever.

What a wonderful Christmas gift for the whole family!

You can see more about Rebecca's services by clicking: Life Story Film. 

That's it for now, dear friends, but I LOVE receiving your emails and photos.

Keep them coming!

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STAR WEEKLY AT WAR

The Star Weekly was a Canadian newsmagazine published by the Toronto Star. During the Second World War, a colour illustration with a wartime theme appeared on the cover each week. Here’s an image from April 11, 1942, a few months after Japan and the United States went to war. To see my entire collection of Star Weekly covers, click: Star Weekly At War.

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  • I have a fascinating one-hour powerpoint presentation describing wartime women in uniform, and the little-known practice of aerial photographic interpretation. And I come dressed in my wartime vintage duds! To contact me about speaking at your organization, click: Contact.

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During my research into Canada’s wartime past, I uncovered some fascinating facts and anecdotes. I’ll share them here and welcome feedback and stories of your own.

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