Wartime Odds and Sods

For your summertime reading enjoyment, here’s a selection of fast and easy wartime tales that struck my fancy – starting with this delightful picture of Samantha Kot, who re-enacted an old photo she discovered right here on Wartime Wednesdays!

Aviation Fan Recreates

Original Wartime Photo

Samantha Kot of Orangeville, Ontario comes from an aviation-mad family that restores old aircraft and takes them on the air show circuit.  Her father is a pilot and her mother is a former flight attendant. According to Samantha, whom I spoke with on the telephone: “I grew up with four Harvards in my back yard.”

Samantha herself, a 33-year-old flight attendant with Air Transat, was combing the internet one day for information about women's wartime uniforms when she stumbled across my collection of photographs of airwomen performing different tasks, in a blog post titled: What Did You Do in the Air Force, Grandma?

In one of the photos was a 1939 Stinson 105, which was used to transport VIPs in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and that's an aircraft that the Kot family just happens to own!

So Samantha donned her vintage wartime Royal Canadian Air Force Uniform, and with the help of her father Murray Kot, and her boyfriend Marco Rusconi (also a pilot with the Canadian Harvard Aerobatic Team), they recreated the old photograph at a recent air show at the Canadian Forces Base in Borden, Ontario.

The new photo was taken by Eric Dumegan, their friend and aviation photo journalist. You can see more examples of his work by clicking here: Eric Dumegan.

Compare this new black and white photograph with the original version below. You will note that the authenticity extends to using the exact same chock to hold the wheel steady. They even included two guys climbing into the cockpit of an aircraft in the background. These aviation buffs are sticklers for detail!

What Samantha would really like to know is the identity of the woman in the original photo. It was taken for publicity purposes by the Department of National Defence, and my copy has no info on the back, but bears the identity number PL-20449.

Samantha will check it out with Library and Archives Canada to see if the woman is identified, but this is doubtful because of wartime security reasons.

So, my friends, does anyone recognize this woman, or have any information about when or where this photograph was taken?

* * * * *

Who WERE Those 

Girls in the Fountain?

This iconic photograph of two British girls and two sailors in the Trafalgar Square fountain has been used around the world to highlight the celebrations on VE Day, or Victory in Europe Day.

But it wasn’t until decades later that a newspaper tracked down the identities of the two women, and found that Cynthia Covello and Joyce Digney were lifelong friends who wound up living in my home province, British Columbia!

Joyce, 18, and Cynthia, 20, first met in the Women's Land Army in 1944. They worked together on various farms around Surrey, just outside London.

When Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945, the following day was declared a public holiday. The two women took the early train into London. Their first stop was St. Paul's Cathedral, where they prayed for family members they had lost during the war. 

Then they headed into the crowded streets, which were filled with cheering celebrants. In Trafalgar Square, revellers climbed on Nelson's Column and the four lion statues. It was a hot day, and people were wading in the fountains, so Joyce and Cynthia rolled up their trousers and stepped in.

Joyce explained: “Two sailors came into the fountain to join us. One of them climbed up one of the fountains and dived into the two feet of water. How he didn’t kill himself, I don’t know! He put his arms around me and fell back, taking me under the water with him.

"I grabbed the chap by the shirt and dunked him up and down, screaming: ‘Look what you've done to me! How am I going to get home?’” After the dunking, the two women fortunately found a bonfire and dried off before taking the train back to Surrey.

Shortly after the war, the two women married Canadian soldiers. Both Joyce and her husband Ernest, and Cynthia and her husband Oscar, settled in B.C. To this day, their families remain close!

* * * * *

The Maine Potato Episode:

Stranger Than Fiction

When I first heard about this, I was doubtful that it really happened – but crazy as it sounds, this story is absolutely true.

The USS O’Bannon faced off against Japan in World War Two and earned more battle stars than any other American destroyer. It also participated in one of the oddest incidents of the war.

On April 5, 1943, the destroyer came across a large Japanese submarine, cruising on the surface, oblivious to the approaching ship (someone was obviously neglecting their lookout duty). 

The O’Bannon decided to ram the sub. At the last minute, however, officers decided against it -- just in case the sub was a minelayer. If rammed, it could blow up the destroyer as well.

Because of this quick withdrawal, the O’Bannon found itself moving directly parallel to the sub. The Americans could see the Japanese sailors asleep on the deck. When the Japanese awoke, they found themselves staring straight at the enemy.

However, the O’Bannon was too close to the submarine to lower its guns, while the submarine's deck guns were ready to fire. The situation was critical. Desperately, the O’Bannon crew began to use whatever they had at their disposal. Reaching inside nearby storage bins, the American sailors began to pelt the Japanese with potatoes!

The Japanese were so confused by this ploy that they believed the potatoes were hand grenades! They were so busy throwing these potato “grenades” overboard, that they didn't fire their deck guns.

The O’Bannon was able to move far enough away to begin firing at the sub, which had begun to descend. After the submarine was submerged, the O’Bannon dropped a depth charge that destroyed it.

Since the potatoes were from Maine, the Association of Potato Growers of Maine sent a plaque commemorating the event that hung in the crew’s mess!

The Maine Potato Episode went down in history.

* * * * *

Canadian Soldiers in Terrace, B.C.

Conducted an Armed Mutiny

The vast majority of Canadians were intensely committed to the war effort. However, one little-known incident that took place right here in British Columbia was an armed mutiny!

On November 25, 1944, several hundred soldiers stationed in the town of Terrace refused regular duty and paraded down main street carrying banners that read "DOWN WITH CONSCRIPTION" and "ZOMBIES STRIKE BACK."

Les Fusiliers du St. Laurent, a mainly French Canadian battalion from Quebec that was stationed in Terrace, “came charging down the hill, whooping and shouting like a swarm of angry wasps,” remembers one eyewitness.

They were reacting to news that the government was going to send Home Defence soldiers to Europe, after they had been promised they would never leave Canada.

When the war began in 1939, there was no Canadian conscription. But as the situation in Europe became critical, a reluctant Prime Minister Mackenzie King implemented compulsory service in 1942. However, he promised that conscripted men would serve only at home, defending Canada.

The Home Defence soldiers were sent mainly to the West Coast, to defend against a Japanese invasion. The small northern town of Terrace was not a comfortable posting for three battalions consisting of 3,000 Home Defence soldiers. Without enough heating fuel or fresh food, the men were cold and miserable.

In November 1944, when the news of the overseas deployment broke on the radio, many of them felt betrayed. They were angry after months of fruitless training in an isolated community for the defence of a nearby coastline that they didn’t believe was in danger.

Townspeople gathered along the streets to watch the parade. Some of them, especially those with family members in the military, were furious: they saw the men as shirking their duty. They sneeringly referred to the conscripted men as "Zombies."

Two days later, the situation was officially declared a mutiny – and that’s when the protest petered out. Most of the mutineers simply gave up without having won any concessions.

Within a week all three battalions were shipped out of Terrace. Although charges were laid, only a few men were sentenced. For the most part, the government was happy to let the whole affair fade away. And that's why you have probably never heard of it!

* * * * *

One-Eyed French Canadian 'Rambo'

Liberated Dutch Town

In the dying weeks of the war, Canadian troops were still pressing into the Netherlands — wet, cold and under fire. 

Léo Major of Quebec’s Régiment de la Chaudière had already lost an eye, but he refused to be sent home. You only need one eye to shoot a rifle, he argued. (The above photo of this handsome soldier was taken before the terrible wound that cost him an eye).

Major would go on to become the only Canadian ever to receive a Distinguished Conduct Medal in two separate wars, the second earned in Korea.

But he is perhaps best known as the single-handed liberator of the town of Zwolle in Holland.

Major and another soldier, Cpl. Willie Arsenault, stealthily entered the German-held town on a reconnaissance mission after dark on April 13, 1945. 

At nine o’clock the next morning, Major returned to his camp and announced that Arsenault was dead, but the town had been liberated!

After Arsenault was killed, the man who became known as the one-eyed Canadian Rambo took out the Germans who’d shot his companion, grabbed a bag of grenades, and set off alone on a one-man mission.

Major found a German officer and convinced him to surrender. He told the officer that the town was surrounded, but he’d allow the Germans to escape if they evacuated their troops immediately. Then he handed the officer back his gun and let him go.

Knowing he had to make it seem like the Canadians really were poised to attack, Major ran through the streets, firing a machine gun and tossing grenades.

He single-handedly captured more than 50 Germans and delivered them in groups to nearby Canadian troops before melting back into the darkness. Then — as the pièce de résistance — he lit the Gestapo headquarters on fire!

By morning, the terrified Germans had deserted the town.

The people of Zwolle remember the Canadian as a hero who saved them from an armed battle that may have resulted in many civilian deaths, naming a street after him. The mayor of Zwolle, Henk Jan Meijer, says simply: “He is a symbol of our freedom.”

We need to hear more about our Canadian heroes!

* * * * *

And now for something completely different: A BAKING CHALLENGE!

In my new novel Wildwood, which has nothing to do with war but explores homesteading, another aspect of our proud Canadian history, my heroine Molly inherits an abandoned farmhouse in northern Alberta and must learn to cook on a wood stove. 

The only guide she has is an old copy of the Five Roses Cook Book, first published in 1913, which was once the most popular cookbook in Canada.

When I was researching my novel, I wrote to the copyright holders of the cookbook and received permission to reprint several recipes. There have been many editions over the years, but this cover appeared on the 1913 original.

After the novel was published, I challenged my friends and family to make one of the old recipes. The major difficulties are that no instructions are provided, no size of pan specificed, and no temperature given!

My friend Leslie Vass from West Kelowna bravely accepted the challenge! In her own words, here is a description of how she blended old and new techniques to bake a Spice Cake using the original recipe.

According to Leslie:

"I have a Five Roses Cookbook that my mother-in-law gave to me forty years ago. The front cover is gone, but the back cover (no longer attached!) has a picture of a ceramic mixing bowl yellow on the outside, cream on the inside, just like Molly used in Wildwood!

"I referred to the spice cake recipe in the cookbook to find the size of baking pan to use, and what oven temperature to use."

"I did use my great-grandmother’s rolling pin, carved from a single piece of wood, to crush the pecans. I did not have any walnuts, so I used what I had. I also had only half a cup of raisins, so used craisins to make up the rest. I imagine pioneers had to use whatever they had on hand!"

"I did use my electric hand mixer. I am not a pioneer!"

"No wood stove here! A bright shiny new digital double wall oven works for me!"

"I debated about the size of baking pan to use. My cookbook recipe called for either an eight-inch or nine-inch square pan. I had a nine-inch-square pan, but I really think that it was too small for the amount of batter. I baked it at 375 degrees and left it in the oven for about fifty minutes. The centre needed slightly more time, but I did not want the cake to be dry."

"I posed the iced cake on our old dining room table with my orchids. Readers of Wildwood will discover the significance of orchids in the story!"

As Leslie explained: "I confess that I chose the smaller baking pan rather than the probably more appropriate size of nine by thirteen inches, because I wanted the cake to fit on my only Belleek plate! I totally understand why Molly’s great-aunt in Wildwood cherished her set of Belleek china sent from her home in Ireland."

(Just in case you can't see Leslie's plate very clearly in the above photograph, here's an image of a Belleek china tea set, decorated with tiny shamrocks.)

Thanks so much for taking the trouble to bake the cake and send me the photographs, Leslie! I hope it tasted as good as it looks!

Now, as excerpted in my novel Wildwood, here is the recipe. You will see that there are no instructions -- presumably housewives back then knew how to bake a cake without being told! 

I challenge my readers to bake it just as my heroine Molly did, in a wood stove, and send me photographs to prove it.

You are also welcome to try baking any of the other recipes contained in Wildwood, including Scones, Angel Cake, Rhubarb Pie, Paddy Bundles, and Bread. Here's a link if you want to purchase the book, complete with recipes: Wildwood.

 

SPICE CAKE

3 eggs

1/2 cups sugar

1 cup butter

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup hot water

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon soda

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon cloves

1 cup raisins

1/4 pound chopped walnuts

3 cups flour

* * * * *

MY BOOK EVENT SCHEDULE

This photo was taken at Chapters Chinook in Calgary on July 14, 2018, when I made a very courful splash with my two book banners! See the list below for my upcoming events.

At some of these events, I'll be presenting a slide show; at others, I'll be signing books only. More events may be added during the year. For details, visit my Events page: Book Signing Events.‚Äč

  • August 23, 7 p.m. Qualicum Beach Museum, BC
  • September 1, Noon to 4 p.m., Chapters Nanaimo, BC
  • September 11, 1 p.m. Prestige Hotel, Vernon, BC
  • September 14, 7 p.m. Peachland Art Gallery, BC
  • October 6, 11 a.m. Chapters Red Deer, AB
  • October 9, 7 p.m. St. Albert Public Library, AB
  • October 10, 7 p.m. Breton Public Library, AB
  • October 12, 1 p.m. Calgary Lifelong Learners, AB

* * * * *

To receive my monthly Wartime Wednesdays blog post and my current schedule, sign up by entering your email address in the yellow box on the top right-hand side of this page.

You can also follow me on Facebook at Elinor Florence-Author, on Pinterest, Goodreads, Twitter, and Instagram.

Have a wonderful summer -- and don't forget to try out your pioneer baking skills!

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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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