War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

notes from another front/ from a long, long time ago

I’m sitting in the company of two elders. an old RCAF LAC (leading air craftsman) who spent WWII installing radar into “old Lancs” (Lancasters) overseas in York during the war, and an old CN telephone operator (not a MUX operator). they play cards every day. share a glass of wine. a kiss.

“they flew those Lancs over with no instruments”, he tells me as he lays down a card.

and the old ones do this every afternoon. 85, 84 years of age. share a glass of wine, play cards (they keep track. 950 games so far), chat. forget things. remember things. they’ve got a thing going. you got to love that. at 84, 85. they’ve been hanging like this for 6 years. young love and all that.

and ex-RCAF turns to me, tells me with more than a little bitterness in his voice,“do you know the average number of flights a person flew in a Lancaster? – 5 – a young man should deserve more than five flights in an airplane before he dies”

“I drank beer every night with gunners and pilots in the pub. and it was bloody awful. they didn’t give a damn (that’s what they do to themselves, they have to, to get into those planes and fly missions).”

the old guy went over as a young prairie boy with a head full of knowledge about communications equipment (he was cutting edge). he went on the Mauritanea. on the promenade deck because he was highest level of the LAC. he hated this. he didn’t like that he and officers got beds and the rank and file slept on tables in the belly of the ship. “the ones below deck deserved the beds more than the officers and us tech. guys”

the old CN operator says, “they needed you sweetie. they needed you to install their radar.”

“the ones more necessary were the ones getting killed”, he says to her.

“you’re not supposed to kiss the cards” he chastises her when she kisses a card for good luck.

“I kissed you sweetie” she says.

“that’s different. everyone uses the cards”

they laugh.

and the CN telephone operator tells me that she used to handle the KIA telegrams frequently. “we had to locate a neighbour and phone them. ask them to deliver the telegram. we tried not to send a boy with the telegram telling the next-of-kin their loved one was killed or missing-in-action. but it wasn’t always possible then. so many telegrams.”

“the MUX would come in with the telegrams and get us to locate someone other than boys on bikes to deliver the news”

“I worked nightshift.” age 17. making good money. $95 a month.

LAC says, “after VE day, I came back to Halifax and no one knew what to do, what to do with us. I signed up to go to Japan. I showed up to a camp one day and no one was expecting me. I found another camp full of guys who were shell shocked. I can’t remember what we called it in those days. I moved in because the food was good and it was close to downtown Halifax and to go where I was stationed I had to get on a boat to Dartmouth”

“it was to get closer to the women” telephone operator says.

LAC just smiles, drops a card. grins.

“see, he’s thinking of all the girls from the war” she laughs.

they lay cards down. argue over scores. laugh. recount points.

“when a war is over. nobody gives a damn. the soldiers go out and have a good time. because everybody likes to have a good time especially if you’ve had a hell of a time for awhile. I don’t think we were good citizens after the war while we were still in uniform. if you felt like going off base to go to the pub you just went.”

“that’s not being bad citizens sweetie. you deserved not to follow orders” telephone operator says, “VE day we went to Chinatown. they were playing God Save the King. I didn’t stand up for it”

“this is the last hand” LAC says to the old woman, “I gotta go.” he plays pool with a bunch of guys every Friday night.

and I hope their last hand won’t happen for a very, very long time.


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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled notes from another front/ from a long, long time ago. It was posted here on June 11, 2010.

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