One of the most interesting books in our Museum’s Library is a Canadian publication, “Too Young to Fight ~ Memories From Our Youth During World War II”, compiled by Priscilla Galloway.
As you can imagine from seeing the cover image, Canadian children likely had varying memories and impressions from WWII. This is a book “… of recollections from some of this country’s best-loved writers of children’s literature. The contributors were children and teenagers during World War II. Though they were far from the fighting and, indeed, too young to participate, they were old enough to remember … ” those impressions and feelings. ” As they grew up in a tumultuous era, some seemed miraculously untouched while others were profoundly affected. All experienced changes in their lives that would shape the adults they would become.
For anyone who did not experience it, this is a fascinating insight and tangible link to a formative period of history. For those who were young themselves at that time, the collection will stir memories and stories long-forgotten. ” The authors ” … hope that those memories will be shared by people of all ages and preserved for generations to come. ”
The following are but snippets of the stories included. To really appreciate the book, you need to read full sections, but perhaps you might be able to recall some similar memories from those times as the writers share:
Priscilla Galloway recalls a High School memory: ” At 11:30 on the morning of May 8, everyone at school was summoned to an assembly. The auditorium doubled as a gym, and the assembly had been called so suddenly that the folding chairs had not been set up. We knew even before the principal called us to order: Germany had surrendered. The war in Europe was over. We had won. School was dismissed… I wrote my impressions of downtown Ottawa on that historic day: the cold wind blowing off the river; the Carillon concert with the bells singing songs of triumph; ticker tape and toilet paper floating down from office windows. Toilet paper ! How dared they waste it? .. half a century later, it is the intensity that I remember best, not only of that day, but of those years:; the focused energy of people united by one great purpose… ”
Janet Lunn lived in the US at that time and recalls, ” Details in our lives were affected by the war … We were all fingerprinted ( in case we were bombed and our bodies would have to be identified ) and had air raid drills in school in addition to the regular town drills. Rationing began early in the war. Gas, sugar, meat, butter, silk, paper, and a lot of other things I can’t recall were rationed either because of being needed in the armed forces or because they couldn’t be imported from Europe or Asia. Margarine was new to us and it came, white as lard, in a package with a little envelope of bright orange powder that we had to stir into it so it would look more like butter… my wartime memories are jumbled in my mind like photographs in a box piled up with no regard for time or importance … all mixed up with our neighbour who died … the boy who came home without his legs. They’re all in the same box, the one that holds my childhood and teenage years but the box is not labelled ‘Childhood and Teenage Years’. It’s labelled ‘Remembering the War’.
Dorothy Joan Harris remembers that she was living in Canada and, ” … my contributions towards the war effort were pretty small. Though I knew how to knit, I didn’t join my mother and grandmother in making warm things for soldiers; my efforts went towards making myself the sloppy joe sweater that I desperately wanted. Occasionally I did bring my allowance of a quarter to school and use it to buy one more stamp for my war savings certificate. This certificate was a booklet that held sixteen stamps, for a total of four dollars – to be redeemed by the government sometime after the war for five dollars… ”
Roch Carrier writes, ” I was eight years old on August 6, 1945, when the explosion of an atom bomb wiped out the city of Hiroshima, Japan… After that day my parents often disappeared behind the newspaper. They would emerge from it filled with consternation, just like they were when there was a death in the village. I didn’t understand. My parents were worried. They were afraid. They feared the days to come. They read parts of the newspaper to one another. How could I have understood? They were saying words I’d never heard before, words that weren’t familiar even to them. Their voices then were not their usual voices. When they carried me up to bed I didn’t fall asleep, because of the monster hiding in the night, outside the window. I could hear it brush against the walls of the house… ”
Jean Little tells us that ” … Early in the war years, British children were sent to Canada to keep them safe from the frequent bombing raids punishing England. We called such boys and girls ‘War Guests’. I would stare sideways at Shirley Russel, the evacuee in my class, and wonder how she could look so self-possessed and confident when her parents were so far away and in such peril … I wondered what was going on behind Shirley’s pretty face. ”
Monica Hughes writes ” September 1939 changed my life in more ways than I could have imagined at the time. I was thirteen years old that summer before the war, and my sister, Liz, was twelve. We were living in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Dad had decided that we would have our first family holiday abroad, in Switzerland – that we were old enough to appreciate it and not be a nuisance. In honour of the occasion, Mum bought me a long dress to wear for dinner at the hotel and for our evening walks along the promenade beside Lake Lucerne. It was of pale yellow taffeta with a net overskirt and a frill around the bottom, and I felt incredibly sophisticated and grown-up. It was the first – and the last – pretty dress I was to own in seven years.
We children didn’t read the paper or listen to the radio; we were ‘protected’ from what was going on in the world outside the immediate circle of home and school, so we were really unaware of the political situation in Europe. On our holiday, though, we saw soldiers drilling in the streets – ‘not to fight’, we were told, ‘but to protect Switzerland in case of war’.
War! The word sparked our imaginations. My sister and I talked secretly about how exciting it would be if this ‘war’ should happen while we were on holiday. Suppose we were trapped in this beautiful country of mountains,, lakes, and delicious food for the duration? What a prospect! ”
Claire Mackay kept a diary. On July 30th, 1940, she wrote, ” Tim Buck has disappeared. Alan has disappeared. So has Lionel Edwards (a really good friend of Mom and Dad and Nana). He was in the Spanish War, too, and he is handsome, even though a bullet dented his forehead. Mom says they went underground. Or maybe they’re in jail. People can be kept in jail just for disagreeing with the government. A lot of Italian people had their store windows smashed, now that Italy has joined Hitler, and some were put in jail. That’s not fair. Dad says we’re getting like Nazi Germany. The Red Squad – that’s a bunch of Toronto cops – are raiding people’s houses. They almost raided Nana’s. Auntie Audrey ran home from selling The Tribune and said a cop on a horse had chased her. So Nana gathered up all the books by Karl Marx and Lenin and Bernard Shaw and all the papers and pamphlets by Tim Buck and Becky Buhay and Annie Buller and threw them in the furnace. In July! Her roomers got awful hot, and they couldn’t understand why Annie Arland had the furnace on! … Bill and Fred joined the army, and Mr. Simpson joined, too. Mom made a joke – she does that about once a year – and said, ‘Well, the way they fight, the war should be over in a week!’ ”
Budge Wilson recalls, ” As a young girl of twelve, I romanticized a lot about what I was watching. Much of what was happening was exciting to me and to my friends. The full horror and ugliness of war took awhile to become real to us. I knew of these things with the surface of my mind, but my twelve-year-old heart was not breaking. I loved the swarms of handsome men in their various uniforms, strolling up and down the streets of my town. I longed to be one of those ‘Wrens’ in their snappy hats, going off to mysterious adventures across the seas. I wanted to be a spy; I knew I was ready to cope with deprivation and cold and pain. I’d survive. I felt invincible.
The young boys and men felt the same way. They ached to be flipping through the skies in those agile little fighter planes, or marching to victory with guns in their hands – preferably with bagpipes blowing in front of them … For a while, we failed to notice that the soldiers did not march off to war with bands playing. Everything was done in such secrecy that few of us saw them arriving or leaving. They were spirited out to their ships without the comfort or inspirations of music. But for a short while, our young minds seemed oblivious to either death or mutilation of fear. ”
Come into our Library to have a closer look at this amazing set of recollections!