Sunday, August 2, 2015

Bio #40 - An injured brother; London on VE Day (eyewitness account)

In May of 1945 my brother Eddie was very badly wounded in Holland, and Dad sent me a wire. I also had a phone call from London to say Ed was ill and could I come down to Watford, to the Canadian Hospital. I got ready that night, sent a wire to Ron to meet me at Euston Station and one to his Aunty Blanche, whom I had never met. Next morning Ron came up to Huddersfield on compassionate leave and we took the train to London.

London was a strange city in 1945. I had never been there before, so consequently saw it at its worst. (or best, maybe.) When we arrived at Euston Station, I saw 3 tiered bunk beds all along the station walls, and at night every bed was full, and people slept on the platform to within 3 feet of the edge. The people were quite safe here from the air raids that had been going on every night for five years. I guess they didn't even hear the dozens of trains that were part of their nights. Everyone looked so tired.

Above ground, the damage to the city in certain areas was indescribable and I can still see in my mind, street after street, mile after mile, short broken walls and rubble. Fireweed was growing everywhere a building had burned down, and among all the devastation, pretty pink flowers looked cheerful, almost as if God were saying, "Everything will turn out alright, just be patient."

Ron's Aunty met us. Where his aunt and uncle lived, in a pretty little village, they took an awful beating. The house had suffered a lot, and Blanche, Jack and Gran spent weeks in their air-raid shelter, at the bottom of the garden and underground. I was never in it, but it was fitted out quite for comfort. Beds, table, radio, water, primus stove and a store of food, flashlight, blankets. The top of the shelter was covered with dirt and lots of flowers. Since the war they have moved to Leigh-on-Sea. Now the war seems such a long time ago.

The first day Ron and his aunty took me to see Ed and showed me the way to Watford. The second day Ron took me from his aunt and uncle's home in Ilford (East London,) to Watford (West London,) a distance of 43 miles, to the hospital to see Eddie. He was dangerously wounded and it was a very bad time for us all. Watford hospital was located in a park setting. There were 2000 mental patients and 2000 surgical cases, and the staff was all Canadian. I knew two nurses from Medicine Hat days, and they were so good to me, giving me tea and toast while Eddie was sleeping or having dressings changed. He had lost his right arm at the shoulder, and also had severe head, back and leg injuries. He was delirious most of the first week, and fighting the war over again. It was awful. But after a few days he was much better and knew who I was all the time. So he got wheeled outside on fine days and then was well enough for me to leave, so I returned to Huddersfield, very thin, very tired, but happy Ed would live and soon be sent back to Canada and my Dad.
Patients in Canadian Hospital 23 - Watford

The second day I was there was V.E. Day, and London went mad with joy. VE meant Victory in Europe, and the end of the war in Europe. The next day at 4 am my dear Ronnie sailed to France, for a six month duty. I never saw him until November, 1945, when he returned for good. So we parted on May 9th and I stayed on in Ilford for two more weeks, to be with Ed as much as I could. I travelled 86 miles a day, leaving Ilford at 9 am and after riding on electric trains, subways and buses, finally got to Watford for 2 o'clock, just at visiting time. I stayed till 5 pm, then set off to Ilford again. It was tiring, but enlightening, and I shall never forget what I saw.

Mom went into more detail about VE Day when talking to us. She described pianos brought out on the streets, tables and chairs forming rows blocks long where people served food they had saved for such a celebration. Children were finally able to play on the streets without fear of bombs, and the air raid shelters fell into a welcome disuse.
This is typical of what Letty saw on VE Day, along with endless crowds of ecstatic people.