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A Family's Loss
On June 20, 1925, Gladys (Spurrell) and John (Jack) Bishop Smith of Gooseberry Cove, Trinity Bay, gave birth to their first child, Ernest. As he grew up, Ernest was no stranger to hard work, beginning at a young age to help his father in the fishing boat. By 1942, Ernest's two younger brothers, George age 12 and Andrew, age 10 were now old enough to join their father at the fishing trade. With WWII raging in Europe, Ernest did not hesitate to do his part. He headed into St. John's and, lying about his age, he enlisted with the Newfoundland Regiment on May 27, 1942. It would be almost a month before he would reach the age of 17. Basic training continued in St. John's into the summer and fall of 1942. The Knights of Columbus Hostel on Harvey Road was the place for military personnel to go on Saturday nights. It was here on December 12, 1942 that Pte. Ernest Smith, along with many of his fellow serviceman, attended Uncle Tim's Barn Dance. On that fateful night, with approximately 350-400 servicemen and civilians in attendance, a fire broke out shortly after 11 pm. The fire spread rapidly and in the panic to escape, pandemonium erupted. With the war on, blackout regulations were in effect. Means of escape were few with shutters nailed to the windows and doors opening inward, and the building was quickly engulfed in flames. Many of the attendants were overcome by the smoke and fire. Of the 99 who died that tragic night, 80 of them were military personnel. That night a neighbour in Gooseberry Cove had been listening to Uncle Tim's Barn Dance Band on VOCM radio and reported the incident to Jack and Gladys the next morning. Little did they realize then that the news would come later that day that their beloved 17-year-old son was one of the fire victims. To add to their devastation, their boy was not to be brought home to be buried next to their baby daughter, Elizabeth, who had died in 1928, but he was to be laid to rest at Mount Pleasant Cemetery along with his fellow servicemen who had perished in the fire. Back in Gooseberry Cove the family mourned the tragic loss of a dear son and brother. Gladys was eight months pregnant with her ninth child when her beloved Ernest died. One month later, on January 18, 1943, she was delivered of a healthy baby boy and it was only fitting that she name him Ernest after the son she had lost. The name 'Ernest' was a painful reminder to the parents of a son who could never be replaced, so the new baby was nicknamed 'Smitty', the name he was often referred to by his family and friends. The following year, Gladys, gave birth to her tenth and last child, Robert (Bob). Shortly after this, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, the dreaded disease plaguing Newfoundland at that time. With Gladys unable to care for her newborn son, a childless couple, Edgar and Julia Avery of Southport, offered to take him and it was with them that Bob went to live. Fourteen-year-old George helped his parents as much as he could, but when his father, Jack, was also stricken with tuberculosis it was an impossible task for a teenager. Jack and Gladys' daughter, Laura, had been working in St. John's as a domestic servant. With both parents being ill, Laura returned to Gooseberry Cove to care for them and her younger siblings. As Jack's and Gladys' illness progressed and the greater burden fell on Laura's shoulders, the decision was made for some of the children to go live with relatives. Thirteen year old Andrew was sent to Queen's Cove to live with his uncle and aunt, Abraham and Elizabeth Spurrell. Eleven year old Sam went to nearby Butter Cove to live with uncle and aunt, Jim and Mary Spurrell. Besides Laura and George, there were still three younger children at home - seven year old Arch, five year old Bill and one year old Smitty. Sadly, Gladys succumbed to tuberculosis on April 20, 1946. Following her death Arch and Bill were sent to live with a foster family in Torbay. Two-year-old Smitty was taken in by neighbours, John and Dinah Smith. Jack, died of tuberculosis on July 3, 1947, just over a year after Gladys' death. The Smith children had already known heartache and separation, but now they had also lost both parents. Less than five years after the tragic loss of their brother Ernest, their parents were now gone and the brothers and sister were separated. Laura returned to work in St. John's and her brother George followed her. Andrew grew up in Queen's Cove and later moved to St. John's. Sam grew up in Butter Cove. Arch and Bill stayed with their foster family in Torbay until they were old enough to be on their own. Arch made the decision to move to Ontario and Bill soon followed him. Bill followed in his older brother Ernest's footsteps and joined the armed forces. He enlisted in 1958 and had a distinguished career for 30 years in the Canadian Army. He was part of the recovery team when the American military plane, Arrow Air Flight 1285R, crashed in Gander on December 12, 1985. Ironically, it had been the exact date 43 years before that his brother had died in the K of C fire. Smitty moved to Sunnyside with the Smith family who raised him. Bob stayed with the Avery family in Southport and Edgar Avery's widowed mother, Sarah (Avery) Newton helped care for the young child. Sadly, Edgar's wife, Julia, had passed away only one year after they had taken Bob in. Bob was only 16 when he moved to Ontario to live with his older brother, Arch. Of all the Smith children, only Arch and Bill had the privilege of growing up together. All the others were scattered and living in different communities. The death of their oldest sibling, Pte. Ernest Smith, was only the beginning of the tragedy and heartache that was to befall the Smith family. In later years, the Smith siblings did try, as much as possible, to connect with one another, but they were always haunted by the years they lost as a family. This is the story of just one of many Newfoundland families whose lives were devastated and torn apart by tragedy and disease. Elaine Spurrell
A Voyage on the Kyle
It was the second week of December some years ago when the coastal boat, the SS Kyle, stopped in Mary's Harbour to deliver goods and pick up passengers. The boats like these were the link to small communities around Newfoundland and Labrador. The ships were too big to get to the little community wharves so everything being delivered and picked up had to board a small open boat to transfer to and from the Kyle while she lay obediently at anchor. On this cold evening there were a few men, a few older women, and an attractive young woman holding a small baby bundled in a load of warm blankets. The small boat approached the SS Kyle, and the ladder on which to climb up and board the bigger boat came into view and the passengers prepared to climb up. The men stood to assist the 'women first' rule, leaving the younger woman and baby until last when they could all help them. The wind rocked the small boat gently but harshened the cold on their faces. The young woman was afraid, so the men held the baby and assisted her up the ladder. Then the tallest of them all carried the baby up the ladder with ease. Soon all were in the warm common room of the big boat. The ship's whistle blew and the engines roared into action as the SS Kyle prepared to depart Mary's Harbour and head to Port Hope Simpson. The crew helped serve hot tea, the baby was quiet, and the sailing was smooth. The young woman was my mother. The baby was me. Father was stationed in Port Hope Simpson with the Newfoundland Ranger Force and in a couple of hours I would meet him for the first time and our lives as a family began. I'm a grandmother now, Mother and Father are gone, and the SS Kyle, after years of coastal service, ran aground in Harbour Grace and is still sitting there. When I see that ship my mind goes immediately back to that sea cruise I took on her at only three weeks of age. Bonnie Lowe Shoal Harbour, NL
Back when I was a young boy of twelve or thirteen there wasn't a lot of summer jobs that young people could avail of. We didn't have all the fast food outlets or coffee shops you see all around today. The only work available was with the local fish merchants who although they employed many hundreds of people, the pay was dismal. I'm not out here to condemn or praise anyone. I'll let heaven and hell do that for me. Just remember if you will that my story took place not so long ago. The first time I actually worked for wages was up on the hill, some distance from my home where myself, my older brothers and many of our friends worked spreading salt fish on flakes to dry. My first hourly wage was thirty cents per hour. We would spread fish "heads and tails" on these long fish flakes made of sticks covered at the top with chicken wire. Later in the evening we would take the fish off the flakes, stack them in neat piles onto wooden pallets, and cover it up with plastic. The next morning we would uncover the fish and spread it out again on the flakes. When the fish had dried after several days spread out in the sun, the company truck would come by and we would load the dry fish onto the truck. The fish was taken "down below" to the plant where it was packed into fifty pound boxes for shipment to New York and other places. Sometimes, a few of us got to go down with the truck to help offload the fish. Since my story is supposed to be about wages more than a story of curing salt fish, forgive me if I have strayed somewhat, the two are so closely connected it can't be helped. Cod fish is fresh, even though it lies in salt water, when it is caught by the man fishermen around the bays and coves within those bays it is gutted, split to remove the back bone or "sound bone" and then put in heavy salt for a time. The fish merchant sends his men to buy it from you and continues the process of curing the fish at his premises. Some is sold for a higher price by the fishermen already dried. My history lesson for today. When the salt fish first came to us as we worked on the hill, it was very wet, this was called "waterhorse" because it had recently been washed by machine down below. By the way the waterhorse fish was very wet and also much heavier than when it was dried. Every time the fellow in the trunk threw you a yaffle of fish, you would be sprayed with cold salty water, and after a couple of hours of this, soaking wet from head to toe. But all in a day's work, you could change when you went home at dinnertime which is whenever the fish is all spread. Later that evening, it's back up the hill to the the fish off the flakes. I did eventually get to go down below with one of the trucks and by some twist of fate, I got to work in the salt fish loft. I got a big raise - in fact it was twice my previous salary - sixty cents an hour. I was twelve years old at the time. I thought with that kind of money I could buy a big car and have some uniformed chauffeur drive me around town. That was my first year working in the salt fish trade, you might say. Next summer I was hired on again, no working my way down from the hill this time. We started at 8 o'clock in the morning, had a lunch break at noon, usually stayed at work because it was too far to walk home, eat lunch and walk back again in one hour. Quitting time was not so certain, as most evening we would have to walk home very fast at 6 o'clock, then come back to work until someone said you could go home. How many times did I hear the skipper who owned the plant say, "If you don't come back tonight, don't come back tomorrow." If I had a nickel for every time I heard that, I could have invested in the local utility company myself, like the skipper did. Imagine my surprise on my first payday of my second year on the job when I learned my wage was fifty cents an hour - full ten cents less than the year before. A brilliant business plan, if you stop to think about it, the longer you're in the business, the less it costs you to operate. Good for the skipper, but even at the tender age of thirteen years old, I figured it out, if I hung around here long enough I'd be working for nothing. Business 101 at Upper Canada College where all the rich kids go. But this is not the end of my story, there is more to come. So pour yourself up another cup of coffee, or something stronger if you prefer, and sit a spell longer. It gets more interesting as we go along. A schooner came to the plant that year with a load of salt bulk fish from down around Fogo Island. It was a wooden schooner which was powered by a diesel engine but also rigged for sail. Myself and two other young fellas were assigned to unload this vessel. It had a forward hatch, the opening of which was approximately four feet square. So we uncovered the hatch with the help from the crew of the boat. After uncovering the hatch, the crew stepped aside and we three offloaded the boat ourselves. So this is where it gets real interesting, I learned through the day from talking with the other boys working with me, that we were all three of us being paid a different hourly wage. Mine was the lowest at fifty cents per hour, the fellow beside me who was a year older got my previous year's wage of sixty cents, while the third person, a boy of seventeen was earning 78 cents per hour. I imagine he must have made about 85 cents an hour the year before, taking into account the business model I mentioned earlier. So let's review the situation with an open mind. Three boys, standing in a hatch about four foot square, each of us throwing yaffle of fish after yaffle of fish to the people onshore one after the other. Each person performing the same fanction at the same speed, yet each one is paid differently. So I don't know about you, but it seems to me we were being paid for our age rather than our work. Now we couldn't do anything about that, you'll have to take that up with our parents. Now, in the autumn of my life, looking back on the whole affair, I can see it for what it really was - legalized salvery - aided and abetted by the government of the day. Men and boys doing the same hard physical labour for long hours and more expected of them when the normal day was over. There was no standard working day, therefore no overtime wage for hours worked beyond the norm. Men with families, mostly big at the time, earned the same as boys with neither. A set of multi-layered minimum wage laws based on age and gender that encouraged the use and the exploitation of children. Let's not forget the words of the skipper, "if you don't come back tonight, don't come back tomorrow." It was the same in the construction industry, men paid less than a dollar per hour and charged two dollars a day if they were in a camp. Up in the lumber woods cutting pulp wood by the chord where my father and his father and brothers worked. Sleeping on dirt floors covered with boughs, no hot water to wash themselves on their clothes. Living on beans and bread with "work till you drop" the order of the day. What can one expect in a country where the poor still subsidize the rich and corrupt politicians pass laws that favour the corporation over the family, a legal entity with no mouths just pockets to fill, over flesh and blood human beings. Not much has changed.
Back when I was a young boy of seventeen, I attended school on what we here in NL still call The Mainland. The school was located in eastern Ontario and was run by a religious order. The student body was male only and came from as far west as Ontario and east to Newfoundland. They came from many different backgrounds, some even from different cultures as some of their families were recent immigrants to Canada. Some of the students had been there before and some, like myself, were first-timers. For many of us it was our first time living away from home. As we settled into our new environment, we made friends along the way with other students who had similar interests or talents. I myself became friends with a couple of other fellows, one from Nova Scotia, the other from northern Quebec. We slept in the same cubicle in the dormitory. We each had our own bed and two-door wardrobe for our clothes and other things. Lights went out a 9:00, everyone was expected to be in bed at that time. We were told to shower every night before going to bed, which was fine except the showers were in another building adjacent to ours. I'm sure you've heard it before, the expression that "Cleanliness is next to Godliness," but in this case they were separated by three flights of stairs, four floors and another building at least a quarter mile away. My newfound friend from northern Quebec wasn't French as you might expect. He had an Irish surname and his first name was Richard. Now, Richard was something of a unique character in himself. A kind of slow deadpan in his delivery - he could have been a great straight man in any comic duo. He was funny in his own way and could be real serious when the occasion called for it. Most time he combined the two and easily moved from one to the other, so you could never tell if he was serious or not. Soon into our friendship, Richard, who slept in the bed next to mine, decided that my accommodations needed a nightly ritualistic cleansing. Why he came to this conclusion, I don't really know. At first I thought it might be something I did, like break wind in my sleep or something. As far as I remember I didn't do that, but who knows what happens when you're asleep. This nightly ritual of his started early in the school year and continued until the Christmas break when he went home and I went further away from home to Toronto. Now. Wen lights went out at 9:00 everyone was supposed to be in bed. The student director would make several tours of the dormitory every night to make sure everyone was obeying the rules. He would from time to time catch a student reading under the cover or out of bed talking to another student, but Richard was never caught. Which led me to believe that divine intervention was at play. Maybe Richard was performing a worthwhile function and the powers that be were simply providing the space and time for him to share his worthy service to mankind. As I said before, we each had our own bed with a tall wardrobe beside it to hang our clothes, with some drawers and shelves to store smaller items like socks and underwear. Everyone put their dirty socks in a sock bag which had your name on it. The ritual began shortly after lights out. Richard would get out of bed, open his dirty sock bag and smell each sock separately until he found one that smelled bad enough for the purpose at hand. (Now, it should be noted here that Richard could have been a considered a connoisseur of dirty socks. He took great care to find just the right smell, not just any sock would do. I often wondered if he suffered from any sort of brain damage in later life due to his pursuit of excellence.) With the dirty sock in one hand, he would repeatedly wave the sock out over my bed as if he were at a funeral. He would make several trips around the foot of my bed and both sides while uttering strange incantations in a language known only to himself. He was very serious and solemn as he performed his nightly ritual. I would pull the bedsheet over my head to keep out the awful smell. (Over time, with repeated washings, the bedsheet provided less protection from the sock, and as I said, Richard really knew his dirty socks.) This went on every night until Christmas break. Shortly after our return to school, Richard's father passed away. Richard went home for the funeral and when he came back he was, as one might expect, a little subdued and solemn. We were all young and death was a strange and frightening concept to most of us. We all tried to be a source of comfort to our friend, after all, it could have been any of us. That night though, I went to bed feeling a little relieved - surely Richard wouldn't be in any mood for his ritualistic practices. Alas, I was wrong. He did get into bed at lights out, pulled the covers over himself and lay back to sleep. But suddenly in the darkness I heard him say "I almost forgot!" and with that he got out of bed and began his usual routine with all its stinky piety and reverence. I haven't seen him since those days in school long ago, but I always wondered what became of my good friend. Yes, Richard knew his dirty socks, but he also knew about demons. He figured any evil spirit worth its salt and seeking the ruin of souls would visit our cubicle in the dark of night and think, "the poor souls in those beds are already rotting in Hell and have been for some time, judging by the smell," and pass us by. Cyril Griffin New Perlican, NL
Me and Sally Ann
I left home in late August of 1966. I remember it well because it was Come Home Year and despite all the money the government spend on promoting the event, I still got it wrong. The railway was on strike at the time so I had to fly to Montreal and then take a bus to my final destination which was Brockvile, ON. I was sixteen years old at the time and had my seventeenth birthday in transit. It was very exciting and scary at the same time. For I had not been more than forty minutes from home in my life and that was to visit my nan. My uncle Brendan, my mom's youngest brother, went over the plan with me a hundred times until he was sure I had it right. He was accustomed to travelling through Montreal for his work. But I was still on my own and my mother was very worried of me getting lost or worse. I went to school on the mainland from September of that year until June 1967. (I visited Montreal again for Expo '67 where I was lucky enough to get Gordon Lightfoot's autograph at the Canadian Pavilion. He was doing a soundcheck for the song he wrote for Canada's 100th birthday, "The Canadian Railroad Trilogy.") There was a Christmas and Easter break at school and since I couldn't afford to fly home, I went to Toronto. My two oldest brothers were working there and I stayed at my brother's boarding house until my dad's sister, who lived in the city, took me to stay with her and her husband. I stayed with her daughter and her family at Easter. When June rolled around I decided to go to Toronto and look for a summer job because there was no work at home. It would be over three years before I would get back home. There was a construction strike in Toronto that summer and this created a ripple effect in the job market. I did manage to find a job in Don Mills - a distant suburb of Toronto. The job paid $65.00 a week salary. Needless to say, I didn't get rich that summer. The $65.00 was gross pay in more ways than one - there were deductions from that for income tax, OHIP medical insurance, unemployment insurance and Canada Pension. On weeks when I was lucky enough to work two evenings of overtime - which paid $2 a hour - I would clear the huge sum of $48.00 from which I paid $20.00 for room and board, and a little over $2.00 for transit, leaving me with $26.00 a week to live on. Believe it or not I did manage to open my first bank account and save a few dollars. My job in Don Mills was very far from my home base - it took over two hours each morning to get to work, half of that on the high-speed subway system. I was so far from the city core that the transit system called it Zone 2 and I had to pay almost twice the regular fare to get there. There was a point where the bus driver would stop and check that everyone had paid the right amount for Zone 2. If they hadn't, they either paid or got off the bus. Remember, I was young, far from home, living in the largest city in the country where the only people I knew were the relatives I had never even seen before coming to Toronto. I had no friends to go to if I needed help, I never saw the people I worked with outside of work and I was very quiet and shy at the time. Not well-equipped to deal with life in the real world of the big city. A couple of weeks into my job I found that I didn't have enough bus fare to get back home one day. Around the middle of the week I found myself short of bus tickets with no money to buy more. Like I said, I was young, shy, and more than a little ashamed that I had allowed this to happen. I could have asked my cousin whom I boarded with for a couple of dollars, but she was still sleeping when I left early for work. That evening, when the bus stopped at the checkpoint of Zone 2 and Zone 1, I had to get off the bus. At first I said, what the heck, I can walk home, simple, just follow the same route I took to get here. I didn't realize how far the high speed subway could travel in an hour, not to mention the lengthy street car ride before and the bus after I left the subway. I forgot for the moment that I was in the largest city in the country and the enormous distance between here and my boarding house. Well I started walking. After two hours of this I was getting nowhere. It was hot, the concrete sidewalk was hotter still, I was tired from the heat and all the walking, not to mention the thirst. It would have taken a day to walk home. It was a desperate situation until I saw a sign in the distance for the Salvation Army. Now, I didn't know much about the organization, I being a good Catholic boy from rural Newfoundland where every religion had its own church, school, hospital, cemetery and its very own Heaven and Hell. I did know they had a reputation for helping people in need of help, regardless of their religion or anything like that. So I decided to go in to the building when I got abreast of it. When I entered, there was only one person there. He was in a small office. The gentleman in the office came out when I approached and asked how could he help me. I said, "Sir, I need fifteen cents to buy a bus ticket to get home." (I should mention that a glass of draft beer cost five cents in Toronto at this time.) I told him I had started to walk home but it was hot and I was very tired. He asked me where I lived and I told him, and he smiled and said "That's a very long way. Too far to walk." I guess this man, who was dressed in his uniform, was accustomed to dealing with young people in trouble. I could tell he didn't want me to leave. He asked me over and over again if there was anything else he could do for me. But I said, "No thank you, I just need fifteen cents for a bus ticket." He was trying to help me, and I understood that, but I told him I had a job, a place to stay and I would get something to eat when I got home. Just so you don't get me wrong - he didn't refuse to help me, he just thought I needed more. Which I'm sure he would have given me had I asked for in. In the end, he went into the small office, opened a drawer behind the counter and took out the fifteen cents and gave it to me. When he placed the coins in my hand he held my arm for a moment and asked me one more time if there was anything else he could do for me. I thanked him for his kindness and told him I would return the money when I got paid. He said there was no need to do that. One evening about a week later, I got off the bus outside the Salvation Army building and went inside. The same gentleman was sitting in the office. He came around the corner as he had done the week before and asked me how he could help me. I said, "Sir, you may not remember me, but last week I came in here and asked you for fifteen cents for a bus ticket and you gave it to me." It was the fifteen cents that made him remember and he shook my hand and asked how I was doing. "Well," I said, "and today I've come back to repay my loan." The gentleman told me there was no need, it was nothing. But I told him it meant a great deal to me at the time, and I placed the fifteen cents in his hand. God bless the Salvation Army and the good deeds they do without asking who or what you are. The young man did not forget, the old man he has become has not forgotten either, even though that was long ago. Cyril Griffin New Perlican
Pancakes for Breakfast, Dinner and Supper
During my first year in Toronto, my older brother and his new wife moved up to the city to look for work. Now, why my brother did not come alone still remains a mystery to me. It was easy in those days for a man to find lodging anywhere in the city. However, it was almost impossible to find a place for a man and his wife unless you had relatives that could put you up for a while. I was still at my first job making my $65.00 a week minus all the deductions. My brother and his wife did stay with some cousins of ours for a while but it was clear they needed their own place. Our cousin, who worked high steel at the time, did manage to find my brother a job with the company he worked for. The situation in Toronto in the construction industry was such that you worked six weeks without a paycheck when you first started. The first six weeks' pay was held back so that you would have steady income between future jobs. This was good in a way, but very hard starting out. My brother was new to the city and like me had never been away from home in his life. By this time I had a working knowledge of the city due to the fact that I had to travel almost all the way across it to get to my job. I used to say at the time I knew the city like the back of my hand: dirty, wrinkled and full of knuckleheads. So I took my brother to the union office where he had to get a work permit. We managed to find a place to life and I moved in with them. Now my brother had a good job which would pay good money if only you could survive the first six weeks with no pay. We had to make do with a meager $48.00 or less each week depending on whether there was any overtime. Imagine, if you will, three adults living n a rented flat in a house where the mice and the cockroaches were in a constant battle to outbreed one another. Not the ideal location, but all we could afford, or should I say, I could afford. I forget how much the rent was for the flat but it couldn't have been much. We were working on a budget of $48.00 or less a week for rent, groceries and transportation to and from work for two men. We spent most of my money on transit, believe it or not, because I had to show my brother how to get to his job sites which changed from time to time. That meant we had to travel to the site together and return, and sometimes repeat the trip to make sure he got the instructions right. You see, my brother had gotten lost going to the corner store the first few days he was in the city, so there was cause for worry. With the rent paid, the bus tickets secured, there wasn't much left for food. We sat down one night at the kitchen table counting mice and cockroaches just to see who was winning the battle for breeding supremacy, sizing up our situation. We came to the conclusion that belt-tightening was definitely the order of the day. We had to go seven weeks before things would improve. It came down to the fact we had less than five dollars for groceries. A box of pancake mix and a bottle of syrup did the trick with money to spare. So my brother, his pregnant wife and I went on a steady diet of pancakes and syrup for breakfast, dinner (on weekends) and supper. It was all we could afford. I thought sometimes that we should cook some of the many mice, just so we could have some meat for a change and perhaps give the cockroaches a leg up in the breeding war with the mice. Needless to say, our first pork chop dinner seven weeks later felt like a banquet in a five-star hotel. Even today, over fifty years later, I still get stomach sick when I see a box of Aunt Jemima pancakes on a grocery store shelf. (Please don't think I'm racist, I love the woman, she kept me alive for weeks back in the old days of the mid '60s.) Things got better in time, we moved out of the flat into a much better place. My brother and I were both getting paid every week and a few months later a beautiful little baby girl made us a family of four. I don't know who won the war between the mice and the cockroaches, maybe it's still going on. Anyway, my money is still on the roaches. Cyril Griffin New Perlican
Back in the year of 1966, I left home for the first time in my life. It's a bit strange when I look back on it now, because 1966 was Come Home Year in NFLD, the government spent a lot of money promoting the event. I went off to eastern Ontario to school. The school was run by a religious organization and was male only. The staff were all members of the religious order that ran the school except for two nuns from the neighbouring town. One of the nuns, Sister Lucy, taught English and Chemistry while the other, Sister Anne, helped us with our music. Now, the sisters didn't have a car at the time so one of the staff had to pick them up at their convent and then return them in the afternoon when classes were over. Sister Anne, who taught music only came a couple of days a week but Sister Lucy came every day. Lucy was accustomed to teaching your boys and she could hold her own with the best of them. I still remember how she used to light matches on the top of her show in chemistry class. She had grown up in a big family with older brothers and sisters in the province of Quebec. Sister Lucy was a very good teacher who encouraged us to be creative in our writing of essays and short stories in English class. She had a very nice disposition - for a nun - even smiled now and then - also unusual for a nun. I was glad to be in her class. She would always tell us stories about growing up in Quebec and what life was like in a big family. She had a younger brother who was a sports writer with the Canadiens hockey team on their road trips in what was then original six of the NHL. The convent decided that Sister Lucy should get her driver's license because the convent was coming into the twentieth century in a big way They had already started using their own names, later they would get rid of their black habits and begin wearing regular women's clothing - but that was to come later. So Sister Lucy was sent a driving school by the convent but they didn't have a car yet and no one to take her out driving except the driving instructor who came by a couple of times a week for an hour. So in an effort to help Sister Lucy and perhaps more, because once she got her license they would not have to pick her up at the convent every day and then drop her off again in the evening, the priests decided to let Sister Lucy get behind the wheel of the car when they picked her up so she could get some much-needed practice. This went on for a while until that fateful morning when something went terribly wrong. I don't know exactly what caused the accident and the priests were reluctant to disclose details. But anyway, poor Sister Lucy wrapped the car around a utility pole somewhere along the route between the convent and the school. Maybe she just decided the pole would look much better if it were wrapped in shiny red metal or something like that. Anyway, the car was a write-off, and both Sister Lucy and the priest received non-life-threatening injuries because at that time seatbelts were not mandatory in cars. Well, as you can imagine, Sister Lucy was mortified by the accident - her pride was hurt more than anything else. Although she had injuries, they weren't visible because of the habit she wore. The priest wasn't so lucky, his head had bounced off the windshield and you could see the cuts and bruises. Sister Lucy was so upset that she had destroyed the priests' new car. The staff tried to reassure her that it was no big deal, the car was fully insured and no one seriously hurt. Sister Lucy was in such a state that the rector of the school called us all together one night after supper. He told us how badly Sister was feeling over the whole thing and we should not ask her anything about the accident or even inquire as to her well-being as that would only serve to make her feel worse. We all agreed to keep quiet about the accident and not ask questions that might make her feel uncomfortable. This was alright in a way, but very difficult to carry out. You must remember we were a bunch of teenage boys who wanted to know all about the accident. The tension in class was palpable with everyone wanting to know but afraid to ask. This went on for about a week, it was getting worse every day instead of better. I couldn't stand it any longer cause I really did like Sister Lucy. So I took it on myself to do something about the situation. I didn't mention to anyone what I had planned, just went ahead with it. So one day, while we were waiting for Sister Lucy to come in for English class, I wrote this little poem, which rhymed beautifully, and put it on her desk. I'll tell you what the poem was later. Sister Lucy comes in carrying her briefcase as she always did, lays it on the floor beside the desk. She spies the piece of paper on top of the desk. Picks it up. Reads it. She put her free hand to her face and ran out into the corridor without a word. I figured I'm on the next train heading east. The poem, if you will: "Sister Lucy had a car, And it was painted red. Everywhere that Lucy went, The cops picked up the dead." Now I ask you, if that wouldn't lift up your spirits, what would? Sister Lucy came back to class shortly after as if nothing happened. She didn't mention the poem or anything but you could see the tension was gone. She was back to her old self again. Just after class the announcement came over the PA system, "Would Cyril Griffin please report to the office." I thought, should I pack my bags now or wait for later, and will my train ticket home include meals as well, cause I didn't have any money. I went into the office and the student director told me to sit down. Figured this is it for me. Goodbye school, hello mom and dad I can explain the whole thing - only I couldn't. The director said, "I don't know what possessed you to do something like that, but don't ever do it again." He said that Sister Lucy, who had gone to see him with my poem, had made him promise not to say or do anything to me. In early June of that year while we were waiting in the foyer of the school for a ride to the train station, Sister Lucy came up to me, shook my hand. She held it for a moment, looked me in the eye and said, "Cyril, whatever you do, don't change." Cyril Griffin New Perlican, NL
A View of Homelessness in Newfoundland
Being homeless is so much harder than it used to be. I talked to a guy who asked me for change while I was outside trying really hard to light a cig and while I felt like my life was falling apart. I didn't want to talk to him let alone walk over and give him change. But I always want to be kind and I've been trying harder to be. So I walked up a hill to where he was. He met me part way. I gave him the 20 cents I had and apologized to him that I didn't have more to give. I was caught up in my head. This is the worst my anxiety and OCD have been in months. I briefly mentioned to him that I had been homeless before and I knew it was hard to live like that. He came to the building I work at a few minutes later. I'd lit my cig and smoked half of it, maybe more. I watched one person refuse him change. I started to remember more of what it was like. I called to him and offered him the rest of my cigarette. We talked. He explained to me that he had walked all the way to Pippy Park to simply try to see his doctor... Who was out sick. Then he ended up here. He went to the gathering place who refused him saying he was simply too young to avail of their services. He went to choices for youth who said all of their spaces were full. He went to detox who said they were full. All of them refused him. Another one of the people who work in my building who I don't know walked out of the building. He was very polite. He asked for change. She didn't stop to talk to him. She kept walking and without looking said she had nothing to give him. I believed her as few people have cash on them nowadays. It would have felt kinder if she had at least stopped. We are right outside of a building with cameras and I was around and cars were all around. This man wasn't a threat and it was mid day. He apologized to her for even asking. For even bothering her. She didn't even stop to look at him. I talked to him for a bit and relayed some of my experiences for him. I suggested places to go and he said he had been to all of them. I hesitantly suggested to go to the Waterford, knowing that the vast majority of all of the people on this forsaken Island would rather die than be admitted and to my lack of surprise he shared my sentiments. He said he was scared of them drugging him. Calling his parents and lying to them. Selling him to who knows where or who. I knew how he felt. I've been to that ugly place. Never by choice. I didn't push farther. He explained to me how much he had been walking. How he was hungry. Wanted to sleep. His feet and shoes were soaked from last nights rain. This all for a doctors appointment he didn't get to go to. My mind is afraid of getting sick from him. My mind is saying he was on some type of drug. All the gross stereotypes. But my heart is sad. Sad I wasn't able to give him more than 20 cents. Sad he's all alone. Sad that so many of the places that are built to help people like him turned him away. Why is this how we treat the less fortunate here? A couple of years ago that was me. I was him. He was me. It angers me that none of it is A) better here than it was in the States and B) that we don't care to extend love and grace to others. He came to me while I was on low sleep. While I was glued to my phone and thinking of how my life is falling apart for the thousandth time. But I turned all of that off. I am not better than anyone else. I simply know what that man is going through. I've experienced it. I've lived it through a different lens. That man is not a druggie. A bum. A loser. A waste. He's us. He's all of us. We are all him. We are a missed paycheque or a family conflict, need to pay, rent missed interview away from being him. Why is that hard to see? We are not rich. Not a soul in this province is safe from that. All of us can be him. Many of us will be or have been, I've talked to so many actively or previously homeless people. They're not perfect to be sure but they are PEOPLE. I'm not sure why I feel so strongly all of a sudden. Maybe the feeling of everything crashing down. Maybe all of my anxiety or my experiences. Whatever it is I'm grateful. Someone needs to say what I'm saying. I didn't have the voice to say it before. Now is different. I am not homeless anymore and looking at me I doubt you would guess I ever was. How funny is that? You see someone who goes to work and goes to therapy and goes out with their friends and helps to support their parents and you'd never guess would you. Shameful of you really. To see a person and not their struggle. To simply try to ignore that maybe this person has suffered. Maybe they are currently suffering. To think they don't need help based off of the clothes they're wearing. To think everything is fine based off of their posture and disposition. All of it is shamful. Everyone's done it. I said to that man I wish him the best. I don't give a **** what he uses his meger change to buy. I don't care. He's doing his best to survive while all of the resources available deny him of any help. Don't you wanna cry? Is this not tugging your heartstrings? Or do you not relate? Your life is too cushy and pleasant to relate? It won't always be. Do not forget that. This is not only his reality but it was mine. It can be yours too. So think of him or me or anyone but yourself really the next time you don't stop to even look a homeless person in the face next time you have nothing to give them. I am not faulting anyone for not having change. Cash is a rare form of payment nowadays. But look them in the face to tell them you have nothing to offer. Say "sorry" not "no." Be kind to them. Please. If you don't trust them then trust me. They deserve this small kindness. They don't like where they are. They didn't choose to be homeless. They are humans with thoughts and feelings. None of you understand what it feels like. Be kind to everyone even if you feel like your life is falling apart. Extending kindness to others will make you feel better. My point is stop proverbially spitting on and looking down on people that you view to be below you for some reason or another. No person is better due to their wealth or social standing. The only thing that makes you better is your willingness to be kind. Your willingness to improve. Say hi to the people sitting on the streets. In front of the doors to empty buildings. Talk to them. Give them your kindness if you have nothing else to give to them. Make an effort to bring a bit of change with you if you wanna go to the bars or the pedestrian mall. You will see them and a couple dollars to you may be nothing but to them? You've made their days. Helping people is not that hard. Way way back if you were homeless different types of places would take you in or you'd get temporary work if you're able to work. But now you need to have experience. Now you need clothes to look professional in. How can you look nice if you have no home to go to to shower and change? Im trying to say...No, I'm begging you all to be kinder. Homeless people are humans. Is that so hard to understand. See yourself in them and maybe you would learn some empathy. Stop looking at them like the scum of this earth and look at them as varied flawed people with feelings and thoughts of their own. Please be kinder to them. It does not take a lot to remember to bring a little change if your going down town. It takes far far less to simply look at them and speak to them if you have nothing to give. This is not a huge ask. Please try. Do better.
Back in the late '70's my family and I moved to England, to a lovely little Hamlet called Chorleywood, in Hertfordshire. We bought a house on an "unadopted road." The house was on the same lot as the previous one that had burned down, and had been rebuilt from the ground up. The lady who owned the previous house, had sadly, died in the fire. Our neighbors told us she was a very lovely lady. But sadly she had lost her life. I was a stay at home Mom, my children took the school bus every day, so I was alone. I began to notice things, at first not really paying much attention, and put it down to our dog moving around, or the wind in the trees around the house. Then over time, the dog started barking and growling. Still didn't pay much attention. Until one day while I was in the kitchen, I heard doors opening up, footsteps in the hall and on the stairs. Knowing that I was alone in the house, made me think that someone was in the house with me. I bravely took the dog with me, and we looked around, all the time, she was growling. Her ears up, but her tail wagging. Well we saw nothing and the sounds stopped. A few days passed, and I was sitting in the living room. I heard the door close. Then it opened, and I saw footsteps in the carpet, and they led to the patio door, which was closed, and then the footsteps vanished. Other unexplained things happened. Flowers would grow in places that I didn't plant them. I had the most beautiful garden anyone ever saw. I would smell perfume, and see shadows. A very funny thing happened one morning while driving my children to the bus, I noticed several pairs of shoes in the driveway. So I put it down to the lady who lived there before me. I am not afraid of "ghosts", and I wasn't afraid of her...as I knew that it was the original lady of the house. And I had a feeling she was a friendly ghost. After a while, she didn't visit me anymore. I felt that she was checking me out, and that was O.K. with me. I guess I passed the test. Submitted by: Marilyn Woodworth
The Girls Get New Coats
When we were young growing up in rural Newfoundland there wasn't a lot of money to spend. Most families were big. There was only six of us, four sons and two daughters, we were considered a small family. Myself, I remember wearing a lot of hand-me-downs from my older brothers which included everything from underwear, coats, winter jackets and even our shoes. The shoes were not thrown out when they were worn, but rather repaired with new "taps" tacked onto the old ones when holes started to show. Most families had their own "iron last" which was used for shoe repair. An older woman who lived nearby would make shirts for us which were made by repurposing from my father's and some of our uncles who didn't need them for their own families. All these hand-me-downs didn't help the girls much. My two sisters didn't have older sisters that could pass down their dresses and skirts, shoes or coats. My grandmother used to get barrels of clothing from relatives she had in the United States. She would share this clothing among her grandchildren. She had a big family herself who were all married with children of their own. So she had many grandchildren to help and to please. We always looked forward to getting something from these barrels. Sometimes there might be a girls' coat or two in the barrel but most times there weren't any. The girls had to get new coats made somehow, after all they were young and growing every day. So my sisters and many other young girls from working class families - which was most girls in our area - had coats made for them. The coats were made from coats that had been worn by older women for several years. Parents, grandparents, aunts and other friends or neighbours. When my mother got one of these coats she would carefully take them apart at the seams - you didn't want to cut holes in the fabric. This was done by using a razor blade which was broken in half lengthwise. She would first remove the lining from the inside of the coat. Now, all o these coats were faded in colour due to years of wear and exposure to the elements of sun, wind and rain. Sitting in a chair, with the coat on her lap, mom would find the seam and carefully open them up, turn the coat inside out. She would do this with the sleeves and collar of the coat as well as the body. The beauty of it was when the coat was opened this way the underside was just like it came out of the shop, as regards to the colour of the fabric. This all took some time to complete because great care was taken not to cut the material, just the thread that held it together. When the coat was reduced to its many parts, mom would press the pieces out with a hot iron and wet cloth which helped to flatten the creases, making the material easier to work with. Now, my mother couldn't make the coats herself, that was a trade in itself. There were some older women in town who would make coats. Most of these women, though not all, were older women who had raised big families themselves. The now found they had a lot of free time with their children grown and gone. There were in great demand especially in the early fall and late in the spring when new coats were most needed. Mom would stuff the pieces of the old coat she had prepared into a clean pillowcase or flour sack and bring it to some older lady. Now, sometimes she had to visit more than one person cause these people were often very busy making coats. The making of a child' coat required a lot of work and took time to complete. There weren't any phones in our area so you couldn't just call someone up and ask them if they could do the job. Usually you met someone at church, the grocery store, post office, or by word of mouth. Then it was take the material, the girls the coats were to be made for, and their older brother whom no one was willing to babysit, to that person's house. I wouldn't know anything about this stuff if I hadn't been dragged along. The lady would first look at the material. Then she would measure my sister around the shoulders, neck, waist and hips, and shoulder to knee for length because the coat would be made to fit them. Now sometimes mom would use the buttons that were originally on the coat and sometimes she would use new ones. We always had a big container of button at home, my sisters and I would play with them, use them for money when we played shop. My older brothers also used them for money when they played cards like the cowboys in the movies did. It took a while to make a new coat, the material had to be cut to size, then sewn together, the sleeves made separately, likewise the collar with its lapels or whatever you call them on women's coats. Somehow the lady would inform mom that the coat was ready for its final fitting. This information might come via a hand-written note delivered to our door by a child or grandchild of the person making the coat. Sometimes it was a chance meeting at church or at the store or passing on the street. Remember there were no phones. Anyway, we would go back to the lady's house, mom, my sisters and me cause there still wasn't anyone willing to babysit me. This would take place some evening after supper. The lady would try the coat on my sisters, size it up and make note of any alterations that might be needed. Before we left her house that night she would tell mom when the coat would be finished and she could pick it up. It was usually only a couple of days after this final fitting. My sisters would try on the new coat, which usually fit perfectly, admire it in a mirror and insist on wearing it on the way back home that night. It was a big deal to get a new coat for any young girl at the time. The coats were made for them alone which made it even more special. Mom would pay the lady for her work which was a price agreed on from the beginning. The coats were always beautiful and functional made with love and care and a great deal of pride. All that time and talent, love and pride of workmanship in making the coats which looked as good as any that had come out of any shop for the sum of $5 each. Cyril Griffin New Perlican, NL
Living without a lifeline!
9 or 10 years ago I submitted an article to The Downhomer about my wife's desire to be buried with our son Arthur when cancer takes her life away. I have been trying to manage without her for almost 2 years but as time goes by every day without my 'Lifeline' seems harder. For anyone to understand how I feel my life has been without her I will give you an example as follows. I was driving on a dark as death night down an unlighted road, not sure where we were going, with Mary and our children (all of whom I loved without reservation) in the car. Everyone was crying, "where are we?" "I'm hungry!" "I have to pee!" "I hate you!" "Will we ever get there?", I kept on driving the car. At the time I was young enough to not let what anyone was wailing about to interrupt my thought processes and kept on driving without uttering a word. No words of comfort, solace or understanding. I was me and I just kept soldering on! I didn't know where or which way to turn but, somehow I knew, or maybe I hoped, that when I came to the right place I would intuitively know that "this is where I turn." Without Mary to guide me I feel the same way as I did years ago when we were lost somewhere in N.B. Not young anymore, not self-assured, lost on a dark and dreary road. Not knowing which way to turn. Each night I go to bed hoping to sleep until I am no longer among the living. And I won't have to live with cancer anymore.
Th Salvation Army in Newfoundland
The Salvation Army in Newfoundland The Salvation Army was founded in 1865 by William Booth, a Methodist preacher who sought to save both the lives and the souls of the thousands of urban poor in London's east end. From England, the Salvation Army spread to other countries. In Canada, the Salvation Army was first established in Ontario in 1882, but it was in Newfoundland that the Salvationists would achieve their greatest success. The opening of North America to the salvation Army occurred as Salvationists emigrated from Britain to Canada and the United States to find work. These immigrants longed for the energy and excitement of an Army meeting and took it upon themselves to begin Salvation Amy-style services in their new country. Informal services eventually led to the formal establishment of The Salvation Army in these two countries. However research was never officially conducted by The Salvation Army to determine whether to 'invade' the island of Newfoundland. The Salvation Army entered Newfoundland by accident after a couple of Salvationists honeymooned in Portugal Cove, just outside St. John's. Captain Emma Churchill, the eleventh officer commissioned in the Canadian Salvation Army married Charles Dawson, a Salvation Army soldier in Guelph, Ontario. In keeping with Amy regulations at the time forbidding officers marrying soldiers, Emma resigned her commission. Emma and Charles now soldiers, the equivalent of congregation members, traveled to Emma's hometown of Portugal Cove Newfoundland for their honeymoon. Since the Dawsons were soldiers. the Army had no control over their movements and Headquarters was not officially informed of their whereabouts. The Salvation Army, however, was still in its infancy in Canada and the movements of its soldiers and officers would have been easy to track. Considering the fact that Emma was an important officer, having opened a number of corps in Canada and the United States of America, the Army would have stayed in contact with her and her family and been aware that Emma and Charles were in Newfoundland. Headquarters did not issue any orders to attempt an invasion of Newfoundland, but considering Emma's experience in the rest of North America it was no surprise that the Dawsons held the first ever Salvation Army-style meeting in Newfoundland on September 3. 1885. Like the Army's pioneers in the rest of North America, the Dawsons were accustomed to energetic religious services and finding this energy lacking in the local church, they held their own service. Emma had already conducted a number of meetings in both Canada and the United States and using this experience she knew how to organize one in Newfoundland. The venue was the Methodist church of Portugal Cove. Emma's family church was unable to find any advertisements but somehow word spread to St. John's and a large number of people made the trip to Portugal Cove, making the first ever Salvation Amy-style meeting in Newfoundland a tremendous success. The Evening Mercury wrote, "a very successful meeting in connection with the Salvation Army was held. Eight o'clock was the hour appointed for the meeting to commence; but long before the hour arrived the Methodist Church was thronged, every available seat being occupied." The meeting was so successful the Young Men's Christian Association of St. John's requested the Dawsons to conduct services in the city. No direct evidence exists stating the YMCA requested the Dawsons hold Salvation Army-style meetings in St. John's, but it is a logical conclusion based on the information available. The YMCA held interdenominational Protestant meetings before the Dawsons arrived in St. John's. Always looking for new and exciting religious services the YMCA enlisted the aid of the Dawsons. This was the only way for the Dawsons to hold services in the city since they did not have the financial means to rent Victoria Hall for what turned out to be 5 months. Both Emma and Charles were soldiers while in Newfoundland with no money or official sanction for them to hold Salvation Amy services. Informal Army meetings in North America were conducted independently of any other religious organization by people living in the area. The Dawsons were not residents of Newfoundland and they were to leave the island once their honeymoon was complete. The Dawsons, therefore. were not attempting to establish a corps that they could attend. The Dawsons longed for the excitement of an Army service and so they had one. There was little thought given to the idea that they would establish The Salvation Army in Newfoundland. The service in Portugal Cove was as much for the Dawsons as it was for Newfoundlanders. Another significant difference between the work of the Dawsons in St. John's and that of the other Army pioneers in North America was that those in Canada and the United States of America acted independently of any other church. The Salvationists who first started Salvation Amy meetings in the rest of North America made it clear to the public that they were attempting to establish the Army and make converts in both countries. The Dawsons however, did not act independently of the YMCA. The Dawsons were soldiers, not officers, meaning they could not take charge of a corps in Newfoundland or any other place and their trip to Newfoundland was for a honeymoon. not a relocation which meant they intended to return to Canada. But they extended their stay, first for two months then five,and never during this time did the Dawsons branch off from the YMCA and hold meetings of their own. The Dawsons provided Newfoundlanders with a taste of The Salvation Army in the hopes that someone else would be able to build on the work they had initiated. The size of the meetings in St. John's can never be known precisely. but The Mercury provided an indication they were well attended. The Mercury wrote, "the Salvation Army have fairly struck the town. Yesterday they held two meetings, both of which were crowded." This success was attributable as much to the Dawsons as to the YMCA. Since the Dawsons were working for the YMCA, a respected Protestant organization, the churches of St. John,s were not threatened. The Ten-a Nova Advocate a Catholic newspaper, did not chastise its people for taking part in the services, nor did it print any articles attacking the Dawsons. Protestants had little to fear from the Dawsons since there was no Salvation Army corps for converts to join. Those who found religion at these meetings would belong to an established church presumably Protestant, to continue their Christian life. As long as the Army did not attempt to establish itself in Newfoundland, there was no opposition to their presence. This changed at the end of January 1886 when The Salvation Army officially 'opened fire' in Newfoundland. The Dawsons were optimistic about their work in St. John's and informed Headquarters, requesting an official party be sent to the island. On January 20. 1886. four female officers arrived from Canada to prepare for the invasion. Captains Phillips, Collins and Kimmerly and Cadet Larder were in St. John's for eleven days before District Officer Young arrived. The four lasses did not hold any Salvation Army services before the arrival of D. O. Young. They busied themselves finding a suitable venue for the Army's meetings and inquired about areas outside St. John's in search of other places to invade. A building was found on Springdale Street and the small band of Salvationists awaited the arrival of their leader. Footnotes: 1/ D.O. Young arrived in St. John's on January 31, 1886. 2/ Although Portugal Cove was the birthplace of The Salvation Amy in Newfoundland, by 1891 there were no Salvationists living there. 3/ My maternal grandfather (Richard Laurie, 1850-1925, an RC) was Emma Churchill`s cousin, which sort of makes me a fellow traveler I guess. PPS. The rapid growth of the Salvation Army in Newfoundland has been attributed to the novelty and excitement provided by meetings in which soldiers were encouraged to sing and play instruments as expressions of their religious faith. The military ethos was also an attractive feature, as it gave individuals a sense of importance and structure. Moreover, women were considered equal to men and were encouraged to participate fully and to become officers: the first corps commander at Springdale Street was Captain Annie Totten. However, just as these features attracted converts, they also generated hostility from the established churches in St. John's. On one notable occasion an outdoor meeting held at the Parade Ground drew a crowd that ultimately turned violent. The Salvation Army posed a particular threat to the Methodist Church, since the spontaneity and fervour of Army services were reminiscent of 'old time' Methodism. This was an important factor in the spread of the Army into outport Newfoundland. The north and north-east coasts had a large Methodist population, but there were few ministers outside the larger towns, and many outports did not have regular religious services. The style and structure of the Salvation Army was well-suited to outport communities and was able to fill some of the religious void. The schooner Glad Tidings travelled to remote outports, and made her first voyage to the Labrador coast in 1891. Salvation Army officers were stationed in a community on a permanent basis. However, if there was not an officer present, soldiers could still hold meetings, and meetings could be held anywhere. References: St John's archive, NL archive, MUN archive, family history and family folklore
Highlights of my year working at the British Embassy in 1961
My first assignment at the embassy was an unpleasant posting at the embassy's garage doors. This was far from an ideal assignment, especially so that particular January, as it was very cold when I took up the posting, and the garage doors were more often than not usually open. In addition to the to the main embassy and the ambassador's residence, on Massachusetts Ave., the British Government also owned a number of other buildings around Washington, mostly warehouses and archival libraries. After my garage door assignment that lasted several weeks I was next stationed at one of these storage locations, often on weekends. Because these places were almost always vacant on weekends, they turned out to be ideal places to catch up on lost sleep, or to put in some time preparing for a couple of courses I was taking in International Affairs at the George Washington University. The main drawback of being in these buildings as far as I could tell was that they were insufferably overheated in winter and very stuffy in summer due to the absence of air-conditioning. The prestige embassy postings for receptionists and security were those at the ambassador's residence and the embassy's main entrance just off the Rotunda and both came my way before long. Sir Harold Caccia was the British Ambassador to the USA at that time (1960) and the general feeling one got about him around town, was that he was quite popular. Receptions Shortly after getting assigned to these plum postings in late February, more opportunities opened up within the wider embassy world. Within another month or two I was appointed liaison officer between the security section and the social affairs and public relations departments of the embassy, allowing insights into these other aspects of embassy life. The Ambassador's residence posting was quite a different quintal of fish again.Surprisingly,being here permitted me to eavesdrop on Washington's and the wider worlds political and entertainment glitterati of that era. My surprise posting to the ambassador's residence materialized quite suddenly late one afternoon. Quite out of the blue, my boss a fastidious Scotsman and head of the department asked me to take the 4:00 pm to midnight shift there beginning the following day. Almost immediately it began paying big dividends. Within the week I got to meet and greet the biggest Washington fish of them all. The Scotsman had told me that there would be a private dinner coming up at the residence the next week, for guests of honour, the US President, John F Kennedy and Mrs.Kennedy. (Soon to be well-known universally as JFK and Jackie.) I freely admit that upon hearing the news I grew quite excited. It was late in February and uncommonly cold for Washington when they arrived right on time, 7 pm sharp as expected. Although I could conceal it to some extent, I was nevertheless hyped up. Their group also included a select secret service detail that remained in the hall way with me for much of the evening, while at times sneaking peeps into the dining room, to keep an eye on their very important charges. The Kennedy party,pushed along by a stiff cold gust of outside wind quickly came through the residence's entrance and vestibule into the warmth of the hallway, where they suddenly arrived practically in front of my desk. Kennedy, as usual was wearing the ubiquitous, long navy blue winter great coat of his, a style that very quickly was becoming de rigour among Washington's political and bureaucratic ilk. He was already in the act of peeling it off the minute he got into the hall way, clearly a man of action. He swept past an embassy attendant sent to assist him and was past my reception desk, before an embassy first secretary came rushing up to greet them officially. He then escorted them down the hall a short distance to the residence's cloak room where other attendants awaited. The Caccias at that moment suddenly materialized from an adjoining drawing room smiling broadly, offering outstretched hands in greeting. Somewhat more attention seemed to be extended Mrs. Kennedy and she clearly allowed herself to be fussed over much more than JFK. Everyone in the immediate area was soon smiling grandly, including me. How could our distinguished guests not fail to notice such obvious affection? After being attended to, the small group, with the ambassador leading, made their way towards the dining room a little further down the hall. Amid all the hubbub I too had been the recipient however briefly of one of the captivating JFK smiles, as he passed by my post. That was as close as I got to the President and Mrs. Kennedy during my year at the embassy. Around this same time, another celebrity turned up at the residence as special guest of the Caccias' for a private dinner party and it was a more subdued affair than the Kennedy visit had been. The celebrity guest this time was Sir Lawrence Olivier, who arrived alone somewhat surprisingly,no date or companion. I gave him a genuine polite greeting as he walked past my table to sign the guest book, receiving a curt smile in return. He was met by the residence butler and led off to the drawing room across the hall where Sir Harold, Lady Caccia and a few of their select friends awaited him having pre-dinner drinks. Rotunda receptions The Rotunda, a special design feature to this quite new embassy,(late 1950s) was an eye catching large circular space that lay just to the right after entering the embassy. It was without question, the centre for all the embassy's larger social gatherings. I first met Mrs. Burke, wife of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Arleigh Burke one bright spring morning. I had been sent to meet her by the head of our department in order to be briefed on some joint US/British Embassy social events that she was involved in coordinating. Her kick- off event was to be a cocktail party to be held in the Rotunda she'd requested the embassy co-host. I don't think any of these initiatives of hers were in any way related to her husband's department though it goes without saying the mere mention of his name would surely have opened doors for her. The initiative seemed to be her own idea, another way of introducing visiting celebrity Brits to the Embassy to Americans as well, over drinks a few times a year. Of course, to get the green light for the Embassy to host these get-togethers required the approval of the embassy's security division. After he had been brought up to speed on Madame Burke's plans, my boss, the very fastidious Scotsman, did give his approval for the events after fussing for a while, concerned over the vulnerability of the Rotunda to the outside. He then delegated me to be his point man with Madame Burke. Ms. Burke was a very friendly, affable woman, who had a straightforward way about her of getting right down to the business at hand.This chatty side to her nature became immediately apparent the moment she welcomed me into her office, with an effusive greeting. "Hello Mr. Christopher, I'm so happy to see that you will be my embassy contact for our social committee's plans for the coming year. Please convey my warm greetings and thank yous to your dept. head Mr. Lowry for me.I'm very happy we had the opportunity to meet and I very much look forward to working with you on the planning of our events during the coming year." She enthusiastically then went on, describing her plans for the social committee in the coming year. "The security director informs me that your beautiful Rotunda at the embassy can be the location for our first cocktail party next month. Please, don't hesitate to contact me if any of our plans need further explanation with regard to the embassy's security protocols." The first social event I worked on with her was the cocktail party.As it happened it was held in conjunction with a visit by Dame Maggie Smith, who was then acting in a Broadway play in New York. Of course, most of Washington's official arts and cultural community showed up along with numerous glitterati for the event, as well as a number of interested or curious foreign embassy officials. The British embassy on Massachusetts, was quite new at the time and had only recently opened for business and I'm quite sure that many of the invitees for the event were simply curious. The embassy building itself was quite impressive and its opening just a few years before my arrival had received a ton of favourable press at the time. The Rotunda was located just to the right of the main entrance, after entering the embassy; in this respect the embassy was considered almost too accessible in the opinion of my fastidious Scots security boss. It could probably hold in a couple hundred guests for a stand-up cocktail party, where people could stroll around nibbling on hors d'ouvers sipping a glass of wine; which was exactly what our planned social events would seem to be. For a more formal sit down dinner, it might accommodate a hundred at best. The stand-up gathering, I think it might have been for the British Broadway star Maggie Smith was held in the very early evening, beginning shortly after 5:00 pm. In addition to the arts and entertainment crowd, there were scatterings of politicians, government bureaucrats and guests from interested foreign embassies along with many members of the press and television. Ms. Burke had covered the invitee spectrum pretty thoroughly. I learned from my boss that all I would have to do during the party was keep my eyes open and circulate around, appearing to be just another one of the guests. "Act like you're one of the crowd. Just fit in! You can do it," he ordered. To assist in this charade I decided to walk about with a glass of wine always in hand. As I hadn't cleared this ploy with my boss however, I lay off drinking it as much as possible during my walk-about. Of course I kept sipped away throughout the entire event so that by the end of the evening, I had probably put away several large glasses of the embassy's best grape and become slightly lightheaded. Nevertheless, I still attempted to do my duty and continued to keep a sharp look out for any suspicious looking behaviour. As the function began to wind down, I was approached by Mrs. Burke , who seemed to be a bit woozy herself, exclaiming "John how are you? How nice it is to see you." Mock surprise upon seeing me, (but without giving away our undercover game). I should explain that I had been dating a couple of young women during my time working at the embassy, one from in-house connections and the other locally , a resident of Washington D.C. Neither was with me at the the gathering for Maggie Smith that night Ann Fear was the rather proper daughter of Wing Commander Fear our Military Attache. She was then an Oxford University nursing student taking what seemed to be a rather long holiday visit to Washington. Nancy Hansen, on the other hand was just her opposite, the completely free spirited daughter of a left wing Senator from Wisconsin I believe. I spent many enjoyable hours in the Hansen household, usually on Sunday afternoons, when there seemed to be an open house for all comers. Everything had gone as smoothly as we'd hoped. No one became intoxicated, no scenes were created, and nobody blew my cover that evening.Security personnel at the embassy didn't wear uniforms; there no markings of any kind to identify such individuals. We were all hidden from view. (In those days Embassy employees were issued a cartoon or two of cigarettes (Players) and a couple bottles of booze weekly, overseas posting treats for British Nationals I suppose.) The food and booze served at these Rotunda affairs was always top drawer, with most products carrying the seal of Her Royal Highness. I soon discovered that on the whole, the events I worked on were interesting and educational. The 'high-light' reel for me before the year at the embassy ended was a weekend spent 'guarding' Sir Harold Macmillan, the British Prime Minister, then on head of state visit to the USA. It turned out to be the busiest event of the year for us, involving as it did both the residence and embassy and it involved a great deal of preparation on the part of embassy staff as well as American governmental officials. At the time, there was among other things, a major crisis brewing between the American government and the Soviets over the installation of soviet missiles in Cuba. For me, purely by accident, it turned out to be the most interesting time to be working at the British Embassy. JFK, the knight from Camelot found himself locked into a game of chicken with the colourful bombastic and very controversial Nikita Khrushchev. (Who could have forgotten his famous shoe banging incident at the UN?) It was around this time that the witty, urbane and pragmatic Sir Harold, (Supermac) undertook his visit to the USA, ostensibly to express solidarity with Kennedy but perhaps also to help calm the waters. At the embassy we all looked forward to the MacMillan visit much anticipation. Still ahead, lay the fiasco of the failed CIA sponsored anti- Castro paramilitary invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs (Invasion de Playa Giron) in April 1961. Meanwhile,at this time, rumours were running rampant that the embassy was full of closet reds, with accusations being made almost weekly that soviet moles had already been planted in our midst by moles then working at MI 5 itself. This was in all likelihood probably true. All of this intrigue just added to the glamour of working in the place. I felt quite lucky to be working there that year, and as it so happened on the 'inside' in security. Real or imagined security challenges at the embassy, kept us on our toes, always on the lookout for possible moles among our embassy employees, even among the highest levels like first and second secretaries. We were kept pumped with weekly pep talks by our very conscientious and overly suspicious supervisor, to report on any questionable employees. This excessive diligence was put to the test during our nightly rounds when we inspected certain offices following official business hours, when we could do our snooping unhindered. We were told to be particularly on the lookout for official looking big brown manila envelopes marked Top Secret that were left out, on desktops and the like, not under lock and key as they should have been, after the office occupants had left for the day. If such things were discovered, we were to report them immediately to our Scots boss so he could get to work questioning the rule breakers right away. This extra degree of scrutiny was to be undertaken especially in the offices to our most senior secretaries more so than in those of individuals lower down in the pecking order. Naturally, Security felt that it was only these people who would have been privy to the most important sensitive government information; MI5 may in fact have tipped us off to undertake this extra degree of surveillance. When such infringements were discovered and reported to the Scotsman, a stern warning was given to the office occupant, to get their house in order. If a second breach occurred, they would be watched more closely, perhaps even secretly, and it would be reported up the chain of command even up to the ambassador himself. I'm not aware that anyone on staff was ever caught spying for the USSR while I was there, although there were, from what I later learned through the grapevine, a number of individuals under very close surveillance. Just a few years later, a maelstrom exploded within MI5 itself, when a group of former Oxford chums led by Kim Philby, who then occupied a very senior post at the spy agency, together with five of his notorious friends, were outed as USSR moles in 1963. Just as the noose was closing in on him however,Philby was successful in making his escape to the USSR just in the nick of time. After he fled, Philby was forced to live the remainder of his natural life in the USSR, dying there in the mid-1980s. Apparently Philby's spying had been going on for decades and undoubtedly senior MI5 officers had not been completely without their suspicions, but proof of his guilt always eluded them until just before he flew the coup in 1963. Security officials at British Embassies worldwide, had been alerted to the possibility of potentially dangerous in-house situations by the time of my arrival in 1960. For those enjoyable days I spent in the company of Sir Harold, I have to thank again my boss, the Scot. It's not every day that someone as young as I was would have the opportunity, (even at the most important UK embassy of them all), to spend almost three days wandering around with while keeping an eye out for the Prime Minister of Great Britain, especially someone of Sir Harold Macmillan's stature. I was indeed lucky to be chosen one of just a few embassy security people to accompany Sir Harold on his embassy and residence rounds during his visit to the USA that year. During the week -end he was kept very busy with meetings, receptions, press conferences and formal dinners at both the embassy (where he stayed while in Washington), and the US state department. NOTE: embassy security didn't accompany him outside the embassy where he was accompanied by his own Scotland Yard people, who had also accompanied him at all times within the embassy, in addition to his numerous engagements around Washington DC. On Sir Harold's final night, the Ambassador had a formal dinner for him at the residence for just a select list of dinner guests. I had the opportunity to observe him up close, under different circumstances of course during most events at the embassy and his comings and goings between embassy and residence. I remember particularly that final evening when he attended the formal good bye dinner at the residence, hosted by Sir Harold and Lady Caccia. The guest list included several foreign ambassadors, some of whom may have been personal friends of Sir Harold's, along with a number of local friends and politicians of the Caccias and Sir Harold's. Perhaps, because of advancing age, (he was then 66 or 67) combined with the extremely long working hours he'd put in during his visit, he appeared to grow quite weary, stifling many yawns, as the dinner wore on. Also contributing to the ennui may have been the pre-dinner drinks and the dinner wine. But he was a tough old bird and knew how to handle himself in these situations having undertaken many similar tours of duty on Great Britain's behalf, going back to his days as Foreign Secretary for Prime Minister Anthony Eden, (who, by the way, he somewhat resembled in appearance, natty dressing, and manner and whom he succeeded. Unfortunately, in so doing he was left with the aftermath of the ill-conceived Anglo-French Suez Canal fiasco to clean up. He was active politically during a time when there were many world crises unfolding including the erection of the Berlin Wall, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crises and the start of the Viet Nam war. Great Britain's attempts to be included in the European Common Market were also an on-again/ off-again preoccupation during his years in Parliament. Whatever the causes of his obvious ennui, I noticed he did indeed nod off on occasion while at table, if only momentarily. Perhaps he was just bored or disliked what was being served. He appeared not to be a very hearty diner on that particular night. From my hall door vantage point in the corridor I could still occasionally sneak a glimpse into the dining room and keep an eye on him. On one of these peeping-toms I studied him closely for a couple of minutes as he rather daintily nibbled on a bit of asparagus. During his visit there were no scandals and nothing gossipy for the newspapers to report, he displayed no behaviour quirks and no scuttlebutt ensued. But he was still at the time a very important person politically to the rest of the world. Since taking office in 1957 he had acquired the well -earned title of 'the decolonizer' for beginning the process of disengaging Britain from her colonies in Africa that began with Ghana in 1957, with others to follow before he left office in 1963. He and John Kennedy were on very good terms both politically and personally, perhaps in part due to the marriage of Kennedy's sister to a nephew of MacMillan's. He and Jack hit it off from the very beginning and a solid committed friendship continued until Jack's assassination. Jack often kept Harold in the loop with as many as six cable grams a day. Jackie continued a warm personal relationship with Sir Harold until his death. Jack and Harold were an odd couple in that Jack was such an obvious womanizer (sometimes as many as three girlfriends a night) while Harold was just the opposite, a staid faithful husband up to the end. (In this regard unlike his wife who carried on a thirty five year affair with a colleague of Harold's.) Trivia collectors might be aware of the fact that he was the last British Prime Minister to wear a moustache and the last PM to be born, (in 1894), while Queen Victoria was still on the throne. He lived to be 92, and remained active politically in retirement with biting critiques of those with whom he disagreed. He died in 1986. I remember my girlfriend Ann and her air attache, Wing Commander dad, both saying at the time I was then en garde at the embassy that it couldn't have occurred at a more interesting time. Sir Harold was always very courteous towards me during my rather brief time with him. I recall him now, as a very natty dresser, in the conservative manner, always very smartly and expensively turned out. He was every inch the British gentleman. He was the PM during the 'good times' of the British invasion in music and fashion in the UK (1957-1963) and was followed by yet another conservative Sir Alex Douglas Home (pronounced Hume). Sir Alec was the last in a string of Tories and was ousted only a year later by Labour's Harold Wilson. John P Christopher Toronto, ON