Volume 23, Number 132, April/May 2020 A Different Kind of War Veteran Story by Anna Olson
If it weren’t for the Second World War, I wouldn’t exist. I was born because a Canadian man went to England to be part of the war effort, and found a lady to love.
My father, who grew up in Stony Mountain, Manitoba, joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and was shipped to England in 1942. My mother, a native of England, served in the WACS (Women’s Auxiliary Corps Service). They met in Southampton, my mother’s hometown, where they started their relationship.
Both parents had more pain from their families than they had from serving in the war, by my estimation. Dad was the youngest child. He just squeaked by getting born as his mother refused to have any more babies. She was worn out from raising seven kids plus helping to run a farm.
Dad’s father had rough manners, as did a lot of dads of that era. He was quick with physical punishment and harsh words. All the kids left home as soon as they were able.
Mom was the eldest, born to hostile parents who would have divorced if they could. “In those days,” my mom told me, “people had to stay together for economic reasons.” She also left home as soon as she could.
Back in Canada, when the government called for volunteers to join the fight against the Germans, my dad got in line. After being shipped to England, he became a worker in the Radar Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force, never seeing physical combat. My mother joined in the war effort as a secretary. She could type and take dictation - that’s what I remember her telling me when I was young. (She and Dad have passed away so I can’t check my accuracy.)
It was the early 40’s when Mom and Dad courted, got married, and after a couple of years produced me. Mom was a war bride and I became a war baby (born in June of 1945). After the war ended, when I was seven months old, Dad would go home to Canada with his unit while Mom and I crossed the Atlantic ocean on the Queen Mary, rumbled across Canada on a train, and met Dad, ready to go to his home town of Stony Mountain, 15 miles outside of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
On the Queen Mary, my mom was proud of her baby-toilet-training ability. She told me, with considerable pride, that other mothers had to wash diapers but not her (no disposable diapers in that era). She had trained me to give a signal when I had to “go”. She would put me on the potty fast and so save a diaper. Normally, babies are not capable of controlling their fecal flow until around 12 months. My mother was one determined lady.
Mom also told me how some of the brides flirted and had sex with the male workers on the ship. That was so scandalous that the officers in charge would not allow the women involved to get off the boat at Halifax. They were deemed unsuitable citizens for Canada and were sent back to England on the return voyage. My mother was proud of her own celibate behaviour.
My parents squeezed themselves and me into Dad’s mother’s small house in Stony Mountain. (His dad had died years before.) My mom, with her strong English accent, had difficulty fitting in. The other women in the town had trouble understanding her thick accent, and also resented English brides who had “stolen” their men.
My mother figured she could fix one of the problems; she would lose her English accent. She worked at it vowel by vowel, practising as if she were learning a new language. It worked. She was at a gathering when a woman voiced a complaint about these darn English women who had the nerve to marry their men. Mom spoke up in perfect Canadianese: “I am one of those women.” The room went silent. It was no longer safe to complain about usurpers: there was a spy in their midst.
There was one incident where my mother did not do as well. Coming from damp, chilly England with no central heating, my mother’s blood was “thicker” or so I picture. Thick blood is not a medical term but the upshot was she found our dry, overheated indoor air stifling. One sunny January morning, she threw open a window and drew in deep gulps of fresh, invigorating air. The problem was she didn’t realize that the 100-year-old Christmas cactus in full bloom didn’t appreciate the rush of freezing air the way she did. The poor plant, kept alive by generations of loving female hands, succumbed, collapsed, and died a silent death. I don’t think my grandma was silent, though. That horrible accident set up an enmity between the two women that was never fully healed.
My parents are technically veterans but I don’t put them in the same category with those who saw active duty. If anything, serving in WW II was a coming-of-age experience for both of them. My dad entered as a non-commissioned officer but worked his way up to full officer. He was an unsophisticated farm boy at the beginning but had enough intelligence and good work habits to benefit from the courses and guidance. After the war, he was offered farmland or a university education by the Canadian government. He chose law and graduated with the help of Mom typing his assignments.
My mother described her ascent from a rebellious, unkempt young woman to a competent worker with improved appearance, gaining various promotions along the way. I know all this because my mom liked to talk about the old days and details of her early relationship with my dad. Dad never said much. Too bad I can’t ask either of them now.
I learned about EFT (emotional freedom technique) about ten years ago. It’s a tapping therapy that helps to liberate people from the effects of trauma. I remember watching a video of Gary Craig (an EFT pioneer) using the procedure on a war vet who had an intense fear of heights. He lived in a fifth floor apartment but couldn’t bring himself to look over the balcony. Gary Craig went through the routine with his client, tapping on all the meridian points while the man described his painful war experience. After the 30-minute procedure, he was able to go out on the balcony and look over the rail.
On the internet, you can type in a browser “Gary Craig war vets” and see videos of how he helped various men. It’s fascinating to see how tense, distraught men evolve into being able to calmly talk about their war experience. Craig thinks EFT should be made available to all survivors of war.
The theory of EFT is that tapping on specific meridian points of the body interrupts the pain reflex that has become stuck in the client’s subconscious. Instead of going to one therapist for bodywork (like reiki, reflexology or shiatsu), and to another therapist for talk therapy, EFT combines the two therapies in one. It’s more powerful, I believe, for that reason.
I used EFT to help a woman who felt like a traumatized victim. She was hurt emotionally as a five-year-old when she accidentally got stuck in a kitchen cupboard playing hide-and-go-seek, and no one could hear her calling for help because everyone else had gone outside. Hours later, when she finally got liberated, she was close to hysterical. After that she was terrified of small spaces, even being inside a car. She was in her forties when she told me how she had struggled with claustrophobia all the years since the event.
I told her about EFT and she agreed to try it. I showed her how to tap on the meridian points on her body while she described the details of her ordeal. At the end, I asked her to say, “I’m ready to let go of this pain. I can go into small spaces and feel safe now.” Then I asked her to go into a dark closet and tell me how she felt. She was amazed because she felt no fear. Whenever we meet, years after that EFT adventure, I ask if the fear has returned. “No it hasn’t,” she says every time.
On my bucket list is a desire to see the Queen Mary. Of course the ship has been renovated a few times since Mom and I graced its presence. The QM was launched in 1936, ready to ferry the rich and famous across the Atlantic, taking four or five days each way. In 1939, according to Wikipedia, the ship was transformed into a troopship, transporting more than 800,000 soldiers back and forth from North America to Europe. There were also 22,000 war brides and thousands of babies and children who made their way to Canada and the United States after the war. The Queen Mary made thirteen “Bride and Baby Voyages” to carry them to their destinations. You can look up “Pier 21” on the internet to learn about Halifax as the entry point to Canada for immigrants.
In 1967, the Queen Mary made her terminal voyage to the city of Long Beach, California, to live out her days as a luxury hotel and maritime museum. This grand old ship is permanently “beached”.
I’m thinking maybe I could save up enough money to go to Long Beach and rent a suite on the Queen Mary for a holiday. I fantasize telling anyone who would listen that Mom and I sailed on this ship in 1945. Maybe someone would offer to buy me a drink or a meal to celebrate. It’s worth a try for the freebie, don’t you think? It would only cost me a few thousand dollars to make the trip!