Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Zoom w a View: “More fall scenes” 2

So, here’s the low down. At 5 ft. 5 in. tall, I find it easy to get down low for these shots.

Some will say, “So, Shorty. What do these shots look like in colour?”

Stay tuned.

[Photos by GH]


Please click here for more Zoom w a View and "fall scenes"

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dad’s Navy Days: “Passing the Needles” (4)

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if somewhere in Niagara Falls or surrounding area someone related to Norm Mitchison has a replica strip Lewis .303 hanging above a mantel or displayed prominently over an inside doorway. I would if my dad was credited with two planes shot down during WW2 and that was the gun he used. (Okay, maybe not over the fireplace, but someplace where I could point it out to others and tell them the story attached to it.)

I have a Cunard Line promotional print (in a gorgeous oak frame) over my fireplace mantel. It was a gift from my father, a veteran of WW2, having served 4 years with the RCNVR in such places as Scotland, England, North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Comox, B.C.

When he saw it hanging inside a train station in his hometown (Norwich, Ontario. Can anyone recall a train station in the west-end of town?) I’m sure he felt he had to have it. No ifs, ands or buts. So he asked for it - and got it. Now I have it, and I feel I know why he wanted it, even badly. And I’m certain there were at least two reasons, likely more.

For example, about his ship being attacked on his way to Southampton and the Isle of Wight (home to The Needles, sharp points of chalk cliffs) he writes, “The attack was short and sweet but it seemed an eternity... I ventured out on deck immediately and picked up bomb shrapnel as big as your fist... I kept the shrapnel as a souvenir along with many other items I had but, alas, they were all lost in Egypt...We arrived at Cowe [sic] the next day with everyone happy to be alive and still shaking.”

The print would remind him of the time he reached safety after experiencing his first air attack. He would likely have saluted each of The Needles in turn as they came into view, at the same time being ever so happy to see dry land, and friendly land, well-protected land (home to a Polish destroyer at Cowes in 1942).

As well, the print of The Needles, situated in the English Channel, would serve as a reminder of so many other events and adventures he’d experienced (directly and indirectly) on or near the shores of the channel during his time overseas. 

The loss of friends at Dieppe, 1942

Training at HMS Westcliff, at Southend-On-Sea, 1942

Voyage through the Channel to North Africa, 1942

Friendship with Gracie Purvis of Croydon, Southend-On Sea, 1942

Top-Hat Pub and many more, Southend-On Sea and London, 1942 and 1943

Voyage through the Channel to South Africa, 1943

Voyage from Sicily and Italy, and again through the Channel 1943

I think finding and bringing home the Cunard print was a good deed on my father’s part. The print not only looks ‘smashing’ atop my mantel, and appears to be - to me at least - a better reminder of WW2 than a piece of shrapnel, it infuses more life into many of father’s 70-year-old adventures and subsequent stories as well. 
[Photos by GH]


Do you have a reminder of WW2 on a wall in your house?

Please click here to read PASSING THE NEEDLES 3

Rare Family Photos: Dad & Mom - Hamilton

In 1941 my dad quit the Co-op in Norwich (eight years before I was born) and joined the Navy. He signed up at HMCS Star in Hamilton, worked at a clay factory and took night classes and drills. After a Christmas leave in Norwich he travelled to Halifax for more serious training.

Here’s something else I know: He lived with his sister Gertie (and niece Joyce) while in Hamilton, at a house on Bay Street. Gertie lived upstairs over Mrs. Brown, a tea-leaf reader of some renown, and, as one can see from the first photo, the house seems quite substantial. I see a pillared porch with canvas awnings (perhaps the house faces east or south); not too shabby.

Recently I matched another photo to the same setting; it is of my mother at age 18. The photo shows the same porch, minus the awnings, and was likely taken in the fall. 

Would she be visiting Gertie and Joyce? Not likely. More likely she was visiting her sweetheart. He’d signed up for two years, ‘HO’, or ‘Hostilities Only.’ Who knows where he might end up?

[Photos by GH]


Live on Bay Street? Recognize the house? Look for one with a frosted-glass window to the right of the porch.

Please click here for more Family Photos

Gord’s Top Ten: "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" (Don’t mess with the navvies PT 1)

Many years ago for Christmas my older son compiled some of my favourite songs onto a CD. "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" by Gord Lightfoot starts it off, and because the CD is in my workshop and this is birdhouse-building season - one of a few - I listen to the song almost everyday. I never tire of it. After a ‘shed night’ (when friends and I sip ‘Pepsis’ for an hour or two in my shop) I’ll listen to it, sometimes repeatedly) while I put chairs away and sweep fallen peanuts out the door.

Here are some of my favourite lines:

We are the navvies who work upon the railway
Swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun
Living on stew and drinking bad whiskey
Bending our backs til the long days are done.

[“We are the navvies... swingin’ our hammers”: Photo link]

We are the navvies who work upon the railway
Swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun
Laying down track and building the bridges
Bending our backs til the railroad is done. 

(Listen to the full 1967 version here; above photo appears with many others)

In my mind it is a magnificent song from beginning to end, It takes me across Canada upon iron rails and a fine melody. And all along the way I see and hear and feel the work done by the navvies with their heavy, swingin’ hammers.

At wikipedia I read the following:

The "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" is a song by Gordon Lightfoot that describes the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. This song was commissioned by the CBC for a special broadcast on January 1, 1967, to start Canada's Centennial year... In the first section, the song picks up speed like a locomotive building up a head of steam.

[“Canadian Prairies fly by, April 2012”: Photo by GH]

While Lightfoot's song echoes the optimism of the railroad age, it also chronicles the cost in sweat and blood of building "an iron road runnin' from the sea to the sea." The slow middle section of the song is especially poignant, vividly describing the efforts and sorrows of the nameless and forgotten navvies whose manual labour actually built the railway. (Wikipedia)

[“Sunset on the Prairies”: Photo by GH]

And who are the navvies?

More to follow. Go listen to the song.


Please click here for more about Hit Songs and Prose

Monday, October 29, 2012

Dad’s Navy Days: “Passing the Needles” (3)

In 1942, as my father sailed toward the Isle of Wight and Southampton, his ship was attacked by eight German JU 88s.  “When the Klaxon went everybody hit the deck and tried to dress,” he writes, “and being the largest ship, we knew we were in for it.”

While scrambling to find his socks and sweater, father might have thought back to the words told him by one of the ship’s crew a day or two earlier. “I wish we weren’t going on this ship, matey,” said the crew member, and when father asked why he was told, “‘cause we got a bloody basinful last time!”

In his memoirs father adds, “we got our basinful this time too.” (pg. 18, “DAD, WELL DONE”)

He also writes the following:

     I got my socks on, put my sweater on backwards and got the suspenders on my pants caught on the oil valves. I was hurrying like hell and nearly strangled myself - scared to death. They needed an extra gunner so L. Campbell of London, Ontario (later to die of wounds suffered at Dieppe) said, “Let me at him.” 

     The bombs came - and close. They really bounced us around. The gun crew on the foc’sle of the ship was knocked clear off the gun by the concussion and fell but were only bruised. 

     The attack was short and sweet but it seemed an eternity. A near miss had buckled our plates and we lost all our drinking water. I ventured out on deck immediately and picked up bomb shrapnel as big as your fist. I noticed the deck was covered with mud from the sea bottom. I kept the shrapnel as a souvenir along with many other items I had but, alas, they were all lost in Egypt.

     We arrived at Cowe [sic] the next day with everyone happy to be alive and still shaking. It indeed had been a basinful. Incidentally, two German 88s were shot down. Norm Mitchison of Niagara Falls was credited with two planes shot down during the course of the war; one at Dieppe and one at Sicily. Both were low flying bombers. His weapon was a strip Lewis .303. (pg. 19 - 20, “DAD, WELL DONE”)

Having read father’s story carefully I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere in the Niagara Falls area there is a member of the Mitchison family with a replica of ‘a strip Lewis .303’ hanging over a fireplace.  

[“Details from the Cunard Line print from Norwich train station”]

["The Needles are pieces of chalk cliff, Isle of Wight"]

And having read father’s story knowing he would pass The Needles on his way to the safety of Cowe (a Polish destroyer was stationed there at the time father was upon the Ennerdale) I would not be at all surprised about two things concerning the print father gave me many years ago that now sits upon my mantelpiece. 

More to follow.

[Photos by GH]


Rare Family Photos: “Old maple trees at the Birch house”

Norm Birch took the photo above of his shiplap-sided house in 1917. It is surrounded by several maple trees, only one of which - as far as I can recall - survived until 1955.

In 1955 the Harrison family moved into the house (I was 6-years old and Miss Walker, my Gr. 1 teacher, soon whipped me into shape). The house was cedar-sided by then, the front porch had been closed in, and one large maple stood tall in the backyard, the one directly behind the house (directly behind the chimney and peaked roof in photo).

On June 2, 1998, a tornado whipped through Norwich and almost all of the old, mature trees around the house were severely damaged and destroyed. (See “Norwich tornado, June 1998”) The 80 ft. tall spruce tree that stood beside the porch, and against which I daily parked my 1959 CCM bicycle for many years, had been twisted from the ground and deposited 50 meters away onto South Court St. The century old maple that had protected the back of the house from rain and snow and the sun’s heat for decades was ripped to shreds. My Dad barely recovered from its loss, if he ever did at all.

Somewhere in my photo albums I have one reminder of the maple tree that almost completely covered our house each fall with an expansive red, yellow and orange canopy. The colours in the photo have faded, but that’s all.

[Photo by N. Birch and GH]


Trees (poem) by Joyce Kilmer

Please click here for more Family Photos

Zoom w a View: “Norwich tornado, June 1998”

While searching for online information about my hometown I found photos of the damage caused to many large trees that surrounded my family home.

[Photos by Vic Whitcroft, Norwich resident]


Will Hurricane Sandy play more havoc here?

Please click here for views of trees in London Town

The Workshop: “Trim yer sails, b’ys!”

I’m in the final stages of prepping numerous birdhouses for a sale. It’s BT time.

Monday, October 29, 2012 BT (Before Trim)

Stay tuned. Soon we’ll reach AT time.

[Photos by GH]


Please click here for more from The Workshop

No Dogs or Sailors

My Dad likely encountered the sign below for the first time in 1941, while training with other members of the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve in Halifax.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the sign followed him to Scotland and many parts of England as well.



Have you been confronted by an unusual sign?

Please click here to read about Dad’s Navy Days - PG. 7 “Where are you, Gracie Purvis?”

Fun and Fitness: “Hey!! What’s up?”

I know. I didn’t reach my goal - to cycle 100 miles - last week. 88 miles ain’t bad, but what happened?

 ["Only 88 miles. What's with that, Gordie?"]

Well, there I was last night, pedalling at a steady clip, prepared to cover 26 miles (that would net me 101 miles total), with another WW2 history book in my hand, and Game 4 of the World Series on a small TV, when the phone rings...

Gord: Hello, Harrison residence. If you’re a telemarker I want  you to go away and leave me alone ‘cause I’m...

Paul (my younger son): No, Dad, it’s me. Want to get together for a ‘Pepsi’? (That’s code for Monk’s Flemish sour ale).

Gord (conflicted, terribly conflicted): Sure. I can cool down and be ready in 20 minutes.

["I'll get back to work tonight"]

I cooled down, closed my book, showered and settled in for another type of evening. A ‘Pepsi’ sipping evening. So this week my work is cut out for me. Goal - 113 miles.

[Photos by GH]


If at first you don’t succeed... What else works here?

Please click here for more Fun and Fitness

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Workshop: “Get off the floor”

At present I’m enjoying dusty days in the workshop - aka ‘chop shop’ - and the piles of wood destined to become birdhouses are getting off the floor... gradually.

I.e., one pile at a time. One old birdhouse, or two, every 10 minutes.

Depending on the style, I can stack a new pile every hour. And as piles leave the floor, I feel better.

[Photos by GH]


Busy days in your shop?

Please click here for more from The Workshop

Recommended Reading: Voices From WORLD WAR II

I’ve only read the first of hundreds of trues stories - from people who were there - but already i recommend this book. It falls so well on the heels of my last book, i.e., The Day We Went to War.

I know I’ll enjoy my ‘reading and riding’ while I pedal my way to the last story.

[Photos by GH]


Please click here for more Recommended Reading

Dad’s Navy Days: “Passing the Needles” (2)

My father worked at the Norwich Co-op in the west end of Norwich for many years. He left his job there in 1941 before signing up with the RCNVR (Navy) and returned to it immediately after his last scheduled leave in the fall of 1945. Rail lines passed behind the Co-op north of Main St. and the same lines passed a train station situated on the south side of Main. CN or CP? I don’t know.

 ["Norwich Co-op fire, 1989. How did it start?
I don't know": photo by V. Whitcroft]

It was inside the train station that my father first saw the print entitled “Passing The Needles”. And after the train station closed, but before it was torn down, dad asked for the print and received it. He gave it to me many years ago and shortly after I got it home I carefully stripped off several coats of white paint from the frame and exposed the words ‘Cunard Line.’ 

I just remembered! I have a match book cover from a Cunard ship. It came with the painting, and - according to the inter web - the cover is worth about 6 pounds 50p, whatever that is.

I’ve also pieced together some answer to the question, “Why would dad want the print? Or, what prompted him to think he must have it?” Like many things in life, there may not be just one answer. In fact, in this case, there are likely several.

["The print includes many interesting details"]

In 1942, while with RCNVR, father sailed from a Scottish training base to Southhampton on the Ennerdale, and between Milford Haven, Wales and Cowes, Isle of Wight, the ship was attacked by German planes. About the attack my father writes the following:

“Eight German JU 88s came from the east, took position in the sun and attacked us from the stern. It was perhaps between eight and nine o’clock because I had undressed and climbed into my hammock next to Stoker Fred Alston.” (pg 23, “DAD, WELL DONE” - Navy Memoirs)

More to follow.

[Photos by GH]


Please click here to read “Passing the Needles” (1)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Zoom w a View: “More fall scenes”

I open the front door, walk a few steps, and admire my neighbour’s Japanese maple.

Sure, it’s going through a phase, but it’s still lovely.

[Photos by G.Harrison]


Please click here for more Zoom w a View

Live Small: “About your house...”

If our house is our most important investment or asset and it’s going down in value, should we worry about our future plans, e.g., adding an addition, early retirement?

Before we get our ‘business briefs’ in a knot, should we simply consider a smaller house near a bus route?

[Photo by G.Harrison]


Do you already live in a small house near a bus route? Feeling secure during the dip?

Please click here for more Live Small

Favourite Photo: “Red Dept. 2”

Even on a rainy day my neighbour’s Japanese maple draws eyes - and lenses - toward it.

I’m happy the previous owner to the one before that and the one before that planted the tree near the end of my driveway, my lovely lane.

[Photo by G.Harrison]


Do you have an attractive tree nearby?

Please click here for another Favourite Photo from the “Red Dept.”

Recommended Reading: “The Day We Went to War”

Thumbs up for a book that presents information about a critical time during WW2 in a unique way.

Many details from various sources are shared, for example, about Sept. 3, 1939, the day England declared war on Germany. Details from Parliament, soldiers, diarists, ordinary people, etc.

Bonus: While reviewing the cast of characters (in the final pages), I spotted books to look up once space comes available on my shelf.

[Photos by G.Harrison]


Do you recommend something?

Please click here for more Recommended Reading

Fun and Fitness: “500 miles, 500 miles...”

500 miles is not needed to reach my fitness goal for the week. Nor do I need to sing a song. Thank goodness, pedalling 26 miles will do.

Okay, maybe 30. Since I’ve already logged 75 fitness miles the week (The ‘fun’ part: I finished ‘The Day We Went to War’ on Wednesday and another book is ready to roll.), 26 will give me 101 miles, one more than my week’s goal. (Another ‘fun’ part: I like logging extra miles.)

But, 30 miles will be better, especially after - just for fun - I enjoyed a fudgebar and a creamsicle last night while the Giants logged another win over the Tigers.

Maybe 35?

[Photos by G.Harrison]


Do you log miles on an exercise bike?

Please click here for more Fun and Fitness

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Zoom w a View: “Last call”

Maple branches from a neighbour’s yard hang over my fence and drop the last of summer’s leaves upon the deck.

Instead of shaking the tree or hollering (“Let’s go, you guys!”), I’ll wait for a strong wind.

[Photos by G.Harrison]


Did you once burn your leaves? Do you miss that?

Please click here for more Zoom w a View

London Town: “Golden linden trees”

The linden trees of London Town
are golden brown

and upside down.

[Photos by G.Harrison]


Can you write a better poem about linden trees? 

I sure hope so. Let me know.

Please click here for Zoom w a View