Thursday, October 31, 2013

"a one and a two and then three more"

Next up in the workshop: a single (front) and a duplex.

["Sure, they're not much to look at yet"]

Then I'll put three log cabins together, chiefly with historic, rescued lumber. 

["Some logs from London Winery and Mr. Lamont's antique store"]

Bases - pine from Home Depot, 16" long by 11.5" wide; pine, fir and poplar logs are 3/4 - 1 in. square, and about 8.5 in. long and 5.5 in. long.  

Off to work I go.

Photos by GH


Please view Gord's latest creations here Birdhouse London (2)  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

time, like a silent river (5)

Remembering a World at War

Remembrance Day 2013 is less than two weeks away. Though November 11 is still a day off in most provinces (according to Wikipedia), the expectation to attend a public service seems to be declining. I would like to see expectations go the other way.

* * * * * 

Today's quote -

"The theory behind convoys was that there was at least some safety
in numbers. Huge armadas of merchant and navy ships would depart
together and head across the Atlantic for Britain, with the knowledge
that while many would be sunk on the way across, at least
some of their numbers would make it through."
[pg. 270, Voices of a War Remembered]

Today's story -

Early Days of Training in Hamilton

In the spring of 1941, news coming out of Europe related to World War 2 would have mentioned the following: The blitz continued in London; Malta was being ground into dust by The Luftwaffe; German U-boats played havoc with Allied shipping in the Atlantic; the British battle cruiser Hood and German battleship Bismarck were sunk at 6:00 a.m., May 24 and 10:40 a.m., May 27, 1941, respectively. Three sailors survived the sinking of the Hood (of 1,400); less than 200 survived the destruction of the Bismarck (of 2,000).

It was during this time my father left home in Norwich, moved into his sister Gertie's apartment on Bay Street, Hamilton and got down to his first helping of serious business related to training for his future role with the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve. In later years members of the armed forces could easily recall training experiences, the associated hard work and free-spirited humour, likely because the work and military setting were brand new to just about all of them. My father wrote about those days and while doing so created, in my opinion, the most-illuminating and funniest run-on sentence in our family's history.

["Father's girlfriend - later my mother -
visits him in Hamilton; circa 1941"]

     June 21, 1941, I went on probationary strength at HMCS Star in
     Hamilton, corner of McNab and McNutt streets... and took
     instructions on semaphore, rifle drill, marching, compass work,
     bends and hitches, knots and splices etc... During the day I was
     employed at James St. North Hamilton Cotton Mills... (and) at
     Locke St. potteries before going to cotton mills.
     [pg. 3, "DAD, WELL DONE", Naval memoirs]

Father was chewed out at the potteries and quit, almost in the same instant one day. I think one of his sentences, however, lasted a bit longer than the whole affair. See for yourself:

     I quit my job at potteries because of a small misdemeanor of
     taking a smoke. I was called to the office and reprimanded but
     the foreman wanted me to stay on, but when I quit, I quit, and
     he knew where he could stuff his clay, (wait for it... GH) which
     was formed and molded, then enamelled and heated at high
     heat for use as electric fence insulators, toilet and sink bowls
     and for electric stove elements.

Ouch. Lesson learned - things can get pretty hot sometimes when my father is involved. But he knew how to work; details concerning his training follow:  

     Space at H.M.C.S. Star was not large enough for all-out training
     as (it) is now. Rifle drill, route marches, frog-hopping up hills with
     60 pound sacks on our back (frog-hopping is hopping in a squat
     position), and gunnery under the gunnery officer who always wears
     black garters. Everything is done on the double. It was a madhouse.
     They really toughened us up. Hold a Lee Enfield rifle (approximate
     weight - 12 to 14 pounds) in front of you in one hand and double
     change to the other hand, over your head, behind your back, then
     watch black garters walk away and forget all about you and you are
     still running. 

["Lee Enfield rifle found at"]

Fortunately, new recruits had a bit of fun along the way to make the hard work go down a little easier. Father writes:

     Comedy too was all part of naval life. We had to scrub and wax
     and polish the ward room floor, and after waxing we put a rating
     in a clean pair of overalls onto the floor and dragged him by his
     arms and ankles to polish it. Needless to say, corners were tough
     on his head.

Again, ouch. After his time in Hamilton father moved to Halifax where he reports the training was even more demanding. It was in Halifax, I believe, he first heard about Combined Operations, an organization (directly under British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Lord Louis Mountbatten) that would play an integral part in training him still further and then transport him to significant battle fronts. Before that though, he describes one last proud moment related to his early training:   

     When eight weeks of training were over we were shipped to Halifax,
     but not before the 80 of us, led by our mascot (a huge Great Dane
     led by Scotty Wales who was under punishment) and headed by a
     band, did a route march through Hamilton in early evening. We really
     were proud and put on a display of marching never seen before or
     since in Hamilton. Shoulders square, arms swinging shoulder high,
     thousands watched and we were roundly cheered and applauded.
     This was a proud moment long remembered, but soon we were bound
     for Halifax after a goodbye to Mum and family.

["...the class of '41 (march) across the C.N.R. bridge on
McNab St." Photo attributed to D. Harrison,
H.M.C.S. Star, 50th Anniversary Edition"]

More to follow.


Please click here to read time, like a silent river (4)

Click on the label below (time like a silent river) to read all parts to date.

Birdhouse London (2)

Three log cabins, each on their own large base, stacked up quickly earlier this week and my mind then turned to the 'full-on trim package'. Faithful readers suggested such things as benches, flag poles and picket fences. I also thought about adding a clothesline in the front yard but there wasn't enough space once the wee purple martin houses and slat fences were in place.

I thought about picket fences but, after thinking about how close my fingers would be to the saw blade, I gave it up. (I'll try pickets another time. First I need to draw up a plan of action.)

["Martin houses are leftover cedar from my own house reno"]

Purple martins will love the idea of living next to a rustic log cabin made from rescued lumber*, especially the one with a salad fork as a perch. They love their greens.

But they'll have to raise very small families only.

Photos by GH

* logs were produced from shelves that came out of Mr. Lamont's antique store in Wortley Village and the old London winery; roof slats were cut from John Schuster's retired futon; and my wife is still looking for her wooden spoons and salad forks!


Please click here to see Birdhouse London (1)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Remembrance Day 2013

Less than three weeks away.

The walk from Wortley Village to Victoria Park and the Cenotaph is usually bracing, memorable.

Photo by GH


Please click here to read time, like a silent river (4)

Birdhouse London (1)

Rescued lumber was piling up in The Annex so I decided to use some high quality old pine shelf boards for three log cabins.

["Two sets of roof slats will be red, for Christmas"]

Bases - 9 by 16 (inches); triangles (to accomodate holes and support roof) - 4 by 8; logs - 7/8ths square, 6 tiers - 12 @ 5 inches long and 12 @ 8 1/4 ; roof slats (4 per house) - 3 by 9.

["Lots of room for a front yard. What should I do?"]

A log cabin stacks up pretty quick. While assembling six tiers and attaching triangles and roof slats I began to think about the trim package. I felt wee purple martin houses in the front yard might be possible. We'll see.

Photos by GH


Please click here to read up on the roof

good with a knife

my older son, father of twin four-year old girls, gets better every year with the carving knife.

Happy Hallowe'en.

PS. Are you serving up chocolate bars on Oct. 31? I've been known to dress up and go far afield for a good chocolate bar!

photo by gh


Please click here to view the mighty Leafs

Monday, October 28, 2013

"the mighty Leafs"

The Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Pittsburg Penquins on Saturday night and James Reimer did a great job in net, in my opinion.

That being said, I spotted a weakness and next time I get a breakaway I'll know where to put Peter Puck.

Bottom right? Top left? Five hole? You just wait.

Photo by GH


Please click here to read how do I do this again?

"up on the roof"

the other day, because the sun was setting and supper was waiting, I set aside the last item on my shop's to-do list. "roof repair."

the next day, after switching on the lights, I grabbed a hammer and a coupla nails.

easy kap-easy, especially if one has a few extra pieces of western cedar layin' about.

photos by gah


Please click here to read hey you get a free birdhouse

trout in the middle of nowhere

A friend recently dropped by the workshop and saw three shadow boxes on a top shelf, all related by subject matter, i.e., fish. within seconds he rushed out the door, but not before saying, "I'll be right back. You've got to see what I found."

He came back two minutes later with a mailbox under his arm and said, "Your hand-carved fish decoys made me think of this."

I laughed out loud. I'd never seen anything quite like his mailbox-shaped trout, or a trout-shaped mailbox.


It came with a story. (I would have been very surprised - again - had it not!)

Friend Derrick had lost someone close to him a week earlier, and while wandering the bush outside Sudbury - looking for wildflowers and pussy-willow branches - something caught his eye. A bit of yellow was visible from under a haphazard pile of brush. Under the pile he found the mailbox. And inside it were found all the wooden parts for a fish, ready to assemble, so to speak.

"You found it where?" I asked.

"Like I said, in the middle of nowhere."

The assorted pieces were passed from hand to hand and became fuel for thought. How did they get into the middle of nowhere?

Our best guess: After a wife's birthday party and after hubby - an avid fisherman - had gone to bed still muttering that "oh yeah, it will look great out at the end of our driveway", the wife went for a long walk, mailbox under her arm, and ended up 'in the middle of nowhere'. She spotted a pile of brush.

What do you think?

Photos by GH


Please click here to view traditional style? it's all Greek to me

Saturday, October 26, 2013

time, like a silent river (4)

Remembering a World at War

My father walked with a limp and occasionally used a cane in his later years. The limp was not the result of a war injury (he returned from Europe, on leave, in 1943 after two years of 'hostilities only' unscathed, at least physically) and it didn't much deter him from getting to where he wanted to go. One determined man he was. About three weeks from now, on November 11, I'll walk to the cenotaph in Victoria Park, London and back, about an hour of easy walking all told. On November 12, however, I'll walk with a limp for the first hour or two of the day because my right hip is getting temperamental. (Thirty year's worth of jogging and marathoning are exacting a price, I think). I guarantee that on that day, after getting up and walking even a short distance (e.g., behind the counter of a local coffee shop to sneak a refill), I'll be remembering my dad.

* * * * *

Today's quote - 

"The lights of Halifax were fast disappearing and my thoughts
were of my wife of ten days, and how the distance between
us was increasing every hour." [Reg Knight, from Huntsville,
Ontario; 2 AM, on the deck of the Louis Pasteur, July 1943]

Today's story - 

Signing Up Means Leaving Home (2)

Families deeply missed their freshly-recruited boys and girls as soon as the front door of an empty nest closed behind them. And the boys and girls destined for armed forces' manning depots or training centers across Canada missed their families almost as soon as buses and trains - loaded with the raw recruits - left the station in their hometowns.

Many had strong feelings about leaving home or could, in later years, recall clear memories of their first few nights away. 

Reg Knight writes: 

     "Few, if any, soldiers left Canada for the battlefields of Europe
     with the belief that they wouldn't return. I know I didn't.

     I was married to a very lovely girl ten days before leaving, and
     I sure didn't want to go but I most emphatically intended to come
     back, as did all those others whose short time on earth ended
     thousands of miles from the homes that they longed for."

He did not want to leave, but leave he did, aboard the Louis Pasteur out of Halifax in 1943, feeling the distance grow between himself and his new wife, nautical mile by nautical mile.

John Grimshaw, one of thousands of 'adventure-seeking youngsters' who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, waved good-bye to home and then travelled to Number One Manning Depot (for a well-remembered physical exam, an early step in the recruitment process), found in the 'recently vacated home of the Royal Winter Fair - the Coliseum building of Toronto's Canadian National Exhibition'. He vividly recalls the first night in his new surroundings: 

     "... disillusionment set in quickly. The lingering smell of horse
     manure didn't help... 

     At night this cavernous room was bathed in an eerie blue light
     and it was filled with the night noises created by a thousand
     sleeping bodies... Occasionally, if one were awake and listening,
     you could hear the soft sniffles of some lonely youngster who
     couldn't get used to being away from home."
     [pg. 66, Voices of a War Remembered]

Many women signed up for various duties as well (my mother made an attempt but was turned down) and experienced their own hardships related to leaving home and settling into new and oft-times very strange quarters.

Kitty Hawker, later in life a resident of Don Mills, Ontario says she was propelled into the war by "the attack on Dieppe in 1942... Most (of the hometown regiment, the Essex Scottish) were either killed or captured. On the streets of Windsor people were openly crying. I simply couldn't wait any longer to get into the fight," so she volunteered to take a trade course in Filter Ops (radar usage, with the RCAF). She recalls the following mixed reactions to her leaving home in September, 1942 and her first thoughts about arriving in Ottawa:

     "My parents were very proud but my sister was upset because...
     she wanted me to be there (for her upcoming wedding). Some of
     my mother's friends were horrified, because there were many false
     stories going around about the looseness of women in the services.

     The train ride to Ottawa... was quite unreal, and when we were
     met at the train station, herded into buses and urged to sing, "I've
     got sixpence," we were all left wondering what we had got ourselves
     into. Everything was strange and new, almost like being put down
     on another planet..." [Ibid, page 32] 

Having to get used to another world quickly was quite common for many recruits. Ann Farrell, an English woman with boarding school experience, and after the war a resident of Toronto, remembers her first morning in Gloucestershire, England among members of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF):

     "Nearly all of us were middle-class girls and some had never
     been away from home before... I remember the first morning
     in the air force. The place was full of crying girls who were so
     lonesome for their mothers. Some of them had never put out
     their own clothes before and they were completely baffled as
     to what they had to do. Every little thing that came up would
     start them crying again. It was hilarious in a way, if it hadn't
     been so tragic for them." [Ibid, page 70]

["My father and his mother Alice, Christmas 1941. A
week or so later later he was training in Scotland"]

Compared to many others my father had it easy. He likely said good-bye to his mother and some brothers and sisters on the front porch of the family home or from the rail platform at the west-end railway station just across the street. After a two-hour journey he landed safely in Hamilton and moved into an older sister's apartment on Bay Street, not too far from his training center (H.M.C.S. Star) and the James Street cotton mills, an early place of employment. 

That being said, surely not one person hearing "Good-bye... good-bye... good-bye," while clutching a tightly-packed cardboard or leather suitcase had a full idea of what the upcoming days of anticipated training were going to be like or what new adventures lay ahead in a strange Canadian city, and then later, an even-stranger foreign shore.

They would soon learn. More to follow.

Photos by GH 


Please click here to read time, like a silent river (3)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

"hey, you get a free birdhouse!"

Another batch is finished. A dozen or so are now off the workbench and into boxes or onto shelves. And somebody, someday, will get a free birdhouse. No guff.

["Some are from barnboard, others from red cedar"]

["One sports a wooden horse, another sports wine barrels (empty!)"]

[Some come with a free house, so I can say,
"Buy one house and get another one free!"]

Sure, the free one is only big enough for mosquitoes, but at least it's something.

Photos by GH


Please click here to read Recipe for a Solid Birdhouse (2)

"school's out and back in"

I'm a retired school teacher but more often think of myself now as a speedy right winger on a 50-plus hockey team... and a birdhouse builder with a penchant for rescuing lumber.

["I can handle going to school in the workshop"]

["Kawarthas barn board is very easy to work with
(compared to Little Johnny, circa 1976"]

["The red ones are still my favourite school houses"]

Ring them bells. Teacher's at home in his shop.

Photos by GH


Please click here to view smashing - Kawarthas barn board

time. like a silent river (3)

Remembering a World at War

["Veterans stand together at London's cenotaph, 2010"]

A few Remembrance Days in past years have been memorable for a variety of reasons. About one I recall startling clear, blue skies and the rush of jet engines during a fast fly-over. About another I recall wavering old voices singing hymns of remembrance and shimmering silhouettes of aging veterans who were sitting quietly, lost in their thoughts, inside an idling bus from Parkwood Hospital. One year I spotted the familiar face of a man sitting alone in the Parkwood bus, so I knocked on the door and was waved and welcomed inside, first by the driver, then by my father. Though a few words were likely pleasantly shared between us, I can't recall them. I do remember, however, that November 11, 2002 was a good day for both of us.

["...shimmering silhouettes of aging veterans"]

My father passed away about three months later but I have no doubt Remembrance Day, November 11, 2013 will be a good day as well.

* * * * *

Today's quote - 

"By the end of the war in 1945, 40 out of every 100 Canadian men
had entered the armed forces for an approximate total of 735,000 males
between the ages of 18 and 45. That's an astounding figure in a country
with a population as small as ours was (12 million) at that time."
[Voices of a War Remembered, Bill McNeil]

Today's story -  

Signing Up Means Leaving Home

As I have come to understand the reasons why many men and some women signed up at recruiting stations for involvement in battles or work related to World War 2, reasons changed with the times. When Canada declared war on Germany (about a week after Britain did), recruiting offices couldn't keep up with the first wave of people coming through the doors, because along with the Depression in the 1930s had come a severe lack of decent jobs across Canada.

     "For the unemployed it seemed like the opportunity they had
     been waiting for - a job with three guaranteed meals, a dollar
     and thirty cents a day, a suit of khaki or blue-coloured clothing
     and all the glamour a poor boy could ask for."
     [pg. 1, Voices of a War Remembered]

That the first wave 'stampeded off to war' may be an apt description. But shortly thereafter a second wave followed, as the war began to look worse and worse for the Allies. Men and women then left their jobs to sign up "because they really did want to do something for their country and they wanted to get over there and "kick the hell out of Hitler."" [pg. 6, Ibid]  

I feel my father was part of that second wave because on March 1, 1941 (18 months after Canada's declaration of war) he left his job at the Norwich Co-op "and joined the navy as a probationary rating, at Hamilton, taking instructions each evening." He says little in his memoirs or other stories (e.g., for his hometown newspaper) about the signing up process or how he felt before leaving home, but I realize, before he arrived in Hamilton for his first round of training, he had to quit a job, pack a bag and say good-bye to his mother and brothers and sisters. The 'leaving home' would have been one of the first big challenges he had to face on his way to training camps and later to direct involvement in the war, as it was for many other men and women, whether they signed up and left home - and mothers, fathers, and in some cases, wives and children - for very practical or patriotic reasons.

About how his mother (and other mothers) may have felt at the time, my father writes the following:

     As time passed the boys, including myself, worked and paid board.
     It didn’t make the workload any easier for mother, but finances
     became less of a worry. She could smile and join in the banter at
     meal times, but she never let up on a high code of ethics.

     The war came and as some of us had enlisted, it was a sad time
     for all of us, and particularly mother. Life had improved for her,
     and hard work had paid off, and suddenly the wheels fell off, so to
     speak. Her life went ‘on hold’ and the worries once again came to
     the fore; what she cherished could be lost.

     While I was overseas she constantly wrote and sent parcels. I sent
     word home of her sister and brother, whom I visited in London,
     England, and whose faces had long been forgotten.
     [The Norwich Gazette, circa 1992]

[Father with his mother, Alice - Christmas leave, 1941:
Photo as it appeared in The Norwich Gazette, circa 1992]

That 'wheels fell off', life went on hold and families deeply missed their boys and girls, and boys and girls missed their families cannot be denied. More to follow.


Please click here to read time, like a silent river (2)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

smashing - Kawarthas barn board

It is the most expensive wood I buy. I occasionally rescue better wood (e.g., recently, from a western cedar boat dock reno) but I still like picking up about 100 board feet of Kawarthas barn board from Handley Lumber in Fenelon Falls each time I go to visit my son and family.

["A duplex w small fence, almost done"]

["Yes, I'm just showing off the finished project" 1 of 3] 

["The roof turned out really well w naughty pine!"]

The expensive, pine barn board comes with a story:

Last winter I was walking around Handley's lumber yard and noticed sixteen-footers that were turning gray and sitting atop many piles of drying lumber. Some of the long boards were gray on both sides. Six times sixteen is about 100 bd. ft., I thought. What's the magic number? (cost)

A man approached and asked, "Can I help you out?"

"Do you sell the 16-footers, gray on both sides?"

"Yes, we used to sell a few each month to an old guy with a beard. He used them for birdhouses," said the man.

I'm an old guy with a beard who makes birdhouses, so I said, "Hey, I'm back." And I placed my first order, didn't even ask the price. And I'll place another order next time I go up.

I think it's worth the money. You?

photos by gah


Please click here to view things are on the move re birdhouses galore

memo - the weather turns (2)

plants are drooping. and under gray skies they seem forlorn.

with no bounce.

no hops in their steps.

photos of hop plants by gah


Please click here to view memo - the weather turns

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

time, like a silent river (2)

Remembering a World at War

November 11, 2013 is three weeks away and words and stories from far-seeing and often plain-speaking veterans are on my mind. Old soldiers, airmen and sailors are falling one by one as time quietly passes, their stories and significant pieces of world history disappearing with them, with just a few words of remembrance left behind - say, in a short obit - to remind us they were with us but a short while or were even here at all.

[Sam, "a valiant soldier" say his sisters]

Stories left behind by my father are particularly on my mind. They remind me of a simpler time long gone, of events that influence me to this day, of a man who is in my blood and bones. I am made to wonder: Why did he join the Canadian Navy? How did his four years away from home change him? Did his stint make a man of him, or unmake him, or both? What inspired him to write down his stories while so many of his friends and comrades remained silent?

As I read and then share his stories I learn some of the answers.

* * * * * 

Today's quote - 

"We had to join, we had to join,
We had to join Belisha's army.
Ten bob a week, bugger all to eat,
Great big boots and blisters on your feet."

Song of the British Militiamen
(Secretary of State for War was Leslie Hore-Belisha, 1939)

Today's story -

Why my Father Joined the Navy (2)

An old black and white reminds me my Uncle Rol (Roland), one of my father's older brothers, joined the Canadian Air Force soon after England and Canada declared war on Germany. Seeing a snappy uniform in the house may have influenced my father to sign up as it did others.

["Uncle Rol (holding cousin Dougie), Aunt Ruth, and my father"]

For example, in the introduction to a book by Bill McNeil, I learn that his two older brothers, as well as his friends in their home town of Glace Bay, Cape Breton, wore their new uniforms proudly and just the sight of them had a profound impact on him. He writes, "My twin brothers were among them (i.e., those who got around restrictions barring members of coal-mining families from joining the armed forces because of their value to an industry deemed essential to the war effort), one in the army and the other in the air force. I was still only sixteen by this time, in my last year of high school, and still drooling to wear a uniform." He could hardly wait for his own turn. On more than one occasion he tried to sign up before he turned eighteen, the legal age for recruitment in Canada. (pg. 7, VOICES OF A WAR REMEMBERED)

However, in my opinion, more important than the sight of uniforms upon my father, or even the prospect of steady pay (he already had a full-time job at the Norwich Co-op), was the influence of two good men he appreciated and respected, perhaps like father-figures, in the absence of having a father of his own since the age of ten. One was 'Skimp' Smith of the Merchant Marine, the other J. C. St. John, the principal of Norwich District High School for many years.

My father calls Skimp one of the heroes of his home town and in an article for the town newspaper he says the following:

     The war was on and I was working at the Norwich Co-op,
     about 60 hours a week. Skimp was laying on the lawn enjoying
     the sun as I rode by on my bike. I knew he was connected to
     the sea, so I stopped and began to chat with him; I was seriously
     thinking of joining the service.

     Skimp was a tall and happy man, and like so many people of
     Norwich, I immediately liked him. He was a magnetic character.
     He had other good qualities, too. These would serve him well
     as he served the U.S. merchant marine with distinction... 

     I asked him where he had learned to operate a wireless, and
     he recalled acquiring most of his skill from Al Stone after
     school and on weekends. Al was the likable station agent at
     the west end railway station. 

     I told Skimp that my high school principal, the late J. C. St.
     John, wanted me to join the army in the Elgin Regiment.
     He must have forgotten how much I disliked high school cadets.
     After further conversation I recall Skimp asking me what I
     wanted to do. “Join the navy,” I replied. His response was
     akin to ‘then go for it.’ 

["Go for it"]

     I would curse him later, many times, but on that day and
     with the urging of Skimp, the die was cast. It was to be navy
     blue for me. [from The Norwich Gazette, March 30, 1993]

[“J. C. St. John wanted me to join the army in the Elgin Regiment."]

["Elgin Regiment metal found with my father's
belongings. A gift from an old friend?"]

The events that followed between 1941 and 1945, though likely punctuated by more than a few curses, had a profound affect upon my father. He made many good friends and lost some, seemingly in the blink of an eye. At times he was worked or starved to the point of complete exhaustion, and at other times he relaxed, as if a Prince, with bottles of his officers' rum close at hand, or gained back more than double the weight he lost, thanks to piles of Navy pancakes after he'd lived a hard scrabble life for 30 days inside limestone caves in Sicily, all with a fine rib cage showing.

But would he have cursed the Navy at the end? No sir. He loved to meet with his Navy pals at reunions and eventually became quite good at penning a meaningful tale. And at the very end he wanted to be buried at sea even though the idea of such a thing would turn his wife's life (my mother's life) upside down.

What a tale that is... for another time.

Photos by GH


Please click here to read time, like a silent river (1)

aging gracefully in the ferns

while fall slips out the side door I tidy up the backyard. bags of old ferns recently lined the curb and with them gone I can closely inspect a birdhouse that is usually hard to reach.

the house seems in good shape but I'll take it down anyway. I think I'll put it on a higher pole and use its front porch as a winter bird feeder. it will do double duty as it ages.

I hope I age as gracefully.

minus the mildew.

photo by gah


Please click here to view Recipe for a solid birdhouse

memo - the weather turns

I knew it was going to happen. There would come a day when winter's annual memo arrived at my door: "I'm not far off."

Leaves curled up in the corners of my deck chairs tell me fall is on its way out the side door.

I miss it already. You?

Photos by GH


 Please click here to view bluebird house

Monday, October 21, 2013

time, like a silent river (1)

Remembering a World at War

Remembrance Day 2013 approaches and I've rounded up a few stories related to World War 2 veterans. I know WW2 need not be my only focus for this small collection but that's where my head and heart have directed me for the last two years, ever since I compiled my father's war time memoirs and stories into a small book ("DAD, WELL DONE") in 2011.

As I've read about World War 2 I've learned - better than in my high school history class - that members of the Allied armed forces, thousands from across our own fair land of Canada (including my father, a volunteer member of the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve and Combined Operations) - were involved, one way or another, in the greatest battle of their lives, one that was the making of some and the unmaking of others. Though time has silently carried most of their stories and voices to a faraway shore, I feel we still owe a bottomless debt to our veterans.

* * * * * 

Today's quote - 

"Unless we heard from them by eleven o'clock that they
were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from
Poland, a state of war would exist between us."

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain,
Sunday, September 3, 1939

Today's story - 

Why my Father Joined the Navy (1)

I've read that many men signed up for their first stint in some branch of the armed forces (e.g., two years 'HO', or 'Hostilities Only') because jobs on Civvie Street were very scarce. They needed the steady pay. Others were motivated by patriotic reasons. They loved their country and would stand and fall in its name. Others were motivated by the uniform alone or the desire to "kick the hell out of Hitler." My father left a few hints, here and there in stories, about why he joined the Navy in 1941.

For example, I read he was "crazy about ships" as a young boy and "used to make boats by folding paper in a certain way and then sail them on the creek." I learned in the foreword to his naval memoirs he was so crazy about ships that, at a young age, he stole "a lovely board" (his mother had purchased it to act as a door sill), and he and a friend (one of the Bucholtz boys), hollowed it out and used it for the main part of their first ship, the Bluenose. He says he got a good spanking for that business.

More important than his love for ships was another matter. In his memoirs he explains:

     After approximately six weeks probationary (at H.M.C.S. Star,
     Hamilton), I was taken on full strength and was made an
     Ordinary Seaman. I always wanted to be a sailor because my
     dad, who passed away when I was ten, had been a sailor and
     my idol was Admiral Lord Nelson. I read and read about him
     and many other navy stories, mostly about war actions.
     Zeebrugge was one. My dad had been a stoker for thirteen years. 

["My father with his father, Roland and sister Myrtle"]

Inspired by famous war stories and deep familial ties, my father's wartime path was seemingly laid out at an early age. Perhaps his father's history with the Royal Navy was the strongest influence. In 1943, as father was transported around the southern-most point of Africa with other members of Combined Operations on their way to D-Day Sicily (July 10) and Italy (September 3), he recalled the following:

     Then the ship left Cape Town on her own and we continued
     around the Cape of Good Hope. I supposed that I was in the
     same waters that my dad had sailed when he served aboard
     a Royal Navy ship as a boy during the Boer War.
     ("DAD, WELL DONE")

On Sunday morning, September 3, 1939, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, with the support of his country's Parliament, declared war on Germany. Three days later, and thousands of miles away in the village of Norwich, Ontario my father celebrated his 19th birthday, the festivities likely affected in some significant way by recent newspaper headlines, e.g., 'ENGLAND AT WAR", since both his parents came from the UK. Eighteen months later, in the spring of '41, he left his job and joined the Navy. It wasn't an abrupt decision, but still a very important one, helped along by a few encouraging words from a local hero.

["Omar Bucholtz, Doug Harrison, circa 1939"]

More to follow.

Photos by GH


Please click here to read Dad's Navy Days: October 1943 - Homeward Bound (19)