Toronto – October 25, 1943 – Part 2

(Dodging Shells gave you Tommy’s letters to his sister, from the front. Here’s more about wartime Toronto from Kathy, in response.)

…..In one of your last letters, you asked what the Italians in Canada have been up to. There was a lot of open sympathizing with the Fascists earlier in the war–you know that–but  the government pretty much ignored anyone who wasn’t causing any trouble. Of course, many were sending money to family members in Italy that undoubtedly found its way into the Fascist war chest, but a lot of that was overlooked, too. Not all.
…..I heard that the father and brother of one of the elevator operators at Simpson’s have been sent to one of the internment camps up north. They were associated somehow with one of the Italian contractors in the city who had been shipping buckets of money overseas to support the Fascists–so much money that somebody in authority finally noticed. You fellows have enough to contend with without Canadian money flooding over there to support the enemy! I don’t know whether they were interned for that, or on other related charges, but Theresa just didn’t turn up for work one day. The company may have asked her to leave or maybe she just quit–it was before I was preparing the pink slips–but it was very sudden.
…..German assets in Canada, of course, were seized as soon as war was declared, so I don’t suppose the Nazis scored much financial support here.
…..The government on the west coast has gotten very nervous about the Japanese Canadians in British Columbia as well. (Worried about them signalling enemy ships, I suppose.) My hairdresser, who’s Japanese, mentioned that her family moved to Toronto to avoid the possibility of internment out there. I guess the authorities feel comfortable that no signalling from here will present any significant danger.
…..All in all, I guess we Torontonians aren’t an awfully excitable lot. A very military-looking fellow strolled across the entire 1/3 mile span of the Bloor Street Viaduct earlier this year wearing a German uniform, just to see what reaction he’d get.
…..Nobody noticed. Or, if they did, they were too polite to comment.

…..It did cause a bit of a stir when nineteen German prisoners escaped from the internment camp at Fort Henry, near Kingston, this summer. While the inmates were being entertained by a concert staged by their fellow prisoners, these hardy souls popped down into the sewer, intending to follow it to the waters of Navy Bay. (I’m sure it was no reflection of the quality of the entertainment.) Some of them had been held in the fort for three years, and knew the ins and outs better than most of the guards. Unfortunately, an old cave-in blocked their way, and after four hours enjoying the atmosphere of the sewer, they were forced to exit, over two hundred feet short of the shore and in full view of the fort. Once they burrowed their way to the surface, they scattered. The gripping tale of their recapture kept us on the edge of our seats for days, although they can’t have been too hard to spot. Most of them were still wearing their prison uniforms when they were caught…natty blue denim with a red circle patch on the back. Few of them offered any resistance.
…..One of the more enterprising of the escapees had learned to speak excellent English in the camp and managed to sweet-talk unsuspecting local farmers into feeding him and clothing him in civilian togs. When he was captured by a couple of signal corps officers who happened to drive by while he chatted with an idle farmhand (apparently, he looked German to them), he ungraciously suggested that Canadians were a bit too trusting for their own good. He had no great love for Hitler, he said, but he’d been confined for two years, and decided that enough was enough. I guess it turned out to be not quite enough after all, because he was shipped right back to the camp again.
…..Another luckless wanderer was turned in by a six-year-old boy. Little tousle-headed, freckle-faced Johnny (who looked a lot like you, Tommy, a few years ago) was out early, hunting frogs in a creek a couple of miles from Collins Bay near Kingston.
…..Had he heard of the escaped Germans?
…..“Sure,” he said. “It didn’t worry me.”
…..Near the creek he saw a man, crouched soaking wet in the bushes.
…..Was he scared?
…..“Thertainly not,” he lisped, through the space where his front teeth should have been. “He wath looking the other way…he couldn’t thee me. But I wath told oneth that it wath better to run and live than be brave and maybe die. Tho I lit out of there ath fatht ath I could.”
…..He ran the two miles back to Collins Bay and reported the man to the provincial police, who captured him and escorted him back to Fort Henry.
…..Johnny wasn’t happy.
…..“I wath gypped,” he complained. “The polithe wouldn’t let me go back with them to capture the guy. It’th not fair!”
…..So the ill-fated Nazi was spared the additional humiliation of meeting his plucky little nemesis in person. Too bad.

…..It’s not only the prisoners who are getting restive. Our own troops in training are learning the price of being billeted in Toronto the Good…because every week has at least one Sunday, and on Sundays, Toronto is still shut up so tight it squeaks. Oh, a soldier can go to the movies on Sunday afternoon, of course, but unless he’s dating a girl in uniform…he goes alone. And the restaurants are closed, because we all know that good Christian folk eat in a house with their families around them on Sunday. No exceptions for poor fighting folk a long way from home.
…..Now that the open air dance pavilions (like Sunnyside) have closed down for the winter, the Citizen Committee for Troops on Training has held the first all-service dance in Columbus Hall…on a Friday night, of course. I suppose the soldiers were allowed to bring non-uniformed dates, lest they be tempted to dance with each other. My goodness…how on earth would the Citizen Committee deal with that, do you suppose?
…..I know it’s heretical to say so, but when you guys get back home, I hope you take a can-opener and pry this place open a little before we suffocate on our own smug.

…..My goodness! Look at the time! Christmas is right around the corner. I want to send you something nice…what do you most want? Tell me first, so no one can get the jump on me.
…..By the way–did you get the socks I sent? They were packed, with a lot of cigarettes and a few other little things, in toilet paper. Not very festive, maybe, but I detected a broad hint in one of your earlier letters that Canadian toilet paper might be more appreciated there than I had imagined.

…..You must be able to feel me willing you to get better. But not too quickly. Stay there safe for a while, won’t you?

With huge stacks of love and assorted helpfully healing thoughts,


About Wendy Bertsch

I’m a Canadian author—a pragmatic optimist with rather eclectic interests and a pervasive sense of humour. Toronto born and bred, I live by the lake with a motley array of dogs and a cat, all but myself being of unknown origin, in a comfortable old house filled with books. Over a thousand books. Books in every nook and cranny. And now, since there can never be too many books, I'm writing more. Once More, From the Beginning highlights the women in the bible. It's about time! And believe me, they see things quite differently. And in Dodging Shells, you'll meet the irrepressible Tommy, as he fights his way through Italy in World War II. You'll love Tommy. I do. Next? Well, that's a secret yet. Stay tuned... I recently initiated the fledgling Ocean Highway Books, providing editing, formatting and cover design services to authors wishing to self-publish.
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