October 20, 1944 – Part 1

(Dodging Shells gave you Tommy’s letters to his sister, from the front. Kathy’s letters in response tell of life in wartime Toronto.)

October 20, 1944

Dear Tommy,
…..So after all that bother, the Germans are still there! They really cannot take a hint, can they? You know, if this war carries on very much longer…well… I’m afraid you’ll find that it just won’t be fun anymore.
…..And you’ve met up with the First Parachute Division again.
…..I know they’re tough, Tommy. But there’s something puzzling me. They’ve become something of a legend. Some Allied journalists are even describing them as the best fighting division in any army. But it seems to me that every time they meet up with the Canadians…they get the worst of the battle. Am I missing something?

…..Of course journalists will write almost anything if they think it will make a sensation. Last month, the Toronto Star treated us to rumours of a new secret German weapon – newer and more secret than all the other secret weapons we have been warned about up to now. The rumour-mongers are not in agreement about the nature of the weapon…maybe a death ray, or better yet, freeze bombs designed to stiffen every living being for hundreds of yards around. It was unclear whether it was to be used against you fellows over there or against us at home (although that freeze bomb idea seems a bit redundant here, with the Canadian winter on the horizon). But it was definitely going to be unleashed on September 29th. Well, we waited up, and nothing arrived. How about there? Anything resembling a death ray? Or a freeze bomb? No?
…..I understand that one journalist actually approached inmates in a prisoner-of-war camp over here with the rumour.
…..Their response: “Please…don’t kid us about ‘secret weapons’. We know such talk is just silly.”
…..I guess even the most congenial prison camp sort of erodes one’s sense of humour.
…..Nevertheless, the prisoners continue to attempt escape. There are always men in the camps who have lived and worked in Canada in the past, so maps can be provided to anyone who cares to try it, and attempts are funded by a stash of smuggled money. Naturally, all prisoners are carefully searched, but they’re pretty crafty. One German in the camp at Medicine Hat in Alberta tried to spend two ten dollar U.S. bills at the canteen – probably stolen from an American soldier – and asked if he could get the ten per cent exchange! (The answer was yes. They wanted the bills out of circulation before they became ‘escape money’.)
…..Up to now, though, there’s actually been only one successful escape from a Canadian camp. I suspect their hearts are just not in it. Of course, if we stopped offering the prisoners exchange on American bills, who knows what might happen?

…..Just in case we should be so rash as to forget that winter is looming, the shops are already displaying next season’s fur coats. They’re a bit too expensive for my budget…but once in a while you come across a bargain.
…..Morgie and I were browsing through the newspaper at lunch time a couple of weeks ago.
…..“Wow!” she blurted. “There’s a sale in a million!”
…..The price tag beside a black Persian lamb jacket read $1.99!
…..“It’s mispriced,” I said. “They’ve stuck the decimal point in the wrong place.”
…..“Maybe the coat’s still there. The shop is just a couple of blocks away…I’m going to buy it. C’mon.” She grabbed my arm and dragged me out.
…..“Don’t be silly,” I told her. “It’s just a mistake. You’ll never get it.” By now we were running toward the elevator.
…..The furs in the shop window ranged from $189 to $399. A good price, I guess, but we didn’t stop to window shop. We barged inside.
…..The place smelled like money. Heaps of money.
…..A snooty clerk glided over. “Good afternoon ladies,” she drawled. “I can see you’re on your lunch hour…I assume you came in for the sale…?” She started herding us toward a sale rack. “Why don’t you just look through these?” Condescension oozed off her and started puddling up on the floor.
…..“No, it’s okay,” said Morgie. “I want the black Persian lamb that was advertised in the newspaper.”
…..“Oh!” The clerk brightened up, smelling an easy commission. “Well, here it is.”
…..“Um…no…this one’s $199. The one in the paper is $1.99”
…..“It certainly is not!”
…..“It is. And I want it. Here’s the newspaper. Here’s the money.” Morgie took out her purse and started to count out the change.
…..The clerk glanced at the newspaper and sneered. “Well, that’s just a mistake. I certainly can’t sell you a jacket for two dollars!”
…..“A dollar ninety-nine. And not just a jacket…this jacket. It’s advertised. In the newspaper. Isn’t there a law against false advertising? You’d better go discuss it with the owner. And make it quick. We are on our lunch hour…and we have to get back to work.” Morgie has a loud voice, and other customers were beginning to notice.
…..“Fine! But I know he won’t agree….”
…..Morgie was already trying on an identical jacket…just to see how it would look.
…..I didn’t say a word. It was all terribly embarrassing. I wish I’d had the nerve.
…..Morgie got the jacket. For $1.99. And it’s just her size. As we left the shop, the owner and Snooty were burrowing through the furs on the sale rack, pulling out every Persian lamb jacket and hustling them back into the storeroom before anyone else demanded one. I guess the sale was over.


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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One Response to October 20, 1944 – Part 1

  1. Between journalists and retail merchants nothing remains sacred! I can just see Tommy sharing this with his mates. Better than a pint!

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