The following post is a continuation of the previous post: The Life and Times of G.F. Allen, my father. As you may recall he was born in Quesnel, B.C. to homesteaders from Great Britain and moved to Kenora, Ontario as a child. He enjoyed the outdoor life with the Lake of the Woods an excellent outlet for his interests. Then along came WW II and changed everything……..enjoy!!
George may have gone on to pursue a life of outdoor adventures but, during his 16th year, the beginning of World War II changed the lives of many people around the world. Young George visited a recruiting office and, likely, keeping a fair regard for adventure, altered his birth certificate and lied about his age, enlisting in the Canadian Navy. His parents were opposed to their middle son going to war at such a tender age. George, however, thinking he was going to war any day, quit school after completing his 9th grade and secured employment as a bus boy at the Kenricia Hotel in Kenora. He remained with the Kenricia for about 6 months where the pay was poor but he received free food. He had also moved out of the family home and lived with his good friend, Ab Green, at the local fire hall while awaiting his call. He was eventually called to Winnipeg a year later, at 17 years of age, and assigned to HMCS Chippawa, a division in the Canadian Armed Forces, for training. He remained in this training centre for 6 months then was reassigned to St. Hyasinthe, Quebec where he lived for a year learning signals training. George became skilled in semaphore, flags and Morse Code before he was shipped to Halifax and assigned to the HMCS Port Hope.
This warship was a minesweeper where George and his fellow crew members patrolled the areas around Halifax, Newfoundland, and the North Atlantic for about a year. Their job was to seek out and destroy German submarines and escort convoys across the Atlantic Ocean. At times they were a part of 400 to 500 ship convoys carrying troops and supplies for the Allied war effort in Europe. George recalls occasionally seeing Allied ships being destroyed by German submarines in very close proximity to their ship.
George worked as a signalman on both ships for almost three years in total and enjoyed the freedom of adulthood and discovering the world. He was never worried about the risks of war similar to most young people of his age as they commonly had a sense of invulnerability. He felt the war was a wonderful experience and minesweepers were the safest ships in the Navy as he believed the Germans wouldn’t waste a torpedo on a lowly minesweeper.
George loved his life in the navy where he met many young men of a similar age that would remain life-long friends. Even though there were many weeks aboard ship that could be boring, at times there was extreme excitement. Although most tours were fairly uneventful, on one occasion a submarine had been reported in the area of his ship causing about 6 minesweepers to follow in pursuit. George was told to climb a tall mast called Monkey’s Island where a huge arc light was perched. His duty was to light the lamp when requested while his ship pursued the allusive submarine. They followed the intended target until they were very close and he was directed to turn on the light before they were to destroy the enemy vessel. With the target only a few meters away, and guns poised to obliterate the object, he illuminated the lamp to discover one of their own ships. They quietly limped back to harbour, with the German submarine remaining hidden in the depths.
A second fairly risky incident occurred while the Caraquet was patrolling in the English Channel and off the coast of France. It seems Bordeaux, France had been captured by the Germans causing the Allied forces to lob bombs across the Channel on Bordeaux while the Germans returned the favour in the opposite direction. The Caraquet was in the middle with its crewmen watching bombs pass over their heads. At night they would patrol the coast to perform their mine sweeping duties. Luckily no errant bomb landed on them and they returned unscathed.
During one tour their ship docked on a small tropical Portuguese island in the Azores that was considered neutral by the Germans and Allied forces. It seems ships of all nations would frequent this small harbour and their crewmen would visit the same drinking establishments. German sailors would frequent the same bars as Allied sailors although they tended to avoid each other with no disputes reported. They would eventually report back to their ships, leave the harbour and continue fighting the war against each other.
George recalls the food on his ship as being very good and plentiful with the bonus of a 2 or 3 ounce ration of rum daily to each crew member. Their food was very good because they were allowed access to stores belonging to the United States that provided much better food than Canadians stores.
While on board the sailors worked 4 hour shifts before getting four hours off. This rotation continued 24 hours per day with their off time sleeping, playing cards, and even sunbathing in warmer climates. While in port, if they were not allowed ashore, their time would be spent cleaning the ship. Sailors earned $60.00 per month of which George sent $30.00 home to a savings account. He says they lived very well onboard and required little money. Such extravagances as beer were only $.05 in their local mess hall. Clothing was provided and dance halls were usually accessed free of charge in the communities they visited. Charity organizations provided the sailors many things that the Navy did not provide such as cigarettes. As George was not a smoker he carried out a very beneficial trading program whereby he would give cigarettes to women for special consideration or trade them for such things as tailored suites. Cigarettes were better than money during the war.
While in harbour, one third of the crewmen would remain on board while the other two thirds would disembark for shore leave. George eventually learned that it was best to remain on board for the first shift but volunteer for shore patrol whereby they would officially visit all the pubs, dance halls, and speakeasies. This would save much time when they were allowed ashore as they would be aware of the best establishments for young sailors to visit. George perused a little too much one night in Newfoundland and was thrown in the local drunk tank. He was bailed out by his ship commander but had to run up and down the jetty for two days with a rifle on his back. A lesson learned.
Chapter 4: Marriage and Moving West
The war ended in late 1945 whereby George was honourably discharged in Winnipeg. WW2 veterans were granted similar benefits as Americans under the GI Bill that included low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans to start a business, cash payments of tuition and living expenses to attend university. George accessed this benefit to upgrade his grade 9 education to grade 12 and went on to university. He completed high school in a few months then registered at United College on a Forestry Program in Winnipeg. He remained about 18 month but found his very young classmates, who had never been to war, were more skilled in being students. He, consequently, quit and went out to seek his fortune.
Veterans of WW2 were allowed to wear their uniforms for 6 to 8 months after discharge. During one holiday weekend George was wearing his uniform while he boarded a bus to visit his family in Kenora. He managed to slip into the seat next to a cute brunette, narrowly beating out a much larger army man while he was finding a place for his luggage. George chatted with the recently discharged Lynn Goulet who had also been a part of the war effort, serving in Britian. Lynn was similarly going to Kenora to visit relatives. By the end of the trip they had exchanged phone numbers and George promised to call in the near future for a date. Lynn was living in Winnipeg while taking a hairdressing course, also on the Canadian GI Bill. They, however, were both busy and never called each other. Six months later George called the ask Lynn to a university dance. She hung up. He tried again a few days later to apologize. She eventually relented and they went on their first date. They were, thereafter, inseparable with Lynn finishing her course before purchasing a hairdressing business with a good friend while George attended university.
Lynn was born to a large French-Canadian family in St. Claude, Manitoba. She was raised on a prairie farm where she learned good values and a strong work ethic. She was called to war and became a member of the Canadian Women’s Army Corp in WW2. She was a part of the Battle of Britain and survived the bombing of London.
Lynn and George were eventually married on September 23, 1946 in Winnipeg with good friends as witnesses before a priest as Lynn was Catholic. They took a train to honeymoon in Portage la Prairie during the night and upon their arrival found the terminal a distance from town and deserted. The young newlyweds hitched a ride with a milk truck to town where they spent a week honeymooning in a hotel.
After quitting university George was offered employment as an apprentice electrician with Cooper and Gibbard Electrical Contractors in Penticton, B.C. He would earn $.58 per hour, about $90.00 per month, on a 5 to 6 day week. Lynn sold her business in Winnipeg and they moved west to Penticton in 1947. George loved his job wiring houses, orchards, hotels, and packing houses. He even wired the Centre at Naramata that still stands today.
George was always willing to learn something new and earn more money for his growing family. Even though he had never climbed a ladder greater than a few feet, he volunteered to wire the lights at a local drive-in theatre. He had to climb the poles that were large enough to wave in the breeze. He managed to complete the job with no instruction although not before teetering on the brink of his early demise. This “job experience” however would serve him well in later years when he was able to tell his employer that he had high linesman experience.
George remained with Cooper and Gibbard for 3 years. While in Penticton Lynn worked in the local fruit packing house and was a Peach Queen on the Peach Festival float. Lynn’s work was the seasonal sorting of fruit but during the picking season she earned much more than George. She would then collect Employment Insurance during the off-season.
George had saved $2,000.00 from his $30.00 per month savings while in the war and Lynn had some money from selling her hairdressing business in Winnipeg. They, consequently, were able to buy a new house in Penticton for $4,000.00 and only two blocks from Okanagan Lake. They had a 1940s Dodge valued at $200.00. Life was good.
George enjoyed working for Cooper and Gibbard but eventually was required to join a local union resulting in increased wages but decreased work hours. The work started to become scarce resulting in a change of venue for the newlywed Allens to Kimberley where George secured work in the local mine.
They rented out their home in Penticton and built a home from scrap lumber in Kimberley. George was hired as an underground electrician but disliked spending his days in a dusty and dark dungeon. Stating his somewhat questionable experience as a high linesman, he was able to secure a promotion with the same company working above ground. His lack of training initially posed some potential difficulties with high winds and torrential rain causing some challenges while George clung to 90 foot poles, but his youth and skills shone through thus confirming his appointment. He remained in this position for the next three years.