RAF airmen welcomed into hearts and home

From our November 2012 issue

By Mary Olson – Athabasca, Alta.

I was 6 to 12 years old during WWII and so remember quite a bit that went on here in Alberta. The RAF Flying Training School was located just north of Bowden and we, being British, welcomed the cadets in training into our hearts and homes.

The boys did their training in Tiger Moths, which weren’t very stable and often crashed. We’d hear of one losing his life from time to time, which seemed ghastly ironic. Every Sunday, we’d have from two to six airmen sit down with us for a hearty dinner. Dad soon discovered the ones who liked to sing and we’d have sessions around the organ.

My sister, Elsie, began working as a secretary at the airport so she’d bring some boys home with her, too. She had a boyfriend or two during those years – all were airmen and they spent a lot of hours at our place until the war took them overseas.

A lot of the boys we knew were very young, not even in their 20s, and they really enjoyed coming to a home where the parents had a British background and they could hear familiar accents. They had fun riding the horses and helping with the chores. Many wrote to us for years after and said how friendly Bowden was to them compared to some of the other places where they trained.

To me, the war was frightening, but I didn’t really connect the airmen to the war. They were such fun and there was always something exciting going on when they were at the farm. I remember that the radio with the 10 o’clock news was the scary thing.

Mom and dad both looked so worried thinking about relatives in England. I’d put the covers over my head to block out the dreadful things being said on the news. It did become very real when we heard that one of the young men who we had entertained and was a great singer had been killed.

At school, we saved our pennies to buy war bonds. In Grade 4, we had a big soldier on the wall and every time we got another war bond we’d dress him with another article of soldier’s apparel.

I remember the rationing stamps and mom trying to save so we’d have enough for extra goodies at Christmas. We were luckier than some. We had our own meat, milk, and butter, but mom and dad, being English, did love their tea, which was rationed.

Because sugar was rationed, dad took up beekeeping for the honey even though he was very allergic to their stings. No matter where he got stung, his eyes would swell shut. I remember him singing a solo in church with his eyes all swollen.

We had it easy compared to countries in Europe. For us, it was an exciting time with extra dancing and entertainment to keep the troops happy. It was only when we heard that “one of our airmen” had gone down over Germany that the war seemed very close.