Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Research: In Comox and Courtenay, BC (7).

Let's Cut the Cackle! (Loose Lips Sink Ships).

Another great day in Comox Valley for research.... maybe rain!
[Photo taken while in Comox, looking west. 2015]

During the month of May in both 2015 and 2016 I journeyed to Comox and Courtenay (Vancouver Island, BC) to collect what information I could about the Combined Operations training camp my father was stationed at during the final two years of WW2. I quickly realized, as I took in the surroundings (while walking on The Spit, cycling on roadways between the two towns and kayaking on the nearby river and bay), why he said in his memoirs, "It was like heaven."  

Another great day in Comox Valley for research.... no rain!
[I am in Mission Hill area, Courtenay, looking west. 2016]

I also learned, gradually, that collecting relevant information takes time and energy. And money. Fortunately, 'Eureka moments' are quite rewarding and I came back home feeling my days away were marked 'paid in full'.

I feel now that though there is still much to do (trips to Scotland and Sicily seem necessary) I am developing a clearer picture of the times, i.e., the 1940s on Vancouver Island, what my father saw and did. I think he would have found himself knee deep (as a nature lover) in his favourite elements, while at the same time he would have been reminded every day there was still a war going on - across the Atlantic and Pacific. 

The following news clippings appeared in The Comox Argus:

April 13, 1944: Combined Ops activities supported Victory Bonds

 April 13, 1944: Readers get many reminders of 'Combined Operations'

April 27, 1944: Busy times at Givenchy III

Two articles appeared on April 27 to remind readers of upcoming events on The Spit in support of the war effort, by way of purchasing Victory Bonds. In the first article we read, "Navy ratings will be selling tickets on drawings for bonds." Raffles, a carnival, and a complex invasion exercise were planned for May 3rd, 1944, about five weeks before D-Day Normandy.

The final line above is informative: "All three branches of the Combined Ops School will combine to stage a landing on the Spit in invasion craft...." In the next news clip one will read that new buildings were erected on Mission Hill for the Combined Ops School. A close reading informs us that the buildings were for the Army branch of the school, and not the Navy or RAF branches. So, we can conclude that the three branches worked or practiced exercises together but did not live together in the same buildings or locations. Some readers may already know where each of the services were stationed in the Comox Valley, but for a time I did not.

The second article is headed, 'Veterans of Many Campaigns Buy Bonds' and we read that "over on the Comox Spit, where the navy wing of the Combined Operations school are all veterans of Dieppe, North Africa, Sicily and Italy, they know how badly the troops need equipment and how necessary it is to pay for them with Victory Bonds.... Out at Comox (Editor - likely very near the current air base and airport) the airmen will have to raise their sights."

The following appeared on August 3, 1944:

 New quarters for the "army branch of Combined Operations"

"On the Tsolum" refers to Tsolum River, near Mission Hill

Map as found in Courtenay Library

At the top of the map above one can find the Tsolum River. As the river flows south it would pass through or near the "full assault course" and under the wires that had been rigged to pass over it (as mentioned in the August 3rd news article). The Tsolum then would join with the Puntledge R. (at Lewis Park, in green) and together become the Courtenay River. The Courtenay R. flows past Simms Millenium Park (also in green) and the Courtenay Slough (opposite the symbol of two hikers, centre).
Lewis and Simms parks are home to Combined Ops memorials and the slough, during WW2, was a parking lot for assault landing craft.

More clippings from The Comox Argus that inform us of the times and activities related to the Combined Operations School - Navy:

 Published April 27, 1944

 Published May 11, 1944

Cartoon by Mozel: Published May 11, 1944 

 Photo as found in The Comox Argus: Published May 25, 1944

 Published May 4, 1944

The article above continued:

The people began pouring into the invasion craft as soon as they started running from the float at Comox and continued until well after three o'clock. To most of the visitors the trip in the blunt-nosed speedy vessels was a thrill. As soon as they arrived at the wharf at Givenchy III they were engulfed in a carnival crowd. 

The first of the attractions was the booth raffling Victory Bonds. The "barkers" for this show were all navy veterans and they scarcely needed loud speakers for their patter. Petty Officer Mary Gilroy was kept busy writing out and checking the raffle slips all day long. Behind her was the spinning wheel which recorded the winners of the pigs, hens, baby chicks, codfish and hams that were given as consolation prizes. If a winner found a live hen embarrassing freight the sailor in charge obligingly wrung the neck of the chicken and brought the remains back in a sack. There were concession stands all over the parade ground where sailors extracted coin from the customers for bonds. So great was the rush on the soft drinks and ice cream tent that all afternoon only the persevering were able to get up to the counter, and the tea-tables were full all afternoon long.

The raid on the beach is then explained in detail and appears in full on the previous post. A link is provided at page bottom.

 Peaceful scenes between The Spit and Courtenay, 2016.
Not so peaceful 72 years earlier!

Airborne Kittyhawks shot at landing craft on May 3, 1944

Not peaceful over (two) seas, after D-Day Normandy: Published June 22, 1944

On the same date an article was published about a strange type of riot in Montreal. Indignant sailors were involved. Under the headline "Zoot Suits Are Illegal" one reads:

Recent anti-zoot suit riots in Montreal in which young men wearing such weird garments were chased by highly indignant sailors, calls attention to the fact that under the regulations of the Wartime Prices and Trade Board zoot suits have been "out" for a considerable time and their manufacture is a breach of the law. 

For those who do not know about such things (including me), an Administrator's Order (A-207) specified that a man's suit coat could not go past 29.5 inches for a size 38 "and shall have no trimmings." Pants could not exceed a width of 22.5 inches at the knee, have pleats "or other flights of sartorial fancy."

We also read:

The zoot suiters wear a coat that comes to just two inches above the knee in front and slightly longer than that at the back. The trousers are at least 30 inches wide at the knee and sometimes reach almost to the armpits and the suit has belts and pleats and all sorts of "fixings".

So, you've been warned: Published June 22, 1944

 Published June 22, 1944

 Published June 29, 1944

 Published July 27, 1944

The former Post Office is home to a finely-stocked Museum

More to follow.

Please link to Research: In Comox and Courtenay, BC (6).

Photos GH

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