This post, unlike all the others, has nothing to do with anything I do for a living. It’s just something I came across today, and it’s kind of a neat story about my Grandfather. I wanted to ensure the story doesn’t get lost in time and space, and thought it might be of interest to others.
He was a D-Day veteran, born, bred, and lived his life in Prince Edward Island, Canada. He didn’t speak much about his experiences in the war or after it, it changed his life pretty dramatically. This was a taped session my aunt had asked him to do, and was to be the start in a series, however, he passed away before being able to complete any more of it.
On his last trip to Ontario to visit my Mom, my brother-in-law managed to get him to speak about his experiences landing on D-Day and WWII. I’ll get him to post something as an addendum to this post over the holidays (I hope).
It certainly speaks a little about the life and times in Canada in the early 20th century. Lest we forget…
I hope you enjoy the read…
WILFRED LAURIER MACKINNON
July 1, 1999 – CANADA DAY
Written by daughter, Marguerite, as told by her father.
Well, you fellows have been asking me for a long time to record my life history. I don’t know what in the name of God you want it for, but I’ll do it anyway I guess. I tried to keep things running like I’ve always tried to do, although things are a little hectic nowadays, but life is sweet and it is worth struggling for so that’s what I’m doing.
I was born on Elm Avenue. It was just after the 1st World War, a couple of years after the old man returned, I was the first born in 1920. It was back in 1919 they decided to have another one, so I was born a newcomer to the family, by about 3 or 4 years from my brother Tuddy. He is still around, but is very, very weak in the legs and he is in a Nursing Home. He is the only other one left alive in the family. I had 2 younger brothers, but they all went by the wayside, one way or another. I was born in a 3 tenement home, owned by old Sadie Hughes, on corner of Gerald St and Elm Avenue (now University Ave.) The next move was to a double tenement house owned by George McMahon, 2 or 3 houses away. I remember there when I was 3 or 4 years of age when everybody went outside the back door to see this big wonderment that was passing by. It turned out to be a small two winged aircraft. That was a big thing in those days because aircraft were not readily seen in Charlottetown. After that the next recollection that I have is sitting on the curb, watching a building being built, with Neil MacNevin, a friend of mine. We watched the R.T. White Grocery and home being built. Now that wasn’t yesterday. I would say about 74 years ago. That is not in the location where it used to be. It is now on the corner of Connolly and Valley St. It is being lived in by the Keenan family, Keenan Plumbing, who is a good friend of mine. In fact, the last time he came up to service our toilet on Green Street. I’m still egging him to send me a bill, but he never will. He is a good friend of mine which I developed through the years. There is quite a few of them around, as well as enemies that blame me for things that I wasn’t responsible for. That home was build for R.T. White and he ran a grocery store there for years. He was the son of an old fellow that ran the Waterworks at that time. Puddy Connors ran it after, I don’t image Puddy is still around.
The next big thing in my life of course, was starting school. My brother Art had just entered Prince of Wales. When I was going into Grade 1 he was entering Prince of Wales, he was 16 years older, 10 years ahead of me in school. He was the eldest in the family. I went through the usual at school and cursed many a day the name my mother and father stuck on me. All I got was, “If you’re as good as the man your named after, you’ll be awful good.” Of course, they were talking about Sir Wilfred Laurier. The old man was a Liberal and my mother was a Gallant from Wheatley River. By the way, two of my uncles names are on the cenotaph in Wheatley River, Chris and Gerry Gallant. They were killed overseas in the First War. My grandfather was black Mosey Gallant. He lived in Wheatley River. He had contracted pneumonia after carrying a bunch of eels on his back from the river in the wintertime when he shouldn’t have. But, that was life in those days. There was a large family of them. I knew there was 5 girls and at least 4 or 5 boys, so it was a large family. That didn’t have too much to do with me.
School went along very good, no trouble at all. I was very good in penmanship. That was always remarked on. When I got to Grade 4 I didn’t seem to have any trouble being on the honour roll every month, instead of going in Grade 5 they put me in Grade 6. Should never have been done because a kid should be allowed to progress with the kids he started with, instead of being shoved in a class with kids he didn’t know, however I got along fairly well. In Grade 9 there was another chap by the name of Frank Brennan. Frank had TB and was in the hospital and sanatorium. He was a little older. Jim MacCallum used to come into the classroom and he’d say, “MacKinnon and Brennan let’s have a geometry lesson”. And of course out would come the geometry books and Jim would say, “Alright Brennan how would you do this one?” Frank would tell him.
“OK MacKinnon, how do you do this one?” That’s the way Jim was. He knew that Brennan and I wouldn’t have any trouble with the problems.
When I was going to Prince of Wales, Edith Hume taught Math at Prince of Wales. One morning one fellow didn’t have his geometry book with him and he sat in the seat with me and my geometry book. Old Edith got up at the board and said, “Now this problem, this is the only solution for it.” We had been given it for homework. I had done it be an easier method. She was doing it by Book 3 and I had done it by Book 1. The fellow that was sitting with me said, “No M’am, Laurier has it with another method.” So down she comes and looks at it. “That’s correct,” she said. “But I still want you to do it the other way.” The other way of course, was a harder way. I ran into stuff like that all the time as far as Math, Geometry and Algebra goes.
At that time you had to pass Entrance to go to Prince of Wales College. There were no senior high schools. The schools ran up to Grade 10 and then you went to Junior College for Grade 11 and 12 and first and second year university. First year of Entrance exams I failed them, because I didn’t put too much effort in it. My sister, Sis, told my mother you may as well take him out of school he’s not going to go any further. I decided I’d prove them wrong. I talked my mother into letting me go back to school the next year, and she did. In Entrance next year I had to highest mark from my school and another chap from Souris and I led the Island as far as mathematics was concerned. I went to Prince of Wales 2 years.
That fall, 1939, war broke out. There was 3 uniforms in the home before I got up in the morning. I got up and had breakfast. In those days, it was a cup of tea and bread and butter. That’s all you had for breakfast in my home, you couldn’t afford anything else. My mother asked me NOT to go down to the armories, unless I was asked. So, I said OK. So I went uptown. So one of the fellows that I was in the militia with, and coming down the street said, “Are you coming down to the armories?” I said, “I guess so, I’ve been asked.” There were 5 uniforms in our home within 2 days and later on there was 8 uniforms, 7 of which were overseas, all in the army. There were 6 of us under shell fire the same time. But, all through the school years I played rugby and I played baseball. Didn’t play much hockey. I couldn’t get a hold of a decent pair of skates to begin with. I remember sewing up the back of a skate with grocery string hoping that it would hold to go play hockey. Couldn’t afford skates in those days. We used to go down to the railroad where they would sharpen them for nothing. They would hold the skate to the stone. In those days we were thankful for that. I remember going out to Queen Square School rugby practice. I was ordered off the field because I was too young. I said to the coach, Jim MacCallum, “We have a football team we picked up and I’d like to play you fellows, and show you what football is all about.”
“Huh,” he says, “like hell you have.” I said, “Sure I have.” He said, “OK, bring them out here tomorrow.”
We had a bunch from the Avenue and enjoyed playing football and we went out and sure enough we beat Queen Square. I was on the rugby team the following year, although I was much younger than they usually were.
We joined the army and stayed in Charlottetown for a month and a half or so, then we went over to Halifax. I was on McNab’s Island for 6 months. It wasn’t a penal outfit then. We went in and set up telephone systems. We chopped down trees that would fall on the wires, and left trees standing and used them for the posts. The NCO in charge didn’t have us top the trees and left the tops on and 3 days later a wind storm came up and of course the lines were broken because the tops of the trees weren’t taken off. So then we had to top the trees and run the wires and get the telephone communications going again over to what they call Cape Breton Island. I have some snapshots around taken on McNab’s Island at that time. McNab’s Island was situated in the mouth of Halifax Harbor, where they had the harbor gate during the war, so they didn’t let everybody into the harbor. We were also stationed in Cape Breton Island and then they took us up to Ontario as part of 3rd Divisional Signals. I was in Eddy section first, which was artillery, then I was moved to J Section, which was Infantry Brigade. We were stationed in Sussex New Brunswick for awhile before they took us down to Halifax and we went overseas. We were supposed to go over in a Troop Ship Convoy but the ship they set aside for us was the old SS Orbeta. It had just come up from the South with a load of bananas, oranges and stuff and it hadn’t been cleaned at all. Our departure was delayed, they cleaned up the ship, they led us aboard and took off overseas. We were the only Troop Ship in the convoy made up of Oil Tankers. We were right in the center of the convoy, with 2 or 3 lanes of oil tankers heading for England. Luckily, we had no trouble at all. Needless to say, we were at least a week on water before we got over to England. From there we went to different parts of England where we trained in maneuvers and so on and so forth. We were actually in defense of England. The Gerries were going to invade only it didn’t work out the way they thought.
During my lifetime as a child, we had it a little rough at times. The old man had an alcoholic problem and he used to like to throw his weight around. Never laid a hand on mother. He liked to show who was boss and he made life miserable when he was boozing for the kids. This day I came back from football and still had my cleats and everything on and he was three sheets to the wind throwing his weight around. He came towards me and when he did I went towards him and hit him a flying tackle and knocked him on his arse where he stayed. Needless to say, it finally got through to him the 3rd youngest wasn’t going to take any of his roughen around anymore. He decided he’d behave himself after that. He was much better after being shown where he fit in.
I remember standing on the corners selling newspapers for 2 cents a copy, damn near frozen to death. Hand darn near frozen from holding the newspapers and selling about 10, 15, 20 copies, and going home and giving every cent to my mother. She gave us enough money to buy the papers at 1 cent each and we sold and gave all the profits to her. We did not get the money ourselves, and we delivered papers as well. I remember going to a show on Saturday afternoon it would cost you 11 cents. We couldn’t get enough money to go to a show, so my kid brother and I would go uptown and try to beg 3 or 4 cents off of different people. At each time we just asked for a cent, to get enough money to go in and look at a show. Lots of times we had to do without. We didn’t have TV in those days. We had a radio in the house, that’s about all. Telephones? Huh, couldn’t afford that. Different things kids nowadays take for granted, we had to do without. For instance, when you went to the bathroom you put your ass up to the cold breeze coming up through the seat in an outdoor shithouse. We didn’t have the pleasure of having a bathroom, toilet, whatnot in the house. Those days are gone, but a few of us remember them. It made an impression on us and to be satisfied with a whole lot less than people are satisfied with today.