I must pause to give in to my emotions and, when no one is looking, to have several good cries.
Joan left this world, 29 April 2015, one week after finishing 96 tours around the Sun. She left me while I was still on my honeymoon. My life with her is described among the 360 pages of my book, “It’s All Pensionable Time - 25 Years in the Royal Canadian Air Force”, so this is just a brief summary.
In July 1942 I was in Wellesbourne, England, on the final 2-month training course prior to joining Bomber Command. On the few free nights we had my best friend, Pat Porter, and I would frequent the dance halls in nearby Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. One evening we joined a dance in the town hall that was raising funds to send food parcels to POWs via Switzerland.
Pat and I were surveying all the girls before choosing the first one to ask for a dance. Joan walked in with her girlfriend and I was smitten. I nudged Pat, saying: “That’s for me!”
One date led to another and I was falling very much in love. As a teenager Joan had taught herself how to design and make her own clothes so she stood out in any crowd in wartime Britain where rationed coupons were required to purchase clothing. She worked for a company that made equipment for the Royal Navy. Here she learned to be on time, but never early, for work as one morning her office was strafed by the Luftwaffe and she would have been killed had she been early.
It was a sad day when I had to leave her as my crew graduated and was posted to Croft, Yorkshire, to join 419 Squadron, one of 15 Canadian squadrons in Bomber Command.
Visions of marriage and a home with flowers and a white picket fence had to be suppressed as casualties were heavy and I was fully aware of how cruel it would be to leave a widow or to burden a wife with a crippled husband. Somehow Love triumphed over Common Sense and we married 06 January 1943. Our Commanding Officer, Merve Fleming, allowed me to live off base so we found one room to rent in the home of a WWI widow. I would cycle, often in the rain, back and forth. When bombing enemy locations or mining enemy waters, I would return to crawl into bed with Joan in the early morning. The morning of 28 March 1943 I failed to return. Fortunately I was among the 17% who survived being shot down so was able to return after 800 days as a guest of the Luftwaffe.
Remaining in the RCAF we lived in 11 locations in the UK and Canada before our final transfer to NORAD, Colorado Springs, where I reached the compulsory retirement age of 47 in 1966. We stayed here as I accepted a challenging teaching job.
Joan was never employed outside the home as raising five outstanding daughters, all born on the move, and all graduating from university in some form of biology was more than enough. She continued to design and make clothes for herself and daughters, and sometimes for friends. For the house she made drapes, pillows, and upholstered furniture. She loved gardening and caring for plants, 101 of which we would crowd, over the winters, into a sun room that I had glassed in. She was a good artist painting landscapes, as well as producing needlepoint art work.
Over the years, on our large corner lot some 38 stray cats asked to be adopted. We did adopt a few while finding good homes for the others. Joan also volunteered to work for several charitable organizations. She loved to travel so every summer we would spend a month or more in Canada or Europe.
Of the countless memories that now surround me I have room here to recount only a couple. Our first daughter, Barbara, was born after I was shot down, so the "Mummy and Daddy, George and Joan" nomenclature confused her. One week end while stationed at Summerside, PEI, we were touring Nova Scotia stopping in a small hotel on the main street of Truro. Sunday morning we were still in bed while Barbara played on the child-safe balcony. Two passing women asked what she was doing up there. She replied: “Me’s playing. Mummy is in bed with George!”
Luftwaffe pilot, Roderich Cescotti and I had bombed each other in the insanity of WWII, becoming good friends when in 1956 he led the first 300 cadets of the new Luftwaffe to Canada for pilot training. Among the cadets I trained was the German who shot me down when he was a high school student doing night duty as a flak gunner. We became good friends and he did for Joan and me two large charcoal Bavarian pub drawings that still grace our recreation room. In 1987 we were entertained for a week in the Cescotti home in Fürstenfeldbruck (near Munich). Previously we had entertained his family in Ontario.
Joan had a great fighting spirit, enduring a 5-by-pass heart operation in 1988, then 3 cancer operations, then some falls that fractured hip and pelvis necessitating the use of a walker. All five daughters have been a tremendous help. One is 25 miles away, three from 3 to 5 hours, and one in Toronto. I am a very fortunate and grateful survivor.
But let me go now. I cannot hold back the tears that are welling up.
Ye Old Scribe, 03 May 2015
I was so sorry to hear of the death of your wife when I saw David in Chicago yesterday (too briefly as he had to get right back home to prepare for a big meeting on how to "concentrate resources to advance worthy causes"). I fear that your feeling even close to "normal" will prove elusive for some time, and I will resist the urge to offer up sincere but ultimately trite and unsatisfying "suggestions" of how to process an event of such massive proportions.ReplyDelete
Thank you, George, for sharing these memories and emotions about Joan. I adore the story of your eldest on the balcony in Truro--one cannot make these kind of things up and out of the mouths of babes!
I do hope that all of these memories are able to provide at least some comfort for you. And in that same hopeful spirit, let me encourage you to watch this recently released TED Talk all the way through to the end: http://www.ted.com/talks/sophie_scott_why_we_laugh?language=en . I am fascinated by the evolutionary biological underpinnings of at least some of our behaviors, and this area of research has really driven home to me the importance of laughter in the rise (for good and ill) of homo sapiens on Planet Earth.
I was thinking about you a lot, George, as I was awestruck by the Arsenal of Democracy WWI Flyover the US National Mall today--and I put this post on my FB page:ReplyDelete
Joe Gitchell Final comment: both Keith Jacobson and I were desirous of the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels finishing up the show--more testosterone. But kudos to the planners for resisting that temptation and respecting the majesty and honoring the service of those planes and the airmen and aviators who went in to harm's way, over and over again. Hero's like: https://www.blogger.com/profile/18152562240715282358
Thank you for your service and your commitment to history.
PS - when my buddy sends pictures, I will try to post them, too!
Ooops! "WWII" flyover, not "WWI" flyover....!Delete