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Victory in Europe May 8, 1945
The winds of war had raged across the nations of Europe and Asia in 1939. Japan had invaded China, Germany had invaded Poland and within weeks, decisions of political leaders saw the nations of the world entangled in the horrors of global war. Their decisions forced young men and women to don the uniforms of war, forever changing what might have been. On May 8, 1945, the war in Europe was officially over. The day before, in Reims, France, the documents of unconditional surrender were signed. Millions in Europe and North America celebrated the victory. In Germany, where the Canadian Army fought right to the last day, soldiers were too relieved to celebrate very much. In Paris and London, Canadians joined people in the streets in an outpouring of emotion. In Toronto, thousands danced in the streets while three Mosquito aircraft dropped ticker-tape overhead. The long years of World War II in Europe had ended, the war in the Pacific continued. For Yarmouth Town and County the six years between 1939 and 1945 brought many changes. Along with the joy that came with the end of the European war, for many, there would also be a sense of loss. So many young soldiers, sailors, and airmen would not return to their homes and their families, missed by wives, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. Faces common in county communities would never be seen again, except in photos or remembered through letters sent from England or the battlefields in Europe. In 1939 so many things began to change and over the six years Yarmouth would see an airport grow from a grassy field on the outskirts of the town with two major camps, on the east and west side of the airbase. Construction of West Camp continued up to 1942 when the last two hangars were completed. RCAF Station Yarmouth West Camp would become home to hundreds of airmen of Bomber Reconnaissance Squadrons and an Army Cooperation Detachment. With three runways, aircraft patrolled Allied convoys and tracked and hunted enemy submarines. RCAF Station Yarmouth East Camp would train hundreds of young British boys of the Fleet Air Arm, Royal Navy. The Royal Navy also operated a Radio Unit at Chebogue sending messages to naval trainees in the air. Early in the war East Camp was also home for the airmen of #34 Operational Training Unit of the Royal Airforce. In Tusket and Plymouth, Radar Stations were constructed and operated throughout the war. The Royal Canadian Air Force also had a sea-rescue launch, the Arresteur, patrolling the areas off Sandford and Lobster Bay where bombing and gunnery practice was taking place. Eastern Command Air Command Meteorological Flight used the airbase at Yarmouth to gather daily weather data from 1942 to 1945. An Army training base on Parade Street had grown to a size capable of training 20,000 young men. The construction of the various camps provided new jobs and income for local carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and general handy men. The bases grew and business boomed in the little town of Yarmouth. Many civilians found employment at the camps as secretaries, telephone operators, clerks, and others doing vehicle maintenance, and general repair. Some young lads from the communities got jobs selling newspapers or as pin-boys in bowling lanes. The arrival of soldiers and airmen changed the Town of Yarmouth. The side-walks were crowded, the restaurants and stores did a brisk business. Theatres were full. Church communities held dances and get-to-gathers for the new comers. And the people of Yarmouth and throughout the county welcomed them into their homes. There were parades, Victory Loan campaigns, open houses for the local population at the various camps. Places like the Milo Boat Club, Braemar Lodge on Lake Ellenwood, and the Bluebird Inn, in Arcadia, for swimming, became places for relaxation for servicemen. The Snackerie was a place for all ranks, a home away from home. The Strand ballroom on John’s Street was often crowded with service men and young ladies. The Parrot, a soda bar and lunch counter became a popular hangout as did the Metropole Cafe, Wagners, and the Clam Shell. Recruits were given clear instructions by Sergeants before going off base: “As new recruits, you will have your first opportunity to leave the base. A few words of caution. Whenever you receive a pass to go into town or to travel by bus or train, you will meet the general public. Your unit and the army will be judged by your behavior and your appearance. If you neglect your uniform or wear it incorrectly, if you do not shave, if you lounge about the town, lean in doorways and fail to salute when you should, if you walk three or four abreast down the street, to the great inconvenience of others or are discourteous to women you meet, the general public will rate you as an untrained soldier from a poor and undisciplined unit. It is expected that you convey at all times the impression of a finely trained soldier from a well disciplined unit in a service of which you are proud.” The liquor store and the bootleggers did well! Some enterprising soldiers discovered that the bootleggers would deliver to the army base. Given clear instructions, a taxi would pull up to the fence just behind the hut, flash their lights three times, take the money and pass over the liquor! Over the six years there were moments of tension between the soldiers, airmen, and British TAGs as they competed with one another, sometimes over the hearts of Yarmouth girls. Buses transported local girls (airmen dance dates) from the town to the bases. At East and West Camps, the men wore their dress uniforms and the girl wore party gowns. There were seventy or more couples married thanks to the existence of RCAF Station Yarmouth. Sports competition, baseball and soccer teams from the air base and army base played against navy teams from HMCS Cornwallis, Digby Co. There were arrivals and departures, as the servicemen came and went: sad goodbyes and welcoming smiles. The harbour at Yarmouth was busy as merchant ships called into and departed the port. There was rationing, black outs, and invasion scares. “A report reached the air and army bases that an enemy invasion was occurring at Comeau’s Hill. The army marched to the village and aircraft flew above. There was no enemy only the Canadian army on the ground, all over the place and the RCAF overhead. One can just imagine the looks on the local faces - invaded by the Canadian army who proved they could defend the place and clean the blueberries off the bushes!” The skies were filled with aircraft on patrol or training operations. Remembering the war years in Yarmouth County, many would say it was an exciting time. For the local population, the war brought the departure of many young men and women as they joined the war effort. The newspapers carried photos and articles of local boys who had “arrived safely” in England. And then as the war progressed the notices of deaths, those killed in action, or missing, or wounded. Telegrams brought the reality of war to many homes. Some one hundred and sixty-two, with connections to the area, would not return. From the various Yarmouth area bases fifty- four would die in accidents and air crashes. However, May 8, 1945 was a day of celebration. Mary (Mae) Brown O’Brien was the official Hostess of the Red Triangle Club (Canteen) at the local YMCA. In her personal diary she wrote on May 10, 1945:
Since I last wrote, peace has been declared “unconditional surrender” which we heard so much about for the last five years has been meted out. One of the outstanding affairs that took place on V.E. Day was the disgraceful affairs in Halifax when … that city [was torn] apart. … On Monday morning, May 8, I went to work as usual. When I arrived at the Red Triangle Club, Con and Alex were listening to the radio and they both shouted at once, “Germany has surrendered!” I called the Quality Bakery to double my order for I knew V.E. Day would be declared, all the eating places in town would be closed, and a two day holiday announced, but I had no luck. Every place of business closed at 6:00 pm until Thursday morning. People didn’t get started until next day which was Tuesday, my day off, but I soon realized I would have to go to work for as things turned out it was the busiest day we ever had at the canteen, and no food to work with. In the morning, a beautiful day, mother, Laura Goudey and I went to Central United to church. A nice service … then I called at the Hostel. Everything was quiet there. … They had a big parade at 6:00 pm. The Red Triangle Club was crowed from 9:00 am until 11:00 pm. We had over six hundred sales, then there were hundreds sitting around who didn’t buy anything, as the stores were all closed. I was clearing civilians out all day long, cadets and locals who wanted to buy cigarettes, etc. We didn’t have enough supplies for the service men let alone anyone else. Officers who never frequent our place came there for supper, as they couldn’t get a bite to eat anywhere. I noticed at 10:00 pm that numbers of the boys had been drinking too much, but I tried not to notice where it was V.E. Day. I waited until five minutes of eleven, when Alex came in to close. On my way home I saw they had the liquor store roped off, but didn’t know until later that it had already been broken into. I came home and told mother there was a sinister feeling in the very air, and I was a little nervous when I went to bed. The phone rang early next morning, always a bad sign for me, and it was Alex telling me that the minute I left on Tuesday night (while Alex was putting the money in the safe - he had the door locked) a dozen drunken soldiers came storming up the stairs yelling they wanted something to eat. Alex told them we didn’t have a thing left, which was the truth, but they broke down both the doors at the head of the stairs. In the meantime Alex had called the police, and the boys ‘flew the coop’ before they got in the room. Once again we lost nothing except the doors. V.E. Day is over and everybody is glad!
Bluebird Inn
Opening of the YMCA Red Triangle Club Canteen