This piece marks the first in a new series for the Barrie Historical Archive, courtesy of archive supporter Diana Strachan.
Strachan’s mother, Peggy Newman, was just 16 years old in July 1940 when she, along with her younger sister Joan, set sail from the United Kingdom to join her Aunt Rhona in North America.
Peggy’s parents had sent the children to live safely, with their father’s sister and her husband, Alan Childs, as war broke out in Europe. From the MV Britannic, a Cunard White Star ocean liner, Peggy signed and sealed her first piece of correspondence to her folks back in Britain.
“How is everyone at home?” she wrote. “Have you had many air-raids lately? It is very difficult to believe that there is a war on and I’ve quite given up reading the news.”
“Please Mummy keep your chin up,” she continued. “I have never been so happy and well and nor has Joan although she did feel a bit queer at first when the boat started moving.”
Peggy had good reason to be happy – she made plenty of friends in her travels. As soon as she boarded for New York, she was a hit: “So far I have only spent 6s and that was on a shampoo and set, you see the boys always treat me to drinks so I’m quite well off.”
Childs, an American anxious to join the war effort, had enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces and within three months had moved his wife and the girls from Long Island, N.Y., to Toronto, Ont., and then Barrie to be closer to him while he was camped at Canadian Forces Base Borden.
During her three-year tenure across the Atlantic, Peggy wrote her parents at home in Britain nearly 50 times. Her letters reveal the fine life she enjoyed with her aunt and sister living at 3 Peel St., a tall home atop a hill with bright red bricks and detailed gable-end fretwork.
These are the first words Peggy put to paper after shuffling from Manhasset, N.Y. to the Forest Hills neighbourhood of Toronto, before finally making the trek north to Barrie, where she would stay until July 1943.
April 13, 1941
Darling Mummy and Daddy,
How are you getting on? I hope you got my last letter OK although it was very scrappy. We have now been in Barrie a week and we all love it. The house we’re in is very large and very old with high airy rooms and a lovely old stair-case. Joan and I both have seperate (sic) rooms. Joan’s is on the second ﬂoor and mine is on the third. There is a small wooden staircase leading up to my room with a door to it which when it is shut, shuts me off from the rest of the house. There are two other rooms besides mine, one of which is a box-room and the other is the maid’s when she comes.
The house stands on a corner property and we have a nice lot of ground around us. Across the road is a nun’s house and across from them is the Roman Catholic Church where they ofﬁciate. So you can see from our surroundings we are in a very quiet and pleasant part of the town. I forgot to tell you that at the back of the house are some old stables which smell rather terribly, but it is lovely living here.
On the ﬁrst ﬂoor there is a big drawing room and dining room with a partition in between, which has been taken out and makes the rooms look huge. There is a small kitchen and a big hall with a sweeping staircase and a verandah running along two sides of the house. On the second ﬂoor there are two bedrooms, a bathroom, a sun-room and a large landing where the desk is put and then on the third ﬂoor there are two bedrooms and one boxroom. As a matter of fact we haven’t got the whole of the house, there is a small back part where an old lady lives but we have certainly of the most of it.
About the second day we were here I received an invitation to a dance in Toronto, it is from an English boy who came to my party and his guardian is giving a dance for him. The dance is on Thursday and I’m going into Toronto by train and then go to Frankie Harrison’s and go to the dance with her and stay overnight with her. It should be rather fun and I’m going to wear my new polka-dot dress.
About the second day we were here I met a Canadian girl whose mother Auntie had met before and we’ve been going round together ever since. Her name is Joyce Little and her father is a doctor. She’s a month older than me and she is also fair and the same height as me, in fact we go to-gether very well. Joyce is in the same grade as me so I hope to be put with her when we start school again.
The weather has been perfect up till to-day when we had a shower this morning, so Joyce and I went on long bicycle rides and are getting quite sun-tanned. This afternoon her father had to make a call in the country so they called for me and we went off, but we found the road Dr. Little had to take impassable so he had to put off his call until to-morrow. Instead though he took us to Orillia which is a small town about 20 miles from here and treated us to a soda each which was very nice and we came home singing songs all the way. I enjoyed it very much and they really are lovely people.
This morning we all went to church it being Easter Sunday but the parade of Easter bonnets was rather spoilt by it raining. I hope you had a nice holiday at Easter to give Daddy a rest. Please send my love to the boys and look after yourselves. Cheerio, ‘till next time,
Tons of love