From Barrie with Love Part V: Wartime Letters from a Briton in Barrie

/, Downtown/From Barrie with Love Part V: Wartime Letters from a Briton in Barrie

Read the fifth instalment in this exciting new blog series, made possible by Barrie Historical Archive supporter Diana Strachan. Diana’s mother, Peggy Newman, writes her parents after returning from a two-week camp excursion in Honey Harbour with her sister Joan. Read about her 1940s camp experience and relish the layers of nostalgia Peggy peels back!

See past blogs to read Peggy’s letters since arriving in Barrie after leaving her parents back in Basingstoke, England, to live with her sister, aunt and uncle on 3 Peel St.

August 24, 1941

Darling Mummy and Daddy!

Well, here I am again, back from one of the most wonderful holidays I’ve ever had. I did not write you from camp but I saved this piece of camp note-paper to write when I got home. Honestly those two weeks at camp simply whizzed by, but we did so much that I don’t know where to begin. I think the best thing to do will be for me to tell you a typical day at camp and then add other points of interest afterwards.

Well, first of all I must tell you that we slept in bunks in open air cabins, there were ten girls in each cabin and there were senior cabins and junior cabins. I was in a senior cabin and Joan was in a junior cabin. Each cabin elected a representative to the camp council which used to arrange for different things to do when there was any free time. I was elected representative for our cabin, which was pretty good going wasn’t it? We also had a camp paper and I was in charge of the literary column which was awfully interesting.

Altogether there were twelve cabins for the girls and then several rooms over the boathouse where the leaders slept and a hospital and director’s cottage and a big pavilion where we had a large open air dining room and a large indoor room where we went for camp-fire when it was too cold to have it out-doors.

Now I’ll start describing a day to you. At seven o’clock the rising whistle blew and we all had to jump out of our bunks and see which cabin was first out of doors and the cabin which was first got a star. We then had a few jerks and then went back to our cabins to get dressed for breakfast, we washed in the lake. At 7.45.am the whistle went for flag raising and we all made a circle round the flag-pole and sang ‘O Canada”, and saluted while the flag was being raised by the chief of the senior cabins or chief of the junior cabin who’s ever turn it was.

After that we marched into breakfast and sang grace and then started stuffing ourselves. Breakfast consisted of porridge or cold cereal which ever you preferred, piping hot cocoa and as much toast, butter and marmalade as you could eat. Gosh, it was good, it just hit the spot every morning. After breakfast we lined up for chapel which by the way was also open. Honestly, it gave you the loveliest feeling having chapel out of doors, it was very rustic and so peaceful. By the time chapel was over it was 9am and we then had an hour in which to make our bunks and tidy the cabin and decorate it, if we had any original ideas.

At 10am the whistle went for us to leave the cabins and go to whichever interest group we belonged to. We could take either canoing, sailing, dramatics, life-saving, camp-craft or hand-work whichever we preferred. I took sailing and by the end of camp I had got my second-class sailing and I also came top of the class which wasn’t so bad was it? I simply loved it and now I know how to sail a boat.

Interest group lasted an hour and then from 11am-12am (sic) we had swimming during which period I learnt to dive. At 12am (sic) we went to our cabins and got ready for dinner. At 12.30pm we went to dinner which consisted of lamb or something like that, and greens and potatoes and super gravy and big slabs of bread and tons of butter. For dessert we had varied dishes, one day cottage pudding and delicious caramel sauce and another day tinned fruit etc.

After dinner we remained at our tables and had 30 minutes of music appreciation which was very interesting and which usually ended with us all singing the camp songs at the top of our voices. After that, we went to our cabins for rest hour during which time we wrote letters or read or discussed plans for camp-fire entertainment if it was our cabin’s turn to provide it. At 2.45pm the whistle went for tuck and we all rushed to draw money out of the bank to spend at the tuck-shop. We could buy candy, pop, writing paper, stamps, post-cards and souvenirs of camp etc. After tuck we could more or less do what we liked, go out canoeing or sailing if it was possible, or go for a hike to the various places of interest around. One day we even had a paper chase, which was the grandest fun.

At 4pm the whistle went for swimming until 5pm. At 5pm we went to our cabins and got dressed for supper at 5.45pm. For supper we usually had salad and tomatoes etc and cold meat and slabs of bread and butter with piping hot cocoa. For dessert we usually had jelly or fruit and cookies. After supper we sang camp songs and then we were free until camp-fire that is after we had recieved our mail. Ted wrote to me practically every day and I usually managed to scribble a few lines in return. At 8pm the whistle went for camp-fire which mostly took place indoors all the time we were there, as it was too cold to have it outdoors. At camp-fire each cabin took turns every night in entertaining the rest of the camp. Sometimes the leaders would entertain us too.

Anyway there was always something going on. The night it was cabin two’s night to entertain we did a melodrama, honestly it was a scream everything happened which shouldn’t have happened. I took the part of a baby and I must have looked a sight with a huge bow on top of my head and a night-gown miles too short. I had to bawl all the time and boy! did I bawl. I was hoarse for the next two days. Anyway camp-fire usually ended about 9.30pm and we all stood in a large circle and sang taps and then tottered to our cabins. Gosh! we honestly fell into our bunks we were so tired.

I guess you can see from all I’ve told you what a pretty full day we had, not one minute was wasted. One night we had the grandest thing happen, we all went out on a torchlight procession to Honey Harbour. There were two motor boats, one drew all the canoes and another one drew the sloop and dinghy. All the people in the canoes had burning torches and it must have looked a marvellous sight seeing that snakelike procession bending its way across the bay. I was in the one from the end canoe and we swung about like no-body’s business, honestly once or twice we thought we would tip.

Another night all the girls over sixteen went over to Honey Harbour to dance and I met the nicest medical student from Toronto University, I also learnt to jive (a mild form of jitterbugging). Then one day I took the chapel service in the morning. I was the only camper who took chapel while we were there, so I was quite honoured. My sermon was about camp spirit and apparently it went over alright ‘cos all the leaders and counsellors came up and took my hand and said it was beautiful and all the girls said that I had put into words just what they felt and couldn’t say. Honestly I was bowled over with it all. Auntie says if I don’t look out I will become a missionary but, somehow I’m afraid it doesn’t appeal to me. I’m going to include a copy of the sermon but personally I don’t think much of it.

Gosh, this letter seems to go on and on, I hope you are not bored with it, but there’s so much to tell you. Two days before the end of camp, all my cabin went out on an overnight canoe hike. We cooked our supper for that night and all the meals for the next day out in the open gosh, they tasted good. That night we slept in twos so we would keep warm.

Golly, it was just perfect to lie back and see all the stars shining above us. It was on that canoe hike that I really learnt to paddle. There were three of us in a canoe with our baggage. Two girls paddling and one a passenger and we all took turns at being the passenger. We went past several islands and the scenery we passed was the most beautiful I have ever seen. I’m not quite sure how many miles we went altogether but I think it was about thirty.

Well I really think that I can hardly tell you more about what we did ‘cos if I did I would practically write a book. Anyway to get down to everyday things, we have recieved (sic) quite a few letters from you and so far three parcels. Joan got her silk pants and sweater and I’ve got my silk pants. Joan’s pants were miles too large for her, but as my pants were a bit small we’ve exchanged. I think if I cut off the legs on her pants I’ll be able to wear them although I swim in them too. It was a terrible shame that that white sweater didn’t fit me, it was so pretty. Mummy, if you are going to send me some more sweaters please will you send plain coloured ones with round necks. I would simply adore a plain, powder blue sweater and if you get cardigans to match please get ones that button all the way up to the neck also with plain necks. I hope you won’t find those too hard to get but the girls here jus live in outfits like that all through the winter. Please get sweaters to fit size 34 bust in fact if you get size 36 that will really be playing safe.

Well, I guess there is nothing else to tell you now, I spent most of this weekend out with Ted and now I have to wait ‘till next weekend to see him again. By the way, I’ve made up my mind to take my senior matric next year ‘cos I shal really feel set then to do whatever I want to. I’ve spoken to Auntie about it and she said it was entirely up to me and she was quite agreeable to whatever I wanted to do. It seems terrible to think that we only have one more week of holidays left. We go back on Sept 3rd.

Please send my love to the boys, I hope John found some way to pass the time. Please will you let Joyce Gribble read this letter, I am going to write to her but it will take too long to go into such details again, I wish more than anything she could be here, she would simply have adored camp. Well, I really must stop now, I hope you are both well and not working too hard.

Cheerio, till next time.

Tons of love,

Peggy xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

PS Daddy, I hope you will find time after reading this to write me a letter. Please find time.

Peggy xxxxx

2018-09-04T19:52:31+00:00

About the Author:

Billy Courtice is the Chair of the Barrie Historical Archive. Otherwise, he is a writer, reader and rampant ice cream eater who makes a living in strategic communications.
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