Love and Wartime at the Cottage
By Bill Johnson, North of Kingswood Acres

For me, the war was exciting and very interesting; after all, at 10 years of age in 1939, the horrors don’t really register. We were not aware of the Holocaust and shocking prisoner of war camps as well as death marches etc. until almost the last days of the war.

I can remember that cool, grey, September day, sitting with my dad in his car parked at the edge of the hill at the cottage listening to his car radio, with an aerial of wire rigged up the old oak tree (there was no T.V. in those days, we had no electricity and radio signals were pretty weak) to hear the news. Orm was upset and somber and muttered a few philosophical comments like “We’ll beat the Germans in no time.”

I was therefore surprised when day after day, the news became “worser and worser” until after a year, it seemed as though he was terribly wrong.

At any rate, aside from two Toronto memories, most of the exciting ones were at the cottage.

Libby Henry’s (now Boyer’s) father, Norm, became our neighbour when they built the cottage to the north of the Mornings’ (now Annis’). Norm was a very successful insurance agent and brought a real touch of class to the hilltop. He wore spats, a top to his bathing suit trunks, and was always dressed in the casual style of the day (jacket, ascot tie and well-pressed slacks). Best, and most impressive of all, he drove the world’s largest black Packard with huge whitewall tires (the first we had ever seen). Always a gentleman and always ready to show kindness.

His daughter Libby was to me a vivacious, social bombshell, on whom I had a crush for many years. Of course, all of the young men seemed to flock around her at every opportunity! I resented being only 9 or 10 years old. When the war started, an English R.A.F. pilot (Peter Campbell) began to court her. He was stationed at Camp Borden (just west of Barrie). Before long, he would be buzzing over the cottages on an almost daily basis. Seeing a plane in those days was a big deal. There were no commercial or Canadian airlines at that time. Quite often Peter would cruise around in a yellow Avro Anson, a sweet little two-engine trainer (no

jets either in those days), about 150 feet out from the edge of the hill at cottage level. On other occasions, he would dive his Harvard at the big rock in our field and parachute loads of various items or even the odd cans of paint. Orm did not like Peter as he referred to us as “Colonials” in an early conversation, and for one of the few times in his life, Orm blasted someone and, although I liked Peter, I must admit to being pretty proud of my dad that day.

Peter had grown up in India and one day he removed his shirt and showed me ten wide claw scars starting at his neck, down to his waist. The tiger who attacked him was killed before the tiger would finish the job. (Our forest, from that day on, seemed just a little more dangerous.)

So Peter became a hero to me as the days went on, and, of course, I could hardly wait to become 18 to join the R.C.A.F. Then suddenly, one wintry night, over Lake Simcoe, everything changed. A pilot was missing from Base Borden and Peter led a flight to try to find him. Peter was never heard from again and the next summer, we found, washed up on our shore, a pilot’s cap which we assumed was Peter’s, and still rests in the big log cottage that he buzzed so often.

Ironically, Libby married a Canadian pilot, Gord Dunn, an equally nice person who was lost in the Mediterranean flying, I believe, a Gloster Gladiator.

And in the end, beautiful Libby married Johnny Boyer, a childhood sweetheart, a gentle soul who became a good friend of Orm’s.

Even now when I meet Libby, I can still feel that old crush, as she remains a tiny dynamo who reminds me still of those far-off, dreamy, special days of my early youth.

Fred Bell, an agent for Orm’s company in Midland (Bell & Walton), a “bon vivant”, often visited the hilltop and, before the war, was a Colonel in the reserve and very proud of his uniform (strangely enough he resigned the day war was declared). On one occasion, he showed up with a “sten-gun”, a sort of poor man’s machine gun. Of course I wanted to try it. As Fred was a very congenial person, soon I was blasting away with it.

The joy was short lived as my mother Glad laid down the law and the gun disappeared into Fred’s trunk, forever. In retrospect, it is amazing that I did not shoot someone including myself as there was a terrific recoil after each shot.

The war dragged on for years – longer than anyone predicted – and of course, the pain and suffering was really more than whole countries could bear. I grew to realize how stupid dear old mankind can be, gladly, and with alacrity, following megalomaniacs and in no way considering that the “enemy” were people, just like themselves.

My first boss, Andy Anderson gave me the following advice. I must say I’ve never forgotten it “when everyone is for something, it is time to be against it, and when everyone is against something, it may be time to speak in its support.”

My biggest disappointment was being only 16 by the time the war ended so I couldn’t emulate those heroes. Of course, in retrospect, I possibly would not be writing this now as I would have made a terrible pilot.