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Updated 30 November 2021

Use the search button on the right side to look for someone’s name among more than 800 posts I have written about RCAF 403 Squadron. 

 

After you can either use the comment section or the contact form below to share stories and photos.

 

Bottom of the ninth? – Redux

This is what I wrote 9 years ago on this blog. It was the first time I had come across the name of Flying Officer R.C. Shannon. There is something new I have learned about him thank to Brock Kerby whose hero was this pilot.

ORIGINAL POST

Here are the last pictures sent by Greg.

Stew scoring…

Collection Walter Neil Dove

Stew is Stew Tosh.

Fred the body beautiful is at bat.

Fred Town at bat…

Collection Walter Neil Dove

He comes running home…

Collection Walter Neil Dove

Van taking a cut at the ball.

Collection Walter Neil Dove

Van is taking a cut at the ball.

That’s what Walter Dove wrote.

I think Van swung and missed. But then maybe I am wrong. 

Anyway,  now you know who was on 3rd base.

Collection Walter Neil Dove

About Stew Tosh… We know little about him. Just this.

Uneventful patrols on the 4th were followed by more successes in the air the next day. The Wolves, on their third patrol, sighted fifteen Me.109s at 14,000 feet in the Arnhem area. S/L Wood destroyed two and shared a third with P/O R. C. Shannon, Wood’s victories contributing to the award of the D.F.C. which he received in December. Another was destroyed by F/O F. W. Thomson and a fifth by P/O M. Reeves. Finally F/L S. Tosh damaged one. The same squadron, likewise on its third patrol of the day, scored again on the 6th when two bomb-carrying Me.109s were encountered at 16,000 feet over Nijmegen. Wood shot down one of the enemy, the other making its escape. Many Me.262s were seen in the course of operations but they were not engaged.

That’s not much.

Perhaps this on this site… 

S. Tosh, Almonte. This airman got his wings at Dunnville, Ontario on June 19, 1942.

FLYERS AWARDED WINGS

Dunnville, Ont., June 19, 1942 —(CP)—

Eight Ontario sergeants, all civil pilots before the war and former instructors at Canadian training schools, received their wings at No. 6 Service Flying Training school here today.

They were: E. Watson, J. M. D. Holden, R. D. Grogan, Toronto; P. H. Perdue, Oakville; R. H. Bennett, Brantford; H. L. Snider, Baden; V. B. Powers, London; F. S. McCarthy, Windsor.

Wings were presented by Wing-Cmdr V. H. Patriarchs, officer commanding the station.
Other Ontario graduates were: E. H. Edwards, W. T. Klersy, T. R. Martin, W. Smith, A. W. Smith, H. Taylor, J. A. Warren, all of Toronto; D. A. Armstrong, Trenton; G. W. Brown, S. A. Round, Sarnia; J. Clark, D. E. Smith, Woodstock; E. G. Duck, H. C. Spurgeon, Windsor; D. A. Hall, R. A. Neff, Ottawa; D. Hall, Willikens; E. S. Lavery, Listowel; A. V. Nightingale, Mount Forest; M. F. Pettibone, Lakeport; E. R. Proud, Edengrove; J. N. Parrish, Britton; W. Stirling, Niagara Falls; J. Shapter, Bracebridge; S. Tosh, Almonte; R. B. Trull, St. Thomas.

Stew Tosh was a rugby player in 1939.

Surprised?

That would explain the A on his sweatshirt.

Collection Walter Neil Dove

You can read all about it. The game ended in a near riot!

END OF THE ORIGINAL

tRANSCRIPTION

Close Call for Airman

German Bayonet Nearly Ends 

Montrealer’s Role of Farmer

F/O Robert C. Shannon Discovered 

In Falaise Swamp by Nazi Searcher

ROBERT CHAMION moved uneasily in the marshes. A German soldier followed the trail of broken reeds and suddenly came upon him. The 23-year-old “French laborer” of Falaise lay motionless on his back in the swamp. The German, ordered to root out slave-labor deserters near, this village in Normandy, looked him over and then he turned away, leaving him breathing hard on the wet ground. 

One shove of the bayonet and that might have been the end of everything. But Robert Chamion was left in the bog. The German soldier joined his unit, and the group continued their search elsewhere. 

It was not until Robert Chamion met advance units of Allied armies two weeks later that he returned his identification card to Falaise authorities, gave his soiled trousers back to a French farmer and again. put on the blue uniform of the R.C.A.F.

From here on, he was Flying Officer Robert C. Shannon, son of Mr. and Mrs. C. A. Shannon, of 343 Clarke Avenue, Westmount. 

Spitfire Riddled

It was June 29, 1944, and the Spitfire he was piloting was riddled by German aircraft over Normandy. Shannon bailed out, landed on a stretch of French farmland near Falaise.

The Falaise countryside was dark, and there were German patrols lurking around. Shannon had heard that if an airman could conceal himself for two hours after landing, he’d be safe — maybe. The Nazi patrol knew he had jumped. They searched the bushes for two hours, then gave up.

Robert C. Shannon

The tap Shannon got on his shoulders as he made his way toward a farmhouse and started things off right. It was a French farmer who knows the ropes — and the Germans — for what they were. 

There were cows and chickens on the farm and plenty to eat and in a back room there were clothes of various sizes. Shannon had no idea of being a farm laborer when he quit studying engineering at McGill University to join the in February, 1942, but that’s what he became that June night of last year.

The next morning he became a native of Falaise, and he had a municipally-approved identification card to prove it. Robert Chamion was not so very different from Robert Shannon. The parents’ names had to be invented, but that wasn’t hard. 

Shannon was 21, but Chamion was 23 because at the time Nazis were not calling 25-year-olds for compulsory labor on the German home front. 

But there was just one thing wrong. He had a uniform that he couldn’t hide. And, he didn’t want to destroy it because it would mean being shot as a spy if he ever had to make a dash across enemy lines in civilian clothes.

A group of burly Nazis, searching the French homestead, found the uniforms of both Shannon and the paratrooper, Shannon remembers the Nazis running out into the fields calling to their men: Englanders! Englanders!”

Shannon was simply posted as missing for June 29 to August 29. When given his freedom, he rejoined his Spitfire squadron, and took part in enough sorties to complete 200 flying hours against the enemy. 

Now he’s back In Montreal again.

Stanley Ernest Messum – The Takoradi Route

Note

This is what I posted on one of my blogs about WWII in 2019.

https://raf238squadron.wordpress.com/2019/05/17/notes-of-takoradi-route/

I knew nothing about the Takoradi Route, but I got curious to learn more. Little did I know Stanley Messum would be flying the Takoradi Route.

What I posted…

On May 17, 1942, Michael Gibson leaves Takoradi for Egypt, a trip lasting until May 25th aboard a C-53 Skytrooper.

2212931.jpg

Source Internet

26 April 1942

Source

http://www.sixtant.net/2011/

The Takoradi Route

TAKORADI

When finally embracing the allied cause, Brazil would then give a decisive contribution to the war effort with the cession of several naval and air bases along its lengthwise coast. This fact had overwhelming importance. The military complex erected in Natal, with the largest airbase ever built outside USA, served as a springboard to launch thousands of airplanes across the South Atlantic bound for Africa, to Egypt through the legendary TAKORADI route, as far as Russia through Middle East and Iran and even to the Pacific theater across the jungle in India and Burma. When Task Force 3 began its operations in South Atlantic waters, on March 24th 1941, the bases for the establishment of US Navy in Brazil had already been set upon.

These well conceived blueprints were taken into effect after mutual agreements signed in 1940 and 1941. Back in November 1940, the US Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, drafted a contract with Pan American Airways, the major and pioneer of American aviation, through its airport corporation branch, to perform the studies aiming to built and enlarge 55 airports in South America, with special focus on those located in Brazilian coastline.

For that urgent task the chosen was the chief of United States Engineering Dept. ADP (Airport Development Program). Brazilian airports extended alongside its extensive 2000 mile coastline, ranging from the dense jungle in northern Amapa, bordering the coast eastward to Belem, Igarape Açu, and São Luis, across the northern deserted coast, to Fortaleza, and turning abruptly southwards at Natal to Recife, Maceio, Salvador, Caravelas, Vitoria and Santa Cruz 20 mile south of Rio de Janeiro.
Takoradi route began actually in US when American aircrafts were ferried across Caribbean, northern South America, South Atlantic narrows and Africa. The longest hop was the lonely and perilous flight across the South Atlantic from Natal in Northeastern Brazil, where USAAF built in 1942 the largest airbase outside US territory. Americans B- 25, B- 24, fighters as well as transports made their way to Takoradi, Gold Coast.

From that tiny point in Western Africa they leaped to the first staging post Lagos, 380 miles away. From Lagos Nigeria to Kano over dense jungle still in Nigeria 520 miles over equatorial forest. Between Kano and El Geneina already in Sudanese barren desert plains some 960 miles with refueling stops at Maiduguri in the heart of Africa, El Fasher, El Obeid, on the long way this time facing typical sandstorms of East Central Africa, until reaching Khartoum the Sudanese capital.

The journey proceeded this time along the majestic sinuous Nile river 520 miles through strategic refueling points at Sueir, and stretching out 560 long miles to Wadi Halfa, Luxor and finally after five days over the perilous jungle and thunderstorms of Equatorial Africa, barrens and desolate landscapes of the semi deserted southern Sudan, then came in sight, the greatness of the pyramids, the historical intriguing city of Cairo, the outpost of Middle East Command.

Takoradi route was one gigantic ferry flight operation in the WWII. More than 5000 aircrafts of several types were ferried across that route from 1940 to 1943. The British RAF, constituted a recovery team, a special skilled group of engineers and technicians to recover crashed aircraft along that route. Tractors and trailers specially designed were precious tools in the hands of those men. Many aircraft crashed in the desert due to running out of fuel or overdue but when they were spotted soon the rescue teams were despatched and soon the crewmembers and plane were saved.

Despite the state of any aircraft they were dismantled and sent back to the RAF maintenance service erected along the route. There the team worked hard to replace damaged parts and put the aircrafts ready to fly again. For those severely damaged, the useful parts were salvaged for re use. The Royal Air Force was in so severe shortage of supply parts that engineers were able to build a new one aircraft from the remains of 2 or 3 others. A truly arise from ashes were in progress.

 

Hurricane_Sudan_1942[1]

A truck loaded with one Hurricane arrives at the base. There the maintenance will rebuild the same and put it back to fly to Egypt.

 

Blenheim_Mk__I_crashed_in_desert[1]

 

A crashed twin engined Blenheim awaits the recovery team. Soon it will be one new aircraft ready to go to the war front.

 

 

TAKORADI HARBOR

 

View of the port of Takoradi. From there hundreds of ships were loaded with vital raw materiel bound for allied ports.

 

RAF 1

 

Several RAF aircrafts seen in one convoy marching to Cairo where they will be assembled and despatched to the combat area. Some of them were involved in accidents and damaged during the long journey. The British teams worked hard to restore them all.

 

RAF

One RAF aircraft is seen being uncrated at Takoradi. Roughly 6,000 airplanes flew across the desert to Cairo their final destination.

 

TAKORADII

Picture shows Takoradi aerodrome where thousands of British planes gathered to undertake the long journey across the Central Africa toward to their bases in Egypt.

A Royal Air Force advanced party of twenty-four officers and men arrived at Takoradi on 14th July 1940. It was led by Group Captain H. K. Thorold, who, after his recent experiences as Maintenance Officer-in-Chief to the British Air Force in France, was unlikely to be dismayed by any difficulties in Africa. Thorold rapidly confirmed the selection of Takoradi, then set his little band to work on organizing such necessary facilities as roads, gantries, hangars, workshops, storehouses, offices and living accommodation. This activity was not confined to the port. Thorold was also charged with turning the primitive landing-grounds into efficient staging posts and perfecting wireless communication along the whole route.

It was certainly a route over which the wireless would come in useful. The first stage, 378 miles of humid heat diversified by sudden squalls, followed the palm-fringed coast to Lagos, with a possible halt at Accra. Next came 525 miles over hill and jungle to an airfield of red dust outside Kano, after which 325 miles of scrub, broken be occasional groups of mud houses, would bring the aircraft to Maiduguri. A stretch of hostile French territory some 650 miles wide, consisting largely of sand, marsh, scrub and rocks, would then beguile the pilot’s interest until he reached El Geneina, in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. Here, refreshed with the knowledge that he had covered nearly half of his journey, he would contemplate with more equanimity the 200 miles of mountain and burning sky which lay between him and El Fasher.

A brief refuelling halt, with giant cacti providing a pleasing variety in the vegetation, and in another 560 miles the wearied airman might brave the disapproving glances of immaculate figures in khaki and luxuriate for a few hours in the comforts of Khartoum. Thence, with a halt at Wadi Haifa, where orange trees and green gardens contrast strangely with the desert, and a house built by Gordon and used by Kitchener shelters the passing traveller, he had only to fly down the Nile a thousand miles to Abu Sueir. When he got there his airmanship would be doubtless be all the better for the flight. No so, however, his aircraft.

The main Royal Air Force party of some 350 officers and men, including 25 ferry-pilots, joined Group Captain Thorold at Takoradi on 24th August. Small maintenance parties were sent out to the staging posts, B.O.A.C. navigators were enrolled for the initial flights, and B.O.A.C. aircraft were chartered to return the ferry-pilots from Abu Sueir. It was also laid down as a general principle that single-seat fighters should be led by a multi-engine aircraft with a full crew. With these preliminaries arranged, the first consignment of crated aircraft—Six Blenheim IV’s and six Hurricanes—docked at Takoradi on 5th September.

It was followed the next day by thirty Hurricanes on the carrier Argus. These were complete except for their main-planes and long-range tanks. No time was lost. The Port Detachment of Thorold’s unit quickly unloaded the aircraft and transported them to the airfield. There the Aircraft Assembly Unit took over, exercising much ingenuity to make up for the unexpected absence of various items, including the humble but essential split-pin. Last-minute difficulties like the collapse of the main runway on 18th September were rapidly overcome by hard work, and on 19th September the first convoy—one Blenheim and six Hurricanes—stood ready on the tarmac for the flight to Egypt.

By now French Equatorial Africa had joined de Gaulle, and that pilots had the consolation of knowing that they would be flying all the way over territory which was diplomatically well disposed, if unfriendly in other respects. The Blenheim roared down the runway, climbed and circled, to be joined in a few moment by its six charges. Seven days later, on 26th September, one Blenheim and five Hurricanes reached Abu Sueir.

With the Troops Overseas

This article was in the scrapbook that Stan’s brother’s wife had kept all those years. Her nephew-in-law Charles sent me the whole scrapbook.

I don’t intend to use it all although it’s like a time machine.

This is one article which is interesting. We know Stanley Ernest Messum was stationed in Malta. He is now going to Egypt.

 

With the Troops
Overseas
FROM THE MIDDLE EAST

Mr. Geo. Baynton,
Editor, The Lloydminster Times,

Dear George,
Here is another letter which we received from Stan and contains considerable information that may be of interest to his friends and others. It has been passed by the censors.
Sincerely,
H. C. MESSUM.

Hello Dad, Mom, Roy, Alec, Jack. This is just “yours truly” calling from some tiny little spot in the Egyptian desert.

True, this has always been the month for camping back home—by a good little lake, trees, plenty to eat and drink, dances, shows (cars, girls—they go best together, of course), midnite dips in the moonlite—the whole gang, the good old gang!

Well, I’m in a tent—12 x 16 ft., about five of us. I say about five because sometimes there are six and sometimes three or four, depending on whether a couple are away. At present we sleep plunk on the floor—two blankets, Irvin jacket for a pillow. It doesn’t get too cold. The only drawback is the dust-like sand which coats everything. Then again one may wake up with a scorpion on one’s leg or arm. Just so long as he doesn’t sting, O.K. I can think of nicer bed companions. Let me try to explain this dust.

Picture a day at home in winter when a mild blizzard is the order for the day. Fine snow constantly blowing in clouds over the surface—just enough to make you duck your head and blink your eyes. Now imagine that wind to be not quite so strong (a fairish breeze), the temperature about 100-110 degrees and the snow a very fine sand—as fine as dust. You should have a fair picture of the desert—mile after mile just sand—with blowing sand—a clear, blazing hot sky. In the morning before ten or eleven there is a cool breeze with no blowing sand—really very nice. We still have the same kind of kites (Spitfires), thank gosh.

In England we did sweeps over France. Here we do sweeps over the enemy lines as they change, and quite a way back of the lines as well, depending on the job. But for obvious reasons I can’t say too much about that. It really is something to look down though and see the tanks scrapping away, various, ones burning—shell fire, troops moving like ants. Yes, there is a war here!

But I must tell you about leaving Malta. The first nite three of us loaded as much as we were allowed into the Wimpy (Wellington Bomber), and climbed aboard. We were just starting up the engines when we were signalled to stay put, as an air raid started. First, Gerry dropped some lovely flares over the drome which lit the place up quite well. We climbed out, we (the passengers and the crew of five and half a dozen times we figured we were sure gonners. We would hear the plane dive—almost see it—then the whistle of the bombs. We would run and flop face down wait for the explosion. Needless to say we didn’t get away that nite. The
next nite we left quite late. Tried to sleep but we were too cramped. In the morning we gazed down upon the Nile, the Suez Canal. We landed at quite a nice airdrome and had a good, meal. That same day we went via transport to another camp, on the southern edge of Great Bitter Lake. Boy, but it was grand to be able to buy chocolate bars, soft drinks, canned beer (ice cold) Canadian beer, have real fine meals. We really made pigs of ourselves after having practically lived on next to nothing in Malta. We didn’t swim in the lake cause of the huge jelly fish which can really sting. Saw an “Andy Hardy” show there. We were only there two days. We went via transport to a pool near Cairo. That was where I met quite a number of fellows from 416 Squadron (in Scotland). They have been out here for a heck of a while and have done very little flying. You bet I visited Cairo—the next nite. It’s quite a nice city—just partial black-out while we were there. The people on the street selling goods is amazing. You really have to tell some of them to “go to heck” in no uncertain terms, considering the way they tag on to you.

We visited a very good club, The New Zealand Club. Had a good dinner—scrambled eggs on toast, carrots, mashed potatoes and chicken and tea—all for ten ackera (peastres) about 50 cents, and then at the milk bar we enjoyed two or three milk shakes, fruit sundaes and ice cream. Boy, it was grand to be able to get such eats for the first time since leaving home.

The next day we came on to the squadron via “Bombay”—quite a large aircraft. You bet! Here we are away out on the desert. What fun!

Well, Dad, the sooner you get this the sooner I’ll hear from you. Boy, do I want to get a few lines from home. Love to all from the Canadian Arab.
Your son,

STAN.

 

 

 

 

Coming soon in 2022

Somewhere in England — Members of Britain’s air-sea rescue service spell service with a capital, and rightly so, according to Flt. Sgt. S. E. Messum, of Lloydminster, Sask. Less than 20 minutes after he parachuted into the English Channel he was picked up and on his way to shore in a rescue boat.

So rapid was the service that his squadron headquarters received the report about him being picked up before they knew he had been shot down. The report was received be fore the rest of the squadron had re turned to base.

Messum was attacked over the French coast by a Foche-Wulf 190. Fire from the FW caused Messum’s engine to vibrate badly, his fore-and aft trim was practically gone, all the controls were sluggish and his legs were soaked in gasoline.

The Canadian headed for home and his engine cut out at 4,000 feet and within sight of the English coast. Messum was able to bale out at 2.000 feet, but not until he had thrown his aircraft into a half-roll to throw him self clear.—Saskatoon Star-Phoenix.

 

Dinghy Saves Life of Local Airman in Channel

His presence of mind in bringing, his rubber dinghy with him when he bailed out of his Spitfire Fighter saved the life of Flight Sergt, Stan Messum son of Mr. and Mrs. H. C. Messum. when he was shot down over the English Channel sometime around the 17th of April.

We recorded briefly in our last issue that “Stan” had suffered minor injuries while on active operations and that he was going back to duty after a leave of seven days. It now appears that “stan”, as he is popularly known, was returning from an escort assignment when he was shot down from a great height somewhere over the English channel, forcing him to abandon his plane. Bailing out with the use of his parachute, he had the presence of mind to pick up his collapsible rubber dinghy and apparently inflate it on the way down, for the story, as heard over the radio on Saturday evening last, stated that he Ianded with his dinghy in the Channel and was later picked up by a boat. When asked by his rescuer how he was it is reported that Stan replied. “OH, I’m all right.”

These dinghies, we understand, are small rubber boats capable of sustaining a man on top of the water for some considerable time and are also fitted up with emergency rations and hand paddles.

Several local citizens heard the report of his experiences over the “Wings Abroad” programme originating in London, England, and rebroadcast over the CBC every Saturday evening at 9:15 p.m. It was unfortunate that his father was busy in the store at the time and unable to hear the broadcast, however, several citizens immediately phoned him the account.

There is no doubt that the possession of the rubber dinghy saved Stan’s life, and quite probably, a dinghy made from the scrap rubber around your home may yet be the means of saving the life of another local boy. It was co-incident that his grandfather, the late Mr. Eli Pallot, was buried on the same day.

 

Charles Robertson Olmsted – By Elizabeth Bartlett Garrett

Elizabeth Bartlett Garrett’s son has shared what his mother wrote about her first husband Charles

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Charles Robertson Olmsted, a.k.a. Chuck (-1940-), Carl (1941-)

Herewith a thoroughly biased story of the Charles I knew. He was Charles to his family, Chuck when I met him and Carl in England.

Prologue

Summer, 1940–Charles was at Reginald Goode’s Theatre, a summer stock company about a half-hour’s drive east of Poughkeepsie, New York. Normally I would have seen him on stage, but I spent the summer in Tucson with my father, John M. Garrett, and my step-mother Vera.

Confusing?

Background: In May, 1932, my mother divorced my father in Reno. In June she married Dr. Aleksei A. Leonidoff in Poughkeepsie, a former surgeon in the Tsar’s army. In the U. S he specialized in chest (tuberculosis) and later cardiology. With the marriage I acquired a Russian step-sister, Irina Aleskeiovna (Ira), a year and a half my senior. I considered Poughkeepsie my home from that time on, but most summers I shuttled out to Tucson to be with my father. He remarried in 1937, a divorcee, Vera De Lipkau Garrett. She was a fascinating woman–Polish father and French mother, a direct descendant of Alexis de Toqueville. She had a grown son, a neurosurgeon in Chicago, and daughter, actress in New York. I spent a good part of my life trying to explain why my mother was not Mrs. Garrett and I was not officially Betty Leonidoff. I lucked out with four extraordinary parents.

In Tucson that summer, we stuck colored pins in the Balkans and France while we knit Bundles for Britain (socks, sweaters and Balaclava helmets). In August, I started for home (Poughkeepsie) with a stop-over in St. Louis to visit my great grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth Bartlett Ferguson (“Granny” to me). I had been christened Elizabeth Bartlett and our relationship was a very special one. A cousin of my father’s, Martha Boyle, lived with Granny as a paid companion. Granny thought it would be educational for me if we all (including the chauffeur, Ellis Ball) drove east via Canada. We entered at Windsor–my second foreign country (I had crossed into Nogales many times from Tucson). We stayed at the Royal York, Toronto, the Chateau Laurier, Ottawa, the Mont Royal, Montreal (shopping at was it Morgan’s?) the large store- ̶ where a fragile young man named Frank, who reappears later in my tale, gave me a wonderful haircut) then on to Chateau Frontenac in Quebec. I was absolutely overwhelmed by my introduction to Canada. On to Boston, back east to Albany. In Albany, my mother joined us.

(A bit of family gossip–Granny would not visit Poughkeepsie, the home of Dr. Aleksei A. Leonidoff, because, although she loved my mother dearly, she could not openly approve of the divorce which freed my mother to remarry). Mother’s mother died in 1913 and Granny had promised to care for my mother in St. Louis. She grew up as the favorite daughter of the favorite daughter, then I arrived to keep the title going.

I arrived in Poughkeepsie in late August with an unused railroad ticket from St. Louis to Poughkeepsie.

Meanwhile, Charles had met Dr. Max Gosse, a Canadian and friend of my family, in Poughkeepsie. Dr. Gosse’s lovely young wife, Ruth, had been killed in a car crash that summer while trying to separate their two young sons fighting over a blanket in the back seat of the car. The boys were not hurt. Charles was a God-send as a friend to Max Gosse and an entertainer for the boys.

The theatre had closed, the boys adored “Uncle Chuck” and Max had to go to Canada, so Charles agreed to stay over with the boys (and their housekeeper). Deus ex machina: the stage was set.

Act I

Elizabeth and Charles

Collection Elizabeth Bartlett Garrett

Mother took me to the railroad station to refund my unused ticket. Charles was there with Max to arrange the doctor’s Toronto trip. Introductions were made at the ticket counter (in front of our next-door neighbor, Mrs. Brower, the clerk at the window). “Chuck” was so handsome, so charming, so attentive that I felt the horrid flush of red rise from my collarbone to my hairline. I quite forgot I was in a hurry.

My mother came barreling into the station with “What on earth is taking you so long? Oh, I see! She immediately had the sixth sense to invite the Canadians for dinner. A patient of Aleksei’s had delivered a noisy bunch of lobsters and who better to share them?

I remember wearing my basic black crepe, hoping to look sophisticated and worldly wise. I was 18 and about to start Junior year at Vassar, but Chuck seemed so mature and elegant. I have no memory of the lobsters, but I do know that Chuck was monopolized by the adults while Ira and I drew our usual washing up chores. With his never failing grace and tact, Chuck did manage to join us in our basement rec room. There he discovered my Noel Coward and Bea Lillie records.

The next day, Sunday, was a traditional gathering of a group of friends of Ira’s and mine. Ira had been sent to the University of Grenoble in the spring of 1938 to keep up her French, and forced home against her will by her father in the summer of 1939. She had been determined to stay out the threat of war with friends in England or Norway. Her father cut off her allowance and sent her a ticket home. The summer of 1940 she was a Sophomore at Smith. Our Sunday regulars were eight or ten who had started the Sunday tradition in high school. But that particular 1940 Sunday there was only person I was aware of…Chuck. I remember trying to attend to my duties as hostess, but all the others went out of focus, including my best beau, Dick Morehouse.

Max Gosse left for Canada. Chuck and I spent part of each day together that week. We had a picnic in the fields across from our house. We explored the woods beyond the fields. We had tea at Vassar Alumnae house after a tour of the campus. School had not yet started, so it was very quiet and private. We went to the movies. I do not remember what we saw, but I remember Chuck’s tension during the newsreels of London bombings. I remember hearing about the Olmsteds, the Robertsons, and how the Ewart (Bob) Robertson’s London home had been bombed out and the family had moved to Surrey. The Chuck told me he was enlisting in the RCAF on his return to Ottawa.

We found we had so many common bonds. Movies and plays we loved, music (it was the era of Cole Porter, Gershwin, Ellington). We had many of the same books–Ogden Nash, R. Benchley, Shaw, O’Neill. I was a drama major and had done summer stock.

The week went quickly. Max returned and it was time for Chuck to go. Somehow I was alone on the train platform with him. I knew I had had a very special week, but if that was all I ever had, I could cherish it the rest of my life and feel I had been touched by magic. It was a strange mixture of sadness and wonderment.

As I left the station, Max was waiting to take me home. He had waited discretely out of sight. Somehow he knew this was the beginning and not the end of a very special relationship.

Mother told me when I got home that Charles had said “Take care of my Betty.”

I assumed there was a harem waiting at the station in Ottawa. No matter. He found time to write almost daily and what absolutely beautiful letters they were! Letters came with news of basic training. He became J15622, his first solo in a Tiger Moth trainer, his acceptance as a trainee for Fighters, letters about Jean in Toronto. Alice Duer Miller had written a long verse autobiography about an American married in England, the Blitz, her family…”The White Cliffs “. I bought a copy and started memorizing it. I have Chuck’s copy, too, bought in 1941.

Chuck had a fellow actor, Lyle Wheeler, call me from New York. He was performing in “Stars on Ice”. I met him one Saturday at the information booth in Grand Central Station and we spent four hours or so agreeing that Chuck was the most wonderful person either of us had ever met.

Suddenly about New Year’s there were no letters. Then, was it Claire who let me know that Chuck was in hospital with spinal meningitis? It must have been.

Now for a weird bit–my mother’s mother had a psychic streak. Whenever she dreamed of anyone in connection with a white horse, it signified death. Well, this eerie phenomenon happened to my mother also. Twice she had announced at breakfast that she had dreamed THE dream, and each time we received news several days afterward. This time she dreamed of a flying black horse and was afraid to tell me–except the horse was black, not white. Max Gosse was my medical envoy and made any number of calls to the hospital. The news was not good. Later Charles told me he had gone to the hospital feeling absolutely awful. They put him in a ward with drunks, flu and sniffle cases, and general miscellaneous derelicts. Charles beat the odds and pulled through. At one point, he had been in a coma for some time. A Catholic padre had been called in to give last rites. Charles came around enough to be absolutely infuriated, using rather violent language, he drew on some reserve strength and anger to order the padre out. That was the turning point of his illness. From that outburst, his recovery began. Divine intervention? I do not question it.

In time, it must have been February, Charles took part of his sick leave to come to Poughkeepsie. What a prince he was. Although he had sent a snapshot of the uniformed Charles, it was the first time I had seen him in “living color’ with his bright brass buttons and the Air Force grey-blue. The strain of his illness showed in his movements, in his eyes, but never a word of self-pity or complaint. We did manage to get to New York to see Gertrude Lawrence in “Lady in the Dark” with Danny Kaye and Victor Mature making their debuts. Theatre history, in fact. “My Ship” from that musical became a special song for us.

We lunched with a rather odd-ball family friend, Henry Roberts, a Russian writer who had chosen his anglicized name by randomly stabbing a pencil on a phone book. Henry was mesmerized by Charles. He coddled him royally and made us a special omelet with his treasured truffles. He also volunteered that I should take very special care of this remarkable young man.

It was during that visit that Charles asked what I thought of his play. What play? Apparently, he had written a play and sent it to Gilbert Miller, a New York producer. Miller had blue-pencilled the play and returned it for corrections. Charles had sent the play to me. It had never arrived. There was no other copy. I wanted to cry in fury. Charles should have exploded, but he didn’t. What a tragedy I had caused him–if he had not felt he wanted me to share in his success, he might have had a fulfillment of a dream with his play. We were walking along the north side of Vassar campus under the great oaks and maples. Charles never mentioned the play again, but that location was etched in my memory. I retraced that sidewalk in 1992 (50th reunion) as well as other spots on campus he had walked. The most traumatic spot was the old Poughkeepsie railroad station, almost unchanged from 1940.

Charles went back to completing his training while I bumbled along with Vassar. Letters zinged back and forth. It must have been that Spring that Marion and John were married. Charles wrote of the wedding and sent a photo of the bride, groom, and attendants (Charles and a most attractive maid of honor, whom I envied, there at his side) all celebrating at the Mont Royal Normandie Roof. Charles received his wings and was winding up his training at Uplands in July or August. He was scheduled to go overseas and asked me to join him in Montreal for a weekend. Meanwhile, I had been learning techniques of stage makeup, projecting my voice across the room, learning Stanislaysky methods from Mme. Tamara Daykarhanova at her summer school outside White Plains. Mother agreed I could go to Montreal. I packed my white marabou bolero and a royal blue dinner dress, complete with gold slippers and bag. Charles met me at the station and had reserved two rooms at the Mont Royal. I’ve a photo of our Saturday night dinner at the rooftop ballroom.

Elizabeth and Charles

Collection Elizabeth Bartlett Garrett

Charles looks his handsome charming self and I look as if I am on “uppers”. Why didn’t we marry then? Oh, no, I had to finish college and I guess I was all prim-proper-Miss-nicey-nice. I did (as I remember) get to meet Janet and Marion, and they couldn’t have been more gracious. Charles did everything with great style, so naturally we took a caleche up Mont Royal. He also introduced me to Canadian beer with a word of warning of its alcohol content. Oh, he was so right. One was enough, but I stayed ambulatory. Before leaving for overseas, Charles sent a song he had written for me.

Act II

Collection Elizabeth Bartlett Garrett

Charles was off for England and I went back to college. First thing I signed up for was a student job in the Post Office on campus. I could get the mail while it was being sorted. If I had put my writing efforts on my thesis instead of letters to England, I might have made PBK, though I seriously doubt it.

That fall Hallie Flanagan, who directed our plays, appointed me as her assistant director on Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral”. (Hallie served under Roosevelt as head of the Federal Theatre Project, but returned to Vassar in 1939.) The parallel between the times of Beckett and wartime England haunted me.

Charles’ letters arrived from mysterious bases. Sometimes the letters had inkouts which had the effect of blotting out the writing on the reverse side (the thin blue sheets of airmail paper) and other times scalpels had been used by the censors to leave only the remains of a paper doily. They usually managed to leave intact the “I love you” and “Dearest”.

“Murder” was put on December 4,5,6, 1941. The response was so great, Hallie had me take over for an extra performance on December 7. Pearl Harbor was an infamous day for most Americans, but I was acutely aware that now the British and Canadians could get some well deserved back-up as well as the World War I rusty battleships.

Charles wrote of his being attached to the Polish Air Force. He wore the beautiful swooping eagle holding a wreathe under his RCAF wings. Later he was transferred to an all-Canadian Fighter squadron. He wrote of meeting Noel Coward, Bea Lillie, the Redgraves, Rex Harrison. He wrote of leave with the Robertsons in Surrey. I am not certain of the date, but Charles went to Edinburgh and fell in love with the city. (I finally got there a couple of years ago and felt his presence the entire time, walking where he must have walked and realizing what had captured his enthusiasm).

Charles told me of being in London, going backstage to see Bea Lillie after a performance. She grabbed him and held him close. She had just received word her RAF son had been lost in a crash. Charles was there to help her through the first hours of the tragedy.

There was a party at the Redgraves. Rex Harrison was there and they discussed architecture at length. Charles knew Harrison was “idolized” by me and that I would enjoy the episode.

Noel Coward was another friend and I believe Charles saw him playing the “provinces”. I still have some theatre programs as souvenirs, and two letters. (When Charles landed in Halifax on his return, he sent Coward a bottle of perfume and received a gracious note of appreciation).

On February 12, 1942 one of my classmates rushed in with news of the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau, German subs headed out of Brest and there was a horrendous air attack. The U-boats made it to Kiel. Then I learned Charles was there, and reported it was a hellish fight.

It was that Spring that I was whizzing on my bike to check my mail box before going to my dorm for lunch. My foot caught behind the tire and I landed on my left eyebrow. A passing student insisted on leading me to the infirmary. Fifteen minutes after arrival, I went into cloud cuckoo land. Aleksei was notified and brought Mother out to campus. She said I talked and talked about Chuck in pure poetry. I was relatively lucid the next day but was instructed not to use my eyes for close work. Mother had tickets for the Book and Author luncheon in New York, Noel Coward was scheduled to be one of the featured authors. It was my opportunity to be in the presence of someone who had seen Chuck. I cut classes. We got to the huge luncheon and the announcement was made that Noel Coward had been forced to cancel and we had Andre Maurois instead.

As the school year wound up, one of the Vassar traditions was a senior dinner at which the married students were recognized (there had been a few hasty marriages that year and one very pregnant classmate). Next the engaged students were asked to rise, then those with an “understanding”. I felt I qualified and was pushed up by my close friends to acknowledge the tribute.

Charles sent a graduation gift of $100 which I invested in a war bond. We never got to spend it together.

In 1942, Leslie Howard starred in “Spitfire”. I must have seen it five times.

My roommate from the 1941 summer drama school, Liz Mood, met and married a Royal Navy officer, Arch Cameron in the summer of 1942. He wore the Distinguished Service Cross for action at Montevideo in the sinking of the Graf Spee.

I imposed on Archie to take a pair of cuff links I had engraved at Tiffany for Charles back to mail in Great Britain. It was not until Charles came home I realized they were not practical. A disk was joined to little gold propellers (I thought that appropriate), but the stupid propellers had a way of slipping back through the cuff opening. There was never a word of criticism from Charles..

Dr. Leonidof went off to army service, stationed in Mississippi and mother went with him. I moved to New York, 155 E. 51, with Jean Birkenhead, whose husband was off in the Pacific as a Marine pilot. At Christmas, 1942, we went to Jean’s home in Poughkeepsie and there was the most magnificent bouquet of roses from Charles. Again he had done the extraordinary.

Then Charles came back to Canada. Prayers had been answered. He had survived bomber escorts, dogfights, London bombings, even a turn at escorting coastal shipping. Some idiot told me that was suicide duty.

After a visit to Ottawa, he was coming to New York. I could not wait, so I checked the railroad schedules and found I could intercept the train coming south. Was it Rouses Point or Port Henry perhaps? At any rate, I caught the southbound train and searched the cars. Would I recognize him? There was a plethora of air force blues, but I could not find him. My eyes were blurred with tears and terror. The conductor asked if he could help. There were two RCAF chaps smoking on the rear platform he said. At that moment Charles appeared. What a scene we must have created. His seat-mate politely disappeared and we spent the rest of the trip south unaware of the passengers, scenery or station stops.

Back at the apartment in New York, Jean and I had planned a special dinner. As I recall, ration stamps went for lamb chops and as a special treat, Brussels sprouts. The next day, Charles told me his diet in England had centered about cabbage and Brussels sprouts and could I suggest to Jean, no more sprouts. Oops, it had been my idea.

St. Valentine’s Day, and Charles brought beautiful flowers. Later, in his notebook I found the short story he had written about buying the flowers on Lexington Avenue. Charles thought a wedding date might be set for August or September. He needed to find his new assignment and announce our engagement properly.

So while he settled in, I took off for Natchez, Mississippi to join Mother as she was staying there while Alexsei was at Camp Van Dorn. She was determined I should learn to cook, though she loathed cooking. I made lemon meringue pies and hamburger casseroles as well as all the ersatz wartime fillers like macaroni and cheese. Until June, Charles and I were again linked by letters. Aleksei was sent to New Orleans for an Army course, so Mother and I shopped for material for wedding gown material and a bit of lace for my head. In May Mother and I returned to Poughkeepsie.

Charles, ever thoughtful, had written my father in Tucson of his intentions and my father consented. Then in June, I recruited my father’s cousin, Martha Boyle, to accompany me to Ottawa to meet the Olmsteds. We stayed at the Chateau Laurier and I remember a dinner with Charles when the string quartet suddenly started the Star Spangled Banner. An awkward moment certainly. Cousin Martha leapt to her feet at attention and I hesitantly followed. But there was Charles, ramrod straight up, ever the perfect gentleman. We all agreed, the music was not appropriate in the middle of dinner.

I met your family. Claire was so dear and welcoming. All the family was wonderful. Charles slipped on the ring which Ampa Olmsted had helped him select–a perfect diamond. What a fairy tale adventure. The date was set for September 1, 1943.

One incident bothered me, though. Charles and I were walking beside the canal by the Parliament buildings, when an old man limped by with a cane. Charles said “I never want to be like that, never grow old.” I wanted him to grow old and live forever.

Back to Poughkeepsie and my mother announced she knew nothing about weddings, invitations, cakes, etc. I would just have to do it myself. Not that she disapproved of Charles, or weddings, but she felt unqualified. (Of course, by that time she had been married twice). Her contribution was a red hat made by Fanny & Hilda in New York and a grey flannel suit from L&T. I took hold and found a dressmaker, printer for announcements, a bakery, a florist (gladiolus in season), notified college friends in New York, got Mother attired, and Ira in a flattering if not bridesmaidy dress. I had read somewhere how lovely a candle lit wedding was, so I lined the living room with candles. (September was extremely warm, but the candles burned away regardless). My Presbyterian minister, Dr. Kirschner officiated. Dr. Murphy, a frustrated concert pianist, agreed to play.

Alexsei had been promoted to Colonel and arranged to bring a patient north, which would give him enough leave to give me away in his dress whites.

Then I did something in innocence, but stupid. I wrote the wedding information for the newspapers and said Charles had attended the University of Toronto. I must have concocted that out of smoke. Just indicates how little I knew about him, except to adore him completely.

Charles and Claire arrived. Claire got the guest room and Charles was assigned “The Crooked House”, a funny shack in the apple orchard behind the house. There was no plumbing or electricity–but that was Aleksei’s idea to keep the bridal couple suitably apart.

The day of the wedding, Peter Ray (a Russian photographer buddy of Aleksei’s–originally named Peter Tschafranov) arrived with camera and got a picture of me in the backyard looking hyper and one of Chuck looking debonnaire. At wedding time, he was all over the house, hanging from the bannister, crawling under the dining room table, behind the piano. It was later discovered he had fortified himself so well with vodka that he forgot to load the camera. No photographs.

Act III

Collection Elizabeth Bartlett Garrett

Wedding completed, we took the train for New York. My New York friends congregated in one end of the car while the bride and groom held hands at the other. When we reached Grand Central, we were snowed with bits of paper my friends had been tearing to bits for 75 miles.

Charles had booked us into the Plaza–a room overlooking Central Park. He did everything with elegance. Roses, room-service for breakfast, fairy tale time all in all. I realized later what an innocent I was, although twenty-one, Charles called me his “child-bride”. Back to Montreal on the overnight train to the Ritz. More roses. More elegance. Then the Laurentians to Grey Rocks. How beautiful it was there for hikes and just being together.

At breakfast one morning, a guest towed her young son to our table. With apologies for interrupting, she asked Charles to show her son how to comb his hair. Charles put the lad at ease and dispensed fatherly advice. Charles had dark, silky hair which he brushed back at the sides. He was always immaculately groomed. I was cursed with very fine hair which went limp if a cloud passed over the sun. In fact, I had worried before becoming a bride, how could I put my hair up in dingbats (always resulting in an unpredictable kink) and not scare off my husband. Somehow that took care of itself.

Back to Montreal and the overnight train to Chicoutimi, the railhead for Bagotville. We seemed to travel endless miles of Quebec wilderness…next stop North Pole.

Bagotville was a small village like an eyelash on the bay at the navigable head of the Saguenay River. Population was impossible to estimate by the number of frame houses, as some families had as many as 22 children. The highest spot in town was topped by the Roman Catholic church. The priests regularly badgered housewives who had not produced a child per annum. There were cows with bobbed tails. It seems if a cow switched at flies when being milked, the farmer lopped off the tail,

Charles had arranged for us to live with M. And Mme. Tremblay and daughter, Monique (about 5). We were at the end of the bay-front houses. The space was a large room across the front on the house, sleeping area at one end, dining-sitting at the other. We shared bath and kitchen. Mme. Tremblay spoke fairly fluent English and Monique was eager to visit in French. Our area had been “beautified” with garish artificial flowers. Charles loathed the flowers. I agreed. We dumped them under the front veranda (I still feel a bit guilty). My best black crepe dress had a pink rose at the waist. Charles voted against that and out it went (the rose, that is). Since that time, the only fake flowers in my wardrobe or home have been restricted to Easter bonnets.

The kitchen stove was wood burning and I soon learned to fuel it. In fact, the best angel food cakes I ever made were cooked on wood burning ovens in Bagotville.

We gave a party. Charles invited his fellow-officers and wives to come by. I cooked my specialty–an enormous batch of spaghetti, big salad, French bread and angel food cake. It was obvious when the guests arrived they had not expected dinner. Nevertheless, they tried to make a dent in the buffet. They were so warm and welcoming and they obviously adored my husband.

Every morning early, Chuck would leave for the bus to the airbase. Our first conflict was over coffee. I had a two cup drip pot. Two cups for Chuck and I would have my coffee later. That would not do. I had to use the larger pot and share. He would not allow me to play “martyr”. I was called “my child bride” but there was nothing belittling in the designation. After Chuck left for the bus to the base, I would find a special note in my pocket or my handbag reassuring me I was adored. Not that I doubted for a moment.

That September, the Saguenay cruises were still coming to Bagotville. The pier was just toward town to the east of the Tremblays. The local fishermen hauled in nets of small silvery fish which seemed to multiply under the pier. Otherwise the local population was made up of small shopkeepers, farmers who scratched out short summer crops, lumber workers and paper mill employees. The little town of Port Alfred abutted Bagotville on the East (site of the paper mill) and abutting that was the even smaller village of Grand Baie.

A dance at the base. The Group Captain landed on my instep and I limped for a week or so. But the difficult part was seeing Chuck dance with others. Nevertheless, he belonged to me. I remember a luscious brunette who tried to monopolize Chuck. He told me she was a nymphomaniac who came up from Montreal–then he had to explain what a nymphomaniac was. Oh, my college education left me so much to learn.

Mme. Tremblay took me to Chicoutimi to collect our monthly liquor allowance from the government store. We stopped by a cheese maker en route and I got a bag of rubbery stuff which was delicious, a by-product of cheese-making, rather like string cheese.

The glorious colors of fall began to fade when Chuck was ordered to Rivers, Manitoba for a Navigation course. He was to be made Navigation Officer of the Bagotville station.

It was not long before he called from Rivers to say “It’s time to bring out Benjy.” Benjy was the $100 bill Aleksei had slipped me the day of our wedding (Benjamin Franklin’s portrait).

I packed my two trunks, had them stored, and took off for Manitoba. As I recall, I had a generous part of Benjy left over. Canada flatten out into prairies. Winnipeg was the main interruption of nothingness. Then came Brandon and the train pulled up at Rivers. It was the middle of nowhere, flat prairie. The entire town had been on the dole until the air force brought a population explosion and financial recovery. There were lean-to shacks of corrugated tin occupied by some of the airmen. The only available lodging for us was in the local hotel with a bar (which was off-limits for women}. We had a second floor room, complete with a double bed, a washstand with pitcher and basin, some hooks on the wall and two chairs, a bare hanging bulb. It was heaven. The sink and commode were down the hall and a metal shower stall was unlocked twice a week for an hour during the day. Charles used the base facilities. It was the Waldorf as far as I cared. The drug store on the Main Street was open for breakfast, lunch and dinner except Sunday. The railroad counter restaurant was our resource for Sundays. We shared the counter with the Church of England priest who lived primarily on give-away crusts of stale bread. He was a sweet man and we enjoyed his company.

I did get a haircut at the barbershop near the hotel. It was a good cut, but then they doused me with Bay Rum. Had to wait for shower day to get the smell off.

One night we dined with a fellow officer, his wife and two children. Our host had bagged a deer and it was a real feast. Then one of the daughters screamed “We are eating Bambi!” That blew it. The flyers would spot herds as they flew their regular bomber training runs, then take out after the game on week-ends.

Many nights Chuck would have to “shoot ” stars with a sextant. He would take me along and explain the procedures and we would note his findings meticulously in his record book.

There was a young girl from California who had come to Rivers to marry an airman. We spent our days together sewing and knitting. One day she said “I hope my marriage is as great as yours. I hear you laughing and joking. You and your Chuck have such fun.” Oops–I had not realized the walls were paper thin.

I inconveniently came down with flu, burning with fever. Chuck had a doctor from the base, who lived in the hotel, come check me out. I was so miserable and this was a doctor, but Chuck was concerned my nightgown was too revealing and pulled the sheet up to my chin. Our young neighbor from California took the day shift to bring soup and juice from the drug store and Chuck took the evening shift.

Fully recovered, I went to the base for a dance and met Group Captain Murray. Chuck called him “Partch” Murray as he looked like a Virgil Partch cartoon. (Partch was a New Yorker cartoonist whose characters had small moustaches and the back of their heads went strait up from nape to crown.) Partch” Murray was a humorless sort. He read Chuck the riot act for lacing his shoes straight across to show parallel bars on top instead of X-wise. He also objected to his leaving the top button of his blouse undone and wearing his hat without the wire stiffening. These were symbols earned the hard way by Fighter Pilots. No wonder Murray was stationed in the middle of nowhere.

We celebrated our four-month anniversary by going into Brandon and dining in the Canadian Pacific hotel…white table cloth, real serviettes, delicious food, the works. For us it was the London Savoy.

Navigation accreditation earned, we headed back East for Christmas. First stop-off was Toronto. Wonderful, generous Jean! She gave us her Murphy bed while she took the couch. Bless her! She was so pleased with her favorite nephew’s bride. Then we were in Ottawa and I shared Chuck’s room. That must have been unusual for the family to accept, but if there was any hesitation I never suspected it.

We went to the Presbyterian church. I was so proud to be with the Olmsteds. I clung to Chuck’s arm feeling that this was his place, his heritage and l now had a part in it. I met the Dick Olmsteds, the Barry Robertsons. All were warm and wonderful to the stranger Charles had brought.

Chuck was convinced that Howard could solve my poor eyesight with exercise, diet or some such. Howard tested my eyes, but had to reach the conclusion an ophthalmologist had made when I was twelve, astigmatism and myopia. Contact lenses had not yet been invented. Charles so wanted me to be “perfect”. He wanted Karsh to photograph us. We went to the studio only to find Karsh was in London photographing Churchill and the Queen. We later had a portrait done in Bagotville–we both looked like scared rabbits.

Claire and I drank gallons of tea and talked without ceasing. I do remember that if Claire took a sip of sherry, her nose turned red immediately. There was no loss of dignity, ever.

Charles had an evening out with his buddies. Why not? Except that when he came home and crawled into bed, he seemed to be burning with fever. I made anxious noises about flu or infection. He muttered that he was merely very drunk. A most civilized drunk, he was. I realized once again how little we really knew each other. How lucky to discover I had married the ultimate man.

Christmas day with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Claire taught me to make gravy. Chuck gave me a silver bracelet with rust colored stones (which was later stolen) and silver button earrings with a matching link and disk bracelet from Birks. The tag read “To my Betty from her first husband.” I winced. That made no sense.

Christmas over, we headed for Montreal. Bob Robertson was there from London to buy newsprint for the Express. He was with the business manager from The Daily Mail and they had their windows wide open at the Mont Royal because the central heat was unbearable to these war-hearty English.

While in Montreal, I decided to get a haircut (my Rivers “do” had grown lanky), so I made an appointment at Morgan’s with Frank (reference my trip summer 1940). In those days it was cut-shampoo-and set time, and under the drier seemed an eternity. Frank was not all that speedy. Lots of chatter and primping. Well, I was at Morgan’s an hour and a half or more. When I returned to the hotel, Chuck was white with anxiety. It took me a bit to realize he was jealous of that mincing, fussy, fragile fop.

Back to Bagotville. No place to hang our hats but the hotel, until we could look around for a rental. New Year’s Eve Charles was flat in bed with a back problem. I am still not certain what the diagnosis was. He said high altitude flying had affected his spleen. Spitfires were not pressurized and they often had to risk 20,000 ft.+ altitudes. Was it an aftermath of meningitis? I never knew for certain. He was a good patient. We had some Canadian whiskey, so I got cream cheese and crackers to see the New Year in. The cheese was rancid. Somehow we found that funny and agreed backache and rancid cheese added up to the most wonderful New Year’s Eve either of us had spent anywhere. We had each other.

So many things Charles taught me: Canadian Club and water did not need ice, it was in’surance not insur’ance, one “slept in” not “slept late”, and all the other anglicisms. There was an awful moment when I used a Southemism “bugger”, as “He’s a cute little bugger.” Without a complete definition of the word, Charles let me know it was completely unacceptable. I wiped it from my vocabulary. It even embarrasses me to write it today.

We found a wonderful three-room apartment on the second floor of a house, chez Fortin. M. and Mme. Fortin and 25-ish none-to-bright son lived downstairs and daughter Gemma (17 or 18) had her room upstairs and shared the bath. That was not a problem as Gemma didn’t bathe from November until the King’s birthday. We were the odd “English” who used the tub. Gemma’s room was all pink ruffles, movie star photos, fluffy Carnival dolls, and pints of cheap perfumes. The upstairs was heated by an iron Franklin stove. M. Fortin climbed the stairs at six each morning to get the fire going, so we were always comfortable. Our refrigerator was the windowsill, and quite adequate it was. Eggs were supplied from the coop behind the house. When I needed eggs, I would whoop “Trois œufs, s’il vous plaît, madame.” The response “A bientôt, madame.” And the eggs would arrive warm from the hen. By this time the local grocers knew me. Because I tried to communicate in French, they would save jams, jellies, and scarce items under the counter for me.

We had a wonderful assortment of friends. At the hotel we had met Betty and Howard Simpson from Toronto, just married. He was a fighter training officer.

Roy and Phyllis ?, the Met (Meteorological) officer and his wife, Buzz and Joyce Ogilvie from Ottawa, and so many others. A local English couple (civilians) raised minks. They had persuaded the Air Base to change flight patterns, as low flying planes over their charges made the minks destroy their young. There was an older English couple. He headed the paper mill in Port Alfred and they played god- parents to us all.

The Jones lived downstairs. He had served in Malta, awarded the Victoria Cross, and had been transferred from England because he was a “loner” as a pilot and Malta was every man for himself in horrendous air battles. I’ve lost my addresses and names, but I have wonderful memories of the days I spent drinking tea and sewing with the wives, partying on the weekends with the couples. The dear wife of the Met officer made coffee to honor her American guest…she had boiled the coffee beans in a saucepan of water for at least an hour. We drank every drop, muddy as it was.

I rescued one party by coming up with “tire-bouchons” to get a corkscrew from the French landlord.

There were films at the base on weekends. Officers in the balcony, non-coms on the main floor. Every performance began with “God Save the King” and I was impressed with the rigid attention everyone snapped to. I still hear “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” with its original wording.

We saw mostly musicals–Alice Faye, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler and Busby Berkley precision choral work. The one exception was Tallulah Bankhead in “Lifeboat”. That was a tense thriller directed by Hitchcock, and we were all gagging with thirst.

Charles was assigned the responsibility of keeping the Officers’ Mess supplied with popular records. We would go to Chicoutimi on Saturdays and lug a stack back to our apartment. After careful assessment, he would decide which to keep for us and which to deliver to the mess. We had a wonderful collection of Duke Ellington (“Take the A Train” for one, Glenn Miller, Charley Barnet, Bing Crosby, Fats Waller. One special recording was the Ink Spots’ “Who Wouldn’t Love You.” This was a battle cry for the Spitfire pilots in England… as in “Who wouldn’t love you? Who wouldn’t care?…” then the dah-dah-dah-dat became a blast from the 20mm guns mounted on the wings. Charles had records from Ottawa, too. He introduced me to Beniamino Gigli singing “No Ti Scordar Di Me” (Forget Me Not). Then we had our combined treasures of Bea Lillie, Coward, Gertie Lawrence and Gielgud’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

For Valentine’s Day, a group of us taxied to Arvida, the aluminium plant, for an evening of dining and dancing at the posh Inn. Bauxite was shipped from South America to this remote area of Quebec to be transformed. The mountains of pink bauxite coloured the landscape for miles around with pastel dust.

Winter in Bagotville went to minus forty degrees, but it was a dry, crisp cold. The town jangled with sleigh bells and vaa-roomed with snowmobiles. It was ski time and Charles was a skier. He bought me skis and off we went to the local slope. The four-year old Quebecois were zooming about. I suspect they ski before they walk. Charles made several graceful runs, but I froze in terror. It was as if I were glued to the top of the Matterhorn. I had skied Winter Carnival at Middlebury and College Hill in Poughkeepsie (the summer golf-course), but I could not budge in Bagotville. There were no recriminations, just gentle understanding. I still carry the shame of that day. My gallant and brave husband was hitched to a coward.

Spring and thaw made muck out of the streets. Wooden pallets covered the pedestrian ways. On Sundays, after church, we would walk the shore to Grand Baie. The small white frame Protestant church was in Port Alfred. Itinerant ministers held services on alternate Sundays, Presbyterian and Anglican. We attended whatever was being conducted.

Since Karsh had disappointed Charles in Ottawa, he had a Bagotville portrait photographer “shoot” us. I have seen more flattering passport work.

All in all we had an idyllic life. We had each other.

Then came May 1, 1944. A Monday like so many days. I decided to have pork tenderloin for dinner (something I had never ventured). About six, I heard the front door. It was an officer I had never met, the R. C. Padre. It seems the Protestant Padre was off in Quebec, and this poor soul was given the sad errand.

He explained there was an airplane missing and that the search was on for Charles and a navigation student. There had been a report of a plane down by Lac St.John. I convinced myself it was a misunderstanding. The Padre was missing his dinner at the base, so I insisted he eat what I had prepared. There was enough for three. (It was forty years before I dared cook pork tenderloin again.) In time Phyllis and Betty Simpson came by to take me to spend the night with Phyllis. Her husband, Roy, was staying on the base. By now I was an automaton and did as I was told. I was adamant there was some mistake. This was not a war zone.

Phyllis and Roy had a room off the kitchen of a French family. The bath was just beyond the kitchen. I was crossing to the bath, when I realized there were two or three French ground crewmen drinking and laughing in the kitchen. They were saying they should get more leave now. There had been rumours that the ground crews were disgruntled about long hours, confinement to the base. The head of the ground crews was an introspective perfectionist, married to an wonderful American girl from North Dakota. He had been an engineer with Rolls Royce prior to the RCAF. He demanded the absolute best from himself and all those who worked for him.

What could I say? Had my French been adequate to understand what I thought I heard?

Poor Phylllis put up with me and my shaking. It never occurred to me to call Ottawa. It wasn’t happening. It was not final. It could not be.

May 2, I moved to Betty Simpson’s. The girls helped me pack, I guess, as it happened, though I have no recollection of it. The Protestant Padre arrived to confirm the crash. That evening Betty snapped off the radio as the news started. Claire called from Ottawa. She had been handed a telegram with the dreadful news. I had not had the decency to call her, but then I could not accept it. It was impossible.

Charles had a log book of his flights. Standard procedure, I am sure, but with his notes, his comments, his handwriting. I asked if I might have the log. Absolutely not. It was government property. They did give me his Ronson lighter, which was dented. There was no wallet, no wristwatch, no gold signet ring.

Betty Simpson went with me to the bank where we had a joint account. Charles put what we saved from his pay check and what I saved from my allotment. The bank would not allow a withdrawal. The account was blocked. I must have had some left over from Benjy to buy my ticket to Ottawa. It is vague. Later I wrote the bank, but never got a reply. I was too stupid to ask anyone to help.

The air force had a service, which I was not aware of until they sent photos later.

I waited with Phyllis and Betty at the station cafe in Chicoutimi until Buzz Ogilvie came to put me on the train. He was assigned to accompany us (Charles and me) to Ottawa. The trip is an absolute blank.

Reflecting on Charles Robertson Olmsted – Act III by Elizabeth Bartlett Garrett

Reflecting on Charles Robertson Olmsted – Act III by Elizabeth Bartlett Garrett

Time to reflect for the last time Charles Robertson Olmsted and what Elizabeth Bartlett Garrett had written about him.

Collection Elizabeth Bartlett Garrett

The story is shared by her son

Charles Robertson Olmsted, a.k.a. Chuck (-1940-), Carl (1941-)

ACT III: 

Wedding completed, we took the train for New York. My New York friends congregated in one end of the car while the bride and groom held hands at the other. When we reached Grand Central, we were snowed with bits of paper my friends had been tearing to bits for 75 miles.

Charles had booked us into the Plaza–a room overlooking Central Park. He did everything with elegance. Roses, room-service for breakfast, fairy tale time all in all. I realized later what an innocent I was, although twenty-one, Charles called me his “child-bride”. Back to Montreal on the overnight train to the Ritz. More roses. More elegance. Then the Laurentians to Grey Rocks. How beautiful it was there for hikes and just being together.

At breakfast one morning, a guest towed her young son to our table. With apologies for interrupting, she asked Charles to show her son how to comb his hair. Charles put the lad at ease and dispensed fatherly advice. Charles had dark, silky hair which he brushed back at the sides. He was always immaculately groomed. I was cursed with very fine hair which went limp if a cloud passed over the sun. In fact, I had worried before becoming a bride, how could I put my hair up in dingbats (always resulting in an unpredictable kink) and not scare off my husband. Somehow that took care of itself.

Back to Montreal and the overnight train to Chicoutimi, the railhead for Bagotville. We seemed to travel endless miles of Quebec wilderness…next stop North Pole.

Bagotville was a small village like an eyelash on the bay at the navigable head of the Saguenay River. Population was impossible to estimate by the number of frame houses, as some families had as many as 22 children. The highest spot in town was topped by the Roman Catholic church. The priests regularly badgered housewives who had not produced a child per annum. There were cows with bobbed tails. It seems if a cow switched at flies when being milked, the farmer lopped off the tail,

Charles had arranged for us to live with M. And Mme. Tremblay and daughter, Monique (about 5). We were at the end of the bay-front houses. The space was a large room across the front on the house, sleeping area at one end, dining-sitting at the other. We shared bath and kitchen. Mme. Tremblay spoke fairly fluent English and Monique was eager to visit in French. Our area had been “beautified” with garish artificial flowers. Charles loathed the flowers. I agreed. We dumped them under the front veranda (I still feel a bit guilty). My best black crepe dress had a pink rose at the waist. Charles voted against that and out it went (the rose, that is). Since that time, the only fake flowers in my wardrobe or home have been restricted to Easter bonnets.

The kitchen stove was wood burning and I soon learned to fuel it. In fact, the best angel food cakes I ever made were cooked on wood burning ovens in Bagotville.

We gave a party. Charles invited his fellow-officers and wives to come by. I cooked my specialty–an enormous batch of spaghetti, big salad, French bread and angel food cake. It was obvious when the guests arrived they had not expected dinner. Nevertheless, they tried to make a dent in the buffet. They were so warm and welcoming and they obviously adored my husband.

Every morning early, Chuck would leave for the bus to the airbase. Our first conflict was over coffee. I had a two cup drip pot. Two cups for Chuck and I would have my coffee later. That would not do. I had to use the larger pot and share. He would not allow me to play “martyr”. I was called “my child bride” but there was nothing belittling in the designation. After Chuck left for the bus to the base, I would find a special note in my pocket or my handbag reassuring me I was adored. Not that I doubted for a moment.

That September, the Saguenay cruises were still coming to Bagotville. The pier was just toward town to the east of the Tremblays. The local fishermen hauled in nets of small silvery fish which seemed to multiply under the pier. Otherwise the local population was made up of small shopkeepers, farmers who scratched out short summer crops, lumber workers and paper mill employees. The little town of Port Alfred abutted Bagotville on the East (site of the paper mill) and abutting that was the even smaller village of Grand Baie.

A dance at the base. The Group Captain landed on my instep and I limped for a week or so. But the difficult part was seeing Chuck dance with others. Nevertheless, he belonged to me. I remember a luscious brunette who tried to monopolize Chuck. He told me she was a nymphomaniac who came up from Montreal–then he had to explain what a nymphomaniac was. Oh, my college education left me so much to learn.

Mme. Tremblay took me to Chicoutimi to collect our monthly liquor allowance from the government store. We stopped by a cheese maker en route and I got a bag of rubbery stuff which was delicious, a by-product of cheese-making, rather like string cheese.

The glorious colors of fall began to fade when Chuck was ordered to Rivers, Manitoba for a Navigation course. He was to be made Navigation Officer of the Bagotville station.

It was not long before he called from Rivers to say “It’s time to bring out Benjy.” Benjy was the $100 bill Aleksei had slipped me the day of our wedding (Benjamin Franklin’s portrait).

I packed my two trunks, had them stored, and took off for Manitoba. As I recall, I had a generous part of Benjy left over. Canada flatten out into prairies. Winnipeg was the main interruption of nothingness. Then came Brandon and the train pulled up at Rivers. It was the middle of nowhere, flat prairie. The entire town had been on the dole until the air force brought a population explosion and financial recovery. There were lean-to shacks of corrugated tin occupied by some of the airmen. The only available lodging for us was in the local hotel with a bar (which was off-limits for women}. We had a second floor room, complete with a double bed, a washstand with pitcher and basin, some hooks on the wall and two chairs, a bare hanging bulb. It was heaven. The sink and commode were down the hall and a metal shower stall was unlocked twice a week for an hour during the day. Charles used the base facilities. It was the Waldorf as far as I cared. The drug store on the Main Street was open for breakfast, lunch and dinner except Sunday. The railroad counter restaurant was our resource for Sundays. We shared the counter with the Church of England priest who lived primarily on give-away crusts of stale bread. He was a sweet man and we enjoyed his company.

I did get a haircut at the barbershop near the hotel. It was a good cut, but then they doused me with Bay Rum. Had to wait for shower day to get the smell off.

One night we dined with a fellow officer, his wife and two children. Our host had bagged a deer and it was a real feast. Then one of the daughters screamed “We are eating Bambi!” That blew it. The flyers would spot herds as they flew their regular bomber training runs, then take out after the game on week-ends.

Many nights Chuck would have to “shoot ” stars with a sextant. He would take me along and explain the procedures and we would note his findings meticulously in his record book.

There was a young girl from California who had come to Rivers to marry an airman. We spent our days together sewing and knitting. One day she said “I hope my marriage is as great as yours. I hear you laughing and joking. You and your Chuck have such fun.” Oops–I had not realized the walls were paper thin.

I inconveniently came down with flu, burning with fever. Chuck had a doctor from the base, who lived in the hotel, come check me out. I was so miserable and this was a doctor, but Chuck was concerned my nightgown was too revealing and pulled the sheet up to my chin. Our young neighbor from California took the day shift to bring soup and juice from the drug store and Chuck took the evening shift.

Fully recovered, I went to the base for a dance and met Group Captain Murray. Chuck called him “Partch” Murray as he looked like a Virgil Partch cartoon. (Partch was a New Yorker cartoonist whose characters had small moustaches and the back of their heads went strait up from nape to crown.) Partch” Murray was a humorless sort. He read Chuck the riot act for lacing his shoes straight across to show parallel bars on top instead of X-wise. He also objected to his leaving the top button of his blouse undone and wearing his hat without the wire stiffening. These were symbols earned the hard way by Fighter Pilots. No wonder Murray was stationed in the middle of nowhere.

We celebrated our four-month anniversary by going into Brandon and dining in the Canadian Pacific hotel…white table cloth, real serviettes, delicious food, the works. For us it was the London Savoy.

Navigation accreditation earned, we headed back East for Christmas. First stop-off was Toronto. Wonderful, generous Jean! She gave us her Murphy bed while she took the couch. Bless her! She was so pleased with her favorite nephew’s bride. Then we were in Ottawa and I shared Chuck’s room. That must have been unusual for the family to accept, but if there was any hesitation I never suspected it.

We went to the Presbyterian church. I was so proud to be with the Olmsteds. I clung to Chuck’s arm feeling that this was his place, his heritage and l now had a part in it. I met the Dick Olmsteds, the Barry Robertsons. All were warm and wonderful to the stranger Charles had brought.

Chuck was convinced that Howard could solve my poor eyesight with exercise, diet or some such. Howard tested my eyes, but had to reach the conclusion an ophthalmologist had made when I was twelve, astigmatism and myopia. Contact lenses had not yet been invented. Charles so wanted me to be “perfect”. He wanted Karsh to photograph us. We went to the studio only to find Karsh was in London photographing Churchill and the Queen. We later had a portrait done in Bagotville–we both looked like scared rabbits.

Claire and I drank gallons of tea and talked without ceasing. I do remember that if Claire took a sip of sherry, her nose turned red immediately. There was no loss of dignity, ever.

Charles had an evening out with his buddies. Why not? Except that when he came home and crawled into bed, he seemed to be burning with fever. I made anxious noises about flu or infection. He muttered that he was merely very drunk. A most civilized drunk, he was. I realized once again how little we really knew each other. How lucky to discover I had married the ultimate man.

Christmas day with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Claire taught me to make gravy. Chuck gave me a silver bracelet with rust colored stones (which was later stolen) and silver button earrings with a matching link and disk bracelet from Birks. The tag read “To my Betty from her first husband.” I winced. That made no sense.

Christmas over, we headed for Montreal. Bob Robertson was there from London to buy newsprint for the Express. He was with the business manager from The Daily Mail and they had their windows wide open at the Mont Royal because the central heat was unbearable to these war-hearty English.

While in Montreal, I decided to get a haircut (my Rivers “do” had grown lanky), so I made an appointment at Morgan’s with Frank (reference my trip summer 1940). In those days it was cut-shampoo-and set time, and under the drier seemed an eternity. Frank was not all that speedy. Lots of chatter and primping. Well, I was at Morgan’s an hour and a half or more. When I returned to the hotel, Chuck was white with anxiety. It took me a bit to realize he was jealous of that mincing, fussy, fragile fop.

Back to Bagotville. No place to hang our hats but the hotel, until we could look around for a rental. New Year’s Eve Charles was flat in bed with a back problem. I am still not certain what the diagnosis was. He said high altitude flying had affected his spleen. Spitfires were not pressurized and they often had to risk 20,000 ft.+ altitudes. Was it an aftermath of meningitis? I never knew for certain. He was a good patient. We had some Canadian whiskey, so I got cream cheese and crackers to see the New Year in. The cheese was rancid. Somehow we found that funny and agreed backache and rancid cheese added up to the most wonderful New Year’s Eve either of us had spent anywhere. We had each other.

So many things Charles taught me: Canadian Club and water did not need ice, it was in’surance not insur’ance, one “slept in” not “slept late”, and all the other anglicisms. There was an awful moment when I used a Southemism “bugger”, as “He’s a cute little bugger.” Without a complete definition of the word, Charles let me know it was completely unacceptable. I wiped it from my vocabulary. It even embarrasses me to write it today.

We found a wonderful three-room apartment on the second floor of a house, chez Fortin. M. and Mme. Fortin and 25-ish none-to-bright son lived downstairs and daughter Gemma (17 or 18) had her room upstairs and shared the bath. That was not a problem as Gemma didn’t bathe from November until the King’s birthday. We were the odd “English” who used the tub. Gemma’s room was all pink ruffles, movie star photos, fluffy Carnival dolls, and pints of cheap perfumes. The upstairs was heated by an iron Franklin stove. M. Fortin climbed the stairs at six each morning to get the fire going, so we were always comfortable. Our refrigerator was the windowsill, and quite adequate it was. Eggs were supplied from the coop behind the house. When I needed eggs, I would whoop “Trois œufs, s’il vous plaît, madame.” The response “A bientôt, madame.” And the eggs would arrive warm from the hen. By this time the local grocers knew me. Because I tried to communicate in French, they would save jams, jellies, and scarce items under the counter for me.

We had a wonderful assortment of friends. At the hotel we had met Betty and Howard Simpson from Toronto, just married. He was a fighter training officer.

Roy and Phyllis ?, the Met (Meteorological) officer and his wife, Buzz and Joyce Ogilvie from Ottawa, and so many others. A local English couple (civilians) raised minks. They had persuaded the Air Base to change flight patterns, as low flying planes over their charges made the minks destroy their young. There was an older English couple. He headed the paper mill in Port Alfred and they played god- parents to us all.

The Jones lived downstairs. He had served in Malta, awarded the Victoria Cross, and had been transferred from England because he was a “loner” as a pilot and Malta was every man for himself in horrendous air battles. I’ve lost my addresses and names, but I have wonderful memories of the days I spent drinking tea and sewing with the wives, partying on the weekends with the couples. The dear wife of the Met officer made coffee to honor her American guest…she had boiled the coffee beans in a saucepan of water for at least an hour. We drank every drop, muddy as it was.

I rescued one party by coming up with “tire-bouchons” to get a corkscrew from the French landlord.

There were films at the base on weekends. Officers in the balcony, non-coms on the main floor. Every performance began with “God Save the King” and I was impressed with the rigid attention everyone snapped to. I still hear “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” with its original wording.

We saw mostly musicals–Alice Faye, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler and Busby Berkley precision choral work. The one exception was Tallulah Bankhead in “Lifeboat”. That was a tense thriller directed by Hitchcock, and we were all gagging with thirst.

Charles was assigned the responsibility of keeping the Officers’ Mess supplied with popular records. We would go to Chicoutimi on Saturdays and lug a stack back to our apartment. After careful assessment, he would decide which to keep for us and which to deliver to the mess. We had a wonderful collection of Duke Ellington (“Take the A Train” for one, Glenn Miller, Charley Barnet, Bing Crosby, Fats Waller. One special recording was the Ink Spots’ “Who Wouldn’t Love You.” This was a battle cry for the Spitfire pilots in England… as in “Who wouldn’t love you? Who wouldn’t care?…” then the dah-dah-dah-dat became a blast from the 20mm guns mounted on the wings. Charles had records from Ottawa, too. He introduced me to Beniamino Gigli singing “No Ti Scordar Di Me” (Forget Me Not). Then we had our combined treasures of Bea Lillie, Coward, Gertie Lawrence and Gielgud’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

For Valentine’s Day, a group of us taxied to Arvida, the aluminium plant, for an evening of dining and dancing at the posh Inn. Bauxite was shipped from South America to this remote area of Quebec to be transformed. The mountains of pink bauxite coloured the landscape for miles around with pastel dust.

Winter in Bagotville went to minus forty degrees, but it was a dry, crisp cold. The town jangled with sleigh bells and vaa-roomed with snowmobiles. It was ski time and Charles was a skier. He bought me skis and off we went to the local slope. The four-year old Quebecois were zooming about. I suspect they ski before they walk. Charles made several graceful runs, but I froze in terror. It was as if I were glued to the top of the Matterhorn. I had skied Winter Carnival at Middlebury and College Hill in Poughkeepsie (the summer golf-course), but I could not budge in Bagotville. There were no recriminations, just gentle understanding. I still carry the shame of that day. My gallant and brave husband was hitched to a coward.

Spring and thaw made muck out of the streets. Wooden pallets covered the pedestrian ways. On Sundays, after church, we would walk the shore to Grand Baie. The small white frame Protestant church was in Port Alfred. Itinerant ministers held services on alternate Sundays, Presbyterian and Anglican. We attended whatever was being conducted.

Since Karsh had disappointed Charles in Ottawa, he had a Bagotville portrait photographer “shoot” us. I have seen more flattering passport work.

All in all we had an idyllic life. We had each other.

Then came May 1, 1944. A Monday like so many days. I decided to have pork tenderloin for dinner (something I had never ventured). About six, I heard the front door. It was an officer I had never met, the R. C. Padre. It seems the Protestant Padre was off in Quebec, and this poor soul was given the sad errand.

He explained there was an airplane missing and that the search was on for Charles and a navigation student. There had been a report of a plane down by Lac St.John. I convinced myself it was a misunderstanding. The Padre was missing his dinner at the base, so I insisted he eat what I had prepared. There was enough for three. (It was forty years before I dared cook pork tenderloin again.) In time Phyllis and Betty Simpson came by to take me to spend the night with Phyllis. Her husband, Roy, was staying on the base. By now I was an automaton and did as I was told. I was adamant there was some mistake. This was not a war zone.

Phyllis and Roy had a room off the kitchen of a French family. The bath was just beyond the kitchen. I was crossing to the bath, when I realized there were two or three French ground crewmen drinking and laughing in the kitchen. They were saying they should get more leave now. There had been rumours that the ground crews were disgruntled about long hours, confinement to the base. The head of the ground crews was an introspective perfectionist, married to an wonderful American girl from North Dakota. He had been an engineer with Rolls Royce prior to the RCAF. He demanded the absolute best from himself and all those who worked for him.

What could I say? Had my French been adequate to understand what I thought I heard?

Poor Phylllis put up with me and my shaking. It never occurred to me to call Ottawa. It wasn’t happening. It was not final. It could not be.

May 2, I moved to Betty Simpson’s. The girls helped me pack, I guess, as it happened, though I have no recollection of it. The Protestant Padre arrived to confirm the crash. That evening Betty snapped off the radio as the news started. Claire called from Ottawa. She had been handed a telegram with the dreadful news. I had not had the decency to call her, but then I could not accept it. It was impossible.

Charles had a log book of his flights. Standard procedure, I am sure, but with his notes, his comments, his handwriting. I asked if I might have the log. Absolutely not. It was government property. They did give me his Ronson lighter, which was dented. There was no wallet, no wristwatch, no gold signet ring.

Betty Simpson went with me to the bank where we had a joint account. Charles put what we saved from his pay check and what I saved from my allotment. The bank would not allow a withdrawal. The account was blocked. I must have had some left over from Benjy to buy my ticket to Ottawa. It is vague. Later I wrote the bank, but never got a reply. I was too stupid to ask anyone to help.

The air force had a service, which I was not aware of until they sent photos later.

I waited with Phyllis and Betty at the station cafe in Chicoutimi until Buzz Ogilvie came to put me on the train. He was assigned to accompany us (Charles and me) to Ottawa. The trip is an absolute blank.

Reflecting on Charles Robertson Olmsted – Act II by Elizabeth Bartlett Garrett

Reflecting on Charles Robertson Olmsted – Act II by Elizabeth Bartlett Garrett

Time to reflect once again on Charles Robertson Olmsted and what Elizabeth Bartlett Garrett had written about him.

The story is shared by her son

Collection Elizabeth Bartlett Garrett

Charles Robertson Olmsted, a.k.a. Chuck (-1940-), Carl (1941-)

ACT II:

Charles was off for England and I went back to college. First thing I signed up for was a student job in the Post Office on campus. I could get the mail while it was being sorted. If I had put my writing efforts on my thesis instead of letters to England, I might have made PBK, though I seriously doubt it.

That fall Hallie Flanagan, who directed our plays, appointed me as her assistant director on Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral”. (Hallie served under Roosevelt as head of the Federal Theatre Project, but returned to Vassar in 1939.) The parallel between the times of Beckett and wartime England haunted me.

Charles’ letters arrived from mysterious bases. Sometimes the letters had inkouts which had the effect of blotting out the writing on the reverse side (the thin blue sheets of airmail paper) and other times scalpels had been used by the censors to leave only the remains of a paper doily. They usually managed to leave intact the “I love you” and “Dearest”.

“Murder” was put on December 4,5,6, 1941. The response was so great, Hallie had me take over for an extra performance on December 7. Pearl Harbor was an infamous day for most Americans, but I was acutely aware that now the British and Canadians could get some well deserved back-up as well as the World War I rusty battleships.

Charles wrote of his being attached to the Polish Air Force. He wore the beautiful swooping eagle holding a wreathe under his RCAF wings. Later he was transferred to an all-Canadian Fighter squadron. He wrote of meeting Noel Coward, Bea Lillie, the Redgraves, Rex Harrison. He wrote of leave with the Robertsons in Surrey. I am not certain of the date, but Charles went to Edinburgh and fell in love with the city. (I finally got there a couple of years ago and felt his presence the entire time, walking where he must have walked and realizing what had captured his enthusiasm).

Charles told me of being in London, going backstage to see Bea Lillie after a performance. She grabbed him and held him close. She had just received word her RAF son had been lost in a crash. Charles was there to help her through the first hours of the tragedy.

There was a party at the Redgraves. Rex Harrison was there and they discussed architecture at length. Charles knew Harrison was “idolized” by me and that I would enjoy the episode.

Noel Coward was another friend and I believe Charles saw him playing the “provinces”. I still have some theatre programs as souvenirs, and two letters. (When Charles landed in Halifax on his return, he sent Coward a bottle of perfume and received a gracious note of appreciation).

On February 12, 1942 one of my classmates rushed in with news of the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau, German subs headed out of Brest and there was a horrendous air attack. The U-boats made it to Kiel. Then I learned Charles was there, and reported it was a hellish fight.

It was that Spring that I was whizzing on my bike to check my mail box before going to my dorm for lunch. My foot caught behind the tire and I landed on my left eyebrow. A passing student insisted on leading me to the infirmary. Fifteen minutes after arrival, I went into cloud cuckoo land. Aleksei was notified and brought Mother out to campus. She said I talked and talked about Chuck in pure poetry. I was relatively lucid the next day but was instructed not to use my eyes for close work. Mother had tickets for the Book and Author luncheon in New York, Noel Coward was scheduled to be one of the featured authors. It was my opportunity to be in the presence of someone who had seen Chuck. I cut classes. We got to the huge luncheon and the announcement was made that Noel Coward had been forced to cancel and we had Andre Maurois instead.

As the school year wound up, one of the Vassar traditions was a senior dinner at which the married students were recognized (there had been a few hasty marriages that year and one very pregnant classmate). Next the engaged students were asked to rise, then those with an “understanding”. I felt I qualified and was pushed up by my close friends to acknowledge the tribute.

Charles sent a graduation gift of $100 which I invested in a war bond. We never got to spend it together.

In 1942, Leslie Howard starred in “Spitfire”. I must have seen it five times.

My roommate from the 1941 summer drama school, Liz Mood, met and married a Royal Navy officer, Arch Cameron in the summer of 1942. He wore the Distinguished Service Cross for action at Montevideo in the sinking of the Graf Spee.

I imposed on Archie to take a pair of cuff links I had engraved at Tiffany for Charles back to mail in Great Britain. It was not until Charles came home I realized they were not practical. A disk was joined to little gold propellers (I thought that appropriate), but the stupid propellers had a way of slipping back through the cuff opening. There was never a word of criticism from Charles..

Dr. Leonidof went off to army service, stationed in Mississippi and mother went with him. I moved to New York, 155 E. 51, with Jean Birkenhead, whose husband was off in the Pacific as a Marine pilot. At Christmas, 1942, we went to Jean’s home in Poughkeepsie and there was the most magnificent bouquet of roses from Charles. Again he had done the extraordinary.

Then Charles came back to Canada. Prayers had been answered. He had survived bomber escorts, dogfights, London bombings, even a turn at escorting coastal shipping. Some idiot told me that was suicide duty.

After a visit to Ottawa, he was coming to New York. I could not wait, so I checked the railroad schedules and found I could intercept the train coming south. Was it Rouses Point or Port Henry perhaps? At any rate, I caught the southbound train and searched the cars. Would I recognize him? There was a plethora of air force blues, but I could not find him. My eyes were blurred with tears and terror. The conductor asked if he could help. There were two RCAF chaps smoking on the rear platform he said. At that moment Charles appeared. What a scene we must have created. His seat-mate politely disappeared and we spent the rest of the trip south unaware of the passengers, scenery or station stops.

Back at the apartment in New York, Jean and I had planned a special dinner. As I recall, ration stamps went for lamb chops and as a special treat, Brussels sprouts. The next day, Charles told me his diet in England had centered about cabbage and Brussels sprouts and could I suggest to Jean, no more sprouts. Oops, it had been my idea.

St. Valentine’s Day, and Charles brought beautiful flowers. Later, in his notebook I found the short story he had written about buying the flowers on Lexington Avenue. Charles thought a wedding date might be set for August or September. He needed to find his new assignment and announce our engagement properly.

So while he settled in, I took off for Natchez, Mississippi to join Mother as she was staying there while Alexsei was at Camp Van Dorn. She was determined I should learn to cook, though she loathed cooking. I made lemon meringue pies and hamburger casseroles as well as all the ersatz wartime fillers like macaroni and cheese. Until June, Charles and I were again linked by letters. Aleksei was sent to New Orleans for an Army course, so Mother and I shopped for material for wedding gown material and a bit of lace for my head. In May Mother and I returned to Poughkeepsie.

Charles, ever thoughtful, had written my father in Tucson of his intentions and my father consented. Then in June, I recruited my father’s cousin, Martha Boyle, to accompany me to Ottawa to meet the Olmsteds. We stayed at the Chateau Laurier and I remember a dinner with Charles when the string quartet suddenly started the Star Spangled Banner. An awkward moment certainly. Cousin Martha leapt to her feet at attention and I hesitantly followed. But there was Charles, ramrod straight up, ever the perfect gentleman. We all agreed, the music was not appropriate in the middle of dinner.

I met your family. Claire was so dear and welcoming. All the family was wonderful. Charles slipped on the ring which Ampa Olmsted had helped him select–a perfect diamond. What a fairy tale adventure. The date was set for September 1, 1943.

One incident bothered me, though. Charles and I were walking beside the canal by the Parliament buildings, when an old man limped by with a cane. Charles said “I never want to be like that, never grow old.” I wanted him to grow old and live forever.

Back to Poughkeepsie and my mother announced she knew nothing about weddings, invitations, cakes, etc. I would just have to do it myself. Not that she disapproved of Charles, or weddings, but she felt unqualified. (Of course, by that time she had been married twice). Her contribution was a red hat made by Fanny & Hilda in New York and a grey flannel suit from L&T. I took hold and found a dressmaker, printer for announcements, a bakery, a florist (gladiolus in season), notified college friends in New York, got Mother attired, and Ira in a flattering if not bridesmaidy dress. I had read somewhere how lovely a candle lit wedding was, so I lined the living room with candles. (September was extremely warm, but the candles burned away regardless). My Presbyterian minister, Dr. Kirschner officiated. Dr. Murphy, a frustrated concert pianist, agreed to play.

Alexsei had been promoted to Colonel and arranged to bring a patient north, which would give him enough leave to give me away in his dress whites.

Then I did something in innocence, but stupid. I wrote the wedding information for the newspapers and said Charles had attended the University of Toronto. I must have concocted that out of smoke. Just indicates how little I knew about him, except to adore him completely.

Charles and Claire arrived. Claire got the guest room and Charles was assigned “The Crooked House”, a funny shack in the apple orchard behind the house. There was no plumbing or electricity–but that was Aleksei’s idea to keep the bridal couple suitably apart.

The day of the wedding, Peter Ray (a Russian photographer buddy of Aleksei’s–originally named Peter Tschafranov) arrived with camera and got a picture of me in the backyard looking hyper and one of Chuck looking debonnaire. At wedding time, he was all over the house, hanging from the bannister, crawling under the dining room table, behind the piano. It was later discovered he had fortified himself so well with vodka that he forgot to load the camera. No photographs.

Next time Act III

Reflecting on Charles Robertson Olmsted – Act I by Elizabeth Bartlett Garrett

Reflecting on Charles Robertson Olmsted – Act I by Elizabeth Bartlett Garrett

Time to reflect once again on Charles Robertson Olmsted and what Elizabeth Bartlett Garrett had written about him.

The story is shared by her son.

Elizabeth and Charles

Collection Elizabeth Bartlett Garrett

Charles Robertson Olmsted, a.k.a. Chuck (-1940-), Carl (1941-)

ACT I:

Mother took me to the railroad station to refund my unused ticket. Charles was there with Max to arrange the doctor’s Toronto trip. Introductions were made at the ticket counter (in front of our next-door neighbor, Mrs. Brower, the clerk at the window). “Chuck” was so handsome, so charming, so attentive that I felt the horrid flush of red rise from my collarbone to my hairline. I quite forgot I was in a hurry.

My mother came barreling into the station with “What on earth is taking you so long? Oh, I see! She immediately had the sixth sense to invite the Canadians for dinner. A patient of Aleksei’s had delivered a noisy bunch of lobsters and who better to share them?

I remember wearing my basic black crepe, hoping to look sophisticated and worldly wise. I was 18 and about to start Junior year at Vassar, but Chuck seemed so mature and elegant. I have no memory of the lobsters, but I do know that Chuck was monopolized by the adults while Ira and I drew our usual washing up chores. With his never failing grace and tact, Chuck did manage to join us in our basement rec room. There he discovered my Noel Coward and Bea Lillie records.

The next day, Sunday, was a traditional gathering of a group of friends of Ira’s and mine. Ira had been sent to the University of Grenoble in the spring of 1938 to keep up her French, and forced home against her will by her father in the summer of 1939. She had been determined to stay out the threat of war with friends in England or Norway. Her father cut off her allowance and sent her a ticket home. The summer of 1940 she was a Sophomore at Smith. Our Sunday regulars were eight or ten who had started the Sunday tradition in high school. But that particular 1940 Sunday there was only person I was aware of…Chuck. I remember trying to attend to my duties as hostess, but all the others went out of focus, including my best beau, Dick Morehouse.

Max Gosse left for Canada. Chuck and I spent part of each day together that week. We had a picnic in the fields across from our house. We explored the woods beyond the fields. We had tea at Vassar Alumnae house after a tour of the campus. School had not yet started, so it was very quiet and private. We went to the movies. I do not remember what we saw, but I remember Chuck’s tension during the newsreels of London bombings. I remember hearing about the Olmsteds, the Robertsons, and how the Ewart (Bob) Robertson’s London home had been bombed out and the family had moved to Surrey. The Chuck told me he was enlisting in the RCAF on his return to Ottawa.

We found we had so many common bonds. Movies and plays we loved, music (it was the era of Cole Porter, Gershwin, Ellington). We had many of the same books–Ogden Nash, R. Benchley, Shaw, O’Neill. I was a drama major and had done summer stock.

The week went quickly. Max returned and it was time for Chuck to go. Somehow I was alone on the train platform with him. I knew I had had a very special week, but if that was all I ever had, I could cherish it the rest of my life and feel I had been touched by magic. It was a strange mixture of sadness and wonderment.

As I left the station, Max was waiting to take me home. He had waited discretely out of sight. Somehow he knew this was the beginning and not the end of a very special relationship.

Mother told me when I got home that Charles had said “Take care of my Betty.”

I assumed there was a harem waiting at the station in Ottawa. No matter. He found time to write almost daily and what absolutely beautiful letters they were! Letters came with news of basic training. He became J15622, his first solo in a Tiger Moth trainer, his acceptance as a trainee for Fighters, letters about Jean in Toronto. Alice Duer Miller had written a long verse autobiography about an American married in England, the Blitz, her family…”The White Cliffs “. I bought a copy and started memorizing it. I have Chuck’s copy, too, bought in 1941.

Chuck had a fellow actor, Lyle Wheeler, call me from New York. He was performing in “Stars on Ice”. I met him one Saturday at the information booth in Grand Central Station and we spent four hours or so agreeing that Chuck was the most wonderful person either of us had ever met.

Suddenly about New Year’s there were no letters. Then, was it Claire who let me know that Chuck was in hospital with spinal meningitis? It must have been.

Now for a weird bit–my mother’s mother had a psychic streak. Whenever she dreamed of anyone in connection with a white horse, it signified death. Well, this eerie phenomenon happened to my mother also. Twice she had announced at breakfast that she had dreamed THE dream, and each time we received news several days afterward. This time she dreamed of a flying black horse and was afraid to tell me–except the horse was black, not white. Max Gosse was my medical envoy and made any number of calls to the hospital. The news was not good. Later Charles told me he had gone to the hospital feeling absolutely awful. They put him in a ward with drunks, flu and sniffle cases, and general miscellaneous derelicts. Charles beat the odds and pulled through. At one point, he had been in a coma for some time. A Catholic padre had been called in to give last rites. Charles came around enough to be absolutely infuriated, using rather violent language, he drew on some reserve strength and anger to order the padre out. That was the turning point of his illness. From that outburst, his recovery began. Divine intervention? I do not question it.

In time, it must have been February, Charles took part of his sick leave to come to Poughkeepsie. What a prince he was. Although he had sent a snapshot of the uniformed Charles, it was the first time I had seen him in “living color’ with his bright brass buttons and the Air Force grey-blue. The strain of his illness showed in his movements, in his eyes, but never a word of self-pity or complaint. We did manage to get to New York to see Gertrude Lawrence in “Lady in the Dark” with Danny Kaye and Victor Mature making their debuts. Theatre history, in fact. “My Ship” from that musical became a special song for us.

We lunched with a rather odd-ball family friend, Henry Roberts, a Russian writer who had chosen his anglicized name by randomly stabbing a pencil on a phone book. Henry was mesmerized by Charles. He coddled him royally and made us a special omelet with his treasured truffles. He also volunteered that I should take very special care of this remarkable young man.

It was during that visit that Charles asked what I thought of his play. What play? Apparently, he had written a play and sent it to Gilbert Miller, a New York producer. Miller had blue-pencilled the play and returned it for corrections. Charles had sent the play to me. It had never arrived. There was no other copy. I wanted to cry in fury. Charles should have exploded, but he didn’t. What a tragedy I had caused him–if he had not felt he wanted me to share in his success, he might have had a fulfillment of a dream with his play. We were walking along the north side of Vassar campus under the great oaks and maples. Charles never mentioned the play again, but that location was etched in my memory. I retraced that sidewalk in 1992 (50th reunion) as well as other spots on campus he had walked. The most traumatic spot was the old Poughkeepsie railroad station, almost unchanged from 1940.

Charles went back to completing his training while I bumbled along with Vassar. Letters zinged back and forth. It must have been that Spring that Marion and John were married. Charles wrote of the wedding and sent a photo of the bride, groom, and attendants (Charles and a most attractive maid of honor, whom I envied, there at his side) all celebrating at the Mont Royal Normandie Roof. Charles received his wings and was winding up his training at Uplands in July or August. He was scheduled to go overseas and asked me to join him in Montreal for a weekend. Meanwhile, I had been learning techniques of stage makeup, projecting my voice across the room, learning Stanislaysky methods from Mme. Tamara Daykarhanova at her summer school outside White Plains. Mother agreed I could go to Montreal. I packed my white marabou bolero and a royal blue dinner dress, complete with gold slippers and bag. Charles met me at the station and had reserved two rooms at the Mont Royal. I’ve a photo of our Saturday night dinner at the rooftop ballroom.

Elizabeth and Charles

Collection Elizabeth Bartlett Garrett

Charles looks his handsome charming self and I look as if I am on “uppers”. Why didn’t we marry then? Oh, no, I had to finish college and I guess I was all prim-proper-Miss-nicey-nice. I did (as I remember) get to meet Janet and Marion, and they couldn’t have been more gracious. Charles did everything with great style, so naturally we took a caleche up Mont Royal. He also introduced me to Canadian beer with a word of warning of its alcohol content. Oh, he was so right. One was enough, but I stayed ambulatory. Before leaving for overseas, Charles sent a song he had written for me.

Next time Act II

Reflecting on Charles Robertson Olmsted – Prologue by Elizabeth Bartlett Garrett

Reflecting on Charles Robertson Olmsted – Prologue by Elizabeth Bartlett Garrett

Time to reflect once again on Charles Robertson Olmsted and what his wife had written about him.

The story is shared by her son

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Charles Robertson Olmsted, a.k.a. Chuck (-1940-), Carl (1941-)

Herewith a thoroughly biased story of the Charles I knew.

He was Charles to his family, Chuck when I met him and Carl in England.

PROLOGUE:

Summer, 1940–Charles was at Reginald Goode’s Theatre, a summer stock company about a half-hour’s drive east of Poughkeepsie, New York. Normally I would have seen him on stage, but I spent the summer in Tucson with my father, John M. Garrett, and my step-mother Vera.

Confusing?

Background: In May, 1932, my mother divorced my father in Reno. In June she married Dr. Aleksei A. Leonidoff in Poughkeepsie, a former surgeon in the Tsar’s army. In the U. S he specialized in chest (tuberculosis) and later cardiology. With the marriage I acquired a Russian step-sister, Irina Aleskeiovna (Ira), a year and a half my senior. I considered Poughkeepsie my home from that time on, but most summers I shuttled out to Tucson to be with my father. He remarried in 1937, a divorcee, Vera De Lipkau Garrett. She was a fascinating woman–Polish father and French mother, a direct descendant of Alexis de Toqueville. She had a grown son, a neurosurgeon in Chicago, and daughter, actress in New York. I spent a good part of my life trying to explain why my mother was not Mrs. Garrett and I was not officially Betty Leonidoff. I lucked out with four extraordinary parents.

In Tucson that summer, we stuck colored pins in the Balkans and France while we knit Bundles for Britain (socks, sweaters and Balaclava helmets). In August, I started for home (Poughkeepsie) with a stop-over in St. Louis to visit my great grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth Bartlett Ferguson (“Granny” to me). I had been christened Elizabeth Bartlett and our relationship was a very special one. A cousin of my father’s, Martha Boyle, lived with Granny as a paid companion. Granny thought it would be educational for me if we all (including the chauffeur, Ellis Ball) drove east via Canada. We entered at Windsor–my second foreign country (I had crossed into Nogales many times from Tucson). We stayed at the Royal York, Toronto, the Chateau Laurier, Ottawa, the Mont Royal, Montreal (shopping at was it Morgan’s?) the large store- ̶ where a fragile young man named Frank, who reappears later in my tale, gave me a wonderful haircut) then on to Chateau Frontenac in Quebec. I was absolutely overwhelmed by my introduction to Canada. On to Boston, back east to Albany. In Albany, my mother joined us.

(A bit of family gossip–Granny would not visit Poughkeepsie, the home of Dr. Aleksei A. Leonidoff, because, although she loved my mother dearly, she could not openly approve of the divorce which freed my mother to remarry). Mother’s mother died in 1913 and Granny had promised to care for my mother in St. Louis. She grew up as the favorite daughter of the favorite daughter, then I arrived to keep the title going.

I arrived in Poughkeepsie in late August with an unused railroad ticket from St. Louis to Poughkeepsie.

Meanwhile, Charles had met Dr. Max Gosse, a Canadian and friend of my family, in Poughkeepsie. Dr. Gosse’s lovely young wife, Ruth, had been killed in a car crash that summer while trying to separate their two young sons fighting over a blanket in the back seat of the car. The boys were not hurt. Charles was a God-send as a friend to Max Gosse and an entertainer for the boys.

The theatre had closed, the boys adored “Uncle Chuck” and Max had to go to Canada, so Charles agreed to stay over with the boys (and their housekeeper). Deus ex machina: the stage was set.

Next time Act I