What was school like for you?
I went to boarding school. I kind of liked it. It was fun. It’s so long ago.
Do you remember any subjects that you liked?
What did I like the most? Art, I think. I couldn’t sing in tune so I was given the time off when it was music lesson, and I loved that. I got a whole period sitting by myself somewhere with nobody else around.
Was it okay at the time for girls like you to be smart?
Well, I don’t know if I was smart. I think so. Particularly in that boarding school environment.
Do you remember any fads from your youth, like popular hairstyles? And how were clothes different from today?
Oh, how were clothes different from today? Not a lot. A whole lot tidier! I love it that everybody can be untidy and not comb their hair, because every last hair was combed. How were clothes different? You just have to look up some 1940 fashions, war-time.
Since you didn’t like music very much did you have any favourite songs or music that you listened to?
Did I like music? It was very limited. My family wasn’t… my mother was not even imaginative about music. She called it noise, and that’s pretty funny. I’ve never known anybody else who could call music noise. Anyway, she was a character, was my mother.
What’s the largest town or city you remember visiting when you were young? Can you describe your impressions of it?
Well, I suppose, London. They couldn’t get much larger. It was the biggest city in the world at the time, with eleven million people in it. And when I got to Canada, it had 11 million people. So here was this huge country with the same number of people as there’d been in one town.
What were your plans when you finished school?
Well, I sort of dropped out of school when I was 14 because it was boarding school and I was a long way from home – I suspect one of my father’s friends was helping my mum pay for the boarding school, and I think they all got short of money when the war started. The government just said, “sorry, folks” and helped themselves. And people didn’t have any spare cash. Even rich people.
Did you have anyone close to you that fought in the war?
I was lucky. Living in the country, I was with my mum at home most of the war. Nobody wasted bombs on us. If any bomb was dropped around us, it was by some guy who still had his bombs and didn’t want to go over those anti-aircraft guns and get shot down, going back where nobody else could see him to get home to Germany, and dropping his bombs somewhere where we certainly didn’t expect them. So the little town where my grandma lived got three bombs one sunny afternoon with no warning, and it was just some poor pilot who wanted to get home alive, who turned his plane around and headed back, and dropped his bombs out and they hit a little town. Maybe he thought he’d better hit a little town while he was at it.
Who were your childhood heroes?
Ooh, ooh – a man who had gone to the South Pole with one of the expeditions, who was a friend of my dad’s and spent a lot of time with us after he died and had fabulous stories. The guy who led that expedition was called Shackleton and you may, if you are interested in that stuff, run into him.
Your family knew Shackleton?
No, not my family. This friend and associate of my dad’s was with Shackleton.
How many people survived from Shackleton’s?
They all did. They all did. Just amazingly. They spent a winter under their boats because something went wrong. And they had a couple of life boats and they turned them upside down and that was what they slept under – and, I guess, the clothes stayed on your back for a long time. They were there the whole winter.
Wasn’t it described as “the worst journey in the world”?
Yeah, I think it probably was…. Now, how I got to Canada is one of the most interesting things – but we didn’t touch that, did we? You probably thought there was an airplane in those days. Ha, ha, ha! There weren’t no airplanes!! And soon after the war there were no liners either because they’d been packing troops around the world, the Mary and the Lizzie and all those big, big ships. And there was no way to get out of England for four years after we first started looking around, because when the liners got fixed up ready for passengers they were booked for three solid years.
So I found a friend, and we hunted around the sea port towns – Cardiff, Bristol, Southampton – and we met a guy who was a ship’s chandler. Are you familiar with that term? A chandler looks after all the orders and the food and supplies on the boat. He knew when and where they were coming in, and if any of the skippers were willing to take passengers he knew that. In those days you could ride on a freighter without the freighter being insured for passengers. There’s a big difference! People didn’t sue everything for every second stupid thing. If you sunk the freighter, if you had passengers, tough break. Nobody was going to sue anybody. They never even thought of it. It’s got ridiculous.
Your whole family came over on a freighter? (joking) You weren’t stowaways or anything?
No, no, no, no! We paid 35 pounds to cross the Atlantic and it took nine days on a 300 foot freighter that was going either up the St. Lawrence or to somewhere in Newfoundland – and we wouldn’t know until we three-quarters of the way across where we were going to go. They were picking up pulpwood and it was Newfoundland. So I spent a week in Newfoundland before it was part of Canada, which is really interesting.