Otonabee district: the musicians kept the morale of the soldiers on the front line
As Remembrance Day approaches, the year of the 77th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, our thoughts go out to all those who served their country during the war. My father, Harry Culley, helped bring music to Allied troops and civilians as part of the Royal Canadian Air Force Dance and Concert Bands.
I was recently contacted by Doug Poole, a resident of Peterborough whose father, Douglas Poole, was a percussionist in the same band as my father. Before joining, Douglas Poole worked in the maintenance of printing presses.
“He started in the business in 1940 and returned to his job after the war as jobs were filled for the military and his time in the RCAF counted towards his years of service,” says Doug Poole. “After the war, my father played in bands to earn extra money and have fun along the way.”
After the death of my father, I discovered more than 600 letters that my parents wrote to each other during this period. My book “Love in the Air: Second World War Letters” includes selections from these letters, historical background, scenes inspired by the letters, and photos.
Although not on the front line, Harry, Douglas and the other members of the band came close to danger on several trips to London where the band made recordings with the BBC and played live gigs. In the letter below, he describes the V1 rockets, or buzz bombs, that targeted the city after D-Day.
London, June 30, 1944
Well honey, I promised to tell you about our trip to London. We got through all five records without too many bumps on our part. There was an almost continuous alert during the process, but we were in a fairly safe place under BBC House. The files are for overseas forces. I went to a prom concert and Myra Hess played a concerto but I really didn’t enjoy it as there were several distractions during the program. [i.e. bombs exploding.]
I was very uncomfortable last night when a buzz bomb passed very low over my head. I could say I was scared, but so was everyone else. Smitty was practically living in shelter and started looking all green this morning. Luckily we didn’t have to stay more than three days in London. It’s very nerve wracking with sirens going all day and night. So much for that!
I can tell you which one [a buzz bomb] sound like. Just imagine the biggest truck you’ve ever seen come up a street like Winnett [the street where Helen lived in Toronto]. There would be a hell of a vibration in the houses. Only two came to London yesterday so they have to destroy more bases every day [i .e. the Allies must be destroying the German bases in Europe where the bombs originated.]
We had to play a show, silent until now. We’re going to rehearse a bit tomorrow and I hope it doesn’t rain because there’s no roof in the only place we can go. He was recently swept away by a near-blow!
All my love, Harry
“Love in the Air: Second World War Letters” is available from the Peterborough Public Library, www.friesenpress.com and Amazon. For more information, visit joanneculley.com.
Christmas tea and bazaar
The women of St. James United Church are hosting their Christmas Tea and Bazaar Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 221 Romaine Street. There will be sandwiches, tea, coffee and desserts available for $7. Homemade beef pies will be on sale along with baked goods and deli items, craft tables, a silent auction, a newbie Christmas table and several vendor tables. The church is wheelchair accessible.