Civilian Life




Reproduced with permission from The Beacon Supplement


Remembering ……with Phyllis Locke

“I remember the first night I arrived in Gander in 1942.  Our new home was right on the edge of the runway and I was sure that with the continuous roar of planes taking off and landing outside the bedroom window, that I would never get a good night’s sleep as long as I lived here.”Phyllis Locke

This is one of the most vivid memories of Mrs. Phyllis Locke, the former Phyllis Martin, who moved to Gander from New Perlican, Trinity Bay, to be with her husband, the late William (Bill) Locke.  Mr. Locke came to Gander on 21 April, 1941, to work with the C.P.R. Airway.  This later became the Ferry Command.

Mr. and Mrs. Locke moved into the Mars building.  This was an apartment block operated by the R.A.F. situated across the street from the main terminal, which is now the E.P.A. hangar.  They were lovely apartments for the times and everyone on Gander were great friends with everyone else.  Boardwalks connected the most important parts of the town.

Mrs. Locke said that even though they were in the midst of a war, being civilians, the war didn’t concern the housewives very much.  There were so few women at Gander and none of them worked outside the home so the only reminder was the continuous roar of planes and knitting for the troops overseas at the American Red Cross.

The majority of the entertainment was homemade.  Everyone ran in and out of each other's houses and there was always a party or game of cards going on somewhere.  The R.A.F. operated a skating rink and they also had a recreation area and log cabins at Deadman’s Pond where everyone went swimming.  It didn’t see strange to be mixing with Canadians, Americans and British all at the same time.  Newfoundland had no affiliations with anyone, we were an independent colony with only loose connections with Britain and everyone at Gander was from somewhere else, so we were all foreigners in a way, brought together because of the times.

Church services were non-denominational, usually conducted by the R.C.A.F. padre.  There was no church building and Mrs. Marjorie Chafe held the first Sunday School classes in her house. 

The main entertainment of the women living at Gander, other than card parties and dances, was to go to the movies.  The cost was 17 cents on the American Side and that’s where everyone went.  The Canadian movies were much more expensive – 22 cents.  All of the features were first-run shows.  “I remember seeing ‘Gone with the Wind’ at the American Theatre.”  “The movie was so long, and the temperature inside so warm, that they had to break off the middle and give everyone a recess so we could go outside and cool off.”

The Forces also brought in top name entertainers for the troops and, of course, we got to seem them too.  A steady parade of world personalities, both in the entertainment and political world passed through here but in looking back, it seemed to be all part of the war and the things that went with it. 

One event that did touch us all was the loss of the Sabena, a Dutch airliner that went down shortly after the war.  The passengers were all well-to-do diamond merchants that were on their way to the markets in New York from Amsterdam.  I can recall the men of the Ferry Command, my husband included, preparing baskets of food and rescue equipment for the survivors.  The plane had gone down in a densely wooded area on the other side of the lake and all the supplies had to be carried overland to the people waiting to be rescued. 

There was an attempt to bring out the bodies but the walk was too great so a cemetery “St. Martin’s-in-the-Woods” was constructed on the spot for the victims.  I believe a couple of the victims were later removed and taken back to Holland but the majority of the graves are still there.  It was rumored that the plane was loaded with diamonds and cash, for the merchants to make their purchases on the New York diamond market and that the area was littered with money.  They also said that diamonds were collected by the bucket full around the site but a tight security blanket was thrown around the plane and all we knew of it were the rumors.

Looking back it was an exciting time to live through but during the war years, the average housewife’s life revolved around her home and family and she took the outside influence for granted, if she thought of it at all.

researched by Carol Walsh

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