Memoirs, Or Shadows Of What Has Been
By Peter Landry
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Chapter Four, 1945 & My First Memory [TOC]

The war in Europe, which had been grinding on since 1939, came to an end in 1945. In January, American troops crossed the Siegfried Line into Belgium. Also in this month, the Russians mounted an offensive in Eastern Europe. In February, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin met at Yalta. The allies, through this time, mercilessly bomb German cities. The German city of Dresden was no place to be between 13th to the 15th of February, when, in four raids, consisting of 3,600 planes, dropped hundreds of thousands of incendiaries and 4,000 tons of high-explosive bombs. During the following month the same thing was happening in Berlin. So too, in March, American troops seized the bridge over the Rhine River at Remagen, Germany, and began their cross over into Germany. In the east, on March 30th, Soviet forces took Vienna. By April 25th, American and Soviet troops linked up at the Elbe River, cutting Germany in two. Three days later Benito Mussolini was strung up by his heels in a public square of Milan. On the 30th, Hitler killed himself. On May 2nd, the Russians hoist the Red flag over the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. On May 3rd, the rocket scientist Wernher von Braun and 120 members of his team surrendered to American forces. Holland, its population starving, was liberated by British and Canadian troops.

The war in Europe came to an end; however it continued on in the Pacific. On February 19th, the battle for Iwo Jima unfolded as 30,000 U. S. Marines landed on its shores; it ended mid-March. The introduction of the B-29s and the capture of certain of the Pacific islands, laid Japan open to constant and hard bombing. On March 9th-10th, Tokyo is devastated along with the deaths of 100,000 citizens.

Okinawa was only 340 miles away from mainland Japan. In the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific War the U. S. Marines landed. The Battle for Okinawa started out at the first of April and raged on for near three months. The fighting was carried out with great ferocity. The battle resulted in one of the highest number of casualties of any World War II engagement. Japan lost over 100,000 troops killed or captured, and the Allies suffered more than 50,000 casualties of all kinds. Simultaneously, tens of thousands of local civilians were killed, wounded, or committed suicide. If this was a sample of what the Americans would have to go through in the taking of Japan's mainland, -- well, the American war-planners shuttered to think.

The Atomic Age came explosively on the scene within a month of the taking of Okinawa. In a desert in New Mexico, on July 16th, the first test of an atomic bomb was carried out, code named, "Trinity." The atomic blast that came from but just six kilograms of plutonium was equal to 20 kilotons of TNT. On July 21st, the President approved the use of atomic bombs on Japan. On August 6th, the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima; on August 9th, another was dropped on Nagasaki. On August 15th, Emperor Hirohito announced to his people that Japan had surrendered; V-J Day had arrived.

In these last days of the war, Harry S. Truman was the President of the United States and became so at Roosevelt's death on April 12th.

We conclude these summarizing paragraphs on the war by pointing out that on November 20th, the Nuremberg Trials began in Germany whereby Nazi war criminals were prosecuted. Of the eleven defendants sentenced to death, ten were hanged. Hermann Goring committed suicide the night before. We, too, should also point out that similar trials were carried out after the war, in order to address the "Asian Holocaust." The Allied powers indicted 25 individuals as "Class-A war criminals." Though controversially, the imperial family were exonerated from criminal prosecution. Six of the defendants were sentenced to death, including General Tojo and were subsequently put to death in 1948.

Halifax Explosion, 1945

Death and destruction during the years of war does not just occur at the front. It can occur at home. For example: On March 28th, 1943, an Italian ship full of weapons and ammunition exploded in the port of Naples, killing 600. That June, a Japanese battleship, Mutsu was destroyed by an accidental magazine explosion in Hashirajima anchorage, killing 1,121. On May 24th, 1944, six LSTs (Landing Ship, Tank) were accidentally destroyed and 163 men killed at Pearl Harbour. On July 17th, there occurred a devastating explosion at the Naval Munitions Depot at Port Chicago on the coast of California. Then that autumn, November 10th, an ammunition ship, Mount Hood blew up at her anchorage at Manus Island (in northern Papua, New Guinea). A number of nearby boats were destroyed and nearby ships damaged; 432 men were killed and 371 more injured. Within days of that, in another part of the world, Staffordshire, England, close to 4,000 tons of ordnance, located in an underground storage depot, exploded, leaving about 75 dead and a crater 400 ft deep and near 4,000 feet across.

Halifax Hrb

On the eastern shores of Bedford Basin, a body of salt water that opens up just inland and north of Halifax City, there existed during the war years, and exists yet today, a storage facility meant to receive and supply ammunition from, and to, the numerous naval ships in and around Halifax Harbour. On July 18th, 1945, an ammunition barge alongside of the Bedford Magazine blew up. In itself, this preliminary explosion caused no great damage (relatively speaking), but a fire was started and spread quickly to adjacent piles of ammunition, which had been temporarily stored outside because of overcrowding in the main compound. A chain reaction of fire, explosion and concussion rocked Halifax for a day.

There were those who had a memory of the disastrous explosion which occurred 28 years earlier at Halifax when a munition ship blew up in Halifax harbour. "The Halifax Explosion" occurred on Thursday, December 6th, 1917. About 2,000 people were killed; the north end of the city was demolished; it is estimated that over 9,000 people were injured. It should therefore come as no surprise to hear that there was in place contingency plans. Thus, within hours of the 1945 Halifax Explosion, the city's northern half had been evacuated smoothly. Not one of the explosions which went off in series approached the force of the 1917 explosion; but, they did shatter windows, cracked plaster, and caused occasional minor injuries, only one death was reported.

And now I come to giving details of my first memory. It was July 18th, 1945, when Halifax almost blew up. We lived on Quinpool Road in the west end. My father was not at home as he was away on a trip in connection with his involvement in the training of Air Force recruits. My mother was at home, together with my brothers and sisters: Lila (16 yrs), Joe (15), Paul (13), John (10), Nancy (7) and Linda (4mos). I was four years old.

Though, it's a bit fuzzy, I relate the following from my personal memory. We were all seated at the big table in the kitchen at our home on Quinpool Road. The brick chimney, while plastered over, was up against the interior wall of the kitchen. It's location was such that a bit of a nook was created in which was the kitchen stove. Just above, midway up the wall which encased the chimney column, was a round tin plate inserted in the wall. Now while I had no appreciation of the fact at the time, it plainly was an accommodation for a stove pipe should one be needed for the kitchen. We apparently had no such need, as we were cooking with electricity.

So there we were on a Thursday, the family at their evening meal. When, without warning, there was a pop, just a "pop," no great noise, though there was a great "Whoosh!" And, soot was in the air, most of it covered the surface of the stove. It came from the hole in the chimney where the tin cover had been and the cover itself just beyond the stove. What in "Heaven's Name" had happened. Next thing I remember we were all out the front door, someone having figured out that something was going on outside. The Harold Connolly family lived across the street from us. I should mention that Quinpool Road is some distance from the other side of Bedford Basin, it, nonetheless, was declared to be (at some point through the night) a boundary, north of which to the shores of Bedford Basin was to be an area to be evacuated, this is an area that covered more than half the city. The Connolly family was also out on the street along with a great number of other people, all wondering what was going on. Smoke was rising in the north, and explosions could be heard, now and then. Now, the Connolly family had a maid, a large woman, who was in the middle of the street praising the Lord and declaring that the end had come.

That evening I was put to bed. To that point things did not seem too bad. I quote: "Minor explosions continued throughout the night, until approximately 4:00 am on July 19, when a huge blast shattered windows, shook foundations, blew off roofs, and rattled walls of major buildings throughout the area." I am sure, now, it was at that explosion which occurred at approximately 4:00 am that woke everyone up; soon all were milling about consulting one another. I remember being startled as I came awake. I remember, as a four year old, getting up to seek out my mother who I soon found; I wrapped my arms around her leg. I was concerned, likely because of the explosions; but, more likely because I detected the concern expressed by my older brothers and sisters. All of it is a bit bleary, but next I remember being on the front lawn with the rest of the family with bedding spread about (it was July) -- Why, we were going to camp out for the balance of the night. I do not know how much sleep any of us got that night. I do recall my brother John (then, age 10) being sick and throwing up.

I do not remember much beyond what I have now recounted. However, the daylight of the next morning, Friday, the 19th, did not bring much relief to the citizens of Halifax. Explosions went on for the balance of the day; most of the citizens of Halifax just wanted to get out of the place.

I quote:

"... most headed out of the peninsula ... Here rose a problem envisioned during the war. The Halifax isthmus was a perfect bottle-neck. Only two roads led out of it, and the main one ran along the Bedford Basin shore, fully exposed to the blasts from the burning Magazine. The whole evacuation had to be made by the single road past the head of the Northwest Arm. Soon a solid mass of vehicles, ten miles long, crawled slowly to the west.
Some of the cars and trucks carried mattresses, and even a few chairs lashed to the top or rear of the cars. There were baskets of food, blankets, and luggage of all sorts crammed with family valuables. Along the roadside trudged a multitude on foot, many pushing perambulators, pulling hand carts, carrying babies, or leading little troops of wondering children." (H. Millard Wright, The Other Halifax Explosion.)

Quinpool Road was one of the prinicpal roads feeding "the single road past the head of the Northwest Arm" to which the quoted author referred. The scene before me was just as has been described.

Now, as it happens, we had a summer place on the Bay, at a place called Hackett's Cove (more on this in a later section). My father, as earlier mentioned, was not in town (one can only imagine what he was to think when he heard of the trouble). His car was in the yard, however, no one in our family at this point could drive (my mother never did). Arrangements were made -- I think with the Connollys -- whereby they provided a driver and the two families were to proceed, probably in two cars, down Quinpool Road, crowded as it was, and out and away along the road to St. Margaret's Bay. There we were to stay at Hackett's Cove, a safe distance from the city which many believed was about to explode sky high. How long we stayed -- I do not know, indeed I'm not sure why we were even in the city in July, as normally we moved there after school was out in June and not to return until September. That we were in the city during the "Halifax Explosion of 1945" probably had something to do with my father being away on business.

VE-Day Riots, 1945

Zellers After the Riot

Though a little out-of-sequence, in time, let me but refer to the other big event that occurred in Halifax in 1945: The realization that the war was over came before the war criminals were rounded up and prosecuted at Nuremberg. Indeed the government -- which in retrospect, was a mistake -- declared there should be an official day to celebrate the end of the war in Europe, "VE-Day." May 8th was chosen. Everybody was to have a holiday including the numerous naval ratings that were at Halifax in wartime numbers. The next mistake that both the civil and military authorities were to make was to shut down the city: no restaurants were open, no movie houses, all the liquor establishment were closed (even the "wet" canteen at Stadacona). Now how do you suppose the thousands of sailors who were released into the downtown would entertain themselves -- well, they indulged in an orgy of vandalism and looting. There occurred through a two day period "an appalling outbreak of smashing, looting, drinking, copulation in public view, and bachannalian behaviour in the downtown business area of Halifax by a mob of vandals, a mixture of servicemen and civilians." The servicemen consisted mostly of naval personnel, with some soldiers and fewer airmen. (The picture is one showing the interior of the Zellers store on Barrington Street a day after the riot.)

I have no recollection of these disturbances. While we lived in Halifax, we did so on the west end at some distance from the downtown area where these disturbances occurred. My oldest sister, Lila, who would have been a sweet sixteen-year-old and a couple of her friends, hearing of the excitement in downtown Halifax, peddled their bicycles and eventually settled themselves on the eastern slopes of Citadel Hill overlooking the downtown area. Wide-eyed and looking out over the disturbances their loomed up behind them a large figure of a man demanding that they follow him. It was my unhappy father; and home they all went without incident.

To conclude as to what was happening in 1945, we offer these little tidbits: On October 29th, at Gimbels Department Store in New York City, the first ballpoint pens went on sale at $12.50 each. On November 1st, a well know company for making electric clocks through the years 1925 to 1955, Telechron, introduced the model 8H59 "Musalarm," the first clock radio. On November 29th, an assembly of the world's first general purpose electronic computer, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), was completed. It covered 1,800 square feet of floor space. Percy Spencer (1894-1970), an American engineer and inventor, accidentally discovered that microwaves can heat food. Though it was many years before I saw one in a typical kitchen, by 1947, there was a commercial microwave-oven on the market, the Raytheon.


NEXT: [Chapter 5, 1946-50 & Early School Years]
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[Pictures, 1945]
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2011 (2017)

Peter Landry