Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Remember Whensday: Children in the War Years

Mom in the mid-1930's

Sandland brother found some old pictures and books in the bottom of a cedar chest which once belonged to our grandmother. He scanned them and sent them to me this week and I do not recall seeing them before. Digital cameras are so pervasive now that many children have thousands of pictures taken of their growing up years. (I do wonder how they will be preserved half a century or more from now) On the other hand, we have only a handful of photographs to document the childhoods of our parents and grandparents and a very few for all the generations before them. I have the privilege of meeting many older people as part of my job. I am very interested in their stories from the past and they are happy to have a listening ear. One lady, now in her mid-80's, told me about her childhood in Poland.

Mom's Ration Book

"We lived in a village with hills and woods on either side. These woods were good, with many berries which we gathered for food. One day we heard that the Ukrainians were coming and destroying Polish villages. I ran to the woods with my mother, father and other villagers, hiding there for several days. When we came back to the village, everything was burned to the ground, all our livestock was dead and many people had been killed. We were taken to Germany where we lived in a work camp. I made thread in a factory and learned to sew. After work we formed a choir of Polish and Ukrainian people who lived at the camp. We were very good singers. One day I was walking on the road and jeep stopped in front of me. I was very scared when a man got out. Then he told me he had heard there was a good choir in the area and he wanted to hear them sing. I drove with him back to the camp and he spoke to the director who later allowed the choir to go by truck and sing at Christmas Eve Mass. There were Canadian soldiers at the Mass and I talked to one of them after the service. I asked him to write a letter to my aunt in Canada and to tell her where we were. He did that and brought her reply back to me personally. My aunt arranged for us to come to Canada and we came here before the war was over. I worked as a seamstress and had three boys who all went to university and have good jobs. Canada is such a good country..."

I cannot imagine the horror and hardship of her youth, but she speaks of the positive things in her past which led her to a good place to raise a family in peace and prosperity.

Mom's War Stamps

Those who lived in Canada in the 1930s and 40s were also affected greatly by the war in Europe. Many Canadian troops died and citizens were subject to rationing of food and gas. They were encouraged to contribute to the war effort by buying stamps and bonds. My brother found one of Mom's ration books and her war stamps booklet as well. Mom's experiences growing up during WW II undoubtedly contributed to her present resourcefulness and ability to make a little stretch a long way. She was and is a creative cook and seamstress.

Sometimes I wonder if food and gas rationing and government sponsored savings for children are ideas that would benefit society now?

Mom on the right with a friend and her dog

Click here for more Remember Whensday stories.


  1. What a great story your acquaintance had of her childhood in Poland. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Ruth,

    This is an awesome post. Mom also grew up during the war years. They were on a farm and took produce, ducks and geese to the market. Not quite sure how that worked, but must ask her. Like your mother, mine is thrifty, knows how to stretch a dollar, cook delicious meals and sew. Those years were hard ones.

    How wonderful that the lady told you the story of how she came to live in Canada. I enjoyed your photos and your Whensday post.

    Oh, BTW, I also like our Canadian money for the colours. Less easily confused. :-)

    Have a great day.

  3. I love your Whensday posts, especially this one. My mother's side of the family is partly Polish and it is interesting to read the account of a someone from Poland! Reminds me of my Great Grandma...

  4. So many stories, interesting stories, to be told from that era! Yes, the ability to make do with almost nothing ... something our young people need to learn. My Mom could whip up a meal for unexpected guests when there seemed to be no food in the house ... and they'd all go away saying how good the meal was and how well fed they were.

  5. What an enlightening and positive story.

    Dad often talks about stories from when he was a young lad. Some of those he include WWII experiences. Much like your elderly friend, he speaks of hard times...but there is always a positive outcome. If some of our youths of today could just spend one day in their lives maybe they would be more appreciative of what they have.

    Now I know why you enjoy your job so much.

  6. As always, an interesting story and post and very timely for me as I learn about eastern Europe. I am sure that the people you work with benefit more than just physically from you. Not every health care worker takes the time to listen to their stories.

  7. Speaking of war time...I have a book recommendation for you...just finished it.. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie society. An excellent novel about the Nazi occupation of Guernsey. (I figure if you buy a vehicle on my endorsement, you might go for a book too!)

  8. What a nice post. I was born in1940 and remember a bit about rationing from when I was a little girl. I just told Anne on her "remember whensday" post that I didn't have much to remember about the war years except missing my dad who served in the Navy. But now becauses of your post I am reminded about ration books. I remember one time my mother crying because my little brother lost his shoe and she didn't have a ration coupon for a new pair.

    Thank you for sharing!


  9. Thank you for sharing your story. It is wonderful that your grandmother survived.

  10. A great post, Ruth. The War years were hard with rationing and so many men away with the military, but I think the depression years were worse.

    And yet people rose above the hardships and there was a wonderful spirit of community and neighbourliness. Thanks for bringing back memories.

  11. It is amazing how the human spirit is such that even in times of great sadness and hardship, we can learn to focus on the good and the opportunity that often follows.

  12. I do so look forward to these posts and you never disappoint me. So interesting and wonderful that these things have been preserved. My own family has so little of this precious history for various reasons.

  13. It's wonderful your family saved these. Good post, Ruth.

  14. Interesting story of the lady from Poland.
    Those who have led hard lives often seem to appreciate the good times more. I'm sure there's a lesson in there for our society.
    I hope we can find a way to encourage sacrifice without going to war.

  15. How touching. It is the passing along of others stories that keep the real history of the world alive. What makes the history books can be so one sided.

    I agree about the photos. There are very few of me and my siblings and each new find is a cause of celebration.

    Thank you for visiting my Whensday post.

  16. Good Post Ruth!-It's one thing to read about history but knowing there's a direct connection to your family makes it all the more interesting.-

  17. That was a great post Ruth. I like reading history stories like that.
    I think we could all benefit by learing to do with a little less. I watched a documentary series from public television called 1940's House. The setting is Great Britain during the war years -- A family from today was chosen to live as they might have during WWII, ration books, victory garden and learning to do without. The thing I thought most interesting was that the children seemed to thrive in that situation and the adults became more appreciative of what they now have. If you get a chance to borrow the DVD set, I think you would enjoy it too.


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