Bob Grylls, Contributor
As Told by Noreen (Conroy) Desjardins
WESTMEATH – Veterans returning home from overseas after WWII were first sent to an auditorium in Ottawa. They were assembled in order of the alphabet. Their contact was informed, and the soldiers stayed until picked up or sent home by train.
Phyllis and June Conroy sisters, and Ruth Robinson, were young girls working in Ottawa. It was an exciting time for them when asked to greet the hometown boys from Westmeath. Many of the parents didn’t own a car and couldn’t pick their relatives up. Instead, after they were warmly greeted, the soldiers boarded a train to Pembroke, where they were met then by family.
After a vet reached Westmeath, the Women’s Institute honoured each one or two with a square-dancing party in the original Town Hall. He had to have been enrolled in the public school to be eligible. At the dance, each was brought onto the stage, introduced, and presented with a wallet with $25 in it. Noreen was 12 at the time and still vividly remembers some of those guys.
Many things were rationed back then – even gasoline. The town was a “dry” one but that didn’t prevent people from slipping out between squares to have a drink in their cars.
There happened to be three veterans whose families moved into the area during the war so weren’t registered at school – but they were honoured as well.
No one can recall how many dances were held for those who returned from the war, but they all were a cause for celebration. Hard to imagine unless you were there.
Noreen said “It was exhilarating for residents and schoolkids when convoys from Camp Petawawa drove through Westmeath on training sessions. A regular occurrence, every convoy was met by cheering residents. Two teachers taught school while their husbands served, Namely Mrs. Greg Gervais (Inez) and Mrs. Clinton Hennessy (Alice).
“Ditty Bags” were placed in the stores so customers could donate treats such as chocolate bars and candy. Despite food being rationed, many forfeited part of their share when they could. Officials would collect the ditty bags which were sent overseas for distribution to the soldiers.
Many quilts were finished up by the women in the village, all for the war effort. Quilting frames were setup in Conroy’s house, Ethier’s Hotel and Schultz’s Store. The women from outside the village would quilt at any time when available.
Friday afternoons promptly at 3 PM, it was Red Cross time at the school. The students were taught to sing “Rule Britannia” and so on.
It was the worst of times and the best of times.