The Biggs' Boys
By Ken Stofer
Copyright 2005-2007 Ken Stofer, All Rights Reserved
Biography of Catherine Brick (Yeo)
In early January of 1940, my friend Peggy Moore and I began to talk seriously of going to England to join one of the women's services. At that time there was no sign of any women's services being formed in Canada and we wanted to do our bit for the war effort. We had read in the paper about Captain Seymour-Biggs and one day traveled from our homes in Parksville and Duncan to talk to him in his office in Victoria. He took care of all of the arrangements including our passports. It was going to cost Peggy and I about $300 each for the train fare across Canada and ship to England. That was a fortune back in those days. We borrowed money from my father.
We left Victoria on February 20, 1940 with two young men who also went over to join up; Alan Clegg and Cyril Rodd.
We traveled across Canada by train, coach class, which was all we could afford, to pick up our ship at St. John, New Brunswick. When we left Victoria, Peggy and I each had a small suitcase with a few necessities. I doubt we had $20 between us. Fortunately our parents provided us with big lunch baskets so we were able to eat quite well, at least at the beginning of our journey.
We stopped overnight in Calgary to visit my Uncle Walter and an aunt of Peggy's, so we were well looked after.
Throughout the train trip the conductors and trainmen were just wonderful to us, making beds down for us each night and giving us tea, coffee and other treats from their kitchen. We owe them a great debt of gratitude. I guess they appreciated we were two young gals off to help our country in time of need.
We stopped long enough in Montreal to have a bath in a coin-operated bath place, in the station if I remember correctly. Boy, it sure was a treat after all that traveling!
On boarding the Duchess of Richmond in St. Johns we were delighted to learn that my Uncle Walter had wired us $50 so we would have some money when we landed in England. The Duchess of Richmond sailed out of convoy as it had considerable speed. After about five days at sea we docked in Liverpool on March 4th. We traveled down to London where our train was met by a wonderful gentleman whom we came to call Uncle Bill. He was a Rotarian and I suspect he was a family friend or something of the sort who had been tipped off of our arrival. He took the four of us (Alan, Rod as well as Peggy and I) under his wing. He found us a place to stay and took us out for a good meal at a Lyon's Corner House. In the ensuing days he took us around to the various services and also supplied us with many meals. Later, we always visited him when we were in London. The boys, Alan and Cyril, joined up and I think it was with the R.A.F. We never saw them again.
Peggy and I visited Canada House in London (among many other places) and arranged for our mail to be sent there until we had a more permanent address.
We had a bad experience while staying in London. We had all our luggage stolen from our room. For the duration of the war Peggy and I had just one outfit each of civilian clothing. She had a very pretty woolen dress and I had a skirt and sweater. We used to switch clothes sometimes just to have a change.
We joined the A.T.S. within that first week and were sent to Seaford, a town near Brighton on the south coast of England, for our basic training. One of the first people we met at the training centre was another Canadian, Gladys Hindmarch from Nanaimo who had been in England when war was declared and joined up about the same time we did. Gladys had been a reporter. We three remained together for quite sometime and stayed friends.
We lived in a lovely modern hotel which the military had taken over, but I'm afraid none of us appreciated it too much. It was always cold (restrictions on heat) and we were confined to barracks for practically the whole six weeks we were there.
Route marches were agony with those first shoes we were issued. Later on the army oxfords improved immensely (I would love to own a pair now!).
Finally our training was over and we received our postings. However, I had a badly infected toe. I daren't go on sick parade because I'd be left behind. One of the N.C.O.'s loaned me a pair of her shoes (a couple of sizes too big) so I could go on the inspection.
We were sent to Basingstoke where there was a large R.A.S.C. company. I went on sick parade immediately on arrival. For several days after that I wore sloppy slippers while recuperating until the infection cleared up. A few months later we were on the move again.
The first couple of postings, Basingstoke and then Guildford, we acted as glorified waitresses in the officers' mess. There were about as many of us (A.T.S.) as there were officers.
After a short stay at Guildford we were sent north to Church Stretton in Shropshire, for just over a year. We enjoyed this station very much. We were billeted out. We didn't care for the first place but the next place was wonderful. The people were so kind to us - spoiled us rotten, in fact. I remember that I celebrated my 21st birthday there, which meant I had by now been in England almost a year. I was just 20 when we left home and Peg a little older.
We did office work at first but later trained as drivers (Peggy & I) and for the rest of our time in the services we drove staff cars, ambulances, jeeps and the odd truck.
Our next posting was to Aldershot where we lived in what was formerly married quarters apartments. Peggy, Gladys and I shared one and really enjoyed the luxury of being able to make hot chocolate, toast, heat soup etc. - it was more like being home.
Then I was posted to somewhere near Farnham. I seem to think by this time Gladys had been posted somewhere else. Gladys stayed in the A.T.S. until after the war attaining the rank of Major. She married a Scot and lived overseas and in Brazil until she died quite early from M.S. I only saw her once after the war when she returned to Nanaimo on a visit, but we corresponded right up until she passed on (in the 60's I think).
I left the A.T.S. and joined the C.W.A.C. in 1943 (Aug. I believe). I took basic training with them at Farnham and while there met the man (Fred Brick) whom I was to marry five years later.
I was posted to London (43 company). Our barracks were near Hyde Park Corner and we were there for the heavy bombing which London suffered, especially the latter part of the war.
Our driving depot was in Chelsea and while there most of my time was spent driving officers throughout different areas of the country, but mostly in the south of England.
Driving in those days of strict blackouts was quite a feat. Not only did we have to compete with the blackouts, peering into the dark of night with very little help from the dim glow of our slitted headlights, but we had to contend with the terrible fogs for which England was then famous.
Peggy stayed in the A.T.S. and was invalided home in early 1944.
I returned to Canada in June, 1945 on the AMSTERDAM and the first day out was thrilled to find my brother traveling on the same ship. A friend and I used to bring him (Walter Yeo) and his friend (Bill Ford) - both from Parksville any extra food from our tables. We were fed with the officers so got better rations than the boys. Due to the many troops on board we were served only two meals a day, but dining rooms were busy at all hours to accommodate everyone.
On my return to British Columbia I went to Vancouver and was at Jericho barracks for a short time, but lived out, until I was discharged. I moved to Oshawa, Ontario soon after and Fred and I were married. We moved back to B.C. in 1951. Fred joined the Air Force in 1953 and we moved around to Comox, Cold Lake, Labrador, then back to Cold Lake, in the following years. After the children were old enough I went back to work in gift shops, grocery stores and later in drug stores - my last employers were Boots Drugs in Chilliwack, B.C. My husband died in 1980. We have one daughter and two sons and I now have five grandsons and one granddaughter.
----- Kay Yeo nee Brick
Copyright 2007 Ken Stofer, All Rights Reserved
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