Joan Zilva

Text Box: An  account of a 14 year old’s WW2 overseas evacuation based on her letters home



Chapter 14—What became of us?

Text Box: I began writing at  the turn of the so-called millennium: I finished the first edition, exactly a year later, on the first day of the  “true” millennium, the year 2001.  The project took on a life of its own: by insisting that I include accounts of my journey back and my first years in England at the end of the war and the beginning of the peace, it involved me in much interesting research.  
Modern technology has been invaluable.  The project wouldn’t have been possible without it.  Email has proved a major blessing, enabling me to get questions to and information from Canada and Britain in a very short time.  This has, naturally, been made possible by willing cooperation from very many people.  Both Croydon High School and Lawrence Park Collegiate have searched their archives for me.  The City of Toronto Archives located the site of the small office of Canadian National Telegraphs from which I delivered telegrams while waiting to come home.  Amanda Mason of the Imperial War Museum took a lot of trouble ferreting out interesting facts which I had been unable to find.  Canadian Pacific has supplemented my own research at the Public Records Office at Kew about the Duchess of Atholl, on which I went to Canada and the Merseyside Maritime Museum about the freighter, the Empire Mariner, on which I came home; Kate Tildesley, Curatorial Officer of the Naval Historical Branch of the Ministry of Defence identified and found details of the convoy for the latter. The British Met Office went to some trouble to confirm the dates of start and end of the “big freeze” of early 1947.  Tim Jaques was patient and diligent in helping me to get the first edition printed and bound.  Of course, my most important helpers were Dave and Rosemary Bartlett.  Many, many others have contributed advice. They must excuse me if I don’t mention them all.
Above all, I must thank Mark Brooker for his hard work and patience during the building this website. The fact that some letters are difficult to read is due to the use of ink and pencil on the same page, ink running out and/or poor quality wartime paper – not to speak of my scrawl. 

It has been a cathartic experience.  On rereading the letters I am delighted to find that I like myself better as a teenager than as I am now.  I didn’t say really nasty things about anyone, even the Hays. I had a lively mind.  Scenes and events, even those not mentioned in the letters, return  with as much clarity as if they had taken place yesterday.  So much that has happened to me since seems, temporarily, as nothing.  Part of me was left behind in Toronto and I still feel an honorary Canadian.  The whole of the war now seems a very recent and defining period of my life. For years I hardly gave it a thought, but now I know that its memory was always in my subconscious. 
What has happened to all of us and what are we doing now? When I first wrote this were all thriving, except Lu (also a doctor), who died a few years ago.  I lost touch with Carol Kingsmill. I correspond with Ed Jarrett at Christmas although we haven’t met for decades; we still remember our mutual birthday, although she is two years older than me.  Among the English friends mentioned retirement has led to many reunions. I  kept in touch with Stella Davies until she died; Hedla (Teddy) and I have been in frequent communication as well as holidaying together.
The Bartletts remained my closest Canadian friends. Not only did we meet in the early postwar days, when Dave was studying at the London School of Economics, but one of his sons, Peter, was at University College London for some years and is now a Professor of Law at Nottingham University. He, too, is now a good friend. His presence in Britain means that Betty comes to England quite often, and, before Dave died, I went on holiday with them to New Brunswick and Belize. I hadn’t seen Rosemary for some years, until my recent visit to Canada, but we write at Christmas and all now keep in closer touch by email.
What did we make of our lives? Dave had a distinguished career in various areas associated with the Canadian government; he held, among many other prestigious posts, Secretary Generalship of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and Assistant Directorship and Secretary to the Canada Council for the Arts. He was also Mayor of his local Rideau Township, near Ottawa. Meantime he and Betty had two sons and Betty was a schoolteacher.  Sadly, since I finished the first edition of this book, Dave, an inveterate smoker, died in 2002, aged 76, from carcinoma of the bronchus. Until almost the end of a brave, year-long struggle he carried on an email correspondence with me. Flags in Ottawa flew at half-mast in his honour and the Toronto Globe and Mail was only one of the Canadian papers to carry a glowing obituary. I feel as if I have lost a brother. 
Rosemary, like me, did not marry. She became a teacher of Physical Education in schools in Toronto and London, Ontario.  
As for me, three years after my BSc in physiology I qualified in medicine.  Following the usual long apprenticeship in general medicine and pathology and many postgraduate exams I specialized in Chemical Pathology and eventually became a Consultant and Professor at the Westminster Hospital and Medical School. 
After we retired from our careers we had more time for real life, interests and friends, both old and new. 
Text Box: It is very difficult for me is to assess what, if any, effect my wartime experiences, especially those in Canada, had on my adult personal life. It is easy to exaggerate their influence. Obviously several factors are at play in the formation of anyone’s character - genes, environment as a child and traumatic experiences, especially during puberty. 
I never married, though came close to it: I wanted to and to have children, but when it came to commitment I was wary. In my youth most of us did not sleep around and for a long time I was uncomfortable with physical intimacy, especially of the kind I had received from Mr Hay.  I think that this was the greatest influence of those years.  I have, also, always felt an outsider and have found it difficult to believe that I could be loved for myself: I long for affection, but find it difficult to respond if it is offered. I want to be totally independent and no problem to others, so rarely ask for and usually reject offers of help.
I have learnt to control my shyness and have many friends, of all ages and throughout the world.  I am considered self-sufficient, practical, competent and happy.  But I always feel an outsider, as I did in Canada, however kind people may be.  I am lonely when others talk of their families.  Is this just me, or is it the result of teenage trauma?  Who can tell?
On the plus side, I learnt self-reliance, which, for an only child, is a valuable asset.  My outlook was broadened and I have good Canadian friends.  I adapt to the customs of others more easily than some do.  I do, however, feel that I must always be in the wrong unless I am totally sure of my facts, and this may express itself as apparent aggression.
All in all, I do feel that the war undermined my self-respect and confidence in the responses of others to me, but that there were also very positive aspects to my experiences.  Perhaps the reader can decide the pluses and minuses more accurately then I can. 


Text Box: Dave and Betty enjoying a picnic on Grand Manan, September 1996.
Text Box:   Rosemary enjoying a party at the Muskoka  Cottage 1999.
Text Box:  Me enjoying the Royal Crescent, Bath 1998