dear agnes, letters from a serviceman to his wife dear
agnes:
letters
from 
the 
home 
front
Bill and AgnesWILLIAM MARTIN McGINNIS enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force on December 18, 1940.  He was thirty-four years old.  He lost the sight in an eye in 1941, working on a plane  at the airbase in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.  He was entitled to a medical discharge, but remained in the RCAF. A year later, he had the first of several heart attacks while playing tug-of-war at a training base in Fingal, Ont. He married my mother, Agnes Murphy, on November 27, 1943.  He served till October, 1945, when he finally received his discharge papers.

Losing the eye may have been the best thing that happened to him -- Canadian air crews overseas had a 1 in 3 chance of surviving the bombing raids on Germany. In his mid-thirties, and blind in one eye, it was pretty unlikely that my father would have joined an air crew, but bases were bombed and strafed, and ground crew injured working on damaged and burning planes.  Sgt. Bill McGinnis stayed in Canada, however, servicing planes on their way to England and Europe at a succession of air bases in Ontario and the Maritimes.

These letters are all that remain of my father's correspondence with my mother throughout the war.  My sister and I found them in a worn, fake suede wallet, tucked into a plastic shopping bag full of photos that our mother constantly browsed through in the last years of her life.  The letters from the first four years -- their courtship, his accident, and their marriage -- are missing, as are all of my mother's letters, perhaps discarded during a soldier's constant moves or thrown out, like many things were, after his death in 1968.

Sergeant Bill McGinnis and Agnes Murphy had been married for barely nine months when this first letter was written.

- Rick McGinnis
November 1999
_____
.
TIMELINE:
Canada declared war on Germany and Italy on September 10th, 1939, seven days after Nazi troops invaded Poland.  Canadian troops were based in Britain from the first months of the war, and formed the major part of the disastrous Dieppe raid of 1942.  RCAF air crews were part of Gen. Arthur "Bomber" Harris' air assault on German cities.
.
By August of 1944, Canadian troops had gone ashore at Juno beach on D-Day, and had fought through France as far inland as the Falaise pocket.  The war in Europe would be over in less than a year.
 
Dear Agnes...
Rockcliffe Ont.*
Aug 9/44
Dear Agnes,

Just to let you know I arrived back safe and sound.  The train was pretty crowded oweing to the holiday week end, although there weren't so many service personel as civilians traveling.  The train was about an hour late pulling out of the station, then we waited at Leaside for another while it must have been after one o'clock before we left the city.  I slept for about three hours and when I woke the sun was just starting to come up.  You know its wonderfull to get up and see the sun rise.  Remind me to wake you sometime, only I would rather see it from bed than from a hard seat on an old coach.

When I got back on Tuesday morning I found the rest of the crew away on a 96 hour pass the one I got before my leave.  They had a terrific week while I was away.  During Wednesday and Thursday while it was so hot (about 102 here in Ottawa) they were only off the job for six hours out of forty-eight.  They were telling me when they got back this morning how lucky I was to pick the week I did to take my leave.

We have some new ships here although they haven't started to fly them yet.

Things seem to be fairly quiet just now and if they remain the same I should be home for the week end, unless they decide to start on the new ships, They expect to be pretty busy because we got about twenty new men to-day, instead of haveing four crews they are going to make it six.

Well thats about all the news for now.  I wish we were heading up to ox-narrows for another week.  I think it's the best week I ever had.  I guess it's the company and not the place that makes the difference.  Anyway 

* Rockcliffe air base was just outside Ottawa, where my father was part of the 168 Heavy Transport Squadron.  He had previously been stationed at the Dartmouth NS, Torbay Nfld, and Fingal Ont. air bases.

168 Squadron converted and flew B-17 and B-24 bombers, operating the tran-Atlantic mail service to troops in Europe. The unit had been formed just the year before.

Bill McGinnis had been promoted to sergeant the previous year, having moved up from air corporal 2nd class. He would become a flight sergeant in two months time.  For RCAF records, he was #R85755.
 
 

TIMELINE:
Five days before my father wrote this letter, Anne Frank and her family were found and arrested by the Dutch Gestapo. Two days earlier, the Germans began a counterattack against the Allies at Avranche.
next to one week in Montreal* I think it will 
stand out as a mile stone in my life that will stay with me for the rest of my days.
So long for now I am looking forward to seeing you over the week end till then.

I Remain Your Loveing Husband Bill

P.S. I got your letter yesterday.

*My mother and father had honeymooned in Montreal the previous year.

 
back to base
next letters...

 
website design and contents © 1999 Rick McGinnis