by E. L. Rose

Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum: RCAFHMCS Prince Robert: Hillman WWII Scrapbook - RCNXII Dragoons - 26 RCA Museum

1938: Year after year of crop failures were taking their toll. As the depression lingered on, with many persons out of work, young men would leave our village to ride on top of box cars to find jobs in the mines in the east. Girls who had planned to go to college found themselves doing housework instead, often for as little as five or ten dollars a month. Young boys  worked on farms for no pay, just room and board.  Those who had gone to Normal School (Teachers' Training College) had a difficult time finding employment for every school district had many applicants, sometimes as many as 100. The few that were fortunate enough to find a school lived in a teacherage next to the school, with fuel and food provided. Farmers wives brought garden produce, chickens,  meat and delicious home made bread. Occasionally a kindly soul would do their washing, but no money was forthcoming. Some were given promissory notes, a few were even given land in payment. Max Braithwaite, in his semi biographical novel, Why Shoot The Teacher gives a poignant account of the difficulties for teachers during these years.

1939: In May soft rains began to fall on parched lands and soon a green and lovely carpet spread across the prairies. In August, fields of golden grain were harvested and a spirit of optimism spread across the land. But it was short lived for in September Hitler's army marched into Poland, and in spite of Chamberlain's promise of peace in our time, we were at war!  What a shock to our village.  Some of our best friends were Germans. The Gerstmars were such fine people.  They lived 1/4 of a mile from town and from the time when I was five I had trudged out to that neat little farm, to play with one of the girls, slide down their cellar door, and enjoy the farm animals.  Years later she told me that I had taught her to speak English, for they spoke not a word when they arrived from Germany. I do not remember this.  But I do remember thinking they were a warm and loving family. How could we possibly be fighting the Germans? How could they possibly listen to such a madman as Hitler? Now we were faced with other even more ominous concerns than the depression. The village boys began to enlist, the first was Clarence McKellar who joined the army  in the autumn of 1939. Bill Hammond joined the R.C.A.F. that same year.  In apprehension we watched them leave. To keep up the morale in the village, card parties and entertainments were planned. Families visited one another often to lend support and encouragement. The radio brought many happy hours with the Lux Radio Theatre, Amos and Andy and the  Happy Gang from Toronto, who decided to sing "There'll Always Be An England" on every daily broadcast. When the war lingered on into years they began singing it once week. We danced to the music of Mart Kenny, Guy Lombardo, Harry James, and our favorite, Glenn Miller. After her husband was killed in action, songwriter Ruth Lowe  wrote the haunting ballad, "I'll Never Smile Again." When Tommy Dorsey recorded it with Frank Sinatra and the Pied Pipers as vocalists it was the song you would almost always hear in Juke Boxes across the province. Other lyricists were writing war  tunes: "The White Cliffs of Dover," "When the Lights go on Again, All Over the World,"  "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else but me, Till I Come Marching Home."

1940: Germany attacked Norway, Denmark was occupied,  Germany invaded Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and France!  We seemed to be living in a world gone mad. Many of our young persons were joining up: Don Malloy, Art Quinney and Greenwood Laurie in the R.C.A.F., Cameron Hunter, Trueman Smith and Garnet Bolger in the Army, Fred Daw in the Navy, and Hazel Smith, C.W.A.C.. Other changes were taking place as well. Because of the many shortages, rationing was introduced. One needed coupons for gas, tires, sugar, shortening, and bacon. As the war went on more items would be added. Gone were the days of the Sunday drive. We planted victory gardens, women knit socks for our service men, and rolled bandages for the Red Cross. There was a great sense of purpose as we worked for the war effort. When milk became scarce in England, school children brought dimes to school for a "Milk for Britain" fund, and we felt glad to be providing milk for English children. At first the war seemed far away and remote, but now our boys were arriving in England and it came home to us.  Their wonderfully descriptive letters home, sometimes highly censored, gave us  remarkable  glimpses of life in the service. They were fascinated with the English pubs, where the service men and women gathered with the locals to discuss the news, enjoy a  pint of warm ale and delicious pub food. How they enjoyed the camaraderie of playing darts, and joining in the "sing alongs" that  the English love. They were amazed at their knowledge of all the lyrics as they sang songs from World War I, "How You Gonna Keep Them Down On the Farm, After They've Seen Paree," and "Kiss Me Good Night, Sergeant Major,"as well as the newer ones, "We'll Meet Again" made famous by Vera Lynn, and "Lily Marlene," a song beloved by both the Axis and Allies. This was the closest to a home atmosphere they would find in England.  At Canteens, they could enjoy doughnuts and coffee and dance with the local girls to piped in music of Vera Lynn singing, "We'll Meet Again.". English girls found them wonderfully handsome in their smart uniforms. They watched British history unfold as Churchill succeeded Chamberlain and made his famous "Blood Sweat, Toil and Tears" speech. Rotterdam was bombed and  and Queen Wilhelmina sought safety in England.  On June 3, Dunkirk fell and miraculously there was a successful evacuation of the troops. In August all night German air raids signalled the beginning of the "London Blitz," and the Royal Air Force conducted its first raid on Berlin. Plans were made to send London children to the countryside and Canada for safety. Those were ominous weeks for us and it seemed that the war would never end.

1941: In spite of the war raging on in Europe, springtime in Saskatchewan was beautiful that year. Once again the rains came and  the early wild flowers bloomed in the hillsides and beside the roadways with the promise of a fine harvest. On the war scene the Germans swept into Russia in Operation Barbarrossa, forgetting the lesson they should have learned from Napoleon. So confident that it would be another blitzkrieg and over in a few weeks they did not even order winter uniforms, and soon discovered  the trauma of a Russian winter.  In Elrose we watched more of our young men leave,  Gene Lube, Lloyd Quinney, Ken McKellar, Walter Elliot, George Walen, Army;  Jack Ellis, Ken Atwell, Doug Graber, Linc Torrance,  Stanley (Mac) McKellar, R.C.A.F.;  Earl Thompson, R.C.N.;  Jack Hunt, Paratrooper. Family members were leaving together. Charlie Smith joined his son Trueman and daughter, Hazel, in the army. Three from the Sedgewick family joined the army, Raymond and Orville. Carl chose the Navy.  George and Frances Wilkinson joined the army. Conrad Maines joined the Merchant Marines in Vancouver, B.C. and began his first tour of duty on the Princess Charlotte. It seemed that all the young people were leaving our village. How impressive they looked when they came home on their embarkation leaves. They would be given such a warm welcome from the villagers. They filled each minute with memories in those last days at home, memories to take with them to far away places. Usually they would go to the school, perhaps finding their name on some of the well carved desks. How they would dazzle the children with their snappy uniforms and stories of army life. With skates in hand some would go for a spin at the rink, or visit the curling rink for one last game. One of the great meeting places was the "Carolyn Cafe" and they would gather to visit with old friends and enjoy Carrie's doughnuts and coffee. If they were there on Sunday they might go to church.  When it was time for them to leave on the train or bus family and friends were there to wish them Godspeed. The young girls cried; the older ones tried valiantly to hide their anxious thoughts. There was always the haunting fear that they might not return. A popular tune of the time depicted well the plight of these young girls:

"They're either too young or too old,
They're either too gray or too grassy green,
The best is in the Army.
The rest can never harm me.
The pickin's are just too lean.
I'm finding it easy to stay good as gold
'Cause all of the men are too young or too old."

That golden autumn we had a bumper harvest, the best in many years. The farmers were so short handed with the young men leaving that school boys went out to help. Town merchants would go after work to help on those long summer evenings.   In December, dramatic news was broadcast over the radio.  Pearl Harbor was attacked, and President Roosevelt called it a day in infamy. The U.S. declared war on Germany and Japan and now we had a strong new ally.  Lorraine Mason, who was nursing in a hospital in Portland, Oregon, joined the American Army Medical Corps.  As the war news became more fearful, we were concerned for the safety of our men and women overseas. Then the tragic messages began arriving: It was the Station Agent who would receive the casualty telegrams, and his sad duty to deliver them.  Mr. Mason, who had moved from Elrose to Hanley, Saskatchewan,  received the first message from the war department, and tragically, it was for his own son Earl, killed on September 15th, 1941.  We had the first memorial service for one of our boys in the Town Hall and the Mason family came to be with us from Hanley.  It was not long before Mr. Patterson, now the station agent in Elrose, delivered messages to the Atwells and Reuben Torrances. Their sons, Ken Atwell and Linc Torrance,  were missing after bombing missions over Germany. Tense months passed as the families waited to learn if they had survived.   Lorne Green was the chief war correspondent for the Canadian Broadcasting System, years before he became famous on Bonanza. Each evening we would listen with rapt attention as he broadcast from Toronto, bringing the war into our very homes:  How things had changed in just a matter of months. Now, with so many men joining the service there was a great shortage of teachers. When things reached a crisis stage and schools were being closed for lack of teachers, Normal School teachers were sent out to teach in these schools without completing their training. Young women no longer needed to do housework as there were jobs in munitions plants at far, far better wages, and  new opportunities in the armed services. Saskatchewan girls were liberated and shook their last dust mop.

1942: The Allied forces landed  in North Africa and  German forces entered  Stalingrad for a long siege.  George Bale, Keith Edwards, John and Victor Karisa left for army bases; Jack Maines, Gordon McKellar, Earl Olson and Willard Bale joined the R,C.A.F.  Now five of the Hillman boys were in the service, possibly a record for Canada.  Flight Sergeant Donald and Pilot Officer Gordon Hillman were with the air force in England, Petty Officer Gerald was a shipwright with the R.C.N. and stationed in  Newfoundland, Lorne was with the Army in Maple Creek, and Arthur with the Signal Corps in Saskatoon. Their oldest son, Rupert,  had tried several times to enlist, but had been rejected on medical grounds. Mrs. Hillman probably knit more socks for soldiers than anyone else for her hands were never idle and she had spent years knitting socks for her sons. Now she had other servicemen to knit for as well as her own. During these worrisome years it was wonderful to see how the village people supported the war effort, writing encouraging letters to service men, sending them cigarettes and candy, buying war bonds. Now the men on the Hotel verandah were discussing war news, the depression all but forgotten. At last school boards had enough money to pay the promissory notes they had given to teachers, often sending them to service men who were no doubt pleased with such an unexpected windfall. Letters from Europe brought news of Elrose soldiers meeting in unexpected places. Eugene Lube and Orville Sedgewick met on the troop transport ship plying its way to England. Later Eugene would meet Earl Saunderson in Dover, England. In France the seacoast town of Dieppe became the scene of the largest commando raid of the war. One of our Elrose boys, Victor Karisa, was with the troops that landed and successfully damaged German installations and emplacement. The losses were tragic and heavy, however Victor came through unscathed. When he was interviewed by the C.B.C. he was asked how he felt about the raid, he replied "I'd like to go back tomorrow" was his amazing response. Now there was a young soldier who thrived on action!

1943: The Canadian draft was introduced and more of our boys were called up. In Russia the last Germans in Stalingrad surrendered. After the fall of Tunis and Bizerte the allies resistance in Africa was ended. The Allies forces invaded Sicily and landed in Italy. The good news of that year was that both Ken Atwell and Linc Torrance were safe in POW Camp Stalag 8B.  At last the families and friends were able to write and receive letters, it was a time of great rejoicing in our village. We learned that two of our former teachers were in the service, Ellaf Olafson in Italy and George Dyck an army instructor in Prince Edward Island. How surprised he was to meet one of his former students there, Earl Saunderson. Viola and Blanche Beorjan joined the C.W.A.C's, and Bruce Lube and Albert (Cully) Cullender joined the American Armed Services. At Christmas time Bob Hope began a long tradition of entertaining troops at holiday time, with such great entertainers as Betty Grable, Frances Langford and Bing Crosby, a marvelous morale builder for men and women who longed to be home for Christmas. The film studios were  making dramatic war films. Mrs. Miniver had won the academy award for the best picture of 1942, followed by Casablanca in this year of 1943. In Elrose Frank and John Gerstmar left for the army. We mourned another school chum when we learned that George Walen was killed.

1944: In January the Russians broke the siege of Leningrad and brought the Russians to defeat. Soldiers were now writing home with the news that the Glenn Miller Band had arrived in England and was giving concerts to as many as ten thousand enlisted men and officers. This was a nostalgic touch of home for lonesome servicemen.

In Elrose, Walter Elliot, joined the air force with grand illusions of becoming a flyer, only to have his hopes dashed. During basic training it was determined that since Hitler's great Luftwaffe was no longer a threat, they had an adequate number of pilots so he was transferred to air gunners. But soon it was discovered they had 4,000 more air gunners than they needed so he was offered a discharge. Knowing that a discharge from the air force would be followed by an army draft, he decided to join the navy in Vancouver, B.C.  He took his basic training in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia and spent the next two years there -- never leaving the country, never learning to fly.

On February 25, 1944 the Hillman family were informed of the tragic death of their son James Gordon, age 27, killed in action. Flying with #408 Goose Squadron, his Lancaster aircraft D844 was shot down twelve miles south of the target during night operations against Schweinfurt, Germany. With him in the plane were Sgt A. J. Emerson, P/O H. N. Cunliffe, H. Sherlock D. F. C., Sgt. H. G. Basten and Flight Sergeant R.S. Nurse, all from the Royal Air Force. A later message relayed the news that Navigator Hillman had no known grave. His name was inscribed on the Runnymede War Memorial, Englefield Green, Egham, Surrey, England.  On June 6th the Allied forces landed in Normandy causing a wave of optimism, surely this was the beginning of the end.

Letters from the Front were anxiously awaited and the welcome news was passed from home to home. How heartening to know that friends were meeting on battlefields in Normandy where, for a few moments or hours, they could leave the trauma of war behind and enjoy unforgettable moments with old school chums. Keith Edwards landed on Gold Beach on D6 and working in the Signal Corps he was running ammunition and supplies to the Front. One afternoon he came upon a contingent of the South Saskatchewan Regiment in a small village in Normandy that had been evacuated. The soldiers were billeted in these abandoned homes. Knowing that his brother-in-law, Lorne Hillman, would be there, he found which room he was in, and, finding Lorne's bed among the many cots he sat on the bed and waited for Lorne to come in. When Lorne arrived, he did not recognize Keith and shouted, "What the hell are you doing on my bed?" After his initial anger one can imagine his joy in finding a friend from his old home town. Before long they found John and Victor Karesa and Bob Fleming, from the same regiment. They talked of home and family and girls until dawn. It was a night they would remember always, a brief respite from the trauma of war. Later in Holland Keith would meet Eugene Lube, also in the Signal Corps, at a bath house.

On June 24, 1944 Mr. Patterson delivered another tragic telegram to the Hillman family.  Donald Ernest Hillman, age 26,  had been killed in action flying with the #148 Squadron in a Halifax aircraft  #JP237 during a secret night operation twenty three miles north-east of Genoa. With him in the aircraft was P/O N. Holyk, Sgt. E.G. Chapman, D. Finlayson, A. Pindar and J. M. Summer, all with the Royal Air Force.  Later the family would learn that he was buried in the Staglieno Cemetery in Genoa, Italy.  On August 7th the Ellis family received the sad news that the Halifax plane carrying their son, Jack, and five other fliers had crashed into the North Sea one mile north of Scarborough, Yorkshire.  He had no known grave, and his name, too, was inscribed on the Runnymede War Memorial. Three more sad memorial services in our village. As always the townspeople gathered to support the families in their loss.  On July 25 the United States Forces broke out of Normandy, and began the hard fought Battle of The Bulge.  During this summer of 1944 Bob Hope hopped from Island to Island in the South Pacific to entertain the troops. Logging over 30,000 miles, he gave more than 150 performances. Accompanying Hope were guitarist Tony Romano, singer Frances Langford, dancer Patty Thomas and gag writer Barney Dean who provided a welcome respite with acts ranging in tone from brash to sentimental, giving the fighting forces a supportive reminder of home. In December Glenn Miller and two of his band members disappeared over the English Channel on their way to Paris to perform a Christmas show for the troops. This was a sad ending for a remarkable band leader, however other musicians would take over the helm and the band continues to this day.

1945: Early in January the Red Army crashed into Poland. The First Army troops advanced toward Remagan and on March 7th they crossed the Rhine on the Ludendorff  bridge.  With this breakthrough the Allied Forces began to close in on the Germans from all directions. The Canadian troops liberated Holland, the British Second Army headed for Bremen in north Germany, the Americans under General Bradley raced eastward to the Elbe River, liberating prisoners of war along the way.  From the south Allied armies rolled toward Austria and Czechoslovakia. On April 25, the First Army and Russian Army units joined forces at Torgau on the Elbe River. Berlin fell to the Russians on May 2. On May 8th the free world celebrated V. E. Day, Victory in Europe. The war with Japan continued until August 14th, when Japan opened peace negotiations after atomic bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

And so this war that damaged more property, affected more people, and caused more far reaching changes than any other war in history was over at last. It would be difficult to express the overwhelming relief that swept over the country.  Our boys returned to many parades and welcomes. But to this day we remember those who did not return, those who lie in far away graves in Germany, England, Italy, and those whose names are inscribed on the Runnymede War Memorial.

Life slowly returned to normal. Many of the young men married their home town sweethearts, others moved on to distant dreams. As we reflect on those sad years of depression and war we realize that never again would we have that wonderful feeling of working together for a common cause. Television came to our homes and changed our lifestyles. Instead of planning concerts and entertainments, card parties and Sunday dinners, many chose to stay home watching television. Perhaps progress has some disadvantages!

Gordon Hillman ~ Killed in Action
Donald Hillman ~ Missing in Action

Ref:  THEY SHALL GROW NOT OLD ~ Compiled by Les Allison and Harry Hayward ~
Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum, Inc.~ Box 1481, Brandon, Manitoba, Canada  R7A 6N3 ~ISBN 0-920436-41-2

James Gordon Hillman F/O(N) J21914
From Elrose, Saskatchewan. Killed in Action Feb. 25/44  age 27. #408 Goose Squadron (For Freedom). BROTHER to Donald Ernest Hillman. Lancaster aircraft # DS844 was shot down twelve miles souith of the target during night operations against Schweinfurt, Germany. Flying Officer Navigator Hillman has no known grave, his name is inscribed on the Runnymede War Memorial, Englefield Green, Egham Surrey, England.
Crewmates: Sgt. A.J. Emerson, P/O.s H.N. Cunliffe (RAF), H. Sherlock D.F.C. (RAF), Sgt. H.G. Basten (RAF), FS.s R.S. Nurse (RAF), and R.R. Walker (RAF) were also killed.

Donald Ernest Hillman F/L(P) J17893.
From Elrose, Saskatchewan. Killed in Action Jun. 24/44 age 26. #148 Squadron (Trusty). BROTHER to James Gordon Hillman. Halifax aircraft # JP237 missing during a secret night operation twenty three miles north-east of Genoa. Flight Lieutenant Pilot Hillman is buried in the Staglieno Cemetery, Genoa, Italy.
Crewmates: P/O N. Holyk, Sgt.s E.G. Chapman (RAF), D. Finlayson (RAF), A. Pinder (RAF), J.M. Sumner (RAF), F/S J.R. Robertson.
Intro: Hillmans of Elrose
1. A Prairie Village: Elrose Saskatchewan
2. The Streets of Home: Elrose Saskatchewan
3. Hillman/Robinson Excerpts from the Elrose History Book
4. Elrose Photo Album I
5. Elrose Photo Album II
6. The War Years
7. Scenes of Elrose Today
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