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The Story behind the War Bride Poems by Hope Bridgewater (Museum use only)

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The War Bride
By Hope Bridgewater
Old Wentworth Valley Schoolhouse: Year of the War Bride
At the annual reunion and open house of the Old Wentworth Valley Schoolhouse, two themes (war brides and one-room schools) with two categories (serious and humorous) were proposed for a poetry contest.
I entered four poems and was fortunate enough to tie in the first place for the war bride theme and the one-room school theme. In each poem World War Two is mentioned and I submit the two poems, not out of egotism but out of respect that the Friends of the Wentworth Valley Schoolhouse celebrated the Year of the War Bride and this topic is worth sharing with others.
The first poem, “Memories of the Old Valley Schoolhouse”, tells of Flying Officer Ernest Cumming, a graduate of the one-room Wentworth Valley School and once a resident of Wentworth, who was a Spitfire pilot in the RCAF during World War Two. According to Veteran Affairs Canada and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Flying Officer Ernest Robert Cumming died on April 10, 1944 at the age of 21 and was the son of Howard and Frances Cumming. He was husband of Lillian (Anne) Cumming of Marton, Blackpool, Lancashire. His service number was J/18599, his unit number was Squadron 542, and his memorial reference number is Panel 245 at Runnymede, Surrey, United Kingdom. Flying Officer Ernest Cumming has no known grave but he is one of those 3,050 Canadian airmen with unknown graves whose names are inscribed at the Runnymede Memorial . To be specific, Runnymede Memorial overlooks the River Thames on Cooper Hill, Englefield Green between Windsor and Egham on the A308, six kilometers from Windsor and thirty-two kilometers by road west to London.
The inscription reads: “In this cloister are recorded the names of twenty thousand airmen who have no known grave. They died for freedom in raid and sortie over the British Isles and the lands and seas of northern and western Europe.”
Veteran Affairs Canada goes on to explain that 113,000 men and women of the Air Forces of the British Commonwealth gave their lives in service and approximately one-third of those who died have no
known grave. Of those 20,450 names commemorated at Runnymede, 3,050 were Canadian.
In addition to the facts found on the computer internet, I talked with people who knew additional facts. One former resident knew that Ernest Cumming was a Spitfire pilot who flew photo-reconnaissance missions and that on his last mission he vanished without a trace. Two other people remembered that his bride was called Anne, not her official name Lillian. One person knew that Ernest had asked his wife to be sure to visit his parents in Canada if he was killed in the war.
Flying Officer Ernest Cumming is also commemorated on page 284 in the Canadian Second World War Book of Remembrance. In Wentworth his name is engraved on the black granite stone of the Cenotaph on the hill next to the Baptist Church and across from the Recreation Centre.
In the following poem about the Valley Schoolhouse, I speak of students who attended this one-room school in the past and Ernest Cumming was one of them. This school closed in 1959 due to the amalgamation of all the Wentworth area one-room schools into the Wentworth Consolidated Elementary School.
Memories of the Old Valley Schoolhouse
Let’s call up the memories of the Old Valley Schoolhouse
And with its marvelous history espouse;
Yes, let’s call up the memories, the call of the past
The names of past students, a magnificent cast.
Barclay and Purdy and Beebe and Hunt
The nicest of people you’ll ever confront;
Letcher, McLellan, MacDonald and Swan
In music and history, they’ve always shone.
Weatherbee, Teed, and McNutt and MacPhee
They’re very well known for their pedigree;
Hunter and Smith and Langille and Brown
For brains and inventions they have renown.
One name we will honour on this special day
Ernest Cumming who died in his chosen way
Fighting the Nazis and their war of hate.
Ernest Cumming, we are calling you great.
Ernest Cumming, only son of Howard and Frances
He served in the Air Force, taking his chances;
A lone Spitfire pilot, he carried out missions
Of photo-reconnaissance in dangerous conditions.
He married in England and once said to his bride:
“A personal wish I’d like to confide
If I should die on a reconnaissance flight
Tell my parents I was out there doing what’s right.”
He went missing in action; no Mayday was heard
And he vanished alone, without saying a word;
And after the war, his wife, Anne, came to this Valley
To see Howard and Frances and help them to rally.
You can see on a hill a century old church
A cenotaph standing, with names you can search;
And a name written on the black granite stone
Ernest Cumming, brave Spitfire pilot, is shown.
Names of descendants are here in this room
Barclay, Hunt, Letcher continue to bloom;
Waugh, Hyslop, Ramussen, Halliday, Wood
All work together to keep things looking good.
The Old Valley Schoolhouse is still standing proud
Witness today this wonderful crowd;
And memories of those who attended this hall
Live on in spring, summer, winter and fall.
Concerning the second poem, I researched the internet for Via Rail Canada and Pier 21 in Halifax as both are doing great celebrations for Year of the War Bride. Via Rail is organizing a War Bride Train to bring war brides and their families from Montreal leaving on November 6 at 6:44 pm, proceeding to Halifax on November 7 and arriving at 3:55 pm. The Pier 21 Society will be hosting the war brides in a celebration on November 8. Then, on November 9, the Via Rail train will take the war brides and their families back to Ottawa for Remembrance Day on November 11.
The Pier 21 computer site tells how over 250,000 Canadian servicemen were stationed overseas, mostly in Britain, during World War Two and many married British women. A few service women married British men. War Brides (mostly British) numbered 43,454 and their children numbered 20,997 as they passed through Pier 21 and on to trains which would take them to many points in Canada. A few war brides came before the war ended but it was dangerous because of German U-Boats. Most came across the ocean in 1946 taking ships such as the Mauretania, the Aquitania, the Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth, and the Letitia. Their husbands had previously been discharged and were back in Canada waiting for their wives and children to arrive.
The following is my poem about a war bride coming to Canada.
A War Bride’s Story
In Britain when Nazis were bombing our land
We asked other countries to give us a hand;
By crossing the ocean the Canadians came
Helping our country was their total aim.
Lonely Canadians would come to a dance
Hoping the girls would give them a chance
A chance to be close to someone again
A chance to act as courtly young men.
I then saw a soldier who danced with great flair
He was handsome and had curly red hair;
He then caught my eye and asked me to dance
And we danced and he said,” Now, do I have a chance?”
Life was for living and death was so near
We married soon after in less than a year;
From many a battle, he came out alive
I prayed every day that he would survive.
Leaving my home at the end of the war
I cross the wide ocean to the man I adore;
We come to his farm with hundreds of cows
Chickens and horses, and even some sows.
My mother had told me I shouldn’t have left
I now felt so lonely and very bereft;
I asked for the loo and what did I get?
A very old outhouse I’d rather forget.
He built a new outhouse and painted it blue
I used it quite often, what else could I do?
Then, I kept reaching to turn on a light
Nothing was there but the darkening night.
Nothing electric! Now, how could I cope?
With a washtub and wood stove, I had reason to mope;
From sunrise to sunset, I worked on that farm
Why did I do it? My husband had charm!
I was kicked by a horse and gored by a cow
I was scratched by a rooster and charged by a sow;
More dangerous than war was this life on a farm
How did I face this? My husband had charm!
Why did I do it? It was love for a man
For love I adjusted as all of us can;
A war bride I was and always will be
While helping to build this land of the free.