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Margaret ‘Maggie’ Smolensky nee Beal

British Evacuee Child
August 19, 1940


I wrote this piece for the archives at Pier 21, the pier in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where I arrived in August, 1940, as an evacuee from the UK. There is already in the archives a copy of the little diary which I kept from the time I left home, telling of the voyage over, the subsequent train journey and the rest of that year. There are some photographs too. Although this account touches on the rest of my life (at the suggestion of the archivist at Pier 21), its main thrust is the part the evacuation played in it.


My name is Margaret Glenesk Smolensky, formerly Morris, nee Beal, and I’m writing this in 2008 at the age of 82. I was born in London, England in December 1925, the only child of a Yorkshire father and a Scottish mother (whose maiden name was Glenesk) and moved with my parents to my father’s hometown of Scarborough, a seaside resort on the north east coast of Yorkshire when I was about eighteen months old. I had the normal upbringing, I think, of a child of the middle class: school, Sunday school and holidays with my parents in the summer. I had riding lessons, golf and tennis and piano lessons, but didn’t particularly excel at any of them.

Although my parents had a car I was by no means driven about the way children are today. My friends and I cycled or walked all over come rain or come shine. We picked primroses and bluebells when they were in season; swam in the summer in the cold North Sea; looked forward greatly to Sunday school picnics, our friends’ birthday parties and Christmas; and saved our pocket money for fireworks on Guy Fawkes night, November 5th. I remember movies with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. There were also ones with the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Deanna Durbin, Shirley Temple and other stars of the thirties. We scraped our knees frequently for we played outside a great deal. The girls wore skirts, the boys short pants, and we all wore knee socks. In those days our parents didn’t worry much about where we were, provided we turned up for meals and didn’t stay out after dark. All in all, we had a pretty good time. What my best friend and I most enjoyed was dressing up in any old stuff which was hanging about, and every summer we produced some kind of entertainment for family and friends. At elementary school, in class 3A of the juniors, I wrote a play which we put on at school. I have no idea what it was about, but I do remember the title: Margot’s Mysterious Dream.

Things changed, though, shortly before my fourteenth birthday in 1939 when war was declared. Air raid shelters appeared; gas masks were issued and had to be taken everywhere; food was rationed, as was petrol, as was coal. Our clothing was bought with coupons. And there was the blackout. No longer were there any streetlamps and not a chink or glimmer of light was allowed to be seen at windows from the outside. The buses had shaded windows and lowered headlights. Fathers who had been servicemen during the First World War became air raid wardens and special policemen; mothers became fire watchers. And elder brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of family and neighbours quickly joined up and uniformed young people were seen everywhere.

When the CORB (Children’s Overseas Reception Board) evacuation scheme began to be mentioned in the British media in the late spring of 1940, it caused a lot of discussion, and I well remember talking about it with my friends. I was at the time a pupil at the Scarborough Girls’ High School, one of the grammar schools existing in the UK at that time. In those days in elementary school at about the age of eleven, we wrote an examination referred to always as ‘the scholarship’, which stood for County Minor Scholarship. Each year, there was a set number of places in the girls’ high school allotted to each of the local elementary schools and those in the surrounding countryside, some 25 altogether in our area. I was lucky enough to win one of them. The rest of the places were taken by girls who passed an entrance examination and paid fees. We entered into the second form (which equated to grade seven in Canada). The education provided was excellent and went up to university entrance.

As I say, there was a lot of talk among my classmates, much of it involving to which particular country we would like to go. The CORB was evacuating children to the (then) dominions – Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Contrary to popular belief, CORB did not send children to the United States. I well remember one of my friends saying that she would like to go to New Zealand, having been told that peaches grew there! I’m afraid that, at that time, our knowledge of anywhere else in the world other than our hometown was pretty sketchy! At the same time, in the said dominions, the evacuation scheme was being touted, and the people there were saying in effect “send us your children”. People registered to take a child or children into their home and there was none of what had happened in the UK during the 1939 evacuation of children who lived in towns and cities to the country, where people were sometimes made to take evacuees into their homes whether they wanted them or not.

At that time, I was in the fourth form, my third year in grammar school. I remember talking about the evacuation with my parents who thought it a good idea. I should say here that it came out many years later that my mother, who lived in Glasgow as a young woman, had seen many ex-servicemen back from the First World War who had been wounded and were missing limbs. She was determined that this should not happen to me. In the late 30s, there had been much speculation about the strong possibility of another war with Germany, and it was deeply felt that such a war would be from the air. The Germans, on behalf of General Franco, had bombed the living daylights out of Spanish civilians during the Spanish Civil War and it was well reported in the UK. It is also remembered in Picasso’s famous picture ‘Guernica’.

From the beginning of the war, in fact shortly before its outbreak, many people – mothers and children, other relatives, and in fact whole private schools – had left the UK and traveled to safer parts of the world including the United States. Their travel expenses were paid for privately, and arrangements had been made, again privately, for their care during the duration. This led, understandably, to an outcry from people financially less fortunate. “What about our children?” they said in effect. “Wealthy people can pay to send their children to safety abroad but we cannot; why should our children be subjected to danger because we’re not rich and cannot afford the fare”, and this is largely what started the government CORB scheme. On the day it was announced, thousands of people lined up to register their children. Some 211,000 applications were processed. 1,532 children came to Canada, 353 to South Africa, 576 to Australia and 203 to New Zealand. Parents were allowed to suggest to which dominion they would prefer their children to go. (Incidentally, records say that 6000 people came to Canada independently and 5000 to the United States.) The CORB scheme was immediately discontinued though, after the torpedoing in September 1940 of the ship named The City of Benares, when 75 children being evacuated to Canada lost their lives. Had this tragedy not happened, thousands more children would have come, including some of my friends. It should be remembered though that some people did indeed have family or friends to take their children provided the fare overseas was paid for, but there were many others in the UK who had no friends or relatives abroad to whom they could send their children. This was the situation of my own parents who were quite comfortably off, as was the case with several of my friends. Thus we were evacuated under the CORB scheme to homes where our parents did not know the people who fostered us. Arrangements were made too, that our parents could pay money towards our ‘board and room’ to our foster parents. I don’t know much about this, other than that our parents forwarded the money to somewhere in the UK.

Grammar school broke up for the holidays in late June or early July 1940. Sometime in July the information came to my parents that I had been accepted. We were sent a list of clothes etc. that we were allowed to take in only one suitcase and one haversack or attaché case. We were also allowed to take a maximum of ten pounds, which at that time was about 50 Canadian dollars. Added to that, we were told not to inform anyone that we were leaving. We were given our CORB numbers. Mine was 1008, and I remember my father printing it inside my suitcase. They bought me a new one which I used for years.

On the morning of August 4, 1940, I, along with about 14 other children from the area, gathered at the railway station. There were two girls, Jeanne Gaunt and Olga Burrows, both about my age and both of whom I knew from my school, and another couple, Teddy and Maurice Hayes whom I remembered from elementary school. There were also two much younger children, Shirley and Michael Morley, who lived in the same area as did I.

We went by train to Liverpool where we joined up with other evacuees and stayed in a local school where classrooms had been converted into dormitories and where the beds were a bit short for us older children. There was an air raid warning one night, and we were taken to the shelters. It didn’t last long. We stayed in this school for a few days, and then continued by train to Glasgow in Scotland. Here we stayed I think one night. It was at this school that we were introduced to Mr. Geoffrey Shakespeare, who was the instigator and director of the CORB scheme. He spoke to us and directed us to be good little boys and girls and worthy ambassadors for Britain. Sometime after that we were taken to Glasgow station, and put on a boat train for Greenock. From there we boarded a tender and took a windy trip to a waiting ship. I, along with the other children who had traveled with me from Scarborough, was put aboard a ship called Antonia of the Cunard line. By this time labels had been tied onto us; I still have mine bearing my name and my CORB number.

I was in a four-berth cabin – a very small one. Jeanne Gaunt was in the same cabin along with two very little girls. One of them was Shirley Morley. She was about five at the time and remembers me washing her hair. She returned to Scarborough after the duration and still lives there. I saw her again when she and her husband came to Halifax in 2000 for a CORB reunion. The trip over was uneventful as far as enemy action. We were, as I recall, in a convoy, but I cannot remember whether the accompanying ships stayed with us all the way, or left partway. We were very well looked after. At some stage of the journey, we had been put in the charge of a “helper”, each one of whom looked after a group of 15 of us. We had lifeboat drill of course, and were still carrying our gasmasks. For several nights we had to sleep with our clothes on. Various activities were planned to keep us occupied, and so the voyage continued until Monday, August 19, when we sighted land. It was Halifax, Nova Scotia. A newsreel camera crew came aboard and filmed us, and the order to disembark was quickly given. We landed at Pier 21 which features significantly in Canadian history. Through it came personnel from all the ships carrying evacuees (with one exception), refugees, war brides, and members of the armed forces both coming and going. Several years after the war, it fell out of use and stood shabby and desolate. It was still so when we had a CORB reunion in Halifax in 1990 and were taken to visit it. In the late 90s, imaginative people in the area decided to make a project of Pier 21; to make it into a museum with archives commemorating the role it had played in the lives of so many new Canadians. It was opened on July 1 (Canada Day), 1999, and I had the honour of representing the evacuees at the opening ceremony. (There is much more information on Pier 21 which can be accessed on the internet at

We were quite quickly put aboard a train which was unlike anything we had seen up to that time. In the UK in those days one generally sat in a ‘carriage’ which held six people; three sitting on either side facing one another. Sometimes they were ‘corridor trains’ which meant that a corridor ran down one side from which the carriage doors opened. Others had no corridor; the carriage doors opened right out onto the station platform. By contrast we were in coaches much like the ones seen today, and the seats made into beds for sleeping. The train moved fairly slowly making stops at many stations. Here we found people, who must have been pre-informed, waiting for us with many questions as to what life was like at home these days and bearing candy (which we called sweets) for us. Some of the children disembarked in Toronto and other stops. I along with several others, and I think all the ones from Scarborough, were taken off in Winnipeg. Here the press was awaiting us with cameras and more questions, but eventually we were loaded onto buses and taken to what had been a school for the deaf, a lovely building near Assiniboine Park. (Shortly after that it became Number 2 Wireless School, and here airmen, many from other dominions, took their wireless operator training.) Here we stayed for several days and had various activities and a medical exam, but bit by bit in the evenings, we heard our names called out and we were introduced to our families. Mine took me home which I found to be a very small bungalow in what was then Fort Rouge. It had a living room, two bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom, and I found I had to share a bed with the daughter of the house, a girl of my own age. Her mother, Mrs. G. assured me that she was going to get us twin beds, but she never did.

I spent the next four years in Winnipeg. I liked Canada very much and enjoyed living in a city as opposed to the small town in which I had been raised. When the day came for the opening of school, in September, Mrs. G. took me to the high school which served the district in which we lived. I well remember the principal, Mr. J.S. Little, a Scot, known as a strict disciplinarian. The school, Kelvin Technical High School, was one of the five high schools which served Winnipeg in those days. It also served one of the wealthiest parts of the city, along with parts considerably less wealthy. I lived in the latter. I was told that Kelvin had, in the past, become very slack in standards, and that J.S. had been put in place to straighten it out. Discipline was strict: no talking in the corridors; everyone out of the building at lunch time (including those who brought their lunch); separate entrances for boys and girls. What is more, on all days except those which included home economics (we had called it domestic science in England) the girls had to wear tunics. With these we could wear any colour of shirts, ties and stockings. One thing I noticed were the boys’ shirts which the girls wore with their tunics – much neater than the school blouses I had brought from home. Students from the other high schools used to jeer at us and say, “Kelvin – that’s the school where the girls have to wear tunics!” This rule was undoubtedly the result of the mix of poorer people with those of the wealthy area where the girls were much better dressed – indeed, many of them had fur coats. For my part, I was grateful for the tunic rule because I didn’t have all that many clothes in my one suitcase. At grammar school we had had a strictly enforced uniform, but I found it wasn’t so in Canada, apart from private schools. My guardian put a winter lining in the coat which I had brought with me; a serviceable and (for Canada in those days) unfashionable Harris Tweed, which I wore for a very long time. I can still remember seeing Olga Burrows, who came to visit me shortly after our arrival, wearing a brand new and very fashionable winter coat with a fur collar and a matching ‘pork pie’ hat, all the rage, bought for her by her new foster sister.

Mr. Little, after enquiring what subjects I had been taking in England, put me into Grade 10, a French matriculation room where I was one of the younger students. As time went by over the two years I attended, (matriculation followed Grade 11), I found that I had already taken quite a lot of the French, some of the geometry and some of the chemistry. One year we took Canadian history, of which I had absolutely no knowledge. A couple of evacuees who were in other rooms (they weren’t called ‘forms’ or ‘classes’ as they had been in the UK) were in the same boat, and the history teacher kindly gave us extra coaching after school. The school – the biggest one I had ever seen – had some 1,200 teenagers in attendance, and was co-educational as were some of the rooms, although the one (room 22 in Grade 10 and 39 in Grade 11) into which I was put was all girls. The building which I attended is no longer there. At some point in the ensuing years it was demolished and a new school erected in its place.

On the whole I enjoyed my two years at Kelvin. I didn’t have too much trouble with the school work, and achieved a high enough average that I didn’t have to write the final exams before graduating from Grade 11, which in those days was university entrance in Manitoba. There was a grade 12 offered which was recognized as first year university, but I got no encouragement to continue from my foster family who didn’t seem to think much of academic education.

Not having a bicycle, I traveled the considerable distance to school on a local bus and then a street car. The winters were very cold and dry, but I don’t remember that they bothered me particularly. That came when I was much older! Winter lasted a long time in Winnipeg, and on really cold days the snow made crunching sounds under one’s feet and the hairs in one’s nose stuck together. By contrast the summers were very hot, and I remember swimming in the Red River which one could in those days. I remember too a scavenger hunt (something totally new to me) shortly after school started when our room asked a boys’ room to join us. I wore my straight tweed skirt with the placket fastened by hooks and eyes (zippers hadn’t become part of a skirt’s makeup in the UK in those days), sturdy flat-heeled brogues, two pigtails and no makeup. In fact, what a girl of 14 wore in England in those days. I still remember the shock I got when the other girls turned up wearing skirts pleated all round, pretty sweaters with costume jewellry, nylon stockings, high heels and make up! Talk about culture shock!

Other recollections are a toboggan party where I walked through the snow wearing borrowed moccasins – soft leather sort of boots with insoles of thick felt which kept feet wonderfully warm – and school dances. Kelvin had a football team which played against the other Winnipeg high schools, and I went and cheered the school team along while learning the school yell in the process. I can still remember the crisp fall evenings as we walked to the stadium with the smell of wood smoke in the air. Any whiff of it ever since brings it all back to me. There was an ice-cream shop on the way to the game called, I think, The Dutch Maid, and it had some 17 or so ice cream flavours the likes of which were amazingly new to me. The one I still remember is liquorice! In the movies, Mickey Rooney and July Garland always seemed to be going to the drug store for a soda or root beer, but I was a bit disappointed when first I tasted them. I was a while too in getting to enjoy corn, which I had never seen before (other than being fed to chickens!) and peanut butter. Another happening of which I have a distinct recollection took place early in spring one year: the snow had just melted and I was walking over a stretch of grass. Suddenly after the iron grip of winter, I could smell things growing; it was a remarkable sensation.

The war was very much in the fore; uniforms were to be seen everywhere, and the feeling that Canada was in it along with the mother country was readily accepted. One thing which I particularly enjoyed at Kelvin was the school choir. Our music teacher was Gladys Anderson, a lovely and gracious woman who was particularly kind to me. The Musical Festival was held for three weeks annually and, Winnipeg being a very musical city, it was a wonderful event. I sang in the Kelvin choir, a pastime which I loved dearly. So much did we all enjoy it that we persuaded Miss Anderson to lead a choir of graduates after we left school.

Not only did the choir take part in the festival, but sang in Remembrance Day services and Christmas pageants. At graduation too. We had had nothing like a graduation ceremony in England and I thought it wonderful. Held in a church, the choir paraded in and sat in the part usually reserved for the church choir during Sunday services, and we were followed by the graduates. The girls wore white dresses. There was one to be had in Eaton’s department store which I dearly wanted, but my guardian decided it would be cheaper to make me one instead. Prior to the war the dresses had been long, but in view of the times short ones were decided upon. I do remember that I had just one pair of nylon stockings and treated them very carefully so that I would have them to wear at graduation.

In the early days at school we evacuees were looked at a little bit as oddities, but on the whole everyone was very kind. At first we had a very high profile. In fact I was invited to the homes of many of my schoolmates for dinner, and the first Christmas there I was lucky enough to receive many presents from neighbours. Not only that. On the Christmas Day broadcast which linked the dominions with the UK, I was chosen as the evacuee from Manitoba to talk to my parents via radio. It was about a two-minute piece, but needless to say very exciting and I fell totally in love with the microphone. As time went by though, we became of less interest to everyone.

It’s of great importance I think to make something very clear here. When we left home to go abroad, no one – not us children and certainly not our parents – thought for one minute that we would be away so long. In fact as I remember, the consensus was that we would probably be home again by Christmas or shortly thereafter. During recent years when there have been reunions of former CORBies, it has been adamantly agreed among us that this was the case. We have also been asked many times how we felt. On the whole those of us who were older looked upon the trip over as a bit of an adventure, little knowing how long it would be before we went back. For my part, had my parents or I known that I would be away for four years, there is no way that I would have been evacuated, bombs or no bombs. It is my opinion that our parents were very brave in sending us to safety, and so it has been hurtful in the years following when people have remarked, “Oh I couldn’t possibly have sent my child away like that.” Well, they weren’t there, subjected to believing that England might be bombed to pieces or worse still, invaded.

I would have loved to have gone on to university, Grade 11 in those days being university entrance, but it was never considered. There were fees for university which my guardians weren’t about to pay, and sufficient money couldn’t be sent from England. Nursing training too was out of the question since student nurses had to be financially supported during their training. Somehow though, my father, through the government, managed to get out just enough money for me to go to business college for six months; not long enough for a diploma, but I learned how to type and file and a few other things. Before that though, as soon as school ended early in the summer of 1942, I got a job; first as a runner in Eaton’s Mail Order for $9 per week and, shortly thereafter, one in the Hudson’s Bay Company department store as a cashier/wrapper for $15. I was saving hard to buy the extras I would need for business college, but from the time I started work I was never given another thing at home. I had to pay for everything myself out of what little I had, and the minute I got a full time job, I was charged for room and board. During my time at business college, I worked every Saturday in the Bay. After business college was over I got a job, first in a doctor’s office as a receptionist, and later, for almost the following two years, at Macdonald Aircraft, an aircraft plant near the Winnipeg airport where they were making planes for air crew training. I believe they were Ansons. I worked in what was known as the Hollerith department. Here we worked on machines which had to do with card-punch accounting – machines which were a precursor of the computer. This type of card isn’t to be seen anymore but for many years they came into the home with various bills and an admonition not to “fold, bend or staple”.

It was now 1944, the year when I would turn 19 in December. Some time before then I was asked if I would like to return home to the UK, since 19 was call-up age and I would thus be eligible to join the armed forces. Needless to say I was most anxious to go home, so it was arranged that I would travel back in the autumn of that year. By this time, I had left my foster home and moved into the home of a friend. Her twin brother had joined the RCAF, so there was room in the house for me.

I left Winnipeg in September of 1944, and traveled, first by train, then by ship across the Atlantic, and again by train home to Scarborough. My family, along with my friends, was a bit shaken by my strong Canadian accent, while envious eyes were cast upon my one pair of high-heeled black suede open-toed shoes, together with my nylon stockings. No wonder. Clothing coupons had now been in effect for years and there was nothing that might be termed frivolous. Even if one saved clothing coupons carefully, there was little to be had in the shops. Cosmetics were not easily available; food and petrol were strictly rationed, and the blackout continued to be in effect. People looked worn and tired. It was wonderful to be home with my parents and to see all my family and friends again. Of course, all the boys with whom I had grown up were now in uniform – some of the girls too. The troops from the USA were well known to have more of everything than their British and Dominion counterparts, which made them not altogether popular.

By this time – which turned out to be near the end of the war in Europe – the women’s services were closed to applicants, so I decided to do something which had always interested me, and I entered nursing training at the hospital in Scarborough on April 1, 1945. I had turned 19 the previous December, and, in those days one couldn’t start general training until that age.

So began some four and a half years of hard work. In those days, student nurses did everything except the floors and the dishes. We worked five and a half days a week, from 7:30 in the morning until 6 at night unless we were off for three hours in the morning or the afternoon when our shift continued until 9. Our uniform dresses of blue and white checked cotton worn under our white aprons were made for us, and I remember that, after a year in training, mine had to be taken in three inches! I had worked and walked off those inches. Feet, sore and aching at first, toughened up. I did well in my exams, made good friends, and after I finished my general training in Scarborough went on to the North Middlesex Hospital near London to do midwifery.

During that time I had kept in touch with the friend to whose home I had moved in Winnipeg, and she asked me to return and be a bridesmaid at her wedding which was to take place in September of 1949. Since I had finished my training, my parents treated me to the trip. It was great to see everyone again. I was awestruck at the plenty everywhere having spent the last few years in wartime conditions in the UK. To cut a long story short, I fell in love with the brother of my friend’s groom; we became engaged, and I returned to England to make preparations for my wedding and subsequent emigration to Canada. This was 1950, and – just as an example of the continuing restrictions in the UK – my wedding dress and other clothes had to be bought with clothing coupons. Petrol was still rationed, and my fiancé had to go and apply for food coupons! We married in June and returned to Canada in September. My husband was a lecturer, later a professor at the University of Manitoba, so I became a faculty wife.

During the years that followed, I had two children, a son, Glenesk (Glen) in 1952 and a daughter Jane, in 1954. I lived the life of a typical housewife of the time, in that we stayed at home and looked after the house and children – quite a different scenario from today. The school choir which I had so enjoyed had morphed into The Musical Comedy Guild of Winnipeg, the chorus of which I joined. It was great fun. Also, in 1953, I attended auditions at CBC radio – my fascination for a microphone never having diminished – and for the next couple of years I took part in radio drama out of Winnipeg together with some schools’ broadcasts.

In 1955, we moved to Ottawa. There was nothing doing in radio in Ottawa, other than political broadcasts and the Dominion Observatory time signal, but there was the excellent Ottawa Little Theatre which I joined and in which I acted, and a small movie company called Crawley Films. Here I took part in a few documentary films together with some that Crawley made for the National Film Board. In the late 50s, the small television station in Ottawa decided to put on a half-hour magazine style show. They held open auditions looking for a man and a woman to be co-hosts, and I landed the female job. It was just a local show and lasted only a couple of years, but it gave me the opportunity to learn, added to which I was invited on two occasions to go to Toronto and be a guest panelist on a network panel show called Live a Borrowed Life. Two years later when it was taken off the air, I was interested when CBC announcer Lloyd Robertson, whom I knew, told me that it was to be replaced by another panel show called Flashback. Lloyd arranged for me to attend the first round of auditions. Following that I was pleased and surprised to receive a phone call asking me to return for a second audition and finally a third. This time the auditions took place in a studio with cameras, lights and a set. There was a make-up lady and a hairdresser. There were four dummy panels and we played the quiz which involved asking questions to uncover a fad, fashion, event, or famous person of the past. If the guest had a familiar face, he or she was hidden.

Well, that was that, and back I flew to Ottawa. I should mention here that the work in Ottawa had come to an end, as had my marriage, and I had quite decided to sell up and take the children back to my family in the UK. In fact, I had started to sell my furniture and the house had already been sold when I got a call that I had landed the job as a panelist and offering me a contract for 13 weeks. I wondered what to do for the best, and then I thought, “Oh what the heck! We’ll go to Toronto; I can give it a shot, and if it’s over after 13 weeks we can still go back to England.”

Well, things turn out in different ways. Flashback ran on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Network for six years, and when black and white turned to colour, we were among the first shows to be included. I, along with two men, was permanently on the panel, with a weekly guest in the fourth chair. It was a lovely show to do. The men wore dinner jackets and I had gorgeous gowns designed for me, both cocktail and evening. They were made by the wardrobe department, and no, I didn’t get to keep them. Over the years Bette Davis, the actress; Gracie Fields, the singer; Edith Head, the Oscar-winning costume designer; Sugar Ray Robinson, the boxer; Johnny Weissmuller, the swimmer who became the movie Tarzan, and Fay Wray who was in the original King Kong movie were among the many guests we tried to guess, while penny-farthing bicycles, apple peelers, the Lambeth Walk, and all manner of former ‘fads’ were presented to try to stump the panel. I remember too the lady who was the voice of Snow White in the animated Disney film, and another lady who was the very first stewardess on Trans Canada Airlines, the forerunner of Air Canada. We also had (though not all at the same time), the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and The Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. It was tremendously exciting when (unbeknownst to me of course) they flew my mother out to represent all mothers on mothers’ day. Needless to say, she was one of the guests who was hidden.

Although by this time all my friends called me Maggie, I had always used Margaret Morris when I worked. It was the late Clyde Gilmour, that wonderful broadcaster and film critic, who told me after I had been in Toronto about a year to call myself Maggie Morris. “It’s a good show biz name,” he said, “so use it.” And I did.

During those years I also made a lot of commercials, both radio and TV, which paid very good money, and I did guest shots on other shows. I was delighted when, after applying and passing the announce test, I was taken on as a summer relief member of the Announce Staff of the CBC in 1961 in Ottawa and 1963 in Toronto – the only woman to be so employed post-war on the English-language network. The children flew to England those summers to stay with their grandparents and had wonderful and well remembered holidays. I was hired again in 1969, working on contract for more a year only to be subjected to a rather famous firing in 1970. Not everyone on the administrative side, nor on the Announce Staff for that matter, thought that a woman should be allowed to breach the sacrosanct domain of the male announcer. I was understandably very upset when I was let go but there wasn’t much I could do about it in those days. It’s fair to say though that there was something of a national fuss and the CBC was thus forced to say that it wasn’t against women on the Announce Staff. Another woman was quickly hired, and since then women have been used just as much as men on the CBC Announce Staff. I have always felt that I could take some credit for that.

Around that time, a friend said that I could do with a break to get away from all the upset, and suggested that I accompany her on a windjammer cruise. We flew to Martinique where we boarded a sailing ship – a former French cadet training vessel called The Flying Cloud – and sailed for ten days in the southern Grenadines. It was a memorable trip during which I met an American widower by the name of Stanley Smolensky. Stan, who had a master’s degree in engineering from MIT, had been Deputy Director of Launch Vehicles for NASA’s Apollo Project. We were married the following year, I attended two moon launchings at Cape Canaveral with him, accompanied him to a new job in New Orleans, and was widowed just five months later when he died of a massive coronary.

By this time, my daughter was away in Switzerland for Grade 13, and my son was in residence at the University of Toronto, so I made my way back to Toronto, then spent some years in Winnipeg as Publicity Director of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet touring Canada and beyond. When I went back to work no one knew me by my married name so I had to use Morris again. Later I became Maggie Morris Smolensky and eventually returned to Toronto where I still live.

I decided that I would travel further afield than ever before, so for my 60th birthday I went round the world on my own, with just a suitcase, a tote bag and a ticket. I was away about four months. I visited England first to see my mother, and then continued east, ending up in Japan. The following year I went round the world again, this time the other way, first to Fiji, and then on to New Zealand, Australia, and further west. I enjoyed both trips immensely. Among other fun things, I flew a kite in Tiananmen Square on Easter Sunday, climbed Ayers Rock, and slept in a long house in Malaysia under shrunken heads. I have continued to travel when I could and have now visited over 40 countries.

Other than that my life has, on the whole, been fairly quiet. My children, now middle aged, are well and settled. I am a great ballet fan and am a patron and an office volunteer for the National Ballet of Canada. I am the Canadian representative of the former CORB children who, like myself, returned to and eventually settled in Canada, and it’s astonishing how many questions I receive from people of one sort and another interested in the evacuation story. I write letters for Amnesty International and am a reader in the recording library of the CNIB.

In closing, it may be noticed that I make little mention of the family with which I stayed during the war. Looking back as I became older, I came to the conclusion that they should never have been chosen as foster parents, but Mrs. G. longed to be important and she possibly thought that having an evacuee would give her some social standing. Without a doubt the marriage was on the rocks, added to which I don’t think that they could afford to feed and clothe another child. The house was rented; they had no car; there were no holidays or treats, nor did they ever send a food parcel to my parents as did many of the foster parents of the other children from Scarborough. I had 50 cents a week pocket money from which I had to buy every little thing I needed including stamps for my letters home. I was given the transit fare with which to go to school, but that was it; any other trip I wanted to make came out of the 50 cents. Doubtless I was far from perfect but I was only fourteen and although I said nothing it was a bit hard not to have a bike or skates when the daughter of the house and everyone else I knew had them. I was even chastised for getting up to go to church on Sunday mornings for I was told that I disturbed the daughter of the house who needed her sleep. We shared a bed remember!

It was a Miss R. of the Children’s Aid who had, as far as I know, chosen our billets. There was no checking or asking me how I was doing after the first few months. I have often thought that perhaps she was too occupied sorting out the youngsters who were making trouble as indeed some of them did. I remembered though that we had been instructed to be good little boys and girls and a credit to our home country. Things had been OK at first, and I had told my parents so. They continued to write that they were glad I was so well settled when some of the other children were causing difficulties. I didn’t want to disillusion them; I thought they had enough to worry about with the war. On the voyage over I had kept a little diary, and when I told Ben Wicks about it, he asked if he could use it in his second book about the evacuation, The Day They Took the Children. I hadn’t looked at the diary in years, but when I did and read the rather sketchy entries for the remainder of 1940, I saw that on a number of occasions I had written, “I had a good cry.” This surprised me because I wasn’t a particularly crying child, so I must have been more lonely than I let on. As time went by I was treated less and less like family, and perhaps I should have told Miss R. I remember not liking it much when the husband came home sometimes roaring drunk, but I dare say the poor man hadn’t much of a life. The minute I started work in the summer, Mrs. G. took money from me. There were some mean, nasty little tricks too, but they’re best forgotten.

So – did the evacuation have an effect on me? Yes, without a doubt.

Was the evacuation a good idea? No, I don’t think so.

But it was a long long time ago.

And that’s that!

Maggie Morris Smolensky,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 2008

(Maggie Morris Smolensky died in Toronto in September 2014 at age 88)


August 4th, 1940, Sunday

Set off from Scarborough at 10:55 a.m. Mummy and Daddy were very brave. We were in York and changed there. In my carriage were Olga Burrows, Jeanne Gaunt, Teddy & Maurice Hayes (I knew all these beforehand) & some small children. We had a fairly long wait [in] York Station, but finally we got our small luggage into a carriage, and started for Liverpool. We ate our dinner, but [I] didn’t want much, because it was so hot. We were boiling] on the journey, and bored stiff. When we went through the Perrine Chain we kept passing through tunnels, which were miles long, it was annoying, being kept in the dark.

Finally, we reached Liverpool, about 4:45 p.m. and waited on the platform while our luggage was taken out of the train, and put into vans. We were bundled into buses & taken to a boys’ school, where the boys were left. Our luggage was checked, and a bus took us to the corresponding girls’ school. We were taken into a classroom, which had been converted into a dorm, and given beds. Olga and Jeanne are on either side of me. The beds are about 4’ long. We went and had tea, & then we were sent out into the quad, to play. Then we had prayers and went to bed, after washing the little ones. The beds were awful. Jeanne and I didn’t get to sleep till about 12 o’clock.

August 5th, 1940, Monday

Were very tired in morning, after being up nearly all night, had a nice breakfast after which we were examined by a nurse. I and the others were O.K. Then we had our luggage checked. In the afternoon we three had a sleep, and then after a long, long wait we were examined by two doctors, one doctor English, & one Canadian. We were all passed. Then we had tea, and went to bed early after pulling our beds together, and placing another along the bottom of them to make room for own feet. We all slept well.

August 6th, 1940, Tuesday

Got up this morning at 8:25; this was because Jeanne’s watch went 1 hr. slow. Never have we washed & dressed so quickly, but we were in time; Breakfast wasn’t very nice. The Childwall Valley girls gave us two plays. One a fairy one and the other, Chinese. They were quite good. Dinner was fairly nice. In the afternoon, all those over twelve went to a cinema show in the physics lab. There were four short films. The first 'letters to liners', showed us how letters got to ships. The second was 'the life of a house fly'. The third was 'Climbing Mt. Tupper', and the fourth & last, 'Animals of the Sea'. We had a big tea and then we all went for a walk, a saw an old church which is very beautiful. At night we went and played ping-pong, and then went and had supper with the other older girls. Went back to dorm expected kids to be asleep, but no such luck. We tried to sing them to sleep with lullabies, but instead of making them sleep, they only asked for more. Slept solid all night. When at last I got off, one of the children was very naughty and kept us awake.

August 7th, 1940, Wednesday

Got up and had a hot shower, we soaped ourselves & got very clean. Had breakfast, quite decent. Then we tidied our beds and then went into the quad and finished writing a letter to Mummy and Daddy, which I had begun in bed. We had to run around after our helper a bit; she won’t do darned thing for herself. We had dinner, and kept asking our helper to take us out, we meant town, but she thought otherwise, and lugged us out for a walk. Jeanne bought some chocolate biscuits at an Inn. Came home and had tea. After tea, a helper asked we three to clean the tables, which we did, setting them for breakfast afterwards. Then we went and mucked about in the ping-pong room, and then went and had some supper which was only cold Ovaltine, because every one else had guzzled everything, and then we went to bed. This morning, they took every cent we had away from us, and put it in an envelope with our names on [it], and if we want any, you must ask the helper for it. They wouldn’t even leave us a copper or two. We had an air-raid warning.

August 8th, 1940, Thursday

This morning, we knew definitely that we were leaving, though we had had a jolly good idea before. But nobody seemed to know where, though they said that it would be a long journey. We got up fairly early and washed and dressed. After breakfast, we folded our beds and blanket up and packed our cases. Then we waited for ages in the corridor and finally got into buses, which carried us to the station. There, we were put into dining cars, the boys were a couple of coaches along, but we were not allowed to see one another. Anyways, the boys trotted along to see us. We have got to know some other boys as well.

For dinner, they gave us bottles of milk and L.M.S. luncheon boxes. These were lovely and contained two meat sandwiches, a pork pie, a bun, a banana, and a packet of chocolate. In the afternoon we three all had a little sleep and then we read, and talked until the train drew in at a rather small station. There we were met by officials and were put into lovely buses, which carried us to a tremendous school. We were put in one half and the boys in the other half. When we had got our outdoor clothes off, they [served] us a most marvelous tea, soup, salad, and meat and plenty of bread and jam. After tea, we wandered around the school a bit, and then went to bed.

The beds were simply marvelous. They were very low, but had springs – Gosh! What a difference from before. Over us, we had three very soft warm blankets, and glorious, a pillow. But best of all, they were about 6’ long. At 8:30 p.m. we went to the dining room and were given a box of milk and biscuits.

Finally we turned in, and spent an extremely conformable night.

August 9th, 1940, Friday

Woke and got up very early in morning. Got dressed as best we could, because all the small children were very interested, had a wash, and then went into breakfast, which was delicious. Went back, and folded our blankets up, and put all our clothes [out so as they were] ready to [be] put on. When we finally got the word to set off, we got ready and had new labels tied on, then we waited for quite a long time in the passage and moved on a bit, only to have another long wait. During the second wait, the Provost of Glasgow and Mr. Geoffrey Shakespeare came up to see us. We were singing songs, and finally we got into buses and were taken to Glasgow station and were put onto the boat train, everybody looked at us as we went along the street and we waved to everybody.

The boat train took us to Grenock and we went past some men; one of them pulled half of our new labels off and read out our sin name and another ticked us off on a bit of paper. We then went aboard the tender. It was cloudy weather, but we stood on deck and watched the land get further and further away. Finally we pulled alongside the liner, which is called Antonia.I am in a teeny-weeny cabin, with Jeanne and two very tiny girls. It is not a very big ship, but a very nice one. There are a lot of nice boys aboard.

They feed us marvelously and our waiter is very nice. Four of the girls in our group sit at table one. The bunk is very comfy and I had a good night’s rest. We have lifeboat drills and must not move with our gas masks.

August 10th, 1940, Saturday

Micky, the man who cleans our cabins, knocked us up at 6:30 a.m. We had asked him to do this the previous night and he made such a row, he woke the whole corridor up.

We got dressed and had a nice breakfast after which we tidied our cabin and then had a practice of 'action station'. We walked about the ship, and talked to people until 19 o’clock, when we had a delicious lunch. After lunch we all came to the ladies rest room, where I wrote a letter to Mummy & Daddy. We had dinner, and after that, we went around and got a lot of autographs, then went to bed.

August 11th, 1940, Sunday

Got up about 6:30 and went to Communion with Olga; it was a nice service because the padre is very nice. Then we went up on deck and to our surprise the ship started moving. We sat up on deck most of the day, Olga was sick and Jeanne played around with some boys, to my great amusement.

August 12th, 1940, Monday

Got up and went on deck, it was raining. Divided my attention all day between the deck, the lounge and the square. I felt a bit woggly and spent a bad night - had a sore throat.

August 13th, 1940, Tuesday

Woke up in morning and [the] nurse came in. Told her my throat was sore, where upon she made a face and took my temperature, telling me to go to surgery at ten o’clock. Anyways, when the time came, I was fast asleep, and they didn’t bother me. About 2 o’clock I woke up and came up on deck, where I stayed until bedtime. It rained most of the afternoon, but I was fairly warm. Had a good night.

August 14th, 1940, Wednesday

Got up and felt rotten. Didn’t want to move but they made me go up on deck. Felt a bit better up there and had a sleep; had half an apple and luckily didn’t bring it up straight away. Spent all day up on deck, it was bedtime when we came in.

August 15th, 1940, Thursday

Stayed on deck all day, very hot, went to bed early. Got out of physical jerks.

August 16th, 1940, Friday

Washed children in morning because Jeanne didn’t feel well. Didn’t have any breakfast but had a bit of lunch and dinner. Stayed on deck all day and got out of physical jerks.

August 17th, 1940, Saturday

Got up and did a lot of ironing for all our section. Then darned a sock for a boy. Stayed on deck and lazed about all day. At dinner we were given paper hats and marvelous good turkey and two and a half puddings and 2 ice creams. We get a lot of ice cream here. Everybody got sort of silly because they had silly hats on and we had some grand fun. Went to a cinema show but it was awfully hot and the pictures weren’t very good - being silent and very old fashioned. Went on deck after to get cooled down. It was very nice and the moon was over the water.

August 18th, 1940, Sunday

Got up at 6:30 and went to Communion with Olga. Stayed up on deck most of day; got out of P.T. We three washed our hair in afternoon; it was a great relief to do it, as our hair was very salty and sticky. It was absolutely boiling hot all day. We also went to the children’s service in the afternoon. Later in the afternoon, a


Continues on August 19th, 1940, Monday get off. Some of us hadn’t had dinner and we dashed down to get it. We had to put half-dry clothes into our cases and all other odds and ends. What a rush. Then we disembarked and went into the customs house, where we stayed until about 12 p.m. having some milk and biscuits to keep us going. We were very tired when we finally got onto the train and undressed and went to bed; two seats facing one another and then left down. Jeanne slept with me and we had a very comfy night. The train set off about 1:30 a.m. The cars are very big and there are bunks above our heads which let down.

August 20th, 1940, Tuesday

Woke up this morning and got dressed. We think that we are staying at Winnipeg, anyways, we do know that we are going there. Some are going to Vancouver and some to Montreal. They put up little tables between the seats and we had breakfast of bacon, cereals, bread and marmalade and about ¾ pl. of milk. Everybody waves to us as we go past and when we stop in the stations, people come and talk to us and give us presents and sweets galore. We are passing a lot of water and we have just seen a lot of wood logs in a lake. There is wood, wood, everywhere and all the houses are made of it. Over the other side of the water, there are big pine woods, with a few deciduous trees. All the people over there talk so nicely. A lady has just come along asking about names and I am pretty sure we are going to Winnipeg. We were talking to some men in a dining car of a train which was drawn along besides us and they threw about six peaches in to us. We are always seeing soldiers and sometimes their trains draw alongside ours, where upon we talk to them. Lots of them give us sweets and things and when we move away, they all wave and stick their thumbs up and we do the same.

We have nice meals in enamel dishes and they fix little tables up between the seats. We went though Quebec and saw all the lights twinkling across the water. It all looked very beautiful. We have passed through towns in which French is spoken and some little boys passed the carriage in one place and Jeanne said "Do you speak English?" and they laughed and said "Non". Then some girls passed and I said "Parlez-vous Français?" and they laughed and shouted "Oui". In Quebec, we talked to two nice Frenchmen. A lady also came along with a whole box of chocolate, and doled it out; a little boy brought a lot of lollipops. Then we went on to Montreal. We wanted to keep awake and see it, but we couldn’t. Some children got out there though, poor things; it was about midnight when we got there.

August 21st, 1940, Wednesday

Woke up this morning to be told by Jeanne that I had been talking in my sleep. Got up and had a nice breakfast. It is a sunny day contrary to yesterday’s rain. We are passing a great lot for water and the trees, which come right down to the water’s edge, making it very beautiful. This morning we came through Ottawa, we make a lot of stops in this journey, which is a nuisance because it takes us longer to get there. Just read and talked all day. In the morning, I had a sleep, because I was very tired. I had a toothache and the nurse put some oil of cloves on it, ugh, it did taste awful. I slept on the other side of the bed and didn’t spend a very good night.

August 22nd, 1940, Thursday

Woke up fairly early this morning, and tried to kill time, only to be put back again earlier than ever, because of changing the time. Had a nice breakfast and then read and tidied my small case up a bit. We expect to reach Winnipeg about 3 p.m. I rather hope we stay there, because people say it is a nice place, and I am rather tired of travelling. It was very very hot in the carriage, and we were bored stiff and couldn’t find much to do. Finally we reached Winnipeg. There were people on the platform to see us, of committees and things, and there were newspaper men who took our pictures. A man came into our carriage and read out our names. Jeanne’s and Olga’s came together and then a boy’s name and I was frightened that mine wouldn’t be read out, but it was, just after the boy’s name. Then we waited on the platform a bit and talked to some of the people. After that, waving the boys and girls off who were going to Edmonton and Vancouver. Then we went out of the station, and had our pictures taken and then got into motor buses, which took us to a beautiful school, which is for deaf and dumb people. We were given beds and we hung our coats up. Then for a while until supper we played about in the grounds after supper, we read magazines, then had a bath and went to bed. My tooth ached and I went to the nurse, who put some oil of cloves on it. It did taste nasty. The same thing occurred yesterday in the train. We don’t quite know how long we will be parked here. By the way, it seems that the people were told that we were passing through all the stations, and that’s why they were all there to see us. Then we got into the beds, which are lovely and all had a very good night’s rest.

August 23rd, 1940, Friday

Got up, washed and dressed, then had breakfast, at which I served. Went for a walk round the grounds and then all of us went over to the park. It is very beautiful. There is a zoo, with lions, bears, monkeys, wolves and other things. There is also an English garden. We saw a humming bird moth. Then we went to the pavilion, and bought fruit ices for a nickel. They were lovely. Then back home for dinner and after that in the afternoon, we went aboard buses, which took us to the children’s hospital for another medical exam. It is funny, all the traffic and steering wheels are on the different side of the roads from those in England. We took all our clothes off, except our 'bloomers', as the nurse called them, and put on little white coats. We were weighed and measured and thenwent in one by one to a doctor and a nurse. There were two or three couples doing us. I went into the doctor, who was very nice. The asked me all about everything and examined me and then said, "she seems to be disgustingly healthy". When he came to mental condition, he said, "What shall I put" and I said "Oh, weak", and he laughed and put "bright". There was nothing wrong with me. Most of the girls were inoculated for diphtheria, even those who had been done before, but I wasn’t; but we were all done for T.B. In fact it was a very rigorous exam. Then back we came in the buses, to the school. It was fun driving through the city and seeing all the shops. By the way, as we entered the bus, we were all given new hankies. Coming back, we were given newspapers with our photos in [them], they are very good. It was funny, on the platform, I said to somebody that Peter Parsons was a brat. Evidently the person to whom I said this was a reporter, because in the Winnipeg Free Press, it said "Little Margaret Beal, who had taken Peter Parsons, aged 6 (he is 11) under her wing during the journey, said she would rather stand five million bombs, than Peter for 1 hr. but there was a smile on her face as she said it". I never said any such thing, gosh! Wouldn't I like to know where he got it from.

At night, we had a big bonfire in a field, and we toasted marshmallows. They were delicious!

August 24th, 1940, Saturday

Stayed in grounds all morning, in afternoon, about fifteen of us went to the park in Beth’s car. Saw the greenhouse. Had a chocolate ice cream and brought one back for Jeanne who was waiting to see the dentist. It was an awful squash in the car; I had about two girls sitting on top of me. Had films at night.

August 25th, 1940, Sunday

Wrote a letter and in the...


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