John-Ward Leighton

THE NEW BICYCLE

The end of the Second World War was a new bicycle for me and my brother. For the period of the war children had been denied their toys for the war effort. My brother and I were boarded on separate prairie farms. The farm I was boarded at was run by people in their early fifties who had two sons in battle. One in Italy and one in Holland, both had started early in the war for the two year stay in England before the youngest son landed in Sicily and the eldest landed in Normandy. The mail man was both longed for and dreaded. The mail and the radio and the party line were our connection to our neighbours and the rest of the world.

Other families had sons and fathers at war and the spectre of death and injury was never far from our thoughts. There were no children closer than three miles from the farm and except for school I was a solitary kid for those two years. The Brocks were kindly people and put up with a small boy and actually spoiled me while scrambling to keep a 1.5 section farm operating in a world where there were no hired hands to help out.

My sister was born in April 1945 just after my Dad had been injured in a jeep accident at the base in Portage la Prairie. Suddenly I was of use to my family and I was fetched to assist my Mom with sister, Charlotte. Brother Bob two years younger than me wasn’t retrieved until August just before VJ day. Dad was released from hospital in September and the whole family was together for the first time in six years situated in a little house on the north side of Portage la Prairie.

As our first Christmas together as a family was preceded by a Saturday and as was our custom my brother and I went to the local movie theatre for the cartoons and the western movie. When the movie ended we would always take a short cut through Eaton’s mail order center to look at the bicycles. Our hearts almost stopped when we saw the “SOLD” tag on our favourite CCM bike. Then I looked at the tag and it had our name and address on it. Bob and I were walking on air as we ran home. The war ended for me when that Christmas morning arrived and my brother I shared the gift of that CCM bike. I was nine years old.

So much water under the bridge: Mom and Dad and all my Aunts and Uncles gone, and my sister Charlotte – gone: the first of our generation to pass.

The events of this day are remembered as if just yesterday, crystal clear. My birthday was celebrated in the little church at High Bluff and we sang “O God our Help in Ages Past” and “Onward Christian Soldiers”. The congregation was Protestant, Catholic and Jewish; even atheists and agnostics gave thanks that day the end of the war in Europe Sunday 13 May 1945, which was also Mothers Day.

I remember the news coming over the radio and my “Auntie Mame” crying in joy and relief. “Uncle George” whooped and danced a little jig with Mame as this little kid watched in wide eyed wonder.

Ciao, JWL