Monday, December 28, 2009

Letter to My Dad IX

December 28, 2009

This past summer cousin David was complaining about getting the flu and not feeling up to scratch. He said he was walking about 5 miles a day (I think that’s what he said) around a tobacco plantation and other than drinking beer with other ex-pats and regaling them about our search, he looked after him self pretty well. Then when the flu didn’t go away, he went to the doctor and, long story short, he’s been diagnosed with leukemia. What a shock! So he made the trip home with his journals and went straight into hospital in Ottawa where he is right now. He is getting chemo treatments and the doctors do say he may be able to fight this one. We’ll see.

And what have we learned throughout this history research? We have learned that you were a terrific pilot, a great instructor, a very capable leader and that you were very brave, as most were who fought in that war. The story of your parachuting out of your Spitfire with five pieces of shrapnel in your arm as the plane was breaking up around you is amazing. I’m quite sure you would say something to the effect that “Well, that’s what you had to do.” I do know that you were happy to be back in Ottawa in February 1945. I can see the delight on all your faces in that picture in the Ottawa Evening Citizen with Grandma, Grandpa and Auntie Marian. They must have been so relieved.

Too bad it took another 4 months for Mom and I to get home. Poor Mom! I never did ask her how the trip went for her because, of course, she was pregnant with Rob who was born that September. Imagine, sailing home with all kinds of troops, many wounded, with me at almost 5. I know what your granddaughters were like when they were that age and I remember Mom telling me that she hoped I got a child like me (payback time!) and I did! And I said the same thing to Krista and she did too.

So the Big Trip is now for just Bill and me. I am honoured to be able to do this in your memory, Dad. In some ways, I hope this journey will help to make up for all the disruption I caused for the family when I was growing up. I know I was a hard kid to talk to. I always weighed the punishment and the crime and usually opted to do the crime and take the punishment.

I have wondered if you ever went back to the Mardaga Hotel when we were in Luxembourg in the 1950s. I know you and Mom went to Holland on a vacation and I’m pretty sure you drove and would have had to go pretty close to Asch along the way. I’ll check the hotel registers to see if you actually stayed there. That would be pretty amazing.

And just so you know, I always loved you very much.


PS – I thought you’d like to see us all now. This picture was taken in November in Toronto.

Letter to My Dad VIII

December 28, 2009

Now we get to the summer of 2008. Cousin David Hall went to Ottawa from Bangkok (where he was living) to visit Cousin John Hall. I had given John a copy of the “book” I had put together with your log books and Mom’s diaries intermingled. Apparently, this just caught David big time. He got in touch and we started a long correspondence amongst the three of us about what actually happened to you from 1938 to 1945 during the war years. As David got enthusiastic, he would fire me up and I’d learn something and then John would find something and we’d all go in bursts like that for a full year. In the process I think it was David who found Allan Hillman, an RAF aficionado in Truro, Cornwall. Allan steered us through the ORBs and the terminology and the history of the different squadrons you were in and helped us with some of our speculations. He has become a very dear internet friend to us all. And you would have loved the hunt!

And then the idea came along to go to Asch and celebrate your safe landing within 300 yards of the Mardaga. Well, that was it! The three of us were going to meet in London, John and I from here and David from Bangkok. We would visit the Imperial War Museum and all kinds of other museums and then go to Brussels on the Eurostar, drive to Asch and… And then Allan found the Mardaga Inn online! And it still exists! What a beautiful place it has become since you were there in the winter of 1944-45.

So plans change, right? John wasn’t too sure we were actually going to make the trip. He thought maybe we were just saying “What if we…”. So he made other money plans. And then I thought I’d like to have some company on the London part of the trip because David was talking about flying directly to Amsterdam and meeting us in Brussels. So I asked Bill if he’d go with me. I am pleased to say he was pleased to be asked – I think.

Then came the long trip to get my passport. I had had one but let it expire and then it disappeared in one of our moves. Anyway, the whole process was very long and very boring and very frustrating but I have both my little citizenship card and my passport now so am ready to travel.

Letter to My Dad VII

December 28, 2009

I remember you pouring me a drink at the big family reunion at Weesie’s in 1980 and being kind of amazed at that. I was 40 by then but you were still pretty intimidating to me. And the last time I saw you was in Vancouver when you and Mom made the big cross-country trip to see friends. I came down from Prince Rupert to meet you.

And then you died. What the heck were you doing out on that iceboat on Trout Lake when there was open water? I was devastated. There were all these things I wanted to say and ask you about. I probably would have had the nerve to do it by then.

Letter to My Dad VI

December 28, 2009

When I got married in 1960 in Montreal and was pregnant, you drove all the way up from Maine (where you were stationed) because you “had to be at a meeting at St. Hubert anyway”, I saw through that right away. You didn’t make the wedding but you did make the reception in our room at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel and put up with some rather drunken folks for quite a while. I was in agony for a number of reasons – I was 6 months pregnant, I was out of work as was my husband, my friends were drinking hard, and I had no idea you were coming. I was just floored!

When Krista and I went to visit you in North Bay – it would have been 1963 or so, I think – you took me into The Hole, the cavern in the mountain there which held all the radar equipment and was part of NORAD. It was amazing! There were two complete sets of computers and they were the size of half a city block on those huge springs. And the blast doors – they were something else. I remember being rather smart-mouthed about them, saying “Are they to keep you in or the Russians out?” You were not amused. When I went to see you in Colorado Springs in 1968, I sure didn’t get to go inside Cheyenne Mountain. By then, I was part of the peace movement in Halifax and you didn’t like that. Remember the discussion/argument? You said, “So you’re saying ‘Better Red than Dead’?” And I said, “I guess so, Dad.” You walked away and I think you were very disappointed.

There is an odd dichotomy in my attitude about war and all that. I am always kind of thrilled to see any kind of plane. For the longest time, my favourites were the Sabres. I had never really seen a Spitfire, except in pictures. But Sabres were being flown when we were in Europe and they were the fighters of the Korean War in the 50s. But they were war machines, so I was torn.

Letter to My Dad V

December 28, 2009

When we got back you were posted to St. Hubert where we lived in PMQs. I caused much grief for the family there. I know you didn’t want me going out with airmen probably because you thought they were too old for me. I suspect you also wished you wanted me to at least go out with officers.

Remember when you put my name on the list of girls to go to CMR at Saint Jean? I was so angry with you because you didn’t even ask me. The cadets pulled names from a file drawer and I got a young man who was unbelievably shy – poor guy. And he couldn’t dance. We hardly talked at all and I kind of gave up trying to make conversation. And I couldn’t even escape because we had to wait for the big blue air force bus to take us back to St. Hubert.

The second time you did that, I was pretty angry again but this time it was for a group of air cadets from England. There we were – two big blue buses heading up to Ste. Agathe to a swanky home on the lake. One bus held the cadets and the other held the girls. When we got out on the big highway, the buses pulled over and half the girls got off and half the guys got off and then they switched. I actually had a very good time on that trip but the less said the better, I guess.

Each year, the church on the base at St. Hubert would hold a special Battle of Britain Sunday service and we went together at least once that I recall. I don’t think I got the full significance of that for many years.

You drove all the way from St. Hubert to near St. Sauveur to pick me up when a date’s vehicle broke down. When you heard me crying in my room in St. Hubert and you were the only one home, you came to see what the matter was. I had been “fired” from Woolworths because they found out that I was going back to school. I thought it was a summer job to be “manning” the jewelry counter and they thought I was a permanent employee. I was 17. You hugged me and said not to worry, it wasn’t my fault. And I know you were responsible for getting me a job at the Bell Telephone Co. of Canada – as it was known then – when you and Mom were told that I wasn’t in the least bit in interested in school and would be better off working. That was in 1958 or so and I was at Montreal High School.

I know you carried a picture of me in your wallet for many, many years – well after I was driving the family mad by not doing what I was supposed to do – not being a good obedient daughter. For someone who was brought up very strictly and taught to always follow orders, it must have been so hard when I didn’t do what I was told. Willful, stubborn and talkative were words I heard often. Now that I’ve reached an age where I can look back to see how I got here, it’s possible that those three describers are not so bad when it comes to living one’s life - but extremely difficult for a parent to deal with.

Letter to My Dad IV

December 28, 2009

Then off we went to Lac St. Denis near Morin Heights in Quebec, a brand new radar base. You were, once again, the station adjutant. We lived next to “Mr.” Jackson, the base CO. I have a couple of memories from there about you – the time you led the parade complete with hollered out orders with all the airmen and air women right in front of our house. I was really impressed seeing you doing something militarily with uniform and everything. Remember the women’s barracks were right at the end of our street and I used to hang out my bedroom window late at night and see all the smooching going on when the guys were walking their girlfriends “home”. Our house was as close to the barracks as they were allowed. We got a tour of the radar dome up on the hill one year too.

That's Mom's printing under the photo.

And the Big Deal Memory was when you were to be driving me to Ottawa in the pale green Meteor so I could go to summer camp at Camp Pontiac (an Anglican Church camp). We got up that morning and the car was gone. After a phone call, we all trooped over to the other side of the street, which was a sheer drop into the trees, and there was the car. Someone had pushed it over the side in the night. Boy, were you mad! Fortunately, they made cars out of metal in those days and I don’t think there was any damage at all even though it fetched up against a tree. There’s a picture of that too. I’m sure you were taking pictures for the MPs and the insurance company. I’ve since learned that the station adjutant was a tough job because it involved discipline. I imagine there were folks there who didn’t like you very much.

And then you were posted to Germany in the fall of 1953. Now that was quite the journey! Those were the days when the air force sent us all by ship and because you were an officer, we went first class. For a 13-year-old girl, that was amazingly romantic! I loved the trip over and I loved the trip back three years later in 1956.

Letter to My Dad III

December 28, 2009

We stayed at Grandma and Grandpa’s until we moved into your old house on James Street in 1948, one door down from Auntie Marg and Uncle Kev and their kids. And you went off to officer training of some kind in Kingston. You came home every weekend or every two weekends – I can’t remember. I also don’t remember if we had a car then so maybe you were travelling by train. Uncle Kev was working in Valleyfield and came home on weekends as well. I think both Mom and Auntie Marg decided they’d rather be in Ottawa where their family was rather than living in either Valleyfield or Kingston. I know that Mom and Auntie Marg were the very best of friends and had written letters to each other all through the war.

When you came home those weekends, I’m sure some of them weren’t all that great. Mom had me (a holy terror), Rob (who got foisted off on me to look after), and Louise who had been born in Belleville. I’m pretty sure that when you walked in the door, Mom said words to the effect that “Hi dear, it’s great to see you home again. You’ll never guess what Anne has done this time!” I remember you taking me to the basement and giving me a spanking for some transgression. That’s what happened in those days when you were “bad”. I don’t suppose you liked it any better than I did. One sin I remember quite clearly was knocking the slats out from under a verandah just down the street from us. The house belonged to the McCurdys and their kid was a real pain for some of the rest of them. I was “dared” to do it and, never one to resist a dare, I knocked all the pieces of wood out. That was really bad!

Ottawa was a time when I was mostly interested in my friends and not very interested in family. I know that you were stationed at RCAF HQ for a time but I’m not sure how long. We went to see Grandpa Tripe at the Vet’s Hospital once, you and I. It was kind of strange for me. The vets in the wards loved seeing a little kid coming through so I got lots of waves and smiles. But Grandpa Tripe was not very happy and was even a bit grumpy. I was uncomfortable seeing him. I think we went a couple of times. Then he died in 1950 and you took me to see him at Hulse and Playfair on Somerset, I thought. But I just checked and Hulse and Playfair (with a new partner) is shown on McLeod so it might have been there. He was in an open coffin and I didn’t like that at all. I have hated funerals with open coffins ever since. Grandma Tripe died in 1948 of breast cancer (as did Auntie Marg, I think) and I don’t remember her very well at all. However, she is in my mind as a very kind, gentle lady. She wrote me a letter when we were still in England and I have that letter. How wonderful that is!

I have two other memories of Ottawa. The first one is going to buy shoes with you. I remember walking up to Bank St. – holding hands. I feel quite certain that this wasn’t your favourite thing to do but Mom probably needed a break and wasn’t about to go traipsing off to get shoes when you could do it. And the second one is going to the War Memorial on Remembrance Day – just you and me. I don’t know how old I was but it really stuck with me.

Letter to My Dad II

December 28, 2009

Probably my first clear picture of you was in Trenton. We moved there sometime after Rob was born in September of 1945. After some time at RCAF headquarters in Ottawa, you were posted to CFB Trenton as station adjutant. I remember the house, the marsh, the car, your model airplanes, chickenpox and some of the neighbours. I also remember you teaching me to swim in the officer’s pool one summer. The PMQs (personnel married quarters) were pre-war and as you were an officer, we got one that actually had maid’s quarters complete with a series of buttons that rang bells somewhere in the house to summon the maid – imagine. I think they were disconnected because I’m sure I would remember ringing them just for the devilment. We didn’t have much money then so the house was rather sparsely furnished. I do remember a black huge dining room table that was heavy as all-get-out. I can still see Mom folding laundry on it. She told me later that you went to either the town of Trenton or Belleville and rented-to-own the furniture when you first moved there.

The marsh was a wonderful place for kids to wander around in. I’m quite certain we weren’t supposed to be there and I’m quite certain it was a bit dangerous but we did go there in the summer. I lost a rubber boot in there once – the mud just sucked it away and I came home with one boot and a one very wet sock. The redwing blackbirds were everywhere in there.

The Car – I’ve tried to figure out what make it was from pictures but have been unsuccessful. It was black with lots of chrome and kind of bullet-shaped. Since you were the station adjutant, they gave you a car! But it was pretty classy and I remember it parked in front of the house. I went back there a number of years ago and I couldn’t believe how small the house was and how many more houses were built there. There is a picture of me somewhere in my new red coat with a black velvet collar and a lovely Robin Hood type hat complete with a feather on the side. I suspect that might have been Easter since that’s what we got for Easter – new clothes to go to church in.

You built all kinds of model planes over the years and I remember you trying them out in the field behind that house in Trenton. The last model story that I remember was when we were in St. Hubert when you moved into radio-controlled models. I can’t remember offhand who it was with but you had a radio-controlled boat which, I think, sank in the officer’s pool and that was the end of that one. I know there were other radio-controlled planes but by that time, I wasn’t really much interested – it was the late 1950s and I was much more interested in “other things”, as I’m sure you remember with some degree of ire.

Although Mom was really good at keeping track of the various childhood ailments on the back of my birth certificate, it was the chickenpox that comes to mind in Trenton. I came downstairs one morning (June 1948) and showed Mom what I thought was another nipple on my chest! So I got to stay home from school and she bought me some seeds to plant in a garden of my own beside the house. Those seeds got swirled around so much in the following weeks that I often wonder what the next people in that house got in the summer. We moved back to Ottawa before they came up.

Letter to My Dad I

December 28, 2009

Right off the bat, you would really have disliked this letter, let’s establish that. Talking about feelings was something we never seemed to do very well. But I thought it might be a way to explain why Bill and I are going to Asch, Belgium for January 16, 2010.

I don’t remember very much about Chester when Mom and I lived there during the war. I don’t even remember you coming home on leave. There is a great picture of you holding me and I don’t remember that.
You’d think that having a father come home every now and then would be a really big deal and something that a small child would remember, but No. I remember the garden where we lived at 13 Deva Terrace. I’ve even looked it up on Google Earth and those row houses are still there – apparently they command a lot of money these days. I remember the River Dee, the swans and the field on the other side. I remember our bedroom upstairs where Mom and I slept. I can distinctly remember looking out the window to the little courtyard below and seeing into the window of Belle and Fannie’s house next door where Mom used to go for tea when I was supposed to be napping. Those dear maiden ladies sent me Christmas presents for years – lovely little painted and embroidered bags (like little purses). I don’t have them any more – what a shame. I do have the lovely picture they did of “little Anne” all embroidered and with a piece of Grandma Rannie’s wedding dress for my dress and a lovely little face that Mom told me took them a long to “get right”.

You’d think I’d remember going to Canada on the Scythia II in June of 1945 – I was nearly 5 years old after all – I don’t have any recollection at all. And then you’d think I’d remember a train ride from Halifax (Pier 21) to Ottawa where we lived with Grandma and Grandpa Rannie at 19 Oakland Avenue for a while before Rob was born – I don’t. I don’t remember you even then. I do remember my “room” at Grandma and Grandpa’s – it was the little room that led to the upstairs balcony and it had a little wicker rocking chair ( that I just loved sitting in. I have that now and although I sure don’t fit in it any more, it does remind me of Grandma and Grandpa and how kind they were. You know Grandpa absolutely adored Grandma – he called her “Tot”, she was little – and he used to bring her tea and toast in bed every morning. Grandpa teased me and made me laugh – I remember that from that stay.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The "Why" of the Upcoming Big Trip

On January 16, 1945, Phil Tripe was the Commanding Officer of 130 (Punjab) Squadron of the RAF based in Y.32 Ophoven, Belgium near the small community of As, an hour away from Brussels. The Spitfire squadron had been sent there at the end of December 1944, having been based on the continent in Belgium and Holland since September 1944.

Although Dad was with an RAF squadron, he had transferred to the RCAF in December of 1944, probably in preparation for returning to Canada at the end of the war.

The squadron was sent out to strafe German supply trains and trucks that day. I'll let a few accounts of the last day of Dad's war tell the story.

"January 16/45

"It is reported as below in the 125 Wing ORB

"Weather prevented flying before lunch, but around 1400 hours armed recces were started to the Drieborn area as it had been reported that concentrations of German Met had been located. 350 were airborne first being led by the Wing Commander. The promised "fruit" was not located, in fact there was little movement seen over a wide area. Intense flak was experienced and F/Lt Smets was hit and had to bale out inside the enemy lines. 610 were away next, but they got no joy at all. 130 took off third and they ran into a packet of trouble. Intense flak of sorts was thrown at them but despite this the pilots pressed home their attacks on scattered Met and were able to claim a tank damaged and one lorry destroyed and three others damaged, but flak was severe. S/Ldr Tripe was hit and wounded in the right arm. He smartly started for home and then all sorts of things began to happen. He was somewhere near to base when the starboard wing stripped and he realised he would have to bale out. He was severely handicapped by the wound in his arm, but he managed to jettison his hood, and then at 1500 feet he clambered to his feet and let the slipstream pull him out. His "chute" opened O.K. and he landed right next to his favourite "pub" - the "Madaga" at Niel-Pres-d'Asch. He was picked up by the Army and was back at dispersal in a few minutes - in fact before the rest of the squadron had landed. A good show."

And here's how a Reuters story reported the incident -

Canadian Leader of Punjab Squadron Hit
By Denis Martin, The Royal Gazette and Colonist
Hamilton, Bermuda
Monday, February 12, 1945

WITH THE SECOND TACTICAL AIR FORCE BELGIUM, Feb. 11 (Reuter).-The leader of this celebrated “Punjab” Spitfire squadron, wounded by flak after a strafing mission of Germany, thrown out of his cockpit and baling out into the slipstream, managed to drift back into the Allied lines and land on the doorstep of his favourite “pub” (tavern).
He is Squadron Leader P.V.K. Tripe, Distinguished Flying Cross, of 328 James Street, Ottawa, and he is now on his way back to Canada.
The mission had yielded about five motor transport and one tank when Tripe’s aircraft was hit and the mainplane ripped open. Five pieces of shrapnel lodged in his right arm. Tripe nursed the aircraft towards the Allied lines, when a heavy explosion on the starboard side stripped the fuselage and wing. Tripe stood up in the cockpit and let the slipstream whip him into the air as the Spitfire turned into the death roll. Landing by parachute near a wood, Tripe recognised that he was almost on top of a roadhouse only a few miles from the aerodrome. Pilots of the Spitfire wing had held a nightly rendezvous at the inn for some weeks and the patron gave Tripe an enthusiastic reception.
“Nice of you to come so early” he shouted but when he saw that Tripe was wounded he brought out a bottle of his best cognac – not the stuff sold over the bar – and called up an army truck. Tripe has completed over 1,200 flying hours and left for Canada after a brief stay in hospital."

Apparently, it's possible that Dad was hit by US flak.

And so, Bill and I are headed to the Mardaga Inn (see above postcard) to raise a glass and present a poster to that "roadhouse" to remember the last day of Phil Tripe's war. And at the top, there is a postcard of Le Cafe which may very well be where that cognac was downed.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Back Story

This is the story of my father and my family's journey to know what happened to him during WWII.

Phil Tripe grew up in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. It seemed he always wanted to fly because he started taking flying lessons at the Ottawa Flying Club in May 1938 when he was 19. He joined the Royal Air Force in 1939 in England. My Aunt Marian - his sister - says he couldn't join the Royal Canadian Air Force as a pilot and officer because he didn't have a university degree.

Phil joined the RAF May 1, 1939 for "a short service commission" and became a pupil pilot at Ansty, Coventry. My mother, Elizabeth Rannie went to England from Ottawa in 1940 where they were married. I was born in Chester and we stayed there until June 1945.

I will add posts with more but this is just a bit of information on why I decided to do this blog. In the summer of 2008, I was in touch with my cousins John and David Hall. We started emailing back and forth about Dad's time in the war and that's when it all reignited my interest. It has been an amazing journey -we've found out lots of information, we have made some terrific friends via email in England and in Belgium.

And my husband Bill (who swears he's interested too!) and I are going to Belgium to celebrate Dad's safe landing. We leave Halifax for London on January 11, 2010. We go to Brussels on the Eurostar on January 15 and then back home on January 19.

In the meantime, the poster at the top of Phil Tripe was constructed by my cousin John Hall.