Reminiscences from the War

This section contain interviews with area residents who were kind enough to share their stories with Valdemars "Woody" Zvanitajs. Tillsonburg has become a retirement community for many former veterans and participants in the Second World War. It is our hope to preserve their stories and acknowledge their service.

Reminiscences from the War




                                        VOLUNTEER RESERVE 1943-45

Edwin Morgan Bilger was born March 13, 1925 on a tobacco farm in

Lynedoch, Ontario.  He had two brothers and went to Delhi D.H.S.,

but as he admitted, he was an indifferent student and left school to

enlist in the Canadian Navy on August 24, 1943 at the age of 18.

He signed on at HMCS Starr in Hamilton and took his basic training

at HMCS Montcalm at the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City, where

they were billeted at a millionaires club with an indoor swimming pool

although most of young volunteers couldn't swim. He was trained as

an ASDIC (Sonar) operator at HMCS Cornwallis in Halifax and joined


HMCS Noranda, a Bangor Class Minesweeper, with no mine-sweeping

gear, only ASDIC in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. The Noranda was first

assigned to the Halifax Force, a local escort force. IIn February 1943

she was assigned to the Western Local Escort Force, escorting convoys

along the coast of North America.  Morgan recounted that the Noranda

escorted ships from Halifax, New York and Boston to Sidney, Nova Scotia

and St. John's Newfoundland and out to the Ocean Meeting Place where

bigger and faster convoys were assembled and larger naval ships took

over to take the convoys to Britain.


By his own account, he could not handle the tossing and pitching of the

ship in rough seas and was often seasick, especially when working in the

tight confines of the ASDIC room. To prevent "accidents" he carried a

bucket around with him while on duty inside, earning the nickname

"Buckets", which was given him by the Captain.  He fared better outside,

standing watch.  As an able seaman and a sonar operator he received a

pay of $3.50 a day including his duties as a submarine detector.  As a

non-smoker, he supplemented his income by selling cigarettes that he

received from the Town of Delhi and Imperial Tobacco Company to

longshoremen in various ports.


They were also assigned to escort the ferry from Sidney N.S. to Port

aux Basques Nfld. which the Captain did not consider a worthwhile

assignment. However, this was necessary as the ferry Caribou had

been torpedoed by a U-Boat while on that run on October 14, 1942,

with a loss of 137 lives. The crew of the Noranda came from all across

Canada, from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, and even Newfoundland;

Morgan still has two sheets of paper with all the signatures and home

towns of all his shipmates.


Morgan was de-mobilized in November 1945 and returned to Lynedoch,

married in 1947 and ran a tobacco farm for three years. He then bought

a hardware store in Norwich from his uncle, W.W.W. Morgan who had

owned it for forty years and ran it successfully until he sold it and entered

the Insurance Business.  He was an adjustor for several years and he

climbed the ladder to Manager, C.E.O of the Company and a member of

the Board of Directors for 35 years in total until his retirement.

 noranda 2


The Noranda was launched in 1941 and escorted convoys for the

rest of the war. After the war she was refitted and was transferred

to the RCMP as the patrol vessel Irvine. In 1962 she was sold and

turned into the yacht Miriana.  Renamed Marijana and thenViking LR

in 1969, she sank off the coast of Jamaica in a storm.

Reminiscences from the War




Dorothy was born in Waldron, Saskatchewan, in a family of 5

children.  She finished Grade 12 at the local High School and

then enlisted in the Air Force in April 1943 at  Saskatoon. A

sister also enlisted in the Army. Her basic training took place

at Rock-cliffe, outside of Ottawa and consisted of marching

and learning discipline. They also had to work in the kitchen

and to break the routine they would slide down the fire

escape chute until caught by a W/O. She was a stenographer,

doing typing and shorthand, first in Toronto and then in

Ottawa ar Air Force Headquarters for the rest ofthe war for

$2.95 a day. They were billeted at the Princess Alice Barracks

and had their share of drill and "Parade Bashing" in the yard

of a nearby museum. The other women were from all over

Canada; her best friends were from Vancouver and Engelhart

in Northern Ontario. She remembers being paraded out from

work to line the streets and wave at Charles De Gaulle on his

visit to Ottawa.

women clerks  de gaulle

Dorothy was de-mobilized in 1946, but then married her

husband, a Flight Sergeant in the Air Force; he had been

a Flying Officer during the War and they had four children.

In typical military fashion they were moved around, living

in PMQ's in Ottawa, Trenton and two tours in Germany

at Baden-Baden and Ramstein with the Allied Tactical Air

Force. They were at Ramstein during the Cuban Missile Crisis

and were being prepared for evacuation in case of a Russian

attack. They were to be flown to New York and then back

to Canada.

She remembers that their food rations had been piled under

the kitchen table and her little daughter crawling out from

under the table with her face all brown after having eaten

a tin of cocoa.

The crisis blew over, but Dorothy remembers thinking that

with Russian MIG's only 5 minutes flying time from

Ramstein, that there would not have been too much time

for an evacuation.





Reminiscences from the War




Les was born in Toronto in 1923 in a family of 3 brothers

and 3 sisters. He was in the Queen's Own Militia Regiment

and enlisted in the Army in 1942 at the CNE after being 

turned down by the Navy and Air Force as they were not

recruiting at that time. His first posting was to Newmarket

where he learned marching, rifle drill and the basics of 

soldiering. He was then sent to Barriefield, near Kingston

for more advanced and combat and weapon training as a

Technical storeman.

He went to England on the Queen Elizabeth with 16,000 other

men, landing in Scotland and then on to Dorking and Winchester.

He landed in France from a LST shortly after D-Day and recalls

waiting outside ofCaen while the city was pulverized by a 1000

bomber raid. Les served in 3rd Infantry Troop Workshop where

vehicles, trucks and tanks etc. were repaired so that they could

return to action. They were under fire from the Germans and

slept in trenches they dug to protect themselvesand remembers

a night when a groundhog jumped into the trench where he was

sleeping. "I was out of there so fast that I didn't care if the whole

German Army was outside".

He went through Belgium, Holland and ended up at a German Air

Force base in Cleve, Germany on May 8'" - the end of the war.


While in Holland, one day heard his brother John broadcasting

Canadian sports news on the BBC, which came as a great

surprise as he was not even aware he was in England. When

he later married, John was his best man and his nephew

Bill were there to represent his family who he not seen for years.


At the time of the Battle of the Bulge, when the Germans were

sending, soldiers disguised as Allied troops behind Allied lines

Les was on guard duty and apprehended a suspicious looking

British Officer who was not amused at being questioned.

On April 27th he received leave to return to England to marry

Joan, an English girl he had met previously. The marriage

took place on Sunday the 29th; Joan had made all the

arrangements, and Les recalls that all he had to do was

show up.

After a short honey-moon he was back at Cleve by May 8th.

As a member of the 1st Canadian Division he was entitled

to return to Canada right away, but he extended his tour

of duty by six months to remain in England to be with his

wife. She had lived in London during the Blitz and had been

bombed out of her home and forced to live in temporary

housing. Les returned to Canada in February 1946, again

on the Queen Elizabeth and Joan followed on May 24th.



avro 002

After the war he worked at A.V. Roe in Malton helping to

correct any mechanical problems as they arose. After the

Avro Arrow was cancelled, he worked for Canada Customs

and Excise for 28 years until his retirement.

Reminiscences from the War




Roy was born in Toronto on January 29, 1924, the second

oldest in a family of three brothers and three sisters. He

lived on Dovercourt Rd. North of Bloor St. and attended

Kent Public School and Central Tech. He quit school after

Grade 11 to work at Viceroy Rubber Company. He enlisted

in the Air Force in June 1943 at the CNE in Toronto to avoid

being drafted into the Army. Two of his brothers were in

the services as well. He did his basic training at Lachine,

Quebec and was sent to Souris, Manitoba. There he did

general duty as a Leading Air Craftsman, but earned an

extra $1.00 a day sitting behind student pilots who were

learning instrument flying in Ansons enclosed in a canvas

screen. His job was to watch out for other planes and warn

the pilot if they got too close.

anson bomber

He was sent to England in 1943, sailing from Halifax on the

luxury passenger liner, the Ile de France. Roy recalls with a

chuckle that it was his first "cruise" but, unfortunately, well

below decks. He was posted to an RAF base at Wombleton,

Yorkshire, which also had a RCAF Bomber Squadron. He

served as Ground Crew, loading bombs and servicing the

Lancaster bombers, but not doing any mechanical work

for $1.50 a day.

lancaster bomber loading

During his leaves, Roy visited Scotland and London

during the V-I "buzz-bomb" attacks. His mother

and aunts had been home children, sent from England to

Canada and he tried to find their birth certificates but had

trouble doing so as his mother had changed her first name

from Nellie to Hazel (because Nellie was a name everyone

called their horses.)

Roy was demobilized in August of 1946 at the CNE and

returned to his job at the Viceroy Rubber Company. He

worked there for 42 years until the company went into

receivership and he was let go with no severance pay or

pension. He had met his wife Mary, who had been a student

nurse in Toronto and had looked after his mother, who

suggested that she call her son. She did so, and as they

said, that was it. In 1988, they sold their house in Toronto

and moved to Hickory Hills in Tillsonburg.