Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Reminiscences of a Military Brat (Part 5) - We Move to Germany

My last report card (Chatham)
In April 1968 we left Chatham and started on our journey to RCAF Air Base 3 Wing, Zweibrucken (2 Bridges), West Germany (as it was still at that time). This was a very exciting time for us and somewhat nervous-making. If I remember one of my last nights in Chatham, I camped in my friend's trailer, beside their PMQ, with my buddies. They presented me with a hard cover copy of Alistair MacLean's Caravan to Vaccares as a going-away present. We had a bit of a party, then either next day or shortly thereafter, we hit the road. There was lots of preparation as pretty well all of our furniture and stuff was put in long term storage for the three years we were to be out of the country. I seem to remember my parents got a number of tri-wall boxes. Now here I'm probably wrong, but a certain number were classified red-ball, meaning they had to get to Germany when we got there; things like clothes, bedding, etc. The other ones were green-balls and they took a bit longer.

My dad was going to ship his car over to Germany; he had a green Ford Galaxy 500 (is that right Dad?) and it was pretty new. But there was a dock workers strike in the port of Montreal, so since he didn't know how long the strike might last, he decided to sell the car before we left for Germany. We were going to fly out on the Service Flight from RCAF station Trenton, Ontario, so we took the opportunity to drive up to Ottawa and Northern Ontario and Quebec to say good - bye to our relatives before we went to catch our flight. There were five of us going to Germany, my parents, Christine, John and me. I think we probably said good-bye to Ricky before we left New Brunswick as he was still finishing university.

Anyway, we headed up to see our relatives and finished our visit in Timmins, Ontario, saying good-bye to Meema, Uncle Biddu (well, actually his name was Raymond, but for some reason, we all called him, Biddu (I have no idea how to spell it, but it's how we pronounced it anyway.. ) and Aunt Dora and everybody else. Dad sold his car in Timmins, then we boarded the train to head down to southern Ontario and our flight. For me and John, well, probably for all of us, this was such a neat trip. We had a sleeper car as the train trip from Timmins to Toronto was overnight. What luxury! I don't know the sleeping arrangements, we may, in fact, have had two rooms. But there was a bottom bed and the other was pulled down from the ceiling by the porter. So cool!

The Yukon Aircraft
After we got to Toronto, we switched to another train and as that was only a day trip, we just had seats. We took this train to RCAF Base Trenton, in southern Ontario. That's where our flight left from. We stayed at the Yukon Lodge, a hotel on the base for families heading off to Germany. I think we just stayed over night and then next day we caught our plane to Germany. Trenton was a very big base, our main Air Transport base, I believe. There were all sorts of planes on the ramp; Hercules, etc. On the Yukon we sat facing the back, well, some of us did. It was a long flight to Lahr, Germany (5 Wing), our first stop on the way. John was just a little tyke and as I recall, he fell asleep in his food as soon as we took off and pretty well slept the whole way over to Germany.

We arrived in Lahr and after we cleared through Customs and such (I think there was customs, remember I was only 13.. lol). The people who were continuing on to Zweibrucken were put on a bus, driven to the Mess Hall for lunch and then we went straight to 3 Wing. I think that might have been a 4 or 5 hour bus ride.

Our first home in Großsteinhausen (Big Stone Houses), W Germany
When we arrived at the base in Germany, our sponsors met us. Mr. Jones drove a black VW Beetle. Picture this. We were driven around for a couple of days in this, 5 of us and the Jones', 4 of them. What an adventure! Try to imagine if you would even be allowed to do that nowadays. We all fit in, John was only little and the Jones' girls were as well. It was lots of fun. We got to see the city of Zweibrucken and were taken out to the village in which we'd live for the next few months. There were no PMQs available I don't think at first. Our first house was in the town of Großsteinhausen (which means basically Big Stone Houses). As you can see from the picture above, we had half of the second floor of the house. The lady and little boy were our neighbours. They were a Canadian family. I think, altogether, there were 4 Canadian families living in the village. Looking at our flat, the living room and dining room were by the balcony. My parent's bedroom was next to that room and John and I shared the other bedroom. I think it was only a two bedroom apartment as the bathroom and kitchen were on the other side. So I guess Chris shared the room with John and I. She moved back to Canada in the summer, I think, as she was getting married so it wasn't for too long.

Dad, Christine and John in our living room
The next town over from us was Kleinsteinhausen (basically Small Stone Houses) and heading the other way back towards Zweibrucken was Großsteinhausen Mueller (the Big Stone Houses Mill) where another Canadian family lived.

Großsteinhausen was a small village, a farming community. Down the street from our house was the town centre, with a little grocery store. Across the road from us, the family raised pigs. We used to watch with delight when the sow opened the gate with her snout and escaped down the road. It was hilarious. One of the Canadian families lived just up the road from us about two houses and the other one lived at the other end of town. None had any children my age, they were better suited for John. It was amazing that all of these kids were fluent in German. They didn't have the inhibitions we older kids did. Having said that, I became somewhat comfortable with German, enough to get by anyway. For my mother, who'd emigrated to Canada from Germany as a child, this would be an opportunity for her to visit relatives and to update her skill with the German language.

Our car, Volksie
Once we were settled in the apartment, Dad got the car that would take us all over Europe for the next 3 years; that was Volksie, a VW 1600 hatchback. It was a great car. We squeezed many people in that at times and toured all over the place.

But for now, I'll stop there, as the Dumoulin family settle into their new country and home and discover the delights of living in a foreign country. More in the next entry.

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