Reproduced with permission from
The Beacon Supplement July 29, 1987.
War Bride Recalls early Gander
Scotland native Jessie Blackmore wasn’t surprised when she stepped off the train at Gander in 1946. After all she was a coal miner’s daughter and was used to “roughing it”, she says. She knew she was coming to a new town just emerging and was excited at the prospect of being a part of it and watching its growth. Living in the centre of a bustling airport with airplanes constantly soaring overhead didn’t faze her in the slightest. A member of the armed forces in London, England, during the war, she was used to the roar of bombers and the dreaded howl of bombs being dropped. Now, with the war still fresh in her mind, she found it difficult to sleep if things were too quiet.
A war bride, Jessie met Harland Blackmore, a native of Pinchard’s Island, Bonavista Bay, when she was stationed in Edinburgh during the war. He was there as part of a war-time forestry program “A civilian but doing a war-time job,” says Jessie. They married in December of 1945 and came to Newfoundland the following year. A broad smile lights Jessie’s face as she recalls her journey to the province. After a long trip with stopovers in Halifax and St. John’s, they finally were secure in a boat heading for Pinchard’s Island. “The boats kept getting smaller and smaller,” says Jessie with a chuckle. “As we neared the end of the trip we ended up in a little punt.” But they couldn’t have had a better welcome if they were royalty, she says. The whole community turned out to meet Harland and his new bridge and with all the church bells ring and amid warm shouts of greeting, they were elecomed home.
The plan was for Jessie to remain at Pinchard’s Island while Harland went to Gander to work. He would send for her after he was settled. “I waited for two weeks,” says Jessie, “then I sent him a telegram informing him I was on my way.”
Jessie arrived in Gander to find out that Harland was living in men’s barracks. She moved into woman’s barracks while arrangements were being made to find them a room together. A couple of days later Jessie had a chat with the manager of the then Airlines Hotel. “I showed him all my force’s credentials,” she says with a proud note, “and I landed a job immediately.” The Airlines Hotel was bustling with activity, she says, “TWA, AOA, Pan American, Air France, every airline you could mention was here then. It was a pastime just watching the planes come in to see if anyone important was on them.” “Quite often there was,” she adds.
A month after she arrived in Gander, Jessie and Harland finally got a room together in what was then called Building Seven. It was all barracks then except for Chestnut Street, says Harland. “Chestnut Street was where all the prominent people lived and they had the only bit of pavement around.”
Life was good on the Armyside, they say, “We would hire bikes on Sundays for 30 cents an hour, have little get-togethers and picnic down by Deadman’s Pond and watch the seaplanes take off.” People living on the Armyside were very close. For many of the people there it was a strange new environment and they adjusted to it together. “Like one big family,” says Jessie.
It was good watching the community grow. “Then, when we looked out our windows all we coul see was woods. We used to hold meetings to plan how we would like things to be. We never dreamed it would be like it is today.” She remembers the tiny school houses and the hospital down by the railway tracks, where her son, Ian was born. Another hospital on the American Side is now the CFB quarters, notes Harland. Jessie says she adjusted quickly to life in Gander, although, in her early years she recalls a particularly noisy night time takeoff that startled her. Awaking, she went scrambling for her gas mask, “I thought I was back in Britain being bombed,” she explains.
While it was a relief to find that she was not still in the middle of the war, only the middle of an airport, there were times when she felt somewhere else might be a better place to be. A little baby’s boot she picked out of the debris of the Czechoslovakian crash in 1967 is a grim reminder of one of those times.
Harland recalls a Sunday in 1946 when a crash claimed five lives, Harland and a friend, George Norris, were on the runway when they realized a plane taking off was not going to make it. They scurried for safety but three men and a woman standing on the runway were not as fortunate as the plane swooped down, killing them and the pilot.
Jessie has never really regretted her move to Gander. She says that other girls who came over, but left again, just didn’t give the place a chance. Jessie made a commitment when she left Scotland that she “wasn’t leaving home but was coming to build a home.” “Home was where my husband was going”, she said.
© 2004 Carol Walsh and NL GenWeb