John Rhodes enlisted in 1939 and underwent his pilot
training in England, as well as instructor training. Posted
to No. 34 Service
Training Flying School (SFTS) Medicine Hat, he arrived
in mid-March 1941, barely a month after the school had become
operational. In this excerpt from his memoirs entitled "Rhodes
Family History," he describes some of his experiences with
the people of Medicine Hat.
Canadians in general, and Medicine Hatters in particular,
were, and still are, a friendly people and did their best
to make the newcomers welcome to their town. Being a small
place, everyone knew everyone else and there were many social organizations
such as the Elks, Moose, Kiwanis and Masonic Lodges, with their
Shriner offshoots and lady's circles.
The town had known for a long time that the new airport
was to be a training school, but, not unnaturally, expected
Royal Canadian Air Force personnel to turn up on the appointed
day. The townspeople had a deputation to meet the train
and some of the local young ladies were persuaded to come
along and join in and to attend a welcome get-to-know-you reception (no alcohol of course) later that day. It
turned out—to the young ladies' chagrin—that Englishmen, not
Canadians, arrived. They were ground staff, not flyers.
They were all (so the story went) shorter than many of the
young ladies and spoke in strange dialects, which the Canadian
ear could not interpret. The "Belles of the Hat" rapidly lost
interest and went home.
a few weeks later, the aircrew Brylcreme
boys arrived, the damage was done and they found the fair
sex very thin on the ground. For those of more tender years,
it perhaps should be explained that Brylcreme was a supposedly
non-greasy hair fixative and the adverts showed either a
famous cricketer of that day, Dennis Complon, with his hair
slicked down, or a glamorous looking fellow in fighter pilots
uniform, scarf and all, standing in a propeller slipstreet
with his hair quite unruffled. Those less fortunate members
of the Army or Navy who felt that the Royal Air Force
(RAF) had more success
in "pulling the birds" than they did, from then
on sneeringly referred to air crew as "those Brylcreme
The long journey necessitated a haircut so downtown I went
and found a barber's saloon, complete with a 360 degree rotating
seat as shown in wild west movies. As there were no
other customers, I sat down. In dead silence the overall
went around my neck. Snip, snip went the shears. Silence.
Snip, snip, snip, snip. Silence. Finally the man spoke.
you're English?" he said in a cold, sibilant tone.
I squeaked, thinking perhaps he was going to give the visitor a free haircut. Snip, snip, snip.
spun the chair to face the street. "See that grocers
"Yes," I said.
"Well I recall a notice in
that window saying ‘Man required to sweep floors. Englishmen
apply.’" Without further ado he swung the chair back
to face the mirror.
Funny, I thought. Better play my cards close to my chest.
Could it be that he DOESN'T LIKE ENGLISHMEN?
No. On second thoughts that had to be impossible. Oh well,
here goes. "Why?" I squeaked.
"Remittance men of course," he said in a tone,
which clearly indicated that not only was I an accursed
Englishman, but stupid to boot.
"What's a remittance man?" I asked. That stopped
his snipping. He spun the chair to face him and I saw the
amazement on his face.
"You really don't know?" he asked.
"No, honestly, I don't." He pondered this for a
while and then in a softer tone explained. "A remittance man was one of you English from a wealthy
or titled family who had disgraced them, and to save them
from prison or from embarrassing the family, they gave them
a monthly remittance for so long as they stayed in Canada
and never returned to England. The cheques arrived on the
first of the month and the Englishmen drank themselves stupid
and stayed drunk until the money ran out, then they bummed
around looking for work to buy food until the next cheque
arrived. They were lazy, useless bums."
"Well," I said, "I've never heard of that
before. We are not all like that, you know." By the
time he had finished cutting my hair he had become a little more friendly.
John Rhodes eventually returned to Britain, serving on
a night intruder squadron, supporting bombers and shooting
down V1 flying bombs. He currently resides in Northampton,