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John Rhodes

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.

Living quarters and mess buildings at Royal Air Force (RAF) Station, Medicine Hat, Alberta. Home of No. 34 Service Flying Training School (SFTS).When, 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 glamour boys!"

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. 

"So you're English?" he said in a cold, sibilant tone. 

"Yes," I squeaked, thinking perhaps he was going to give the visitor a free haircut. Snip, snip, snip. 

Suddenly he spun the chair to face the street. "See that grocers over there?"

"Yes," I said. 

"Well I recall a notice in that window saying ‘Man required to sweep floors. Englishmen need not
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, England.

 

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