GENERAL ARTICLES

"They Say the Darndest Things..."

ALLEN MAY August 1 1944
GENERAL ARTICLES

"They Say the Darndest Things..."

ALLEN MAY August 1 1944

"They Say the Darndest Things..."

ALLEN MAY

Lost or lonesome, baffled or broke ... for a hardboiled fighter the travelling serviceman needs—» and gets—a lot of help

IT’S OKAY, lady,” said the soldier. “I didn’t have to catch a train. I just wanted to be called.”

He had a black beret cocked rakishly on the side of his head and under it his lean face was creased in an impish grin. The young woman wore the blue smock uniform of “Information Please”—a service provided by a group of imaginative and immensely practical women volunteers in the Union Station, Toronto. They were standing in the centre of the “Landseair” Room, a small space in the east end of the station which the women have transformed from a branch bank office into a pleasant combina-

tion of reading, writing, sleeping room and lounge In what used to be the bank vault there are four cots for the use of servicemen. The soldier had come in at two o’clock and had asked to be wakened “in an hour.” It was now 3.30 and there was a hint of annoyance in Miss Information’s voice.

“But I called you seven times,” she said.

“I know you did, lady,” said the soldier. “I counted ’em. And believe me—after three months of being blasted out of bed by a bugle a woman’s voice is my idea of heaven.”

He sauntered jauntily away to mingle with the crowds in front of the ticket wickets, leaving Miss

Information struggling with an impulse to giggle while wondering if she shouldn’t feel offended. The impulse won.

“You never know what to expect,” she said finally. “They do the darndest things.”

For more than a year now, under the management of the Landseair (Land—Sea—Air) War Service Club, these 100 women have been helping thousands of men and women in uniform, who daily pour thfough the great railway terminal, to find their way about Toronto. Because the ones they help are nearly always in a predicament they have had an unusual opportunity to observe the human beings behind the uniforms.

If you have ever come into a big city, a stranger yourself, you will appreciate the help which a group of intelligent women, armed with information, sympathy and the practical sense of their sex, can be, say, to a lad of 18 on a 48-hour leave, who has scarcely any (sometimes not any) money in his pockets, who has never been to the city, who has no acquaintances there and who isn’t quite sure, even, how to get out of the station.

Friday nights, Saturday nights and paydays are the busy periods for Information Please. Then the station swarms with thousands of servicemen and women intent upon crowding into a 48or 72-hour leave all the living, playing and excitement Toronto can provide.

The information “circle,” as it is called, beneath the clock and the train schedules in the centre of the ticket lobby literally hums.

“Can you find us a room in a hotel?” an RAF sergeant enquires for himself and his chum.

“I’ll try—but Friday night’s a bad night in Continued on page 47

"They Say the Darndest Things..."

Continued from page 6

Toronto,” says Miss Information. “Don’t I know it.”

“Of course, I could find you a rooming house or would you try one of the hostels?—you know—dormitory style ...”

“We’d like to have a room to ourselves.”

Miss Information is on the telephone. “Information Please calling. Have you a double? They’ll be right up.”

She fills out a form giving the sergeant’s name, gives him explicit instructions how to reach the rooming house by streetcar, then enquires if they will be staying over Sunday and would they like tickets to a Sunday show, dance or party.

“Oh, no thanks,” says the sergeant. “We’ll he running out tomorrow.” “Like to dance tonight?” j The sergeant turns to his chum, “Say! There’s an idea. Shall we?” They go away armed with two tickets for the dance in Columbus Hall, which is “just one block south and two west, of where you’ll he staying,” Miss Information informs them.

A Timid Corporal

A very small Army corporal sidles up. “Can I help you?” says Miss Information.

“Yuh, er—I guess not.” He wheels and rushes away, looking very comical in his effort to get through the lines of people around “the circle.”

Miss Information turns to the Air Force officer at her elbow with the invariable question.

He gazes meditatively at her a second, then grins. “Maybe you could,” he says. “My brother got married here today ...”

“Yes?”

“Well—the reception is supposed to be in a hall somewhere around Queen’s Park. Do you think you could help me find out which one it is?”

The query doesn’t faze the girl in blue. “Would it be Wymilwood?” “Gosh, I don’t know. Sounds familiar though.” The airman tells her his brother’s name.

With that much information the girl : with the telephone locates the wedding party and in a matter of moments the airman is talking to his brother and making arrangements to get to Wymil, wood Hall before the reception ends.

I He touches his hand to his hashed-in

fighter-pilot’s hat. “Lady, you’re a marvel.”

The little corporal has edged up again and this time manages to blurt out that his girl was supposed to have come in on a train from London and he had missed her. “Howmygonnafiner?” he asks.

Miss Information attempts to calm him down by being very reasonable.

“Was she going to meet you here?” she asks.

The little corporal’s face puckers into a look of complete consternation. “No. Why should she?”

“Well, I just thought ...” Miss Information begins. But before she* can finish the little corporal has disappeared again. He reappeared by actual count—eight times that night and it was midnight before they were able to get enough coherent ! information from him to learn that the girl’s uncle, with whom she probably ! would he staying, drove around Toronto in a cruiser car and his name, the j little corporal thought, was Munro. j Sure enough the Toronto police force had a detective on night prowl duty by the name of Munro. And when the headquarters dispatcher contacted him, and brought him in to Information Please by telephone, sure enough his niece was at his residence . . . and there was a spare bed for the little corporal if he wanted it.

A WREN, with tears in her eyes, came up and sobbed out her pitiable story. She had heen robbed in the women’s washroom. Her purse, containing $48, her travel warrant, meal ¡ tickets and identification cards, had ; been stolen. In four hours she would be j AWL, and how could she get back to camp without her warrant and without j money?

It was a job for the supervisor. Miss Information conducted the sobbing girl to the Landseair Room where, by dint of much telephoning and the unimpeachable reference of the superintendent, a substitute travel warrant, a new ticket and enough money for meals were obtained. Miss Information saw her off on her train in time to make camp within the expiration of her leave. Then she came back to report the theft to the stationmaster.

“Money troubles can be tragic for them,” she observed. “One lad got stranded here. He’d been out West on furlough and coming back he struck up acquaintance with another chap and they pooled their finances. The other lad held the money and tickets. They got separated. This lad hadn’t had a thing to eat for 40 hours when he finally came to us. He slept in the

station all night. He was 24 hours over his leave. And he was in a panic.

“We got the orderly officer at Camp Borden on the telephone. The best he would do was send the M.P.’s down the next day and take the boy in under arrest. That would mean he would have to pay the M.P.s’ railroad fare and his own. It would be stopped out of his pay. Besides being broke and desperate now, he’d face the prospect of being broke for the next several months and the guardhouse as well.

“We got the R.T.O.—that’s the Railway Transport Officer—on our side. He believed the lad’s story and called Borden back to get an extension of leave for him. Then we took a quick collection and managed to raise enough for his fare and a meal. Believe me, the look of relief that came across that lad’s face when we slipped him his ticket was all the payment we wanted.”

The Girl In Red

Down in the lower concourse, where all descending passengers stream out through a centre exit, a couple of Information Please girls cast back and forth like a pair of hunting dogs, looking for men in uniform to assist.

A very young captain of a tank unit, loaded with luggage, appealed for help.

“Would you mind trying to spot a girl in a red coat for me while I check this gear upstairs? You can’t miss her. She’s blond and beautiful. About this high. And she’ll be wearing the reddest coat you ever saw. Hold her till I get back ...”

The first red coat Miss Information approached was waiting for an officer all right, hut for a lieutenant, not a captain. The next beautiful blonde in a red coat was expecting an airman. Five good-looking girls in five red coats failed to produce the captain’s special armful of bliss.

“He finally found her himself,” Miss Information explained, with just a hint of a snifT —“and she wasn’t wearing the reddest coat in the place, either.”

The tragic echoes of a faraway war are scarcely audible above the shuffle of thousands of feet in the concourse of Union Station. But in the Landseair Room, where peace and quiet are maintained, the echoes sometimes break with horrifying clearness.

It was in the afternoon. A soldier sat reading. An Air Force woman was writing a letter. And the supervisor was sitting idly at her desk. The sleeping room was occupied by a merchant seaman. Suddenly, bloodcurdling screams broke out.

“Throw it!” shrieked the man in hunk. “Throw the thing! Throw it! 'Throw it! Throw it!” He continued to scream until they roused him from his dreadful nightmare, wild-eyed and gasping like a drowning man. He had been torpedoed five times.

When he had stopped trembling he apologized. “It’s always the same,” he said. “I’m going down and that sailor on the nxft’s got a rope and won’t throw it.”

A soldier came in on crutches; one leg missing. It was raining and slippery outside. The crutches were awkward.

“Could you do something for me?” he finally asked. “I want to get a locket and I guess I’m afraid to try it outside. Maybe I could telephone. It’s—I mean the locket’s for a—for my mother.”

Miss Information went out and bought a locket. She hadn’t been observing young men in uniform for a year without learning something about the'm. She bought a locket that would be a suitable gift for quite a young girl.

The soldier’s face colored when he looked at it. “How’d you know?” he asked.

“Just a guess,” said Miss Information. “Who is she? Your girl?”

“No,” said the soldier. “Not really my girl. It’s for a nurse up at the hospital. She was so nice to me all the time. I just wanted to give her something.”

For such small services the men in blue and khaki are often overwhelmingly grateful. They write letters of thanks, propose marriage, invite the girls to their homes and their weddings, and often ask them to act as bridesmaids.

He Wore the Crusader’s Cross

Sometimes, however, the help that Miss Information can give a troubled soldier, sailor, airman or merchant seaman is no more than sympathetic silence or a kind word, while she holds back her own tears and tries to understand.

One youth with the Crusader’s Cross of Monty’s Eighth Army on his shoulder and a slight limp in one leg caught the eye of one of the girls on early morning duty. He would walk to the exit doors, stare out, clench his fists at his sides and walk back to his luggage against the wall.

On one of his trips to the doors Miss Information approached with the customary, “Can I help?” The boy turned swiftly and stared at her. “Are you a stranger in Toronto?” she repeated the formula. The boy snorted and walked back to his luggage without answering. Such rudeness is not often encountered by the women in blue. Miss Information Please hesitated a moment and then followed the limping young veteran.

“I only wanted to help,” she said. “Have you had breakfast yet?”

“That seemed to snap something in him,” she told me. “He bit his lower lip and nearly smiled. He had a funny look in his eyes.”

“I’m scared to go out that door,” he said.

“After Africa? Go on with you.”

“Yeah, after Africa. You asked me if I was a stranger in Toronto. That’s a laugh. I was born in this burg. It’s supposed to be my home town. Swell homecoming, eh? See any bands? Any welcoming committee? Even my old lady? No. She died while I was over there. And as far as I know there isn’t a person in this city knows who I am.”

He was handling his dunnage bag as he talked and arranging his equipment over his shoulder.

“You were some help after all, lady,” he said. “You reminded me I was hungry.”

Miss Information watched him make his final effort to go through the door. She smiled and waved encouragement to him. He w’aved back. But there was no answering smile on the grim-set young face. He went out like a backfielder plunging through an opposing team's line, or like a man advancing under fire—out to Front Street, into Toronto—back home . . .