THE YANKEES GO HOME FROM ST. JOHN'S
For two decades Pepperrell Air Force Base has provided jobs, husbands, foster parents and countless friendships for thousands of Newfoundlanders. Now there is sadness, apprehension and mounting unemployment as
“Yankee go home!” has been shouted at U. S. troops by derisive crowds and painted on walls in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. Even in Canada, which shares common roots and an undefended border with the United States, the fear of being dominated economically. militarily, politically and culturally by our big neighbor is widespread.
Yet in St. John's, Newfoundland, which has been dominated, shaped and influenced by the U. S. far more than any other Canadian city, there is no rejoicing over the fact that Pepperrell. the giant U. S. air-forces supply base, is now being evacuated. The Yanks are at last going home, and instead of jubliation there is sadness, apprehension and mounting unemployment.
With their departure the province is losing an employer of twelve hundred Newfoundlanders and an inexhaustible supply of eligible bachelors among whom twenty-five thousand Newfoundland girls have found husbands. It's also losing the couples who have adopted 250 Newfoundland children in the past five years, and
tht Yanks who played Santa Claus each Christmas to six hundred orphans and sick children.
When Pepperrell was built two decades ago on 1,635 acres leased to the United States by the United Kingdom for ninety - nine years. Newfoundland was only beginning to rally from a depression so severe that the island had been compelled to relinquish its status as a self-governing dominion and revert to the status of a coony under a British commission. Thousands were on relief, wages distressingly low, living standards depressed. The population of St. John's, the capital, had shown little tendency to grow and stood at thirty-four thousand.
The rise of Pepperrell coincided with — aal contributed substantially to — the recovery of St. John's from unemployment and poverty. Aí the outset, it provided hundreds of construction jobs. This and Newfoundland's heavy enlistments in the armed forces eliminated the labor surplus and pushed up wages.
After construction. Pepperrell did three impertan t things for Newfoundland:
I. It filled civilian posts with Newfoundlanders
and became the largest employer in St. John's with the possible exception of the government. In 1959, although its operations had already been curtailed, it had twelve hundred Newfoundlanders on the payroll. The average weekly pay cheque was eighty-one dollars, and some drew $140 a week.
2. It put twelve million dollars a year into circulation in St. John's. T his represented perhaps ten percent of the business done in the city . The policy of U. S. authorities was to give Newfoundland companies all the orders they could.
3. It helped boost the population of St. John's from thirty-four thousand to today's sixty thousand and aggravated an acute housing shortage. About a thousand U. S. service families lived outside Pepperrell. renting apartments at from one hundred to two hundred dollars a month. Because they were in Newfoundland, they received an overseas allowance — an allowance landlords did not overlook in setting rents.
Because they worked at a U. S. base. Pepperrell's employees CONTINUED ON PAGH 40
The Yankees go home from St. John’s continued from page 21
“Out of 25,000 marriages, only one Newfoundland-U.S. couple is divorced”
weren't covered by Canada’s unemployment insurance, but about half come under the U. S. Civil Service pension scheme, and American authorities are working out a system of benefits for the others.
The U. S. will transfer a few of them to bases it will still maintain at Harmon, Goose Bay and Argcntia, and the Newfoundland government hopes work will open up for others at a new iron-mining development in Labrador. But the majority who are being laid off have a feeling that things may never be so good for them again.
Merchants in St. John's expect a drop in retail sales but predict that the city will continue to grow and that the setback will be temporary. Landlords say that the one thousand apartments occupied by U. S. air-force personnel will be rented as soon as they come on the market, but that rents may decline slightly. They think the fact these housing units will be available should speed slum-clearance projects which are badly needed.
But the statistics in Pepperrell’s story are by no means all concerned with jobs, dollars and housing units. At least twenty-five thousand Newfoundland girls have married U. S. service men. Most of them were St. John's girls, and most of the husbands were drawn from the 25,000 men stationed at one time or another at Pepperrell.
Before the Americans came to St. John’s, single women far outnumbered single men: many men had left in a steady stream for the mainland, where there were more opportunities. The men who remained in St. John’s had, when war came, lined up to enlist in the army, navy, air force and merchant marine.
So while Pepperrell was taking the unemployed off the labor market, it also took Newfoundland girls off the marriage market. The U. S. consul general at St.
John’s, William Christensen, estimates that seventy-five thousand children — one sixth as many people as in all Newfoundland — have been born of these unions of U. S. service men and Newfoundland girls. Most of the mothers and children are now in the United States. How do the Newfoundland wives make out there? Very well, Christensen says. In the last eighteen months, according to his records, only one couple of the twenty-five thousand has been divorced.
Dr. John Weidman, Pepperrell’s official historian, claims the remarkably low divorce rate can be attributed to the outlook of Newfoundland girls, who are "less emancipated" than girls in the U. S. and “stick more to the European idea that a woman’s place is in the home, making her husband happy and contented.
If Pepperrell brought girls husbands, it also brought adoptive parents to many waifs and orphans. Pepperrell couples have accounted for twenty-five percent of the one thousand legal adoptions at St. John's in the past five years. Often, the Americans first saw the children when playing Santa Claus. Operation Santa Claus, as it was called, was an annual event at Pepperrell — a campaign that raised six thousand dollars each Christmas for gifts for six hundred orphans and sick children in institutions at St. John’s. Santa and his volunteers tried to get the youngsters whatever they asked for, including bicycles, radios, boxing gloves and skates.
With Pepperrell closing (the base had twelve hundred men stationed at it in January but will be empty except for a handful of caretakers by September) Newfoundland’s welfare department has indicated that it will relax regulations for Pepperrell families who are being transferred. Those who applied to adopt children before they knew they were being
moved won’t have to wait the full year normally required before final papers are issued.
The gesture underlines the respect and esteem the Yankees have gained in Newfoundland. So, indeed, did Premier Joseph Smallwood’s reaction to the U. S. announcement that because of changes in weapons — missiles replacing bombers
— it had been decided to shut down Pepperrell. Usually, Newfoundland’s economy is uppermost in his mind, and the loss of Pepperrell is serious, but Smallwood commented that the real tragedy would be the parting of thousands of close friends.
Most of the friendships between Newfoundlanders and Americans in and around St. John's started casually enough
— chance meetings at parties, in stores, on buses, beside fishing streams. But there were those that started dramatically, like the friendship of Captain and Mrs. John Angus and Mr. and Mrs. Rupert King. The Anguses and the Kings lived at Penetanguishene, a tiny community near St. John's.
Mrs. Angus, a registered nurse from South Carolina and a typical air - force wife, took up snowshocing as a hobby in Newfoundland. Mrs. King and Mrs. Angus hadn't met, but when Mrs. Angus heard that Mrs. King was in labor and the doctor couldn’t reach her because of a raging blizzard, she put on her snowshoes and struggled half a mile through blinding snow and a seventy-mile-an-hour wind.
Mrs. Angus got to the King home just in time to deliver Mrs. King’s baby — a boy who was, of course, named Angus.
When Newfoundlanders think of the Yankees, they think of Mrs. Angus going to the aid of her neighbor in the storm. They think of forty-two kids at one orphanage laughing and shouting as they learned to ride bikes that the Yankees
had bought for them. And they think of things like the Yankees galloping to the rescue of the Quidi Vidi Lake Regatta. Newfoundland's oldest sporting event, this had been held each year since 1829. but one year during the war there was no money for a hand, a committee boat or a communications setup. The regatta committee was on the verge of canceling the historic rowing races until the war ended.
When word of this reached Pcpperrell. which sprawls across a gentle slope on Quidi Vidi s shore, the Americans pro-
vided a big brass band, a crash boat for the committee, and walkie-talkies. The Americans entered a crew of their own in one of the races. A tale Newfoundlanders like to tell is that this crew was falling behind when a Newfoundland boy with a trumpet put it to his lips and blasted forth with Yankee Doodle Dandy. There are Newfoundlanders who swear that when the Yankees heard the trumpet. they dug their oars in. made the spray 11 y. and won by half a length.
I he Americans took part in other sports, notably baseball, and the young-
sters of St. John's play ball with more skill than their fathers did because Americans like Master Sergeant Charlie Riddle, a Texan, took the time to coach them in the fine points of the U. S. national game. The Newfoundland Amateur Baseball Association, in acknowledgement. set up a special league for the Americans, in which teams from Pepperrcll and the U. S. naval station at Argentin played a St. John's all-star team.
The influence of the Yankees changed much besides the brand of baseball in Newfoundland. In most St.John's homes.
the big meal of the day had been served at noon. Now', in a lot of them, the noon meal is a light lunch, as in the States, and the evening meal is the big meal.
The Yanks, while learning to appreciate Newfoundland dishes like seal-flipper pie. fried cod tongues, and the boiled mixture of dried cod and sea biscuit know'll as brewis. taught Newfoundlanders to appreciate livcrwurst. spiced beef on rye bread, barbecued chicken on buns, dill pickles and cheeseburgers. The menus in the restaurants of St. John's today bear no resemblance to the pre - Pepper rel I menus.
Ironically, the Yanks also taught Newfoundlanders something about dressing for cold weather. Parkas, which Newfoundlanders had always refused to wear, were finally accepted when the Americans proved how comfortable they could be. and now are regarded as the most suitable apparel for a bitter winter day.
The children who came with the Americans altered the language of Newfoundland children, who quickly picked up slang words and new phrases, and who. to the occasional dismay of their elders, copied the self-confident, forthright attitude of the young Yanks.
Schoolteachers at St. John's, once shocked by this, aren't any more. They say their pupils used to be too shy and diffident. And they say that the American Era, as it is already being called in history-loving St. John’s, and Newfoundland's first decade as a Canadian province, have given young people new enter prise, initiative and spirit.
At a time when mainland Canadians have become fairly critical of Americans. Newfoundlanders have retained their admiration of l . S. people and their ways. The admiration is not one-sided.
Clarence Engelbrecht. of Pikton. S.D.. is one of the Yanks who like Newfoundland too much to go home. He was posted to Pcpperrell in 1950 as a technical sergeant, married Nellie Bishop of St. John's, was promoted to captain, and. when discharged, joined the stall of CJON. a private radio station at St. John's. "Where else.'" he asks, "could 1 find such an ideal setup? I've got a good job and thousands of wonderful friends. Newfoundlanders are just wonderful. Radio and T V performers are overly fond of the adjective "wonderful." but Engelbrecht. who is known to the radio audience as Bob Lewis, uses it with a ring of sincerity when he speaks of Newfoundland.
So does Larry Montgomery, once of Boston, who says he'll never leave unless he's "blasted out." Montgomery, married to Louise Circen of St. John's, was a master sergeant at Pcpperrell. then a director of civilian safety. When he was discharged he opened the first delicatcs-
AN OLD WICKER CHAIR ANYTIME
We've wrought-iron gadgets all over the house, hi every
Plant stands and record racks.
bookshelves and chairs; You know what'.'
MARGAR! t' S I API.I,Y
sen store in St. John's. Soon, he was doing well enough to employ George Hartman, another Pepperrell graduate. Hartman had got his discharge and returned to his home town, Philadelphia, for fifteen months. But he couldn't resist the appeal of St. John’s.
"I’ve been in plenty of countries.” Hartman says, "and I tell you I’ve never been anywhere where you have so much freedom. You can fish where you like, and catch fish. too. and you can boil up a pot of coffee by any lake or stream.
"Newfoundlanders take things like that for granted and couldn't imagine it being otherwise. But believe me. I’ve been in places where fishing and hunting are so tied up with regulations that nobody wants to go outdoors any more.” Hartman is married to Jessie Crawford of St. Joh n’s.
Engelbrecht, Montgomery and Hartman have a pal named Frank Eicher. He’s from Cincinnati and so is his wife. I'hey tried to settle down in Cincinnati after Eicher, an airman second class, was discharged. Four months later they were hack at St. John’s, where Eichcr opened a radio and TV repair shop.
There are scores of other examples of Yankees who wouldn't go home, or who went home and then returned. The ancient seaport of St. John's, with its hills, its narrow streets, its warm-hearted people, isn't easy to leave.
But thousands do have to leave. On one recent trip the William Carson, the big Newfoundland-mainland ferry, carried 201 families and all their belongings. And, as the farewells are said, it's agreed by Newfoundlanders and U. S. service men alike that nowhere has a fairly large military force (at the peak, the base had five thousand men ) had more amicable relations with the civilian population of a medium-sized city.
One reason may have been that in the early years Pepperrell was expected to be permanent. It was originally created for the U. S. Army, and when it was turned over to the U. S. Air Force as planning headquarters and supply base for alert bases in the northeast and the Strategic Air Command’s Harmon base on the island's west coast, none could foresee that missiles would make it unnecessary. Even a short-duty tour at Pepperrell exceeded six months and the men, aware they would be staying some time, settled in and formed friendships with the Newfoundlanders.
On top of that their officers impressed on them that, outside PcpperreH's gates, they were guests in a foreign country and that it was up to them to be courteous to their hosts. They took this so much to heart that in the years since Pepperrell was established only one American has appeared before Newfoundland s courts on a charge serious enough to be tried by a jury. He was convicted of manslaughter after his car struck and killed a child. Men charged with minor offenses were tried at the base by their own officers, but always with a representative of Newfoundland's attorney-general on hand.
Now that Pepperrell is being vacated, St. John's hums with speculation on what will happen to the sprawling property, which was literally a town in itself, with schools, living quarters, a modern hospital, a church, recreational facilities, a bakery, a water purification system, twelve miles of road, a telephone exchange with seventeen hundred telephones. storage for four million gallons of diesel and jet fuel.
It also has a garage, theatre, clubs, a department store, a radio station that carried network programs without commercials, and Pepperrell's men had a "fly-in” trout-angling and hunting camp in the in-
terior of Newfoundland and a salt-water craft for tuna fishing. The deputy base commander. Lt.-Col. Hans Maréchal, and a fellow officer, Lt.-Col. W. E. Mack, simultaneously hooked and landed tuna from this boat last summer.
Several industries, according to reports, have had feelers out about the possibility of buying buildings and fuel storage tanks at Pepperrell. The U. S. consul general. William Christensen, has made it clear that the province will be given first chance at anything it wants. It is rumored that Newfoundland will buy the high
school and the hospital, while the St. John's council is interested in the snowremoval equipment.
Meanwhile Larry Daley, president of the Newfoundland Federation of Labor, is urging that provincial and municipal governments use Pepperrell for a mass assault on the slums. His idea is to house people there temporarily while substandard dwellings in St. John's are torn down and replaced.
Whatever disposition is eventually made of Pepperrell's 1.635 acres and its scores of well-preserved buildings, one
thing is sure — that the base has permanently left its mark on Newfoundland. It is there in the accent and attitude of the young, in the dress and the meals, in the extra income that will be a long while vanishing from circulation, in the new popularity of baseball. It is there in the exchange of visits between the Newfoundland girls who married U. S. servicemen. their husbands, their children and the folks back home. For Pepperrell has been a great and remarkably successful experiment in human relations, and its momentum will go rolling on. ★