Chapter Four:The Long Voyage Home

Off the coast of Hakipuʻu, Hawaiʻi, the Kwai sets sail July 1, 2020 for a 5 week expedition to the Pacidic Gyre. The 140ft vessel is capable of hauling more than 200 tons of cargo.

The long voyage home gave Grandpa Gordon a lot of time to think about his future. He knew that no matter what choice he made his parents would support him. He felt quite fortunate in this realization. It was also a given that he always had a place back on the farm. It was comforting to know that he had this to fall back on. During the war the family farm had flourished. His father was able to pay off the debt that he incurred from its expansion in the Great War, and for the first time they had a nice little nest egg. He was even talking of taking mama on a second honeymoon to Niagara Falls. So things were definitely looking up for the Anderson clan.

But Grandpa Gordon realized one thing and that was farm life was not for him. He knew that he was born to fly. Flying gave him the greatest enjoyment in life. He was also aware that he did not want to continue flying for a foreign country, even if that country was just next door. He was also under no delusions that the RCAF was going to keep on all of its air force pilot’s after the war was over. He was also aware that those who were not Canadian citizens and had not sworn an allegiance to the King would be the first to go. So at the first available opportunity it was decided that he was going to retire from the RCAF. He even briefly considered applying to a commercial airline for a pilot position or at the very least, a navigator position. But he figured that since he was only 23 years of age, his chances of getting one of these much coveted positions was slim to none even with his fighter ace status. As a matter of fact, his ace status might actually work against him since they might think he was just a young hot dog pilot.

So after going through this mental checklist that he had and created and stored away, he was left with only one viable choice and that was to enlist in the U.S. Airforce, or at least to give it a try. He hoped that his flight record would help him, and also that he could fly just about anything with one or two engines had to count for something. So his future was all decided and boy, did it feel good to have a plan worked out. He now figured that he deserved some time off. So the first thing he did was to spend some of the time catching up with his friends and family. He also thought maybe he might do a little sightseeing, wink wink i.e., girl watching.

Now that he had his life all planned out, it was time to enjoy himself a little. One thing was sure was that the military did not spend any money on first class accommodations. He was going back home on a troop transport ship just like the one that brought him to Great Britain just four years ago. Only now the voyage was a little shorter since his ship no longer had to make submarine avoidance maneuvers. The random zigzag pattern had added about thirty percent more distance to his previous voyage which had made for a substantially longer trip. When he was not sleeping in his cramped bunk bed he wandered the main decks enjoying the fresh air. He considered joining one of the many card games that were taking place around the ship. However, since they were all for money and he knew little about card playing and gambling in general, he decide to forgo the pleasure and the bonding that activity would provide. Instead he picked up a dog-eared dime paper back mystery novel popular in the 20s and 30s that was lying around. This one turned out to be a real page turner and was written by Erle Stanley Gardner and entitled “Turn on the Heat.”

Little did Grandpa Gordon know that he just so happened to be reading a book that was written by one of the bestselling authors of all time and who would become the creator of the much vaunted Perry Mason series. Not that he was much of a bibliophile. So this information would not have impressed him much even if he had been aware of it. He just wanted something light to read and would help to pass the time away.

Just to give you an idea of what people read in the 1940s, here is a brief synopsis of the book he found on the ship. “Hired by a mysterious ‘Mr. Smith’ to find a woman who vanished 21 years earlier Donald Lam finds himself facing a sadistic cop, a desperate showgirl, a duplicitous client, and one very dogged newspaper reporter–while Bertha Cool attempts to cut herself in on a lucrative opportunity and lands them both deep in murder…”

Now that the action of the war has slowed down and we have a chance to breathe as our hero traverses the Oceans we can take the time to look at and discuss something that is near and dear to most people’s heart and that is the subject of food. So what he has been eating the last four years? There is an historic saying that “an army marches on its stomach.” Let us see if this is true or not. In the next few paragraphs, I will give you a brief history of military rations. During my research I found that the subject was quite interesting. I actually learned quite a bit about the ration program, so I hope you the reader will find it just as interesting as I did.

First of all, there is more than one type of ration. This is something that I did not know. So here goes.


The most valued and venerable of all rations, and sometimes referred to as the ‘Garrison Ration,’ the A-Ration has been around since the Revolutionary War. This meal unit contained fresh or refrigerated meat, bread and vegetables, typically prepared on site in base mess halls or kitchens. Prior to July 5, 1938 a ration of whiskey was even included.


The B-Ration is made for groups of up to 100. The Unitized Group Ration contains breakfast and lunch/dinner meals in cans, boxes, and bags. They are typically canned, packaged, or preserved and don’t require refrigeration. They are made for easy access and provide a good source of calories on the front lines.


The C-Ration was popular in WWII and the Korean War. They provide a single soldier with all three meals of the day. A canned entree like eggs and ham, pork and beans, or beef and beans wad often accompanied by candy and cookies, instant coffee. Powdered cream and chocolate.


In WWII the K-Ration was often shipped by air and was developed primarily for paratroopers. The packaging was of lighter weight and consisted of lighter foods with higher caloric content. Each pack consisted of all three meals as did the C-Ration. It contained approximately 4 ounces of either meat, meat and egg product, or cheese spread, together with biscuits, confections, gum, and beverages with sugar. A wooden spoon. Cigarettes, toilet tissue and salt tablets are also included.


The D-Ration was designed for quick calories under great pressure. It is meant to appear as chocolate bars, the units are mixed with other high-calorie substances to keep energy and morale up in emergencies. As can be imagined these rations are not popular.

Mountain Ration:

This ration was only around between 1942 and 1943, and was distributed to allied soldiers training for winter combat operations. It came in four varieties and is packed in boxes which contained rations for four men for three meals each. They included Powdered milk, canned meat and butter, cereal, chocolate, biscuits, compressed fruits. Sugar, tea and coffee and powdered lemon.


It contained lightweight, ready-to-eat foods, resembling meals eaten by American civilians during WWII. Items like canned meat, dry milk. Peanuts. Biscuits, pre-cooked cereal, cigarettes. Gum, candy, instant coffee, hot chocolate powder, dried fruit, salt. Sugar. And toilet tissue might be found in the ration, alongside water purification tablets to aid with rehydration and drinking. Since it served no real Tactical advantage it was eventually phased out like the Mountain-Ration.

Parachute Emergency Ration:

This ration provided slimmest portion and was only meant to be used for short term emergency situations. It included items like bouillon cubes, candy, chocolate. Cheese. Sugar, cigarettes and gum and were included in a sardine-can like package. It was stored in the harness of paratroopers.

Assault Ration:

This was meant for troops in the front lines. It weighed just 9 once and contained two boxes of assorted hard candy, chocolate-coated peanut bar, a package of gum, a pack of cigarettes and a box of wooden matches. It was meant for the first 24 hours of an engagement. Eventually it was expanded to include 2 tropical chocolate bars, 2 packages of caramels or chocolate coated peanuts. A dried fruit bar, a package of salted nuts, a pack of chewing gum, pack of cigarettes and matches, salt pills, vitamin pill and a small bottle of water purification tablets.

Type X-Ration:

It was confidential in nature and was meant to support troops in an invasion. It contained K biscuits, chocolate or D bars, bouillon powder, soluble coffee, fruit bars, sugar, gum, hard candy, canned meat, and mult-vitamin tablets and were packed in unlabeled cartons. They are no longer in production.

About the only ration that seemed tasty to me was the A-Ration. It seems like they were only really pushing cigarettes and candy. It seemed to me that if the enemy didn’t get you the food certainly would. In fact, lung cancer and diabetes looked like the most likely culprits. I hope the modern rations are a little healthier. I really don’t know how anyone could fight on the crap that they were serving.

The long voyage eventually ended where it had begun, at Halifax Harbour’s Pier 21. The port had a short but storied history prior to WW2. It opened in 1928, and quickly served as Canada ‘s principal reception center for immigrants. It would eventually close in 1971. It was typical of the self-contained immigration facilities established by the Canadian government located at all their major ports. This immigration facility processed approximately 1 million immigrants during its history.

It became an important port on 1939 because it was a large deep water port. The fact that it remained ice free year around did not hurt either. Another reason it was so valuable to the allies was that it was close to Great Circle shipping routes from Europe to the Eastern Seaboard of North America. In addition, the city was linked to the transcontinental rail system. It was designed to handle the passengers and cargo of large ocean liners, and was ideally suited to accommodate troop transport ships. Thanks to all of these advantages it served as the main port for military transport to not only England but Europe as well throughout the war.  Because of these factors, nearly 500,000 armed forces service personnel passed through Pier 21 facilities.  

Pier 21 consisted of three transit sheds (Piers 20, 21, and 22) forming part of the Passenger Landing Quay of the Halifax Ocean Terminals. Though these transit sheds are described as “piers,” the structures did not extend into the harbour but were built on a seawall that paralleled the shoreline.  Construction began on these buildings in 1912-13, but was put on hold after the Halifax explosion in 1917.  Work resumed in 1926 on the two-story Pier 21 structure and adjacent annex building, along with Piers 20 and 22, which were completed in 1928.  These structures housed the principal Canadian immigration reception and processing facility. Though special passenger trains departed directly from here, there was also a nearby railway station that was built around 1932 which was used as an additional waiting area for travellers.  Overall, from 1928-1971, this was the Canadian hub for most of the of immigrantion traffic. 

From 1945 to 1960 it witnessed a massive stream of post WW2 European immigrants to Canada, including the arrival of nearly 50,000 war brides and their 22,000 children. Here is one bride’s experience:

“In the fall of 1940, just outside London, England, when Trinidadian-born British citizen Rose Marie Potter married a Canadian armed forces engineer named Alexander Ironside, little did she know that she was part of a growing trend: 1,222 other British women married Canadian soldiers that year.  And because most Canadian troops were stationed in England for three years before they saw any active duty, there were many more marriages of this kind, a figure that swelled dramatically by 1945.   

In 1942, the Canadian government decided to provide free passage to Canada for dependents of Canadian military personnel, and it would help ensure that families were reunited after the war.  Each dependant was entitled to a single one-way passage from their current British home to a new one in Canada.  In 1944, Canada declared that all military dependents would be granted Canadian citizenship, allowing the Canadian Emigration Branch to make settlement arrangements with Canadian family members.  

While an army of soldiers was overseas, a different army of immigration workers and volunteers addressed the needs of war brides impacted by the conflict.  Numerous application forms had to be completed; medical exams were taken; registration and travel documents were drawn up.   When space on ships opened up, war brides and their children were transported to the ship, given the necessary documentation, and handed train tickets to a Canadian destination where their husband’s family would be waiting to welcome them.  War Brides were placed on a travel priority list according to the status of their husbands from “discharged soldier” to “normal” (soldier still overseas).

When Rose Marie Ironside learned in late 1944 that her husband would be sent to Belgium, she applied to go to Canada.   At the High Commissioner’s office in London, the Canadian government issued her a travel certificate on December 21, 1944. Like a passport, it provided basic travel details. 

While awaiting word of her departure, the Canadian Wives Bureau in London sent Rose a 40 page pamphlet entitled “Welcome to War Brides” with information on practical issues:  immigration procedures, how to apply for social assistance, and details on Canadian cultural customs.  

The British Foreign Office validated Rose’s travel certificate on December 29 and 30, 1944.  Another stamp indicated that an exit permit allowed for departure anytime up to March 29, 1945.  Rose wasn’t told about the journey’s details until two days before the departure.  On March 6th, she and her daughter travelled from London on a non-stop train to Greenock, Scotland, arriving on March 7th.  Another stamp by British immigration officials indicates that embarkation occurred on March 8, 1945, at the Port of Clyde, Scotland.  As with most official plans during wartime, the trip was made in secret, because German U-boats patrolled the North Atlantic Ocean waiting to torpedo un-protected passenger ships.  So when Rose’s daughter said at one stage of the journey “We’re going to Canny!” she was quickly told to be quiet. 

On board the R.M.S Aquitania, travellers were comforted by Canadian Red Cross Escort Officers.   Rose and her daughter were among the 7,972 women and 3,705 children who travelled to Canada in 1945.  In 1946, the combined figure was higher: 31,000 made the trip, a staggering 71% of the total for immigration to Canada that year!”

So Grandpa Gordon finally found himself back on Canadian soil. Only this time he had enough money to pay for the train ride back to his home town. He did not have to take a handout from his parents. In fact, he had been earning his flight and combat pay for the last four years and had built a nice little stash. It was a tidy sum for that day, so he was feeling a little independent. He had actually thought of buying a used car to drive instead of taking the train. But there was one embarrassing problem he did not have a driver’s license, Canadian nor even an American one in fact. Considering that he could fly over twenty different types of air planes, he found this really quite funny.