Friday, October 28, 2011


I left you when I was feeling abandoned, without money to pay train fare to South Wales. It's September 1944. I was directed to a nearby hostel to spend the night. My husband was "somewhere in England," and I didn't have a clue where he was. I couldn't telephone his mother because phones were few and very far between in South Wales.

I spoke with others stranded in Liverpool but they expected to be picked up the next day. A young lad who had sailed on one of the Royal Navy ships told me the ship behind the Ariguani had been torpedoed and gone down, that accounted for the explosion that had rocked our ship.

As I pondered my fate I sank into a hot bath, "a shallow hot bath". A ring had been painted around the tub showing how much water a bather could use. Tired, I went to bed and could not sleep. I was frozen, could not get warm. I learned later about "damp beds" a phenomenon because of unheated houses and perishing cold bedrooms.

A brilliant thought filtered into my head during the night. One of Bill's fellow officers, Tom Ellis, whom I knew well, his wife, Norah, lived in Liverpool. I remembered her address, 32 Chalfont Rd.

With the help of kindly tram conductors, I found my way to the address and knocked on the door. "Are you Norah Ellis?" I asked. Before she could reply, I blurted out my name. "I'm Anita Birt and i don't know where Bill is. He was supposed to have money waiting for me but didn't." I don't remembered crying but Norah put her arms around me and invited me into the house.

"Come in, I'll put the kettle and make some tea." She turned to me. "I know where Tom is and he'll know where Bill is. I'll telephone him while the kettle boils."

For the first time since I'd stepped on to British soil, I relaxed. Tom was summoned. I spoke with him as tears trickled down my cheeks. Tom knew where Bill was and in short order tracked him down. Oh joy, Bill telephoned. Was horrified to learn I'd been left without money. A screw-up somewhere.

Bill was stationed close to Hereford and arranged to have a day off to meet me in there. Norah loaned me five pounds. We returned to the hostel, picked up my enormous suitcase and she escorted me to the railway station. I had never seen a five pound note. It was large and seemed more like tissue paper than proper paper money. Norah had to sign her name on the note before purchasing my ticket. She gave me the change. Of course, I promised to pay her and did.

She saw me off on the train. I felt as if I was in an English movie on this funny little English train. The whistle peeped, the conductor blew his whistle an off we went. During the war all the train station signs had been removed to fool German paratroopers should they land in the area and needed to know where they were.

I introduced myself to the three passengers in my little carriage and they kindly told me the names of the stations as the train sped along the track.

"Hereford is the next station." I gathered up my suitcase and purse. As the train slowed and stopped there was my wonderful husband waiting for me.

It was wonderful to be safely in his arms. I shall pass over the following twenty-four hours before he had to return to his base. He gave me explicit instructions when and where to change trains. He had wired news of my arrival in Britain to his mother and the train I'd be on.

I boarded the train and headed off to Pontypool Road. Change train to go to Hengoed High Level and change again to Hengoed Low Level and catch the train going up the Rhymney Valley.

Praise the Lord for my wonderful fellow passengers who kept me company and made sure I got off the train at Pontypool Road. I vaguely remember the train crossing a long, long trestle bridge over a steep valley. At Hengoed High Level Bill's sisters waited for me with open arms.

I had made it. Crossed the Atlantic Ocean during war time, came close to being blown out of the water, had found Norah Ellis, a wonderful friend in Liverpool, met Bill, had taken trains half way across England to South Wales and was safe with his family.

How did I end up somewhat like Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol, toiling over accounts in pounds shillings and pence, with a wonky typewriter for a weekly wage of one pound, six shillings and sixpence?

But before i went to work in the Goods Office at Pengam railway station, I met Bill's uncles, aunts and cousins, the elderly spinsters who ran the local post office in Penpedairheol and Mrs. Walters, the shop and the Evans family who were fish mongers, many of them characters right out of Dylan Thomas, a Child's Christmas in Wales.

If you like I shall return. Remember my books are for sale. Check my web site for names, covers and short synopses.

I'd love to hear from you. Comments please. I hope this wasn't too dull.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Anita Birt's Note book

The time is late August 1944 and the Ariguani is part of the second largest convoy to cross the Atlantic during the war. Our convoy proceeds slowly as we zigzag across the cold Atlantic. Many of the ships are Liberty ships built in a hurry to carry food to Britain. Liberty ships were not built for speed so the convoy had to move slowly lest they be left behind, as sitting ducks, so to speak for lurking U-Boats.

Because I am writing this from the top of my head without editing, I recall information I should have mentioned earlier. We were told not to carry a lot of cash with us. Between the lines I assumed if we foundered we'd lose the money in the unforgiving water. We were informed the RAF would arrange for our husbands to have money waiting for us when we landed.

First day out of Halifax I felt queasy. The ship's doctor told me to stay out on deck in the fresh air and eat soda crackers. I recovered.

Return to the convoy. On we steamed. The sun shone. The sea behaving. The convoy split as we approached northern Ireland. My part proceeded to the north and the remainder went south. All was calm and peaceful until five thirty one morning a huge explosion lifted me right up off my mattress! I jumped out of bed, dragged on my warm clothes, shoes, stockings, coat and life jacket and headed for the saloon. (We had been ordered to meet there if there was an emergency)

Mothers with children and babies were frightened and tried to be brave not to scare the children even more. The senior steward greeted us in his dress whites as if this was a regular meeting. "What's happening?" we asked. The ship had steadied after the first explosion.

Smaller explosions continued. "Do not worry," said the steward, "it's the navy boys practicing dropping depth charges." Of course we believed him. He was an authority figure. Someone asked to go out on deck to have a look.

"No one is allowed on deck. We are not in danger. Remain calm."

Assured all was well, we sat around and chatted until breakfast. Forbidden to go up on deck, some of us went to our cabins, others stayed together in the saloon for comfort. By the next morning we were allowed up on deck. Lo and behold we were approaching Liverpool docks. I felt like shouting, "land ahoy." wW'd been at sea for fourteen days. The sun had tanned my face.

With much and forth with tugboats nudging us in, the ship tied up and three RAF officers came aboard. We lined up to receive the money sent by our husbands. On and on names were called out but 'Anita Birt', me, was not on the list.

"But I have no money," I pleaded, "what am I supposed to do?" They offered me no help. "But there has been a mistake. My husband promised me money."

The men shook their heads. "I am sorry, we can't help."

Abandoned, almost penniless, what am I to do? I didn't have enough money to pay for a train ticket to south Wales where I was to stay with my mother-in-law and two sisters-in-law in Cwmyrallt, Penpedairheol.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Anita Birt's Note book

I have given you background information on who I happened to be crossing the Atlantic during wartime. I shall continue. The Ariguani, one of Ffyffe's banana boats had been seconded to take passengers across stormy seas. I was in Halifax awaiting orders to proceed. Posters everywhere. LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS.

On a bright sunny morning I, and several other woman were told to proceed to the dock area. As we were escorted through a shed I was dismayed to see a small ship tied up at the pier. It looked about the size of the ferries that chugged across Toronto harbour during my childhood. Surely this small vessel wasn't fit to brave the stormy ocean.

A white coated steward greeted us at the bottom of the gangplank. I asked if the ship was safe. "Yes, Madam. It's a fine ship so you have no fear sailing on the Ariguani.

Okay, but I had my doubts. On board, another steward assigned us our cabins. Before setting us free to find our cabins, the head steward gathered us in the saloon and gave us our instructions for the voyage.

Carry your life jacket with you at all times and keep it beside your bed at night. Mothers with children had to make sure their little ones wore their life jackets at all times during the day and close by at night. Wear warm clothes and keep your warm clothing next to your bed at night. Keep your cabin door hooked open at night. Do not go on deck after dark.

We had been instructed before we left Canada not to carry much cash. We had to have a current passport. (I still have mine, dated 1944.) After settling into my cabin I walked up on deck in time to see our ship ease away from the pier. Within hours we became part of a small convoy of thirty ships heading out to sea. We were a motley crew of ships, some large some small. As we proceeded from Halifax harbour we were joined by Royal Canadian navy ships who were to shepherd us out to sea.

Within days our convoy sailed into thick fog. Imagine the noise. Fog horns going day and night. We could not see another ship. This was before radar peaked.It seemed we would be fog bound forever until we cleared the fog into bright sunshine and were now part of a huge convoy. It truly was an amazing sight. From horizon to horizon were long lines of ships. Signals flashed. Navy ships of various sizes sailed up and around the convoy. Protecting us. A comforting sight.

Some days our Ariguani would head up the third line, next day we'd be second on the first line and so it went as we zigzagged our slow way across the Atlantic.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Anita Birt's Note book

I am taking a short break from my blog. When I return, watch for my story about crossing the Atlantic during war time and what happened off the coast of northern Ireland!


Monday, October 3, 2011

Anita Birt's Note book

In spite of the snowy beginning, our marriage lasted 65 years until my husband passed away.

Travelling to England in wartime was an adventure I did not want to miss. I sailed on one of Ffyse's banana boats diverted from bananas to civilian use. There's a story to tell before I set foot on board the Ariguani in August, 1944. It was docked at Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. "Loose lips sink ships."

During the Second World War, the Commonwealth Air Training Scheme was created to train pilots, navigators, air gunners and ground crew in Canada. Men came from every corner of the Commonwealth. New Zealand, Australia, India, South Africa, England, Ireland and Scotland. In Canada's wide open spaces training facilities were built from Ontario west to Vancouver Island.

My husband trained as a navigator and was retained in Canada as an instructor. In May 1944 he and several other young officers were sent back to England to go on active service, my husband among them. Bill was in the Royal Air Force.

Because the war in the Atlantic was winding down RAF dependents had the opportunity to sail to England. We paid our way! I still have my 1944 Canadian passport. I sailed to England on the banana boat with other women, some with small children. I was twenty-one and didn't fear dying in the North Atlantic if worst came to worst. I was adventurous and looked forward to meeting with my husband in England. I didn't have a clue where he was. He was "somewhere in England." When I landed in England I planned to travel to Wales to stay with my mother-in-law and my two sisters-in-law.

"The best laid plans of mice and men..." Murphy's Law fell into place. What ever could go wrong, did go wrong.If you want to read the rest of my story, please leave comments - many comments to encourage me.

And think of buying my five romance novels. Go to to view covers and synopses.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Anita Birt's Note book

Second time around to write about my wedding day. March 6, 1943, Toronto, Canada.
Think Snow. Lots of snow. It began falling in the night. When I wakened in the morning it was almost knee deep. I had spent the night at the home of my sister and her husband, with me was my maid of honour, Joyce Baxter. The question floating at the front of my mind; would we get to the church on time, if at all.

My sister was hugely pregnant with her first child and decided to miss the actual wedding. With the assistance of my sister and Joyce I was dressed in my wedding gown, small veil and white satin sandals, great for walking in the snow. I wore a lovely long cape borrowed from a friend of my mother to keep me warm. The taxi arrived on time. My brother-in-law dug a path to the car but the snow swirled around my ankles and toes. Joyce assisted me into the cab and off we went to the church, St, Paul's Presbyterian Church ob Bathurst Street.

I was relieved to find my parents, my Uncle John and his thirteen year old daughter, Gladys, my junior bridesmaid. Bill and his best man were already in the church. As the wedding march rang out I walked down the aisle on may father's arm. It was beautiful. So far, so good. Taxis waited outside to take us to the reception at the Park Plaza Hotel.

It passed like a blur. Bill and I taxied to my sister's home where I changed into my "going away clothes." My suitcases were packed. Bill had a small case. I had two very large suitcases! I was twenty years old and not a seasoned traveller. We were going to spend a week at a Niagara Falls hotel and I had packed very thing I owned!

Bill had ordered seats on the club car, when we arrived at the railway station, there was no club car, instead we were seated in an ancient wooden, Canada coach, a relic of bygone days. No food available. Hard wood seats. The snow had snarled the railway.
We planned to spend the night at the Royal Connaught Hotel in Hamilton. A brilliant plan but traffic was snarled and there were no taxis at the station. We trudged through the snow to the local street car stop, Bill staggering under the weight of one of my huge suitcases. I staggered with the other one. Years later he told me, he almost cancelled the marriage then and there but noble soul that he was he forgave me. We never did forget those monstrous suitcases. One of them travelled to England with me when I crossed the Atlantic during the war, but that's another story.

We arrived at the hotel, tired, feet and ankles damp and we were starving. At our reception in Toronto we had been so busy greeting and chatting we had scarcely had a bite to eat. The coffee shop at the hotel was closing but we persuaded the man on duty to make us ham sandwiches and pour a couple of cups of coffee. We survived but it was a close call.