Editor’s note: Veteran Hugh Rayment shares what life was like after the Second World War, in the second of two parts.
In 1946, at the age of 19, Hugh Rayment came home from the war.
He returned from England on the Ile de France — filled with veterans, war brides and their children — to a warm welcome in Halifax.
The veterans boarded a train headed west, with a stop in Montreal.
“There was two weeks’ disembarkation leave and so it was time to get some civilian clothes,” said Rayment. “We got $100 clothing allowance when we got back, and I bought a suit — they didn’t have any shirts, so I had to wear my army shirt and I bought a windbreaker.”
Rayment was discharged from the army in Vancouver. From there, it was back to the airport to resume his old job.
“I had a job to come home to in Vancouver, so I worked there after the war. The job at the airport was everything: towing airplanes around, gassing them up, spinning the props, putting out emergency lighting.”
In 1948, Rayment decided to go back to Edmonton, because his parents had moved from the family farm in Viking, Alta.
“I am not one to be idle, so I started looking for a job. Eaton’s had signs on every window in the store, encouraging people to invest in the future.”
Rayment figured it would be a short-term job but he stayed with Eaton’s for 10 years.
Rayment met Elsie Lyons at a dance in Edmonton. He proposed to her one cold February night and they were married in 1948. Their first child, Bill, was born the following year and was followed by five daughters: Lynda, Judy, Donna, Caroline and Patricia.
Rayment and Elsie purchased their first house in Edmonton for $4,500. It was unfinished inside, with wooden floors and no hot water.
“My hand shook when I signed the mortgage. It was a pretty good house, and there was only cold water because we had a big, 500-gallon cistern in the basement and the water man came in a truck every week and filled the tank. Eventually I bought a water heater and did the plumbing myself and got hot water running in the kitchen.”
That first house had a garden filled with rhubarb, and the Rayments brought cuttings with them wherever they moved, including to Vernon, where it still grows at Sunset Properties.
Rayment worked in the appliance repair department at Eaton’s in Edmonton, where most of the calls for repair were for wringer-washers.
In those days, repairmen would have to ride the streetcar to their appointments, purchasing their own fares.
“So then they got streetcar tickets for 20 cents each. I said, what the hell’s wrong with having a service vehicle — that toolbox is not very easy to carry around and sometimes the house would be way at the end of the streetcar line.”
Then the automatic washer came in: the Bendix, which had to be bolted to the floor or it would move across the room.
“The salesman got $23 commission and I was getting 25 bucks a week for installing them. But I was getting interested in the trade; myself and a couple of others formed the Appliance Servicemen’s Association, and I was president, locally and provincially, and I went to school to learn theory as well as the trade.”
At age 40, Rayment switch tracks to attend the University of Alberta, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education. He taught high school in Edmonton, and developed a small appliance repair program as well as other trades classes.
“That was a real highlight for me, and I loved teaching.”
But through it all, the Second World War has never been far from Rayment’s mind. He proudly wears his medals to Remembrance Day ceremonies: a 1939-45 star, given to soldiers who are required to be in a theatre of war for six months; a French-German star, “because who we were after was Hitler and his boys;” a voluntary service medal, indicating that Rayment volunteered for overseas service; and finally, the Victory Medal, “because we did win the war you know; it was a lot of trouble but we did it.”
Rayment, 92, is also proud of his newest medal, the Holland Medal he received when he returned in 1995 for the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands, engraved with the words, “Thank you, Canada.”
For Rayment, the Netherlands is a place that he will always think of with warmth and love. He remembers the jubilation when in 1945, Canadian soldiers liberated the country, where millions of Dutch people had starved to death under Nazi tyranny.
“A lot of people don’t realize how absolutely treacherous it was. There were over a million Dutch people starved to death, the Germans took all the food out of Holland. And as we moved in, I was in the first group to enter Holland, and I’m trying to remember if I crawled across the line or if I was in a truck.”
While there for the celebration, Rayment and other veterans were the guests of local families.
“Close to 5,000 Canadians went over and stayed with families. I was asked to speak to the children of Holland on the radio. The city I stayed in — Nijmegen — was a Jewish community. And during the war, they had literally been wiped out, either went to a concentration camp or were just shot.”
The Rayments always insisted their children attend Remembrance Day ceremonies each year.
“I think my kids believed what little I told them, but I made sure to impress upon them that war is a horrible thing and it’s not something to try to get involved in.
“I don’t know how I maintain my optimism. I think some people don’t really believe that we were there. Veterans are reluctant to talk about anything because it’s so uncanny that they can’t believe it or people will say, ‘well that was a long time ago, forget it.’ You know, that attitude is the worst medicine you can get.”
At 63, Rayment retired and he and Elsie moved to the Okanagan, where he became active in volunteer work with The Royal Canadian Legion, of which he is a life member. He was awarded the Veterans Affairs Commendation Award and has worked tirelessly with the cadets.
As chairman of the Sick and Visiting Committee, Rayment regularly visited veterans confined to hospital or in long-term care facilities. As the number of institutionalized veterans rose, Rayment spearheaded the Adopt a Veteran Program, which had cadets visiting local veterans. This program became so successful that it spread across the country.
Rayment is also the local representative for the Memory Project, for which he visits schools and gives presentations to social studies classes. He is the author of Camp Vernon – a Century of Canadian History.
“I have had a terrific life,” said Rayment, one of seven kids. “I’ve been a storyteller since I was a kid and my siblings used to plead with me, ‘tell us a story, Hughie.’ We would get into a big double bed, about four or five of us, and I would start out.”
Rayment has shared his family’s stories in several books, including his memoir, The House: The Cradle of Destiny. He shares the vivid details told to him by his parents, who arrived from England to homestead on the Prairies.
“My dad was a trained architect in Britain and there was a great call in England to go to the colonies, they would get a quarter section of land free — if you had a quarter section in England, you were his lordship.
“He spent the first winter in a tent. Then World War One came along and my father joined up; it was straight patriotism, they were Brits through and through. He was wounded at Vimy Ridge and when he was recuperating in England, he rekindled a childhood friendship and that’s where my mother and him decided to get married.”
His father returned to Canada to get things organized and Rayment’s mother arrived from London and stepped off the train in Vermillion, Alta. when temperatures were nearly 50 below zero.
“My dad was there with a sleigh and horses, they got married and made the 40-mile trip out to the farm. She found out the first thing that you have to do know about farm life is that the animals have to be fed before even going into the house. But she was in love so she took it all in her stride. She had never cooked a meal before she came to Canada because they had servants in England.
University-educated, Helen Rayment quickly taught herself the ropes of life as a farm wife and mother. Armed with her copy of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, she set to work learning how to prepare meals for her family, which eventually included seven children.
Rayment continues to write, working long hours at his computer where he has written his 10th book, Joey, a fictional work that tells the story of a young boy growing up in Regina.
“I suppose there is a smattering of truth in it, takes place near Regina, Saskatchewan and it’s about how the lad grows up, his school life and growing up from the time he was a baby. He went to get married and has twin girls and it’s about this life as well.
“I had written about a lad in B.C. in my book, The House at the End of the Lane, and had written quite a lot about Alberta so I thought maybe it was time to move it to a different location. I know quite a bit about Saskatchewan and I knew it had to be a farm scene.”
Prior to Joey, Rayment published Table Talk, which tells the stories of life at Chartwell Carrington Place Retirement Residence, as told to Rayment by residents there.
“Because very quickly I noticed that there were people talking at the tables and I knew some of this should be written down,” he said. “It seems to be that way, I think that for all authors there has to be some kind of an urge to get it all down on paper.
“It astonishes me because I can remember details of things. I can remember almost every day of my life, and I have had a terrific life.”
Shortly after his 93rd birthday on Sept. 11, Rayment’s next big adventure will be travelling to New York City for one of North America’s largest book festivals, the Brooklyn Book Fair.
“There will be 200 to 300 book agents there and I’ll have copies of Joey, Table Talk, The House at the End of the Lane and The House: The Cradle of Destiny.”
And on Wednesday from 1 to 4 p.m., Rayment will host a book signing and performance of country and western songs, with piano accompaniment by Molly Boyd, at the Schubert Centre. He will read from Joey, and copies will be available for purchase. Tickets are $2 per person, to cover the costs of the hall. The event includes door prizes, a raffle, and coffee will be available.
Joey retails for $20 hardcover, $16 soft cover and is also available from Amazon for $15.99 plus shipping.