In honour of the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day on May 8, Peterborough writer Joanne Culley released her book Love in the Air: Second World War Letters.
The story is based on the 609 letters written by her parents that Culley found after her father died.
“I knew my father was a Toronto musician prior to joining up to be part of the Royal Canadian Air Force concert and dance bands in 1942, and my mother worked at the Department of Munitions and Supply in Ottawa and later the Toronto Transportation Commission as it was then known, performing what would have been a man’s job prior to the war,” said Culley.
Upon reading the letters, she discovered much more, as the letters were not just declarations of love, but a detailed description of what was happening on both sides of the Atlantic during the war.
By blending excerpts from the letters with a narrative inspired by the correspondences and historical background, Culley brings to life a unique story of enduring love amidst global turmoil
The book tells of a love that blossomed when an ambitious farm girl from Saskatchewan and a charming musician from Ontario lock eyes one night during a 1942 YMCA Victory Drive social. They dated for close to a year and became engaged just before he was sent to England.
Separated for two and a half years during the Second World War, Helen Reeder, age 24 and Harry Culley, age 29 write to each other about their experiences and emotions in their extensive correspondence, while deepening their mutual devotion.
Culley’s father Harry served overseas as a musician playing clarinet and saxophone in the Royal Canadian Air Force dance and concert bands in the Personnel Reception Centre No. 3 band.
Helen wrote of her experiences doing shift work in a job that would have previously been done by a man. She filled in her time by going to movies, making up parcels to send to him, and keeping up to date on the latest news and music and visiting wounded soldiers at the Christie Veteran’s Hospital in Toronto.
On VE Day, Harry wrote, “This is the day we’ve all been waiting for. It’s pretty hard to realize now that the war is over . . . we went down to the beach [at Bournemouth where they were stationed] where there was a huge bonfire going on the sand with hundreds of people around it singing old songs.”
Helen wrote, “What a day honey! I’m still going around in a daze. Oh darling, the thoughts of seeing you again thrill me. Even the air feels different.”
“Of their letters, my mother Helen penned, ‘We’ll bind them up and read them over about twenty years from now.’ I don’t think they ever did sit down together to re-read those letters, they were too busy living the lives they had dreamed about all those years before,” said Culley.
Joanne Culley received her M.A. in English Literature from the University of Toronto and is an award-winning writer and documentary producer whose work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Peterborough Examiner, Our Canada, Local Parent, Kawartha Cottage, Kawartha Homes, Business Advantage, on CBC, Bravo Network, Rogers Television, TVOntario and more. She was the winner of the Media/Television Award at “In Celebration of Women”.
The book Love in the Air: Second World War Letters is available in softcover, hardcover and e-book formats from www.friesenpress.com and Amazon. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Trent Valley Literacy Association and the Culley Family Scholarship at the Royal Conservatory of Music.
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