Albert Douglas Hall, known as Doug, had pet names aplenty for his beloved.
In 50 letters mailed to Margaret O’Neill, he professed his love, recalled their meetings, celebrated their lovemaking, all while preparing for war.
Most of the letters were written in 1942, when Doug was stationed with the Royal Air Force in Manitoba, though some came after he’d shipped out to Europe.
A final letter came later from his family.
My father, Terry Hall, gave me the letters this year on Christmas Day, all 50 stacked neatly and tied tightly with a shiny ribbon.
They tell a one-sided story – I don’t have the letters my grandmother wrote in return – of a relationship forged not so much by the fires of war, but of the kindling, the time when young men train and bond, readying for what horrors they may face.
It’s a story of simple pleasures, stolen moments, passionate embraces.
It’s the story of my grandparents’ love.
The first letter
Before the letters, all I knew about my grandfather was that he was from England, a gunner in the RAF, initially stationed in Manitoba, and that his name was Douglas, my middle name.
Now it seems his first name was Albert, although he went by Doug, which is how he signed the end of his letters, followed by numerous Xs.
But one of the letters, all on RAF stationary, is marked as from LAC A.D. Hall.
LAC was his rank, a leading aircraftman, at the time.
He was stationed in Carberry, Man., one of the few double-sided aerodromes built for wartime training with six parallel runways formed in a triangle and part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
The first letter is dated April 13, 1942: “I had a swell weekend with you, Margaret. The time went too quickly. I am looking forward to seeing you again on my next weekend.”
Douglas didn’t care for the rain, night work or scrubbing floors and several times paid a mate to do the latter for him, once so he could get away and visit my grandmother, “Miss Margaret O’Neill,” who lived at “837 Carter Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba.”
Douglas and Margaret were about 21 years old at the time, my father tells me.
They seemed smitten with one another.
“I would like some of your kisses too, darling, in between the weekends. I would work much harder (perhaps),” he wrote on May 5.
In another letter, Douglas writes that he hopes her chin isn’t too sore from his facial hair, which had grown to a half-inch in length.
In another one, he writes that he wonders if her parents heard them making love on the back doorsteps.
“I could make love to you darling any old where, your lips are so soft and I could kiss you all night long, dear. I know you think I’m a mushy guy, but I like it. How about you?”
He later apologized for being “a naughty boy” on the Saturday night they spent together.
Douglas, in the early letters, often writes that he wishes his arms were around her, and offers “hugs” to her “babies,” and thereafter in postscripts writes of continued affection for them, “T” and “J.”
Those were her dogs, Terry and Jim.
During his “48s” – his time away from the camp – Douglas and Margaret went for walks in parks and to the beach.
Douglas often wrote that life at camp was dull.
So he started playing tennis with his RAF mate Reg and went to films, such as You’re in the Army, to pass time.
“It was a very funny picture,” Douglas wrote.
He had to pay 25 cents to see camp shows.
Douglas also wrote that he was driving back to camp one night, going at about 50 mph, but had to slow down because there was a car in front of him.
“Lucky I did because it was the Mounties!”
‘You are always in my heart’
In other letters, Douglas told Margaret not to flirt and to stay away from the “blonde” guy.
He also told her not to worry as he hadn’t been posted yet.
“There isn’t much chance of me going to the States or Vancouver.”
Later in May, Douglas, upon receiving a letter from Margaret while he was working, climbed inside a plane to read it right away.
“I went flying and again it was swell up there, a little bumpy at times tho,” he wrote on May 17.
Douglas also bet Reg, who was dating a woman named Phyllis, $2 that those two wouldn’t get married that year.
Douglas and Margaret had a song.
“I heard our tune on the radio tonight, Marg. You are always in my heart reminds me of you, dear. Mushy guy, aren’t I?!”
He told her about a letter he got from his sister.
“My pal in Iraq is fed up and wants to go back to England.”
About a dozen of the “boys” who put in for air crew were posted, Douglas wrote on June 3.
“Don’t worry, darling, mine hasn’t come through yet.”
That same month, he wrote that he had been busy at work, and when changing cylinders, he took an entire engine out of a plane.
“Don’t suppose you want to hear about work, dear.”
He got another letter from home. His family went to a cousin’s wedding in Doncaster, “70 miles from home.”
He told her in the next letter that she looked “sweet” in her pink sweater.
June 26: “I wish you were here too darling so I could put my arms around you and kiss those lips of yours again, sweetstuff.”
In the same letter, Douglas wrote that one of the RAF planes was “over at Petrel with engine trouble. I was given the job to do, so they flew me over there. I found the trouble and phoned for spares from Carberry. They didn’t arrive until late in the afternoon, so I had quite a lazy time sitting around in the sun.
“I fixed the plane, then flew back in it before the corporal and I had time to put our parachute harness on. The pilot was ready to take off, so we flew without a ‘chute’ on. Fortunately, everything was O.K. and we landed safely.”
Margaret was also hoping to land a job and he crossed his fingers for her.
And it seems her younger brother Chud may have caught them being romantic.
“No, Marg, it doesn’t worry me any, he will probably be doing the same one day.”
Chud was also known to hide letters to Margaret from Douglas.
At the end of June, Douglas wrote of how much he enjoyed flying.
Meanwhile, Margaret took up rowing.
“Have your blisters gone yet, sweetiepie?”
Douglas suggested she wear gloves.
‘It wouldn’t be fair’
In July, some Australians were training at the base in Manitoba, and the taxi had stopped going into the city, so Douglas had to travel by train to visit Margaret.
“I thought that last fifteen minutes we spent together dear on Sunday night was the quickest fifteen minutes I can remember. It seemed like no time at all. It’s funny how I like kissing you, sweetiepie, must do something to me.”
Douglas teased Margaret, whose blisters had cleared, for getting rides to work, and whether it was with a blonde who wears glasses.
Wedding presents were also mentioned.
Douglas and Reg started playing table tennis in the canteen.
“I lost as usual, but we had some laughs out of it.”
Douglas then jokes about Margaret and a friend looking at rings.
“I never get tired of reading your letters, honeybunch. How do you find so much to write about?”
But on July 18, he wrote: “It wouldn’t be fair to you, Marg, if we got really serious, if I am posted home and shot up, would it? I think it’s better to have a verbal discussion, too.”
At the end of July, Douglas was posted to a camp called MacDonald, near Portage la Prairie, Man., to start school.
“It seems ages since I saw you, darling. I still think about you, honey. I think it’s going to be lonely out here. The village isn’t as large as Carberry.”
July 23: “This is a new course and believe me, darling, it’s pretty tough. We have to learn Morse, navigation, mathematics, all about guns, and be able to recognize about 80 different types of aircraft.”
He also had lectures and physical training.
“I should be as fit as Superman at this rate!”
But Douglas hadn’t had a letter from Margaret in a while.
“Don’t you like me anymore?”
‘I am in love with you’
They did meet up on his next leave.
In August, Douglas wrote: “Have you been spending any more money on clothes again, darling … “
But he annoyed her on their next visit. He apologized. Her parents let him stay overnight on that visit, but Douglas again asked Margaret if she still liked him.
Aug. 17: “Happy birthday, honey. How does it feel to be the ripe old age of 22?”
The next time Douglas got a 48, he said he’d stay at the “Y,” so not to bother her mother.
Aug. 31: “I got through my exams OK, although my Morse was rather low.”
Then: “I wish I was with you tonight, darling. I sure miss you after seeing you all the weekend clear. It’s so nice to have you in my arms, honey. I am in love with you, Marg.
“Hope you didn’t mean what you said to me, darling, Sunday night, just before I left. Guess it was my fault anyway.”
By September, their friends were married.
Sept. 21: Douglas went flying in the morning.
“The f—-!—- gun wasn’t any good. It kept jamming. It was quite a nice fly, though.”
He also saw Reg on the train.
“I was glad to see him again and have a talk with him. Wish I was with him again. We used to have lots of fun together.”
Sept. 28: Douglas and Reg sat together on the train again.
“He was rather surprised when I told him you had been out with another guy.”
Douglas and Margaret saw each other the previous weekend, and he is in love with her, but feeling as though she is fed up with the complications of their relationship, that she no longer cares for him.
“I got that feeling the last few minutes we were together last night.”
’I am not altar-shy’
Douglas went to Montreal by train in October and sent Margaret a postcard.
Then in a four-page letter sent by air-mail, Douglas explains that Montreal isn’t as nice as Winnipeg.
“The streets are narrow and crowded and a lot of the people there speak only French.”
Douglas was posted to a large camp in Moncton, N.B. and is now a sergeant.
“ … there are pilots, observers, gunners, and some of the fellows from Carberry.”
But he missed her.
“Monday night after I left you, Marg, I felt awfully blue.”
Oct. 20: “I just received a very nice letter from my little honeybunch. I think it’s the nicest one you have ever written to me, Marg,” Douglas wrote.
“I didn’t think you cared for me, Marg, as much as you do …
“I wish the war was over, too, so I could come back to you again. There’s nothing I want more.”
She was wearing his “wing.”
He also wrote: “You needn’t be afraid of scaring me darling no matter what you write. I am not altar-shy, honey. The reason I broke it off with the other girls was because I hadn’t found the right one, until I found you, Marg. I never even thought of breaking up with you, darling.”
Oct. 22, from Moncton, N.B.: “I got your letter this morning and I sure got a shock,” Douglas wrote.
“Do you really think you are late due to what happened between us, Marg? Perhaps you had better see a doctor and make sure.”
He didn’t know what to say or do and said his head was spinning.
“Do you think it would be better to tell your mom and dad about it, dear, because if it’s true, they are bound to find out.”
He wrote further, in a letter opened by an examiner: “For heaven’s sake, don’t do anything drastic honey … I wish I hadn’t been so foolish, darling. It’s my fault, I guess. I only hope it isn’t so, dear.”
The next day, Douglas went to visit the camp’s padre and showed him Margaret’s letter.
Douglas said it wasn’t reason enough to keep him in Canada. The padre suggested Douglas apply for an instructor’s job. So Douglas went to see an officer about that.
“If I get this job, darling, we will be able to sort things out a bit and get married.”
But he was worried.
“I don’t know what to do if they send me home. My folks will almost disown me. Guess you are in the same position, darling.”
Oct. 26: Douglas hadn’t heard back from Margaret.
“I haven’t heard any more about the instructor’s job yet, dear. It will have to happen quickly because we are moving sometime tomorrow so I guess by the time you get this letter, Marg, I will be on the boat. It may be a few weeks before you hear from me again, darling.”
He was shipping out the next morning.
A letter written Nov. 6 includes a small, blue rectangular piece of paper: “Postal censorship. The British Examiner is not responsible for the mutilation of this letter.”
“I arrived in England … (letter is ripped and a word is missing) after a very good trip over,” Douglas wrote.
He said the sea was calm.
“The blackout is really black,” he wrote further.
“We didn’t even know which road to take to get out of town. After about an hour and a half wandering around in the dark, we managed to find our way back to the college.”
He asks how she is doing.
“I hope you are back to normal again, Marg. I don’t think I’ll say anything to my folks until I hear from you dear.”
It had been a month since they last saw one another.
“I am afraid I can’t say much about where I am or what I do, Marg, because the censor would just cut it out as they are very strict over here.”
In a letter dated Nov. 14, Douglas returned home on a short leave to visit his parents. They went for dinner in Nottingham to celebrate a friend’s birthday.
Nov. 22: “I miss you an awful lot, honey, and wish we were together, again. I often regret the day I took this so and so course.”
He also wrote that he got his rations of bubble gum and chocolate.
“My chocolate lasted five minutes!”
Dec. 1: Douglas asked if there was snow yet in Winnipeg?
“We haven’t had any air raids yet, guess the jerries must be weakening.”
He wished Marg a Merry Christmas.
‘I will stand by you’
A Dec. 14 letter was again edited, with words cut out.
“I haven’t had a letter from you darling, are you mad at me or something?”
Jan. 2, 1943: “Hello, darling. I received your swell card yesterday.”
He hadn’t heard from Margaret since he left Canada.
Reg and Phyl had been helping her.
“They are a swell couple.”
Doug explained that time was too short for his job application to be accepted.
“I am glad you believe in me, Marg. I certainly will stand by you, darling, although I am so far away and can’t do very much.”
He also wrote that he had been doing a lot of flying.
“It’s not bad in the rear turret. You get a good view of everything.”
He then wrote that on New Year’s Eve, his crew of five had a “stag” party and that he drank five pints of beer and could still walk straight.
The last letter Douglas wrote Margaret is dated May 24, 1943.
“I am home on leave and have read the letter you sent to my home.”
They had sent letters – by airmail – since January, but they were not received.
“I think both of your letters and mine must have gone down …”
Douglas wrote that there was a limit to the amount of money that could be sent out of England – about $8 a month.
“I will make enquiries [sic] about it,” he wrote.
“We shall have to wait until the end of the war before I can make any decision about coming back to Canada or not. It would take quite a packet of money to come over there and keep me until I found a job.”
He wrote further that he was now on a squadron and had been on three “ops.”
“The last two were in the Ruhr, a pretty tough spot.”
The Battle of the Ruhr was a five-month British campaign of strategic bombing against Nazi Germany.
Douglas also asked if Margaret liked living in Vancouver better than Winnipeg?
My grandmother, a Catholic girl of Irish descent, had moved with her parents and legally changed her last name to his.
Douglas signed off his last letter: “As usual, I can’t think of anything to write about, so I guess I will sign off now. Hope to hear from you soon.
‘A son is born’
On June 28, Margaret received a cablegram: “DOUG MISSING JUNE 28TH STILL AWAITING FURTHER NEWS WE ARE WRITING YOU. J. HALL.”
My father – Terrence James Hall – was born on July 5.
In October of that year, Margaret received a letter from Mr. and Mrs. J. Hall. They had heard from a friend that Douglas was killed along with three others unidentified and three more unaccounted for.
Margaret had written his parents, asking for support.
They said once all the forms were filled out, they could send about $40.
The envelop would be addressed to “Margaret Hall.”
They wished she could be nearer so things could be arranged and asked her to write back and “let us know about the baby and yourself.
“We are hoping and praying that we soon may hear of dear Doug and his return.”
March 20, 1946: Margaret receives a letter from “Doug’s mother.”
Margaret had sent them some baby pictures of Terry and Doug’s mother thought he much resembled his father at that age.
“I do know that he loved you and he would have been proud of dear little Terry, I am sure.”
She still held hope that Doug would be found, and that one day they could all be together.
“He may have bailed out and landed in some occupied country and may turn up yet.”
Douglas’ family never met his son.
My grandmother never married.
My father, an only child, never asked many questions about his father. It was something, he said, people didn’t talk about then.
He found the letters after my grandmother passed away in 1988, read some, then forgot about them until he uncovered them again several weeks ago in a box underneath the stairs in his Pitt Meadows home.
My entire life I have wondered about my grandfather, who he was, what part of him is me.
Now I have his words to fill in some of the blanks in my family history – a story of love and tragedy.