2015-05-07 / Senior Savvy

Childhood Forged in War

By Florence Archambault


Page One of a special edition of the May 7, 1945 Los Angeles Times, Credit: ProQuest. Page One of a special edition of the May 7, 1945 Los Angeles Times, Credit: ProQuest. Seventy years ago on May 7, 1945, Germany and the United States signed an unconditional surrender and the war in Europe came to a standstill. However, Victory Over Europe (VE) Day wasn’t declared until May 8. I was 15 years old then and I remember how upset I was that Harry Truman didn’t declare the war’s end until May 8, which was his birthday.

I have many memories of the Second World War. I remember the gas rationing that called to a halt my family’s Sunday afternoon rides for ice cream cones and the “A” sticker on the windshield of the car. My father worked for the post office department in Boston and was able to take public transportation to work, so that was a help. He was too old to go to war but he served as head of the civil defense in Everett, Mass., and was always out leading training sessions or running drills to prepare for potential disasters.


Florence Archambault, of Newport, is 85 years young and well-known for her community volunteerism and teaching and writing family history. Florence Archambault, of Newport, is 85 years young and well-known for her community volunteerism and teaching and writing family history. There was also food rationing and the ration stamp books. We saved bacon fat and all kinds of cooking fats. When we had enough, we could exchange it for more stamps.

I remember the bags of white margarine that had a deep orange gelatin capsule inside. You had to somehow break the capsule without damaging the bag. It was my job to knead the bag until the contents had all turned yellow.

Saving metal was very important; we opened tins cans on both ends, then placed the tops and bottoms inside, and stomped on them until they were flat. We also saved the foil from cigarette and gum packages. They were all donated to the scrap drive, along with any other metal we could scrounge up.

At school we brought in our pennies and pasted 10-cent stamps in little books. When the book was filled, we could turn it in for a war bond.

I also had a teacher who taught us all, boys and girls, to knit woolen squares, which she fashioned into afghans for the servicemen overseas. Some of them were pretty awful, but we tried.

I remember my grandmother’s front window with three banners and the stars for my three uncles who were serving in war. One was in the Army, one in the Navy, and one in the Merchant Marines.

There was terrible shock that went through my neighborhood when the 19-year-old sailor who lived in the house on the corner of our street was killed in action. I still remember the wake at his house.

One of my most vivid memories was of VJ Day. I was at church camp in New Hampshire that August. I was out in the middle of the lake in a canoe when the bell that called us to chapel began to ring. We came in and were told that the war in Japan had ended. I burst into tears. When asked why I was crying, I replied, “Because now my uncles will be coming home.” We changed out of our bathing suits and went to the outdoor chapel for a thanksgiving service.

My father wrote describing how all the whistles and bells rang and how people thronged out into the street. He told of several men commandeering a fire truck in Boston and driving through the streets in their joy. I missed all the excitement of the war ending, but perhaps our camp celebration was a little more meaningful.

I read a book once in which the protagonist was evacuated from London to Ireland at the age of 10 during the Blitz, and she remained for five years. The descriptions of the bombing, the rationing, and the lines to obtain food made me realize that, outside of the lives lost, we in the United States did not have it so bad. We were fortunate that the war didn’t reach our shores.

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