by John Hall

The coming of WW II brought a lot of changes to Port Hope and to some, a great deal of heartbreak. With the exception of those who had served during WW I, people didn't know what war was all about or how devastating it could be. One of the first things I remember was the opening of recruiting offices to entice young men to join the Army and the old militia drill hall became a beehive of activity. The second most noticeable thing was the clearing of the hobo jungle near the railroad tracks on the west end of town. Prior to the war there were no jobs for most young men and they hopped freight trains hoping to find a place where they could find work. In many areas they built shelters made from packing crates or other materials and stayed there while they went from door to door offering to work for a meal. When they had worked the town over and got what they could, they hopped the first freight out and went to another town. Everybody knew they were there and I don't remember anybody ever telling me to stay away from the jungle or the people in it. I often spoke to them as I walked by and they always seemed cheerful and asked if I knew anyone who wanted some work done. They were just young men who couldn't find work and were doing the best they could in a country which offered little hope. They were the first recruits in the lineups outside drill halls across Canada because it was the first time in their lives they were offered work. Almost over night hobo jungles ceased to exist.

I remember long lineups outside the drill hall and men being recruited as new members of the Army. Even then, as a small boy, I had the impression nobody was really sure of what they were doing and of course, they weren't. There were no barracks, weapons or uniforms. Wooden rifles were made in Marshall's Mill and military training such as it was, started. Men marched up and down, wooden rifles on their shoulders and there was much shouting as little-understood commands were hurled at poor unsuspecting recruits. While it was somewhat pitiful it was also exciting because things were happening in a town where very little had happened in a long time.

As the days passed there seemed to be a semblance of order arising from what had previously been chaos, particularly when wedge caps, web belts and boots arrived. The marching was better too, and the organization now had a name, the Midland Regiment. A day to remember was the day a brand new, WW I Lewis gun arrived and the long awaited uniforms were issued. The men were real soldiers now and looked the part and those who billeted them in their homes were proud of 'their boys'. I remember my aunt providing room and board for three of them. Frank Denis, Leo Latour and Paul whose last name I don't remember. They were devil may care young men who for the first time had a purpose in life. Two of them were sent to the Royal Rifles of Canada and were part of the Canadian Force sent to Hong Kong. I believe both were captured by the Japanese, but I don't know if they survived the horrors of the Japanese prison camps. I believe the Midland Regiment was eventually disbanded and never fought as a unit during the war.

As training progressed the men started to become impatient with never ending drill, rout marches and Lewis gun practice. A rifle range was opened east of the town, but there were no rifles and no ammunition for the Lewis gun. Somebody came up with the bright idea that the Germans could blow up the viaducts over the Ganaraska river and if that happened the rail lines linking eastern and western Canada would cease to function. The main transportation arteries for shipping war materials from the all parts of Canada would be blocked and winning the war would be in jeopardy. There were rumors everywhere that a German submarine had been sighted coming up the St Lawrence River and had released a flood of saboteurs who were making their way to Port Hope to blow up the viaducts. Something had to be done and the Midland Regiment supported by the Home Guard went into action. The bridge had to be guarded and soldiers manned the ramparts to ward off all comers. The cry, "Halt! who goes there?" rang out whenever anyone approached and we thought it great fun to go down there after dark and throw tin cans filled with stones at the viaduct. Looking back, it was a good thing the guards didn't have any ammunition as some of them got pretty mad and might have been tempted to fire just to scare us. What might of happened had the Germans actually attempted to blow up the bridge will never be known, but looking back, did anyone really believe they would actually make such an attempt when they were fifteen hundred miles from the ocean?