Note: This trip journal was prepared in 2005 using original notes from the 1961 trip, only recently discovered. Because of a camera malfunction and the subsequent deterioration of the few color slides that did turn out, more recent pictures have been used for many scenes. The commentary is taken from the 1961 notes and sometimes differs from what we would say today, based on broader experience.]
Saturday, 6 May. We drove to the Verona RTO, leaving the four boys at home with Rosa, our reliable live-in maid. We traveled by train (2nd class) to Pisa. Our train left Verona at 09:00. Unfortunately, we had to change trains in Bologna on the way down and wound up on an old coach with wooden benches for seats. We got the same thing again from Florence to Pisa. The uncomfortable seats, the heat, and the three heavy suitcases we had to lug combined to make the rail trip less than pleasant, but we finally got to Pisa around 15:00.
Good old, reliable Roy Brown met our train and drove us to his villa in Tirrenia. We cleaned up, then sat around and relaxed. We met Lucy and Laneer Jones, a doctor friend of the Brown's, who was also to be on the flight with us. In the evening we went to a neighborhood pizzeria for supper with the Brown's. At this time Roy mentioned that we had to be in uniform to board the RCAF plane which was to take us to England. I hadn't brought a uniform along, but fortunately Roy and I were about the same size and he was able to dig up an extra one, even though he had been surprised by the uniform requirement too.
Roy and I changed into our uniforms and we drove to the Pisa airport in Roy's car. (The Jones’ baby was running a slight fever so they had decided to catch the next flight two days later and meet us in London. ) We processed and then boarded the RCAF plane, and it took off around 20:00. It was a regular four-engine cargo plane, and we sat on small canvas cots along the sides. We all wore ear plugs because the noise of the engines was deafening in the uninsulated cabin .
In addition to Canadians, there were soldiers from India, Pakistan, and Ireland on board. We played some bridge with the Brown's for a time, using hand signals to bid, because of the noise, but we got pretty miserable after a while from backaches due to the lack of seats with backrests.
Near midnight we flew over London. The spectacle was just too breathtaking to describe. The city was all lit up and stretched as far as the eye could see in all directions, even from our altitude. None of us had any idea that the city covered such an immense area.
Sunday, 7 May. The plane finally landed at Langer Air Base, near Nottingham (of Robin Hood fame), about 01:00 hours. It was cold and windy, a far cry from the heat we had left in Italy. By the time we had processed in and found a place to sleep it was 03:00. We all had accommodations right on the air base, Jane and Lucy in the Officers' Club and Roy and I in a BOQ. Unfortunately, we had to get up at 06:30 to catch a train to London, so we had to leave without having breakfast. It turned out there was no food on the train either, even though we went first class on the "London Express." However, it was a beautiful day, and the countrywide was very beautiful, too (so green), so the trip wasn't too bad, even through the "Express" poked along much of the way.
Finally at 11:30 we arrived at the St. Pancras Station in London, a red brick
Victorian building from a by-gone age (1868). We caught a cab to the Columbia Hotel, run by the US Air Force. It was very
convenient, on the north side of Hyde Park not far from Marble Arch. The cab fares in London were unbelievably low, as demonstrated by the fact that our half hour
ride from the station to the hotel came to $1.40, including tip, for four persons and five large suitcases. After checking in,
we had lunch and then took a nap until 16:00 to catch up on the sleep we didn't get the night before.
With the Brown's, we than took the "underground" to Piccadilly Circus and took a walk through the Soho district. It doesn't really come to life until well into the night, so it was very quiet at this early hour. We did see a number of quaint -looking pubs and restaurants, though.
Leaving Soho, we had dinner at the Lion's Head Brassiere. The food was not very good, but there was a lively six-piece orchestra featuring a violinist, and the place had some atmosphere. Actually, this was one of several eating places that filled the building. Each place was a completely different type, ranging from a “Wimpy” (hamburger house) to the dignified place where we ate. After eating, we took the subway back to the hotel and went to the lounge in time to catch a floor show at 22:00. It was pretty good, especially Dickie Graham, a very powerful and versatile singer. We went to bed right after the show.