Dec 3, 2008



Here are some notes from Christmas’ past shared by fellow classmates. Many of you will recognize our classmates getting nostalgic. Holiday time does that for many of us. A special thanks to all for sharing. 


This from David Naish in London, Ont. Dateline--December 2007…

Lot's of snow from the big storm that just blew through on the way to Atlantic Canada. 

But back to Christmas and Santa. The tree has been up for several weeks now. It's artificial. Not like the ones we cut in Gander from that canonical abundance all around us in '58 and '59.  

And in the Christmas of '59 we actually caught Santa decorating our tree. I had just come home from the school dance a week before Christmas. Jack Squires (oops, I mean Santa) was at the dance playing the part in a great red and white costume. Afterward, while we were cleaning up, Ken Barnes asked if I could take the Santa suit back to the owner. It needed to be back by the next day. When I got home from the dance my father was about halfway through decorating the tree. I got this sudden Christmas urge to put on the Santa suit and help decorate it with him. He then got the idea to light up the room and bring out his movie camera. Santa was caught, flagrante delicto, on 8mm film, in colour.  

Talk about "willful suspension of belief". My younger brother and sister took a long time getting that one out of their heads. 

David Naish, Class of 1960


Funny, we had a fairly large family and limited resources. But I never did feel we were impoverished. A Christmas stocking with a few apples, an orange and a "sparkler" seemed to enough to make me happy. Living in Gander with the world at our fingertips, places to go hunting and fishing, with good teachers and a few good friends was about all we needed.

When we saw some considered "rich" who had stuff we didn't, my mother always had an answer :  "Who cares!"

– R. G. Pelley, Class of 1962


Michal Millar Crowe has fond memories of holidays she and her husband Vance celebrated a couple of years ago a long way  from home…

When we lived in Italy, we went to Garmish-Partenkirshen in Germany for the second Christmas away from home for Christmas skiing with another couple and their son.  We stayed in a charming and quaint folksy sort of hotel, typical Bavarian, with logs on the outside and balconies. There would have been colourful window boxes filled with flowers in the summer.  We were given our own little Christmas tree in the room (which we could take home) and an unlimited number of homemade gingerbread type cookies to eat.  In fact, I od'ed on them, but who can blame me, they were so tasty.  Breakfast was served in a series of pretty rooms with a roaring fire and it was all ever so enchanting.  Breakfast in Germany is very civilized.  Hams, salamis, eggs, toast, biscuits, fruit, cheeses, breads, cakes.  All very yummy. We were about an hour or so from the Castle owned by King Ludwig of Bavaria which became the prototype for Walt Disney, and about 20 minutes from the ski lifts.

 Christmas in Germany is more modest than here, with few decorations, and it is Christmas Eve which is the big feast rather than Christmas Day. It is really all about family and eating rather than shopping and an insane whirlwind of activity. I did not go skiing on Christmas Eve Day but wandered around the village absorbing the atmosphere and looking in the shops.  There was an outside wine bar set up in one of the town squares with music playing, so I stopped and cozied up to the bar. While sipping my wine, I struck up a conversation with a very sweet young couple from the US, who where stationed with the US military in Napoli. As they were on their own, I invited them to join us for the Christmas Eve Dinner.

 All dressed in our finery, we arrived to share this special meal at a typical Bavarian family style restaurant which had been recommended by the innkeepers where we were staying.

 It was a fairly large restaurant, all wood with low ceilings, with a roaring fire and a small three piece band.  Decorations, were pine boughs, red candles, and the smell of wonderful food. The waitresses were dressed in starched white lacy blouses with pretty brooches at the neck and red dirndl skirts and aprons.

They looked very festive indeed and despite the chaos, were all good natured and pleasant. We ordered our meal, and sat savouring our drinks and chatting while listening to the music.  Suddenly, in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of guests, waitresses, children, and dogs, all the lights were turned out. In the candlelight, grace was said and then the band played Silent Night. First it was sung in German and then in English. You could have heard a pin drop.

 Needless to say , there was not a dry eye in the place, in fact, I have tears in my eyes as I am sharing the memory with you, as it was so special.

 When it was over, the lights came back on and the waitresses rushed about serving the food.  It was all delicious. Duck and pork and turkey and sausages - the menu was boundless.  Cannot remember dessert, but you may be sure it was outstanding too.

 During the meal, in addition to the music provided by the band, there was dancing by teen aged boys in lederhosen to oompah oompah tunes, with much slapping of hands on their boots, chests, knees, and shoulders.  All very entertaining.  But what was even more entertaining were the dogs.  Yes, they allow dogs in the restaurants there.  As the band played, the boys hopped around, and the dogs howled  as long as the music played.

 Well speaking of howling.  We all just about wet ourselves laughing at the boys and listening to the dogs.  it was priceless.

Walking back to the hotel, the streets were deserted and although overcast and cold, a very pleasant evening.  Then as midnight approached the bells rang from the churches and it was a fitting end to our first German Christmas.

So Merry Christmas to all of you from Michal and Vance in Nova Scotia. Hope you don't have too much snow, hope you don't get sick and hope you enjoy Christmas in Canada, wherever you are living.  Next year I will tell you of our Christmas in Vienna.

Michal Millar Crowe, Class of 1960


The only time I spent Chistmas in Europe was in 1971. I was in Cyprus and in those days, especially in that part of the world, communications of any kind and more so with long-distance, were dicey at best. I got a letter
from my wife saying so would call me just before midnight. I then got hold of the local phone company and, with a combination of Greek and English, tried to  made a reservation for that time, specifying which phone I'd be using. I couldn't get the exact time we wanted but got a reservation for the closest time possible. I then wrote my wife giving her the details.

And believe it or not, it actually worked. She called a particular operator when then called me (and I sure hope she didn't stay listening on the line!!)

Kids these days with email, podcasting, chatting, Iphones and the like got it pretty easy!!

Robert Pelley, Class of 1962


I can relate to Robert's story. Christmas 1974, Pat was on UN duty in Egypt, Sept ‘74 - Mar ’75. We had made plans to meet the second week of December, in Lahr Germany, to celebrate my birthday and Christmas together, back then we were stationed in Shilo, Manitoba, the rules were, I had to have 2 families ready able and willing to care for our two children, Kyle  8 and Krista 5, a  return ticket from Frankfurt, Germany back to Winnipeg, Manitoba, prepaid, ensuring I would not be a burden on the Canadian taxpayers if by chance we ran out of money . Young Corp's not having big bucks in those days - and of course a sponsor military family in Lahr that would be a responsible back up, preventing any accommodation problems on that end.

I still have that unused passport.

The day  before I was to leave for Germany, I was bumped off the military aircraft - not enough points to obtain a seat requested by another military wife on her way to Germany to visit her family before Christmas.  (I found out later she was my next door neighbour). Too late to take advantage of commercial airlines, fully booked at this time of year. Pat had already left Ismalia and was somewhere in Lahr - his arrangements were to obtain an accommodation and meet me at the airport, 

After a good cry, and like all good little military wives, I pulled my sox up, yet again, another--mile or two.  Contacted the base padre to track him down in Lahr and inform him of the situation.

 Needless to say he had a lonely Christmas, unable to call - and I was unable to call him. The kids and I made a special, make believe Christmas, after all we had each other.

 My  first 13 months in Shilo were spent alone,  Pat spent 6 months in Borden on course, 1 month in Montreal prior to 6 months in Egypt)  with 2 small children, no family, no friends at that point - as we were just posted here, arrived mid August, Pat left 1st September. I hadn't learnt to drive till after Pat went to Egypt (then out of necessity for those of you who know where Base Shilo is)  quite a learning/growing experience. 

During those thirteen months we had two postal strikes, so mail was to say the least ugly. Phone calls were impossible - due to cost and availability.  I wrote him every day - about the activities, the new developments and always keeping positive- and humor as a key factor.

 When the plane arrived in Ismalia he always had a weeks worth of letters to read, numbered of course - to keep the stories, pictures and jokes in order. A care package that took precious dollars (in those days) - and I found out MUCH  later he would keep one or two of the items and pooled the rest- the boys in the barracks shared their loot with those that didn't get care packages. TGIF  specials. 

One of the items he--didn't share--was a  very small fruit cake my sister, Patricia, sent him LOADED with SCREECH. And of course  he left the small  table top Christmas tree and decorations we sent for the next group.
Six months after he returned from Ismaila, he came home from work one day to find me reading several airmail letters.  Who are they from he asked, I replied ‘YOU’ - the post office CFB Lahr forwarded them.  Two of them he had written in Lahr, during our proposed time together, and several from his time in Ismalia.
Over the years we have had   many great Christmases - a few not too great.

 NOTE: This was written by Jane last year in 2007, as she penned the following postscript:
”This year will be EXTRA SPECIAL-  - my sister, Patricia and , my father, Jim Dempsey will be here to spend Christmas, my 65th birthday December 16th and Dad's 93rd birthday Dec.27th.  Isn't that a super gift!
Merry Christmas to all of you - stay Healthy, Stay Safe.

 Jane Dempsey Donnelly - Class of 1960


This is great. One of my strangest Christmas`s was spent on a little volcanic island off the coast of Africa. This was in 1966 when I was stationed in Trenton, Ont. and a member of a mobile communications team assembled for quick response to peace keeping situations and natural disaster events.A civil war was in progress in Nigeria at the time and the Red Cross had seconded us to provide communications support for humanitarian flights into Nigeria. We couldn`t be in uniform or be in possession of anything that would identify us as military.

 Ascencion Island was the place and it was a desolate hole. The only thing that could be said for it was that the weather was beautiful - all my other isolated postings were up north and cold. The BBC had a relay station there so there were a few Brit. families on the island. The Brits adopted we five Canadians over the Christmas season and treated us royally. One of them made a tree out of some large coat hangers and draped it with green paper then decorated it. We had a great time and the best part was that, through the Brit equipment, we were able to pass our Christmas greetings back to our families in Canada. Merry Christmas to all and the best in the New Year.
     Dave Gilhen, RCAF Gander 1955-57


I have a sequel to the ‘Silent Night’ evening in Germany.

When we were in Toronto just before Christmas (2007) for the Andre Rieu concert in the Skydome (now the Rogers Center) we had another special Silent Night moment. During the concert the orchestra played Silent Night.  Now part of the Andre Rieu charm is that he is very charismatic and spends a fair bit of time explaining the music to the audience and giving a history of who wrote it and under what auspices. For those of you not familiar with Andre Rieu, he is intent on bringing orchestral music to the masses, making it fun, exciting, and providing the opportunity to sing, hum, and dance along with the music.  (Look at website - - The orchestra ladies are dressed in beautiful evening dresses and the men in tuxedoes. For this performance the orchestra arrived at the stage in horse drawn open landau carriages. 

There were six enormous monitors - three on either side of the stage and two larger than life fountains on either side of the stage and sometimes the water leapt up and down in time to the music.  There were two ice skating rinks and a ballroom where the ballet company performed. During the evening snow fell on the audience, balloons, and fireworks were set off - very festive.  Ok, now you have the ambient setting.

 During the evening the conductor introduced the carol Silent Night and indicated it was going to be played three times. First the orchestra would play it and we were just to listen to the music. Then, they would play it a second time and we could all hum along, and the third time they played it, we could all sing.

 So first the mood is set, time for a little introspective thinking about the season and personal thoughts, then - a little fun and finally an outpouring of enthusiasm for the beautiful music.

Michal Millar Crowe, Class of 1960.


Happy Holidays to one and all. Remember keep those memories alive. Share them with our fellow classmates, especially those with a Gander connection. Our webmaster will help us get them recorded here.

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