Stars: "but David, what if Miss Maitland catches us?" Johnny asked.
I knew why Johnny was worried. Miss Maitland was a scary woman. It was kind of funny, actually. Here we were, thousands of miles from our families and under threat from the German Navy. But it was Old Maitland's temper that seemed to frighten us most.
"She won't know about it," I replied.
After five days at sea, the water and the sky were finally calm. Better still, we no longer felt like throwing up. I figured these were good omens for my plan.
Johnny sighed. I knew he was giving in. "All right," he said, grinning. "Let's do it."
I grinned back. Johnny was turning out to be good company. I had met him just seven days earlier, at the port in Liverpool. We were among the many children being evacuated from our homes in England. None of us wanted to go, but our parents had left us with no choice. They hoped to keep us safe from the dangers of war by sending us overseas. And now Johnny and I were on our way to someplace called Pier 21 in Canada, with about 150 other kids. We would all be living with Canadian host families until it was safe to go home.
Of course, none of us felt very safe at the moment. Our ship was a prime target for German U-boats--deadly submarines that roamed the ocean like sharks looking for prey. And to make matters worse, mean Old Maitland was our main escort for the journey.
But I was planning to forget about all of that tonight. Tonight, at midnight, Johnny and I were going to sneak out on deck and stare up at the stars.
Back home, I used to gaze at the stars every night before going to sleep. But I hadn't had a chance to look at them for nearly a year. The day the war broke out, my mum and grandma put blackout curtains over the windows in our house. Even here on the ship, the portholes were covered. So tonight, staring at those stars in the open air would be extra special.
Johnny and I sat back to enjoy the summer sun on our faces. We were interrupted by the voice we had grown to dread. "Right, you two. Time for exercises."
Miss Maitland glared down at us, hands on her hips, her face a picture of frustration. I had no intention of annoying her. I'd done such a good job of it yesterday that she'd threatened to send me back to England to get bombed by the Germans.
She blew her whistle and practically split our ears. In minutes, we were lined up with the rest of the children. We marched along the deck, singing and swinging our arms until Miss Maitland dismissed us for tea.
It seemed like forever until bedtime. As Johnny and the other four boys in our cabin slept, I kept track of the time. My watch had bright numbers, and I wore it like the soldiers did, with the dial on the inside of my wrist.
Finally, it was midnight. I woke Johnny. He got up and, like me, put on his life belt and then his coat.
We crept out of the cabin, down the hallway, and out to the deck. There, we sat cross-legged and looked up at a sky full of glorious stars. Magic. After a while, a huge figure appeared above us, blocking our beautiful view. It was Miss Maitland. And she was furious.
"Inside. Now!" she hissed.
We scrambled inside, with Old Maitland right on our heels. "Explain yourselves," she commanded. Her redplaid housecoat, purple pajamas, and yellow headscarf made her look even scarier than usual.
When I told her why we'd snuck out on deck, she rolled her eyes and grunted in disgust. "We'll talk about this tomorrow. Now, back to bed. And not a peep until morning."
Suddenly, the sound of guns thundered from the nearby destroyers. A dreaded U-boat was attacking our convoy. Miss Maitland grabbed us by our collars and hustled us to our cabin door. "Don't move," she ordered.
In seconds, sleepy children were struggling into coats and life belts and lining up in the hallway. We followed Miss Maitland and our other escorts onto the deck.
For the next two hours, we sat beside our lifeboats, waiting for the signal to abandon ship. When flames burst out from one of the destroyers, Miss Maitland led us in a prayer.
Finally, the guns stopped. The sirens signaling "all clear" echoed from ship to ship. We cheered until our throats were sore.
The next morning, Johnny and I faced Miss Maitland. I was more scared of her than I'd been of the U-boat. I closed my eyes and waited for a loud scolding.
But she didn't yell. "You boys don't know how lucky you are," she said. "You have been given a chance to live in a safe place during the war. Most children in England won't get this chance. So instead of breaking the rules, you should be trying to act your best right now."
Ashamed, I stared at my feet and vowed to behave for the rest of the trip.
"When we reach Halifax," Miss Maitland continued, "we'll dock at Pier 21. It's not just a big building, it's a door to a new life. People pass through there every year, looking for a fresh start in Canada. You are both going to live with Canadians who want you to be a part of their famillies. I want you to think about how you can make your parents and England proud of you."
Eight days later, we reached Halifax harbour. Pier 21 was an enormous building, with rows of long wooden benches. Johnny and I sat on the benches with the other children while our escorts took our papers to the officials. As we waited, we watched the activity around us. Red Cross workers were welcoming wounded soldiers, while other workers were greeting families.
After a while, we were taken to a room to have ice cream. As I ate, I noticed Miss Maitland slip away from the group. She was actually smiling--and then I saw why. A man was rushing up to her, waving happily. She burst into tears and wrapped her arms around his neck.
So it wasn't just families and evacuee children who were getting a fresh start. It looked like Miss Maitland, too, was going through that door to a new life in Canada.
I wondered what would be on the other side of the door for me.
illustrated by Dwight Francis
RELATED ARTICLE: DOORWAY TO CANADA
Pier 21 is a national historic site in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was one of Canada's major immigration centres from 1928 to 1971. During that time, all kinds of people passed through Pier 21's doors to start new lives in Canada.
These people included:
* 1 million immigrants
* 3,000 evacuee children
* 50,000 war brides and their 22,000 children
* 100,000 refugees
* 500,000 World War II troops
written by Heather Wright
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|Title Annotation:||FeaTuRe STORy|
|Publication:||Kayak - Canada's History Magazine for Kids|
|Article Type:||Short story|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2007|
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