First Crossing. Memoir. by Evelyn J. Steward.

I changed my job, way back in 1956/7, not sure exactly which, to one that was affiliated to the then British Overseas Airways Corp.

This entitled employers to get cheap flights. In my previous job, I had become friends with another girl, a few months older. She and her parents and sisters had emigrated to Canada couple of years previously.

I wrote to her and asked to have a holiday with them. It was agreed, and I made plans.

To qualify, a staff member had to have three years’ service. It also meant travelling to a B.O.A.C. Store in London where I had to be ‘checked out’.

I had never been abroad before, so a trip to the Passport Office was required as well. This done, having been checked over, I awaited the due date, in September.

I travelled to London (Heathrow) Airport, (not too far away) to book in and await my flight. What I did not do is add something else into the mix.

The Olympic Games was being held somewhere in Europe, and on the day I had booked for my flight, lots of Olympians were coming back from The Games, through London Airport, clogging up all the flights across The Pond.

One American lady, waiting to get her flight, had a rather caustic comment, ‘Time to spare, travel by air’. This rather amused my father who had never flown, I do not think he ever did in all of his life.

I did not fly that day. Was told to ‘come back tomorrow’.

I must mention here that members of staff used up empty seats. I did not work for B.O.A.C., just an affiliated Company. This meant that ‘first served’ were B.O.A.C. staff who got first pickings of available empty seats. In this case, I think a pilot got the last seat that day. I paid 10% of the real fare (subsequent flights went up to 30%, but still cheap).

My parents came to see me off. Twice.

My seat on the changed flight was in First Class. I cannot remember what dinner was like, I was served from a trolley, restaurant style. But the hors d’oeuvre was toast with real caviar. Never had caviar since, not real caviar, but I like it.

I have so many memories of that first flight. The darkness of night, the flying over towns seeing little twinkling lights below. The aeroplane’s engines were jet prop., so unlike today’s aircraft. We flew low and landed at several towns up the country, the last stop being Ayr, in Scotland before flying out across the Atlantic, Canada bound.

Our next port of call was in French Canada, Montreal. We glided in over the St. Lawrence river, just a bit after dawn. There was a bridge with lots of lights shining across the spans. A magical sight as our aircraft was on its landing descent.

A short stop of around an hour to exchange passengers, then off we went on the last leg. There were woodlands and lots of thick mists making the light seem eerie. A couple of hours later we landed at Toronto. My stop.

It was with luck that my friends had found out I would be a day late,and met me at the airport. I was so thrilled to meet them again after a few years.

I was to return twice more, then after a gap of decades, another twice visiting Canadian shores.

Copyright Evelyn J. Steward.

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