Music, Lights …and an Ending

February 14, 1961

Dear Dad and Russ,

I don’t know if it’s the climate or not but I suddenly realized today that I haven’t written a single letter since just around Christmas! I also received your most welcome letter of February 7th yesterday which makes about three letters I owe you. Incidentally I’m over at the residence babysitting for the Bulls tonight and I brought along my typewriter as I thought this might be a good chance to try to get a letter off to you. I might also add that I will not hold myself responsible for typing errors because, believe it or not, I can only type on FRENCH keyboards now with any degree of accuracy and speed. Both my typewriter and our Telex machine at the Consulate have French keyboards and after typing on them for almost SIX months I know I find it almost impossible to cope with an English keyboard. Irene Bourque, our French-Canadian steno here, has an English keyboard so I do all of the French typing – diplomatic notes, etc. it seems that everything is upside down in the Congo!

Delighted to hear that my slides arrived and that you liked them. On thinking it over, perhaps it would be just as well if you kept them in Ottawa until I return because, as you say in your letter of January 8th, it is awfully small parcel to send all the way to Africa! Did all of them turn out? That is, are there 36 slides in the box? Last week, courtesy of Darryl Pentland and the Canadian Army Post Office, I sent you an exposed roll of Ektachrome colour film. I bought this film from Roger Bull, who got it in South Africa, and it’s one of those films that does not include the processing in the purchase price. Therefore, as it cannot be done here, I would appreciate it very much if you could have the film processed and made into slides in Ottawa. If I remember correctly, this film should include pictures of the Zongo Falls and also of a Sunday drive I took on the Brazzaville side of the river. Last Sunday, the first secretary of the Dutch Embassy and I took off in “I PRESUME” (still going strong!) for a lovely drive about 50 miles UP the Congo River to a charming little village called Maluku. The journey itself was very interesting as we passed through a great variety of landscapes – for the first few miles outside of Leopoldville nothing but rolling green hills as far as the eye could see, then we entered flatter and drier “savannah” type country, then gradually climbed up into the green hills until the road came out on a mountain side away above the river. The road followed the river for quite a few miles then wound slowly down through gorgeous tropical rainforest until it ended at Maluku. We ate our picnic lunch under a grove of palms on a sandy little beach with the Congo River and the hills of ex-French Equatorial Africa for a view.

Before I forget I must tell you about running into Sgt. Bob McIsaac over here – Bob and I worked together in Phnom Penh six years ago! I had him up to the house for lunch yesterday and we had a great time talking over the “good ol’ days”. Unfortunately, Bob had been stationed at Kamina and Elizabethville for the past six months then leaves for Canada next Thursday. In parting yesterday, we both commented that we would probably meet next in Tibet at the rate we’re going!

I am planning to put this letter into a large brown envelope that I’ve had ready at the Consulate for weeks now which contains two envelopes that have special “first day covers” on them. Please keep these envelopes and also the stamps you’ll find inside them for my own little collection. I meant to send them long ago but we have been very busy around here lately changing Consul Generals around which means a very busy time for all hands (and there are so few hands!)

January First-Day Cover as sent to Glen

January First-Day Cover as sent to Glen

On February 1st, Mr. George Hampson, acting Consul General after Mr. Wood left the Congo, decided to give a big farewell party for himself and the Bulls. He was sent here for six weeks from Accra and left Leopoldville to go on to Karachi, if you can follow that. However, the party was a howling success – 500 guests were invited and over 350 turned up. It was held here in the Residence garden so there was lots of room. Mr. Hampson appointed me “Master of Music and Lights”. The “Lights” part was fairly simple because it just entailed stringing hundreds of colored bulbs in the trees of the garden (a beautiful effect if I do say so). “Music” was a bit tougher but I finally solved it by engaging the local Salvation Army’s 20-piece brass band for the evening!! And were they ever good!! They had a terrific repertoire of marches, military airs, old English and Irish folksongs, a few stirring Salvation Army hymns, and American folk songs (“Swanee River” was a real showstopper – most of the Congolese present stops talking and started humming when it was being played! ) To round off the evening’s entertainment I asked (several days previous) if the band could play the Congolese national anthem and O Canada. The Congolese anthem was no problem as most of the members of the band are Congolese, but neither they nor the Consulate find a band score for O Canada. Fortunately a very good friend of mine from the Dutch embassy is a highly skilled musician (piano and recorder) so I invited him over to the Residence one evening with his recorder and while Roger, Marjory, Irene and I croaked through O Canada (all in a different key), my Dutch friend tootled on his recorder until many, many hours and laughs later, he had produced the written score of O Canada for the treble recorder. I presented this to Capt. Munn, the Salvation Army bandleader and, he told me later, for three nights running the native section of Leopoldville (where the Army has its headquarters) resounded to the strains of the Canadian national anthem being painstakingly rehearsed by the band. The band loved it and played it with great gusto and drum rolls and, I might add, note perfect! One other little job of mine was to find a Congolese flag the same size as the Canadian flag to hang in the garden. Unfortunately the Congolese flag is square and the Canadian one rectangular. I solved this by putting a team of seamstresses to work on the morning of February 1 and by four in the afternoon they had produced a rectangular Congolese flag. Some Congolese present that night commented that it look better than the square flag, so maybe I’ve started something!

The weather here continues perfect – not in the least like Indochina. There is quite a lot of rain but it falls irregularly and is accompanied by absolutely spectacular electrical storms. Unlike our storms in Canada, over here there is continuous lightning and thunder throughout the whole storm. It’s a bit nerve-racking at first but once you get used to it they’re really quite lovely to watch. The days are quite hot now when the sky is cloudless but a warm breeze helps to cut the heat and humidity is not at all uncomfortable. The real charm of this climate is that no matter how hot the day, it always cools off at night. With all my bedroom windows open at night and with no air conditioners in the house, I have yet to spend one night in the Congo without a sheet and the blanket over me! The sun sets early here – six o’clock in the evening – but the darkness seems to bring out a whole new world of its own. There are many night-blooming flowers here that absolutely fill the air with fragrance. Right now we are between the full moons and the night sky is crammed full of stars, most of which I’m sure we never see in Ottawa. One thing I’ve noticed over here for example are planets which are surrounded with a halo of light of their own. And, of course, when there is a full moon this place is like paradise, especially when viewed from the terrace of my house in Parc Hembise. On nights like that the sky is a deep blue and all the flowers in my garden are as colourful as in full sunlight. I can see the river gleaming down below and in the distance, the Hills of the French Congo. Last week when a few of us Canadians were sitting at a sidewalk café in downtown Leopoldville eating pizza and drinking a glass of red wine dressed in shorts, sandals, and open-necked cotton shirts, we all agreed that we didn’t miss shoveling snow one iota!!

Well, the Bulls should be home any minute now so I guess I had better close off for now. Please don’t worry if you have to wait a long time between letters – it’s so hard to get into a letter-writing mood over here – but I will try to drop you a few lines from time to time whenever anything exciting happens.

Lots of love, David

March 13, 1961

Dear Dad,

Really no time to write but wanted to get at least a note off to you because we are beginning to receive copies of Canadian newspapers with “stories” of what’s been going on here during the past two weeks or so.

Believe me, Dad, after reading some of these newspaper reports, I am darn glad I gave up the idea of becoming a journalist. I guess I hardly need tell you that the majority of these stories were grossly exaggerated and filled with sensationalism. And, I’m afraid, largely biased against the Congolese and in favor of the UN. Of course, I can’t mention in any letters all we know about these incidents, but rest assured that a great deal of the facts regarding recent incidents have been conveniently omitted or glossed over.

I went to a marvelous band concert yesterday afternoon given by the Salvation Army here in Leopoldville. As well as the Salvation Army band there was a Congolese choral group visiting from a nearby town (Kasangulu) saying beautiful Negro spirituals in French and English. It was a splendid success and a great pleasure to see white people and Africans working together so harmoniously. Naturally, there wasn’t a journalist in sight.

Sally Ann

I hope your holiday in Florida has been enjoyable. I hope to be able to take some leave before long, either to South Africa or Portugal, depending on what decision the department takes regarding our assisted leave facilities.

Must dash now and don’t worry about me at all!

Love, David

It was shortly after this that David received a response to his request for leave: “Request for leave denied. Nixon to return to Ottawa soonest.” Our David was apparently more than just good friends with someone at the Dutch Embassy and may have been indiscreet. Regardless the reason, he was recalled to Ottawa and, a few days after returning to his post in the East Block of the Parliament Buildings, he was summoned to an “interview” with the RCMP.

As David told the story, it was late afternoon and he was shown into an office facing a man at a desk in front of a west-facing window. The blinds were angled so that the sun was directly in David’s eyes, keeping the occupant of the desk in silhouette. From behind the desk came, “We have reason to believe that you are a homosexual. As such, you are a security risk and must be removed from the civil service. You have the option of resigning your position immediately or we will see to it that you are removed.”

With that, David’s career with the diplomatic corps was over. He was one of many hundreds of public servants purged from the early 1950s and on into the 1970s, merely on suspicion of being gay. There were many suicides. David contemplated it. Instead, he left Canada behind and moved to England, to take refuge with his lifelong friend, Sylvia.

To be continued…


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