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COLUMN: Going through old paperwork and mementoes offers window into the past

Ursula Maxwell-Lewis travels down memory lane while completing some storage room COVID cleaning
Columnist Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is seen in her Central African Airways studio pic at 21. At right is her (and her mother’s) passage ticket from Southampton to Cape Town in 1954. Ursula recently took a trip down memory lane while completing some “COVID” cleaning of her storage room and came across some old mementoes. (Photos submitted: Ursula Maxwell-Lewis)

Since Covid continues to curtail travel plans, I’d run out of excuses for tackling the storage room.

To that end I hauled out boxes of family memorabilia. Perhaps, I reflected, my daughters will be saved from the trouble of trashing it after I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil.

Bear with me as I explain the ensuing conundrum, then judge for yourself if you sympathize with my reluctance to dispense with at least some of it.

Buried among a plethora of global weekly travel epistles faithfully mailed weekly to my mother are bunches of envelopes tightly packed into a red plastic Western Airlines flight bag. Digging deep, I unearth a variety of blasts from the past—including my Central African Airways and Air Canada contracts.

The 1963 Central African Airways correspondence confirming my employment as an air hostess is, I note, based on the understanding that I complete my training, or give one month’s written notice if I change my mind. CAA, however, can give me “one week’s written notice, on medical grounds, or if it is considered that you will not make a suitable air hostess.”

Attached to the letter is a contract offering a salary of £601.19 per annum. I did rate 47 holiday days a year and various bonuses, though. The contract also states that I had to resign if I married and (e) It is pointed out that the maximum flying age for an air hostess is 32 years. Since I had to be 21 to fly and my weight (105 lbs) and height ( 5’3”) were verified at the initial interview this was a career with limitations. None of that occurred to me at the time. I’d have wings in more ways than one. I never regretted a minute of it.

Three years later, with war looming in central Africa, I headed for a London newspaper job—which to my surprise morphed into a Heathrow Airport Air Canada Passenger Relations job, and a few years later a transfer to Customer Relations at Place Ville Marie in Montreal. Proof of that I find in an AC envelope marked: Miss U.C.M Conway - Personal and Confidential.

The enclosed inter-office correspondence reminds me of another rash decision (the story of my life). In this epistle Air Canada granted my request for a four month leave of absence. Reading it, I can still feel my supervisor’s disapproval (and concern). “Ursula, don’t do this. Think of your pension!”, Pat Hare had cautioned me. I should have listened to her! Anyway, I’d been studying German for no particular reason, which had inspired me to sign up for the Goethe Institute in Rothenburg op der Tauber German immersion during what turned out to be one of their most frigid winters.

Digging deeper into the boxes (and history), I unearth the Shaw Saville Line First Class Passage Ticket issued for mother and I to sail from Southampton, England, to Cape Town, South Africa (via Las Palmas, Canary Islands - I have the postcards from the bazaar!) onboard the QSMV Dominion Monarch. Our total fare was £218! Even the insurance certificate for £1.19 is here.

The list of mementoes, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia continues to surface. Good grief! Here’s the cardboard cocktail brochure from The Bailie’s Bar at The Bailie Nicol Jarvie Hotel in Aberfoyle, Scotland, saved from my parents’ 1940 honeymoon! Mother probably had a Gin Fizz, but I’m intrigued to know what would be in the Leave-It-To-Me.

According to Pinterest pictures, the hotel was named after a character in Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Rob Roy. The tartan cocktail brochure tells me the establishment had “a wide peat-burning fireplace, flag floors, walls of whinstone from the local quarries and woodwork of dark bog oak”. I’m picturing my parents … och, just keep it.

Perhaps being grounded by threats of Covid has advantages. At least I can refile all this stuff in some semblance of order and let the kids do what they wish with it when the time comes.

Meantime, blimey! My South African driver’s licence! Well, one never knows. One day it might come in handy….

Here’s trusting your down-memory-lane paperwork clean up goes better than mine.

Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is the founding publisher and managing editor of the Cloverdale Reporter. Contact her at

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