Uncertain Times – World War 2 in California

Every December, my 4 great aunt, Jennie Barclay (nee Taylor), sent a Christmas letter to her Aunt Pheobe in Metchosin, British Columbia, Canada. Some of these letters, described issues in California during World War II. They give me insight into her life during those uncertain times.

Jane Electa Taylor was born in Tilbury West, Essex County, Ontario, Canada in 1869 to Reuben Clarence Taylor and Leah Jane Titchworth. In 1908, she married James Alexander Barclay in Fresno.

Marriage Registration of James A. Barclay and Jennie Taylor

Jennie and her husband owned a raisin farm in Fresno County, California, United States. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, people in California lived in fear and uncertainty, watching for enemy planes and submarines. The Japanese Americans living in California were forced into interment camps. Even though some of them were 2nd and 3rd generation Americans. In December 2, 1942, a year after the attack on Pearl Harbour, Jennie says,

Yes all the Japanese were sent from California. They could not be trusted & like yourselves there is still danger on the coast near San Francisco particularly. There are watch towers through the valley and watchers continually on watch day & night.  We do not expect any japs to strike here but are prepared. We have dimout orders & all window shades are drawn which seems funny to me as we never did draw our shades in all these years. (December 2, 1942)

I did not realize that the Pearl Harbor attack created panic on the mainland. In this letter, you can see the distrust of people of Japanese descent, no matter how many generations they lived there. And to think that such a small thing like closing your curtains at night would impact you. But after having them open for 30 plus years it must have felt claustrophobic which would add to the fear.

At the same time, there was rationing of food items. It didn’t seem to interfere too much with the life Jennie and James led.

I suppose you folks are rationed on sugar & coffee etc as we are here. We have not felt stinted for sugar. We have 1.2 lb each wk & get along very well.  Not so many pies of course & few cakes however we can get cakes & pies still at the bakery. Coffee ration has just begun, 1 lb every 5 weeks. We will not use that much at any time as we drink coffee only at breakfast. Gas rationing will not affect us as we do not drive the car to excess as some do of course. (December 2, 1942)

Photo from unsplash.com

The biggest issue for a raisin farmer was finding help. The better paying jobs in airplane factories and shipyards attracted the workers. James, at the age of 75, was having to do most of the work himself. Jennie says,

and James is busy boxing raisins, it is some late but help was very scarce during the entire season. Like your apple crop the raisin & grape crop was short but good in quality & prices much higher, for which we are gratified.  (December 2, 1942)

In 1944, even though they sold their ranch, they were unable to find yard workers to and household help. At this time they were both getting old and James was having back trouble.

Of course there is not much that can be done since selling the Ranch, & help is scarce.  We can’t get anyone to do even that which is necessary so just must get along as best we can. (December 15, 1944)

With the men off fighting, many women came to California to work. Jennie seems almost a little envious when she says,

 Yes most of the younger wife’s have found themselves a job & do seem to like earning their own.  It is nice too, some of us older ones would like it too in fact some are doing it here those that are able. (December 16, 1945)

As the war dragged on Jennie becomes disheartened. People adjusted to the changes until it became a normal part of life.

There is little of interest to write but want you to realize we are still on the map. There is nothing going on except war with its depressions, but we must keep hopeful. (December 15, 1944)

Both Jennie and James survived the uncertainty created by the war. As farmers they were used to poor times or prosperity. During the war, even with the lack of workers, it was mostly prosperity for them.


California, County Marriages, 1850-1952,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:939V-MN9S-1S?cc=1804002&wc=96P8-VZ9%3A1069607802 : 12 May 2014), 004666553 > image 556 of 746; multiple county courthouses, California.

Kay Corbet Collection; a series of original letters written to Phebe Field and her son, Chester, from various relatives.




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