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Topic: The Women of Aspenland
Article: Florence (Wilkinson) Albers
Date Posted: July 10/2012
Main District: Wetaskiwin
Decades: 1920's to 2010's

Florence Wilkinson lived in London in the St. Marlebona area, near the Wax Museum. She had one brother and one sister. They had natural gas in their home, as long as someone had a pence to put in the meter. When Florence was fourteen, she finished school and went to work in a toffee factory wrapping chocolate bars. Florence worked there for two years, then worked at a paper mill for one year, during which time her fingers got flattened by one of the rollers that she had to work with. She left the paper mill and went to work for Bi Spring Brothers making bedsprings.

Florence had a girl friend named Sally and in the evening, they loved to go dancing. There were dances every night and even on Sunday afternoons! Florence's mother taught them Irish jigs and reels and used to call Florence "Irish Molly" because she liked the Irish dances so much. Dancing was the only real entertainment that was available when Florence was growing up in England. Florence recalls what her life was like then; she would just go to work, come home, and get ready to go dancing.

When WW2 began, Florence's factory was converted into a recoil spring factory for Tommy guns. Florence was no good at operating the machinery and was transferred to the recycling department where she sorted through the remains of Wellington Bombers that had been damaged during landings and takeoffs, or were shot down during bomb raids. She worked at this job until the end of the war.

In 1939, Florence's brother died and her father passed away nine months later. Therefore, Florence and her mother lived alone from that point on since her older sister had already moved away. While living in London, Florence and her mother lost their home to bombing raids on three occasions. Each time it was a different house and each time no one was home because of work. When Florence would return home from work, she would find that the house was gone and everything inside was destroyed.

Florence recalls one night in particular. The Germans were targeting the Gomont State Building and the Kilborn Highroad railway station, both of which were only a short distance from Florence's home. The bombs started dropping and she and her mother took cover under their kitchen table to protect themselves from flying debris. They stayed huddled under the table for the better part of the night. Then Florence got fed up and said, "to Hell with this, I am not sleeping under the table!" So she went back to bed. Her room shook violently every time a bomb exploded. Their house did not get hit, but bombs were dropping all around them that night. The Germans were successful in hitting the railroad station.

One night, in 1942, Florence and Sally were on their way into a movie theatre when two handsome young soldiers walked by them. One, whose name was Harry Albers, called, "Hi Blondie" in reference to Florence. According to Florence, "that was it"; their first date was to the movie Casablanca.

Harry was a private with the Westminster Regiment from B.C. He was stationed nearby at the Aldershot Army Camp. When his battalion went into active duty, he fought in Italy, Holland and Belgium. On leaves from his duties, he would return to London to stay with Florence at her mother's home. Harry would tell Florence that he owned a "Gopher Ranch" and that he was a millionaire because he owned a million gophers. He would go on to say that he did not have very good chairs on the ranch; there were only tree stumps to sit on, no chairs. Florence believed every word.

They planned to marry in September of 1945 but Harry injured his shoulder in an army truck accident; he ended up in hospital. The marriage did take place on October 20, 1945 at St. Catherine's Lutheran Church with friends and relatives in attendance. Florence wore a sky blue blouse with a navy blue skirt and Harry wore his Private's uniform. They honeymooned briefly at Blackpool, England before Harry returned to the base and Florence returned home.

In January 1946, Harry returned to Alberta and Florence followed in late June. A band was playing "Oh Canada" when she left Southampton, on the Queen Mary. Her journey aboard the Queen Mary proved her propensity to motion sickness since she was ill the entire time. Upon arrival in Halifax, there was a group of Canadian women on the dock shouting at the War Brides to go back to England and phrases like "we don't want you here". Florence then had a four-day train ride to Edmonton that proved to be equally as uncomfortable as the ship ride because she was still recuperating from the ship ride.

Florence arrived in Edmonton to find that the Red Cross officials had not notified Harry of her arrival. When she arrived in Edmonton, there was a group of Aboriginals dressed in feathers and buckskin clothing. Florence did not know that they were on their way to the Calgary Stampede to take part in a parade. Florence remembers thinking, "Oh my God, what have I got into now? Is this an Indian War or Indian Country?" The Red Cross then sent her to Camrose on a coal train that stopped at every ten-mile siding. In Camrose, Florence had to wait for the "Hog Special" to get the rest of the way to Ferintosh. When she arrived in Ferintosh, Harry and her new in-laws were there to meet her.

Three weeks after arriving in Ferintosh, Florence was struck with a weakening in her hands. A naturopath in Wetaskiwin treated her for rheumatoid arthritis with a vegetarian diet. This proved to be very beneficial for her hands but from then on she had to prepare two meals-one for her and the other for the rest of her family.

They lived for six months on a small two-room house. Harry's status as a veteran allowed him to purchase some of his Dad's land in the Malmo district. They spent the first year without power or water in another small house before moving to a much bigger home. Florence helped with the threshing the following fall. It seems all she did was cook, serve meals and clean up just in time to make the next meal.

Once while living in the little house in Malmo, Florence climbed up in the attic to get some boxes out of storage. Not knowing that she should only walk on the joints, she stepped off and promptly fell through the ceiling, just missing her baby son in his crib. When her husband saw her limping, he asked, "What happened to you?" and Florence replied, "I just fell through the ceiling!"

One of the most memorable aspects of being a farm wife was bringing the wash in from the line in the winter, all frozen as stiff as a board. Baking bread was a challenge too. Once, Florence sent Harry to retrieve the laundry from the line; when he tried to pull his underwear off, they froze and took the entire clothesline down along with them. After that, laundry was hung in the house during the winter.

The first time Florence put bread in the oven to bake, it rose so high she was afraid it would explode in the oven. She quickly grabbed a knife and cut off the tops of the loaves. Harry was very disappointed and said, "What the Hell happened to the bread?"

During the summers, Florence and Harry would do their grocery shopping on Saturday nights. All the farmers would dress up and go to town because the shops would stay open until 10 p.m. and there was a dance in the Ferintosh hall to follow. Music was provided by a five-piece band of local musicians.

When returning home from Ferintosh one night, Florence and Harry had to drive across pasture because they did not have a proper road. The car got stuck and they had to walk to the house. On the way, Florence's boots got stuck in the mud and she had to walk bare foot the rest off the way, carrying her rubber boots.

In October of 1952, when her daughter, Marlene was one month old, Florence was helping split wood. Unfortunately, she tripped and broke her arm. This was not the best situation for a woman with a farm and small baby to take care of. In another incident on the farm, Florence tried her hand at milking. The cow's name was Goldie and Florence recalls that she was one wild cow. The cow kicked furiously almost hitting Florence's leg and was later sold as a result. Florence changed to milking a tame old Jersey cow.

Harry retired at age sixty and they moved to Wetaskiwin. Florence has returned to England three times. They attend the Svea Lutheran church in the Malmo area. In Wetaskiwin, Florence enjoyed playing Bingo and bowling until she broke her ankle in the fall of 2002.

Information compiled in 2003


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Board Member - Wetaskiwin & District Heritage Museum
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