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Topic: The Women of Aspenland
Article: Jessie (Farmer) Russell
Date Posted: October 15/2012
Main District: Wetaskiwin
Decades: 1920's to 2000's
Jessie Farmer was born on July 12, 1921 in the farming community of Watford, England. She was eighteen years old when WWII began and she soon joined the ATF (Auxiliary Territorial Forces) as a cook. As the war progressed, her duties expanded to include nursing, policing, and generally helping out where needed at Sandhurst Military College. In 1942, she was living in the town of Camberly, a community roughly eight miles from the Aldershot military base.
Roland Russell, from Winfield, Alberta joined the Royal Canadian Engineers at the age of eighteen. In April 1942, while his battalion was stationed at Aldershot, he and a friend visited Camberly. The young soldiers met two British army women on the street and invited them out for fish and chips. This chance meeting between Roland and Jessie was the beginning of their lifelong romance.
The couple soon was engaged and Jessie married Roland Russell on October 3, 1943 in Wales. Jessie was discharged from service shortly after her marriage and she returned to Palsburough, Wales, where she lived with a girlfriend. Roland was stationed nearby and after work, he was able to leave the base and stay with Jessie in the evenings. The young couple had a son, Freddy, who sadly died from pneumonia as an infant. On April 4, 1944, Jessie and Roland had a daughter named Eva.
In 1944, Roland and his division were sent to France. While on duty, Roland was hit with machine gun fire above the ankle. He hid in a ditch for most of the day before the Germans found him. They took him to a French farmhouse a mile away where they abandoned him.
Roland was sent to a hospital in Boyer near Normandy for three days. There, he underwent an operation on his leg and was flown back to England and taken by truck to Watford, Jessie's hometown. Jessie's parents had received a telegram informing them of Roland's injuries and went to the hospital to sit with him. Jessie returned to her childhood home to be with her husband. Roland had five bone-scraping operations and had to stay in Watford for three months. He was on crutches for eleven months and could not return to duty.
Roland left for Canada in March of 1945 on the hospital ship, "Lady Nelson" and arrived home on the 29th. Jessie arrived in Canada in April of that year. She traveled with her young daughter, Eva, and because she was pregnant, she was very seasick during the voyage. Mother and daughter traveled by train to Winfield where Roland and his mother met them. Roland continued to serve in the armed forces upon his return to Canada, and was discharged on July 1, 1945.
Jessie "liked Canada right away," even though life in Winfield during the postwar years was rugged. The roads were always muddy and the land was barely arable. It was country much more suited to lumbering than farming. Roland's mother took a shine to Jessie and Roland recalls that the first time he had ever seen his mother have a glass of wine was the day that Jessie came to Canada. Jessie's own mother died shortly after Jessie arrived in Canada.
After Roland's discharge, the Russells lived in a small log cabin on his military pension. Roland found work with the McDougall sawmill, and remained there until the mill shut down. The Russells moved to Brule, where Roland worked in a lumberyard, and then later the family relocated to Faust. Jessie was a busy housewife and mother of six; three boys and three girls. Roland recalls that there was a great deal of excitement when Helen was born. Jessie was in need of a quick trip to the hospital but they were stranded because of the weather and poor roads. Help came in the form of a C.P. "speeder" (a train shuttle) and Jessie was rushed to the Rimbey Hospital.
The Russell family moved from Faust to Wetaskiwin in 1962. Jessie worked in the laundry at the hospital and later, she was a cook in the long-term care facility, Peace Hills Home. Roland worked in retail sales until his retirement in 1985. The Russell family loved to bowl and they formed a bowling team consisting primarily of family members.
Unfortunately, Jessie and Roland were involved in a motor vehicle accident near Falun and Jessie sustained serious injuries to her right arm. She could no longer work, bowl or participate in any familiar activities. Jessie was later diagnosed with diabetes and lost the use of her legs. For the last few years of her life, she was confined to a wheelchair. Roland stayed home to take care of his ailing wife until Jessie passed away on November 26, 2000. Roland passed away on April 8, 2003 while living in long-term care at Crossroads Hospital.
Based on interview with Roland Russell, April 7, 2003, Roland Russell, Comrades in Arms, Veteran Interviews, and interviews with family members, Eva Walker, Helen Bryan, and Alberta Hill, 2003.
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Wetaskiwin, Alberta T9A 0S3
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