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Topic: The Women of Aspenland
Article: Lorill Wingrave
Date Posted: October 15/2012
Main District: Clover Lawn
Decades: 1920's to 2010's
I was born in London but grew up in Beckenham, Kent, a town just S.E. of the City; my father worked for the London County Council, my mother was a housewife as were most of the married women of the day. I have one brother seven years younger than me, and I recall that I had a very happy childhood; everything seemed all right with my world.
However, the realization that all was not right came when I was about 12. Winston Churchill was talking on the radio one evening and I was very scared. I knew nothing of the world situation and Adolph Hitler was just a name. By 1938, world affairs were very wrong, and in September we had to be fitted for gas masks. This was a very scary, traumatic event and I recall my father, quite out of character, took us all to see "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" to take our minds off the impending danger-this was on a school night too!
In the fall of 1940, we knew we were at war for that is when the Blitz and the Battle of Britain began. Fortunately, most people had been able to make their houses as safe as possible; the Blackout had been the order of the day for nearly a year and we had covered all the windows with black cloth or paper. There were no streetlights, nothing but darkness, not even the light of a cigarette was allowed outside. Also, my father had built an earthen wall outside the patio doors in one room to make the room safe in case of flying glass. I remember watching the flames while London was burning; the flames could be seen for miles leaping high in the air.
When I had finished my schooling I took one year at business college and eventually worked for a printing and publishing firm in London. The office was on Regent Street very near to Oxford Circus. I had not intended to do office work but the only other training available was for nursing or teaching.
It was while I was working in London that I met Barrie. I was the ripe old age of seventeen, reasonably fresh from school, when I met my future husband on the only blind date of my life. I had of course been fully instructed on the perils of such behaviour by my parents, but this night in February 1943, I threw all caution to the winds! He was a gunner, and saw action all the way up through Italy and then in Belgium and Holland. We corresponded regularly and I was often teased by my mother who remarked that ours was a very peculiar courtship, carried on as it was through the mail.
When I was 18 the Forces opened up to take girls born in the first half of 1925 and that included me. So off I went to join the Army but ended up enlisting in the Navy-Women's Royal Navy Service known as WRNS. Barrie was in Italy by now and was not at all impressed with my decision! All the exciting jobs had been filled so once again I was put into office work, sending "signals" which was the naval term for Memos, also making out leave travelling passes for the sailors and other related office work.
Barrie and I continued to correspond and keep in touch. We had decided after writing all those letters that when we met again, and if we felt it was the right thing to do, we would become engaged and this we did. He came back to England in May 1945, just after VE day and we were married in August - actually it was a peace time wedding as VJ day had been declared!
After the wedding, Barrie was shipped home in September and I left the Navy in November. I did get my old job back but it was not the same so I stayed home and helped my mother. I had to wait eight months after our wedding before I received my papers with travelling instructions to Canada.
I was to leave the train at Bassano, Alberta, some ninety miles east of Calgary. Six a.m., the sun already boiling hot, and there was this stranger in civilian clothes waiting for me. And I knew that at every window on the train faces were peering out to see who I had married!
After spending the weekend in Bassano getting to know each other again, and meeting the in-laws-my mother-in-law was understandably as nervous as me-I was welcomed to the family. They lived on a ranch ten miles south of the town and this was a culture shock, nothing but miles of bald prairie, cattle and grain, no running water and an outside toilet.
During these wandering years we called many different places home: Lacombe, Calgary twice, Edmonton, Jasper, and Barrie tried a variety of occupations-road work driving cats, welding, electrical work and he was at one time a Credit Union examiner and another period an insurance salesman. As a young boy before the war he had attended auction school and obtained his license; it was during the sixties that he realized his true ambition and that was to be an auctioneer. We opened an auction house in Edmonton, which we operated for a number of successful years.
In retrospect all the nomadic years were happy times, I learned a great deal about Alberta, lived in the city and also in country places and met many different people and made many friends. At least life was never dull but now I think I have had my share of moves. While all this was happening, we ended up with five children, and at least we stayed in each place long enough that their education was not really affected.
At the same time as we opened the auction house, we moved to the Wetaskiwin area on to an acreage at Clover Lawn. The older three children had graduated from school and were on their own, actually two were married, so we just had two at home. We loved this place and had intended to live out the rest of our lives there, but Barrie's health deteriorated and in order to be closer to doctors and the hospital we left our beloved country home and moved into Wetaskiwin. That was twenty five years ago and I have now lived in the same house for twenty-four of those years.
Barrie continued with auction involvement until ill health forced him to retire. I was working with the Wetaskiwin Chamber of Commerce and in 1987 we went on an Alaskan cruise to see the glaciers. Then in 1988 we realized a long time dream to drive across Canada and also visit Newfoundland. I am very thankful that we were able to do this as Barrie died in May, 1989.
I have never regretted my decision to marry a Canadian soldier although in the beginning I had some times of questioning. I suppose this can happen in any marriage, but I had too much pride and English bull-headedness to admit that perhaps I had made a mistake, and was determined that our marriage would not fail.
There were so many things to get used to in a new country as well as a new husband! There were different customs (Halloween, for one), different food-how do you make a lemon pie, unknown at that time in England-and what do you do with corn-feed it to the pigs! I even discovered there is a difference in language as some of the English expressions mean something quite different in Canada and are not generally accepted in polite company. There were times when of course I missed my family and particularly my mother at the birth of my babies; it was then I longed to have her near. I am glad I stuck out the lean times, the worst times; the good times certainly outweigh them.
During my visits back to England, and I have been quite a few times since my family grew up, I have split loyalties. I love the country of my birth and youth but feel I could not live there very comfortably now. My fifty plus years in Canada have changed me and the England I remember from my childhood has vanished. For me something seems to be missing and I want to get back to Alberta where I really feel at home.
Information compiled in 2003 by Lorill Wingrave.
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