In the third and final article in this blog series, I want to focus on one person who experienced first-hand how the ravages of war affected some families.
|Dad, on the right, with his brother|
Born in 1928, this boy grew up in the suburbs of London, England. The reality of war was far from his thoughts as he and his older brother played with their friends and attended school. His father earned a modest living as a bus conductor/driver and his mother was a very jolly person who loved music.
His idyllic and innocent childhood was about to be shattered, however, as World War II edged closer and became more threatening. He has recollections of toting a gas mask wherever he went, practicing bombing drills, seeing a large truck which they would fill with tear gas so you could enter and test if your gas mask was working properly, and spending a night in an air raid shelter. As his parents became increasingly worried for their children’s safety, this boy was among thousands of British children who were sent to live in the countryside. Parents anxiously said good-bye entrusting their precious offspring to strangers in an effort to spare them from bombing raids. I can’t imagine being one of those mothers making that heart-wrenching decision when all I longed to do was hold them closer to my heart!
Two years ago, my dad looked closely at the Walter Campbell painting that adorns my family room each winter. “I remember the house we lived in out in the country,” he remarked, “It was much like this one with a coach house on the side. We lived with a doctor.”
After almost seventy years, this memory was voiced and I began learning more about what he recalled from those years. It really wasn’t until my son and niece began asking their grandfather questions about his background for their school projects that my sister and I discovered more of his story. It was just something he had discussed very little, as is common among many other children who survived the war.
|Dad and his brother with others waiting to board ship|
As the war became increasingly menacing to British citizens, Canada was one country which opened its doors to receive thousands of British “Guest Children” under a program sponsored by the British government. Thinking the war wouldn’t last much longer, the plan was to house these children temporarily in a safer country and bring them back home after the war. It would be five long years before that would be possible.
|The Oronsay which brought Dad to Canada|
In August, 1940, my father and uncle boarded the P&O ship, Oronsay, and began the treacherous nine-day journey to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Allowed only one suitcase, my father brought only two toys – a metal airplane and anti-aircraft gun. Last year I included these with pictures and other mementos in a glass display case for his Christmas present. Travelling in a convoy to try and avoid attack from German U-boats, my dad’s ship arrived safely at Pier 21 in Halifax on August 6, 1940. Other children, tragically, were killed when their ship was sunk by a torpedo. The program was cancelled shortly thereafter.
|Dad in front of Pier 21 today|
My father’s memories of arriving at Pier 21, which was recently named the Canadian Museum of Immigration, is of the many people on the dock below waving and throwing pennies up to him and the other children. A few years ago when Pier 21 first opened, we visited with my dad. It was very nostalgic and moving for him, especially when he viewed the encased items once belonging to British guest children.
We thank the Lord that my dad and uncle were placed with a kind widow lady who cared for them. Many children, sadly, were not well looked after and some were abused. By the time the war ended, both boys had grown up and decided to remain in Canada. Later, their parents joined them here but since they both died when I was young I don’t remember them.
I’m so glad and proud that my father has this heritage to pass along to us. More importantly, he has passed on his decision to follow and serve his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. That’s the greatest gift he gave to us and his grandchildren. I’m thankful for those who welcomed him to this country and shared their lives with him.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
Until next Sunday,
P.S. Thanks for letting me be a little more long-winded this time, but I’ve longed to write this story for some time. I would also be interested in hearing stories of other British guest children if you know any. (If you would like, you can read Part 1 HERE, and Part 2 HERE)