Sunday, November 20, 2011

Take 5 with Kathy - "We will not forget..." (Part 3)

While we usually do a good job of remembering and honouring our fallen soldiers, veterans, victims of holocausts, and the brave military personnel currently serving to maintain our rights and freedoms, there are other innocent and more easily forgotten individuals who suffer during war and civil unrest.

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)



  1. Wow! What a moving post. Very interesting that your grandparents moved to Canada to join their children. Fortunately they too survived.

    Thank you for bringing this poignant post to Seasonal Sundays.

  2. I just shed a tier or two with your dear dad's story. How wonderful that the children in your father's ship survived and later his parent's could join them too. A sad story with a beautiful ending in great Canada. Happy Thanksgiving, although yours was in Oct., right?

  3. Thanks for sharing this fascinating story! My grandparents emigrated from a small village in the Ukraine to Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, where he became a mining engineer. They had 10 children, including 2 sets of twins, but none except my mother survived past infancy. He died suddenly of a cerebral aneurysm, 2 weeks after he told my grandmother that he had seen Jesus and was going home soon to be with him. My grandmother never lost her hope, faith, or dedication to church and family and help raised me. She was a great role model to me of faith, service, hard work, and caring.
    Your blog is a blessing and I will follow it, and I invite you to follow mine, Saved by Grace:
    Love in Christ,
    Laurie Collett

  4. Beautiful and poignant post.

  5. I really enjoyed and appreciate you sharing your father's story. I found it very interesting. I'm glad you have his story and it will be passed on to other generations. Blessings, Pamela

  6. Hi Kathy,
    What a heartfelt post!
    Thank you for sharing...
    All the Best,

  7. Stephanie Savard said:
    I am glad your shared this Aunty Kathy! It is hard to believe this is actually all part of my heritage.

  8. Wow, this really brought tears to my eyes. I was very young during WWII but I remember the blackouts we had on the west coast. So many horrible things happened during that period of time. I remember a friend came to visit us right after the war. She was from England and told about the bombings in London.
    Thank you for sharing your history. I learned things I did not know before about how the children were moved around.


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