Part 1 – A wartime childhood in Canada.
Anthony was moved to share his story after listening to “Pat’s story” (part of Guild Living’s Extraordinary Lives Project). “Basically, I was just flipping around on the internet and I saw that Pat had a story to tell and that she was my own age. I wondered how similar our experiences would be. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. Digging out old memories and wracking my brain.” He felt a burning desire to tell and share his own stories and recollections. “I want my large (6-foot plus!) grandsons to know that this funny little grey-haired man they call Grandpa has also been around and done stuff too, as they say.”
Born in 1936, Anthony described his family as hard-working, patriotic, with a strong military background. His father was part of the Territorial Army and his grandfather fought in the Boer War. When the war was declared, his father was one of the first to volunteer. He was shipped to France with the British Expeditionary Force, where they put him in charge of running Dieppe harbour.
A Canadian adventure.
Anthony recalls how shortly after his father was shipped to France his grandmother made the decision to send the rest of the family to Canada for the duration of the war. “Being from a service family, she had seen what happens when things go bad in wartime and she wanted to protect her grandchildren and had the financial means to do so. So, she bought us all tickets and sent us off across the Atlantic to Canada. That is imprinted on my mind. Mum, my brother and myself, auntie and her four kids, we all went as a group to Liverpool and got onto the Duchess of Richmond, which was a troop ship going backwards and forwards across the Atlantic.”
Anthony remembers his evacuation to Canada through the eyes of a small boy who had been gifted a marvellous adventure. His excitement and gratitude for the experiences his wartime childhood granted him are obvious. “On the Duchess of Richmond is when I first found out that there were things called toothpaste tubes. I don’t remember ever seeing one before but in this tiny little cabin was a washbasin and a mirror. I remember being spanked by mother because I had found this tube of toothpaste and drawn pictures all over the big mirror with it! [laughs] She was not very pleased at all.”
“We carried on across Canada on this wonderful steam train. If you picture Canada – a huge territory, largely unsettled, particularly in the middle because there were no roads, the railway was only completed in 1910 or something like that, the transcontinental railway. It was completely empty. There were a few wandering indigenous tribes of course, as there always are, and it was a magnet for British people.”
Life in Canada for a small boy.
I could have listened for hours to Anthony’s stories about how a new life in Canada was experienced for a young boy. “As a small boy you have fresh experiences every week, every day. Some are good, some are bad. I was so lucky to have been sent to Vancouver Island. What else can I tell you?”
“To start with, we had one of my uncle’s little wooden cabins that he had built. But mother was a very enterprising woman and she found the Charlesworth’s, a household who needed a housekeeper and she applied and took us, boys, along.”
“A homestead was several acres and this one was no exception. I remember the cherry trees. They had been planted perhaps 40 years before, by the previous owner. There was an established vineyard and they used to pick lovely big purple grapes for wine. Then there were the barns and the outbuildings and the sheds because lumber was cheap, and everyone had a nice selection of outbuildings, barns, sheds and garages. The big panic one autumn was when Mr Charlesworth came in and said, ‘You boys better not go out at night because there has been a bear around the place.’ He had found the imprint of a bear’s foot just outside [laughs]!”
“I remember one British ex-pat had gone out there on his war wound pension. He had a Lee-Enfield .303 gun and he set himself up to breed English setter dogs. He had quite a variety of them when we were up there. He had a dog compound of 70 or 80 yards square and on each of the gateposts, on each of the fenceposts, there was a cougar skull because the cougars loved dog meat. The cougars would smell the dogs and come down. Over the years, I don’t know how many cougars he had shot – 20 or 30 I suppose. He only had one eye and it must have been the good eye that was left! [laughs]”
Anthony started school in Canada and has particularly fond memories of his school days. “Chemainus elementary school, I remember it so well. A great big, new wooden building on a promontory that overlooked the harbour. I started in grade 1, of course. There were probably 25 or 30 of us in the class. The class was so disparate. There were little Chinese boys, English, Canadian, Native American Indians or Canadian Indians. I remember them teaching us how to use a toothbrush, which may seem odd, but when you think that the First Nation’s people were still living in shacks in clearings without any running water or electricity. It was the first time as a nation they had sent their kids to school, I suppose. They were teaching us all how to use toothbrushes. That is surprising, isn’t it?”
Anthony’s school photograph (Anthony is far right, middle row, and his best pal, Bobby Wilson, is fifth from the right, front row)
Outside of school, Anthony had some wonderful memories of playing in the Canadian lakes with his brother. The Canadian outback provided the perfect setting for playing in the wild and engaging with nature.
“We used to go camping a lot. My brother acquired a boat and I acquired a boat. Mine was called Green Pea and his was called Grey Slooter. Small rowing boats. We used to compete with these things, of course, trying to race. Well Green Pea, my boat, was a lightly built flat bottomed thing, very fast if you could hold it straight, but every now and again it would tend to turn sideways. Now my brother’s boat was called Grey Slooter. Conventional, therefore very stable and very good in a straight line. Almost invariably I would pull ahead, feel pleased with myself and be gloating, and Green Pea would turn sideways suddenly. My dear brother would then come rowing past with a big grin on his face! [laughs]!”
Anthony and his brother in “Green Pea” on the Canadian lakes.
A perfect childhood.
I am struck by how lucky Anthony feels as he recollects his childhood. In stark contrast to others I have interviewed, who recount wartime childhoods full of suffering, neglect, and abandonment, Anthony feels his childhood was rather idyllic. The war presented him with an adventure that might be considered every small boy’s dream. When I asked him how he looks back on his early life in Canada and how he would sum up his childhood, he doesn’t need time to reflect. His answer is emphatic.
“Perfect is the word. A perfect childhood.”