War bride and groom die within hours of each other


They met in Au­gust 1941 in a sub­urb of wartime Lon­don, a bub­bly English girl in a red dress and a tall Cana­dian sol­dier. Ge­orge Spear would later re­call that when he walked though the dance hall door and saw Jean sit­ting there, “That was it for me. I never let her out of my sight.”

He wore army boots, but he could dance, Jean said. “And his rhythm was per­fect. So we didn’t dance with any­one else the whole evening,”

Three years ago, at a 72nd an­niver­sary party in the back­yard of their white brick bun­ga­low on Aylen Av­enue, Ge­orge cut the cake with his wartime bay­o­net and played You Are My Sun­shine on the har­mon­ica. And they shared a long kiss.

The pair cel­e­brated their 75th an­niver­sary on Aug. 22. On Friday, they died in hos­pi­tal within an hours of each other.

Jean, 94, had de­vel­oped pneu­mo­nia and was ad­mit­ted to the Queensway Car­leton Hos­pi­tal on Tues­day. Ge­orge, 97, spoke to Jean by phone on Wed­nes­day. The next day, he fell into a deep sleep and was also ad­mit­ted to the hos­pi­tal, where ad­min­is­tra­tors tried to re­unite the cou­ple on the same floor. Be­fore that could be ar­ranged, Jean fell into a peace­ful sleep and died at 4:30 a.m. on Friday, fol­lowed by Ge­orge at 9:45 a.m.

“We tell sto­ries to make our­selves feel bet­ter. But this de­fies any sort of logic. We were over­whelmed by the sud­den­ness of it,” says their daugh­ter, Heather Spear.

The Spears’ lives to­gether were like a movie script. Ge­orge was 21 and Canada’s youngest sergeant ma­jor with the 1st Corps Field Sur­vey Co., Royal Cana­dian En­gi­neers when they met and was later an in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer. Jean was 18 when they met. She was a fire­fighter, an air raid war­den and a cor­po­ral in the home Guard whose dreams of a ca­reer in jour­nal­ism were dashed when the mag­a­zine she worked at as a sec­re­tary was bombed.

They were mar­ried in 1942 in Jean’s home­town of Kingston Upon Thames, Jean in a dress bor­rowed from the butcher’s daugh­ter. One layer of the wed­ding cake made it from Canada. The other layer ended up in the north At­lantic.

“When you met a boy, you made the most of every mo­ment be­cause you just didn’t know when or if you’d meet again. There was a stim­u­la­tion about it, a won­der­ful, won­der­ful ex­cite­ment that is hard to de­scribe and hard to un­der­stand if you weren’t there. The worry sharp­ened your senses,” Jean said in 2006. Ge­orge, who served in Italy and North Africa, headed back to Canada to work as a trainer and made ar­range­ments with the Red Cross to have Jean brought to Canada in a naval con­voy in 1944. It was an op­er­a­tion cloaked in the great­est se­crecy. Jean got a call to be packed in an hour and meet a woman who would get her on a ship to Canada. She couldn’t even wave good­bye to her fam­ily.

Jean ar­rived in Ottawa in a snow­storm and was greeted by Ge­orge. Al­most im­me­di­ately, she ar­ranged a par­cel-to-Lon­don­ers pro­gram, en­list­ing Cana­dian fam­i­lies to send food parcels to 100 East End Lon­don­ers. In 1945, she helped found the ESWIC (Eng­land, Scot­land, Wales, Ire­land and Canada) club for war brides. Af­ter the war, Ge­orge worked as a sur­veyor and Jean for Simp­sons-Sears as a staff trainer, even­tu­ally mov­ing to Statis­tics Canada.

Daugh­ter Heather was born in 1947, son Ian in 1950. One of the big­gest thrills of Jean’s life was be­ing named a Mem­ber of the Or­der of the Bri­tish Empire in 2006. She in­sisted that the hon­our was on be­half of all of Canada’s al­most 50,000 war brides. In 2011, the cou­ple was in­vited to a pri­vate re­cep­tion in hon­our of Prince Wil­liam and Catherine, Duchess of Cam­bridge. Ge­orge showed Kate the 1942 photograph of Jean taken on their first date he had tucked in­side the beret he wore as a sol­dier. Kate asked if he al­ways kept the photo. “All through the war and ever since,” Ge­orge replied.

The two com­ple­mented each other, say their chil­dren. Jean loved talk and par­ties. Ge­orge, who called him­self a “war groom,” was quiet and out­doorsy. Jean bought the hobby farm near Smiths Falls that the fam­ily called The Manor for Ge­orge, but came to love it as much as he did.

“There was a re­spect for each other’s in­ter­ests. Each rec­og­nized that the other needed those in­ter­ests to make them happy,” says Ian Spear.

“We laugh a lit­tle about it be­cause she was the stronger of the two about what she wanted to do or not do,” says Heather. “She was a force to be reck­oned with.”

That in­cluded pur­chas­ing a plot at Beech­wood Ceme­tery and a head­stone. On Jean’s side: Beloved wife and war bride. On Ge­orge’s side: Royal Cana­dian en­gi­neer.

Jean her­self once ex­plained their recipe for hap­pi­ness in an in­ter­view. “I re­al­ized when we met that we were on to a good thing. When we got mar­ried, we thought we were in heaven. Through­out our lives, the ups and downs, we know that to­gether we are a good thing. We rec­og­nize it and have never failed to ac­knowl­edge it.”

The fam­ily is still or­ga­niz­ing a party to cel­e­brate their lives. “I think we’ll have one more Spear party,” says Heather.


Sec­ond World War vet Ge­orge Spear, 94, and his war bride Jean, 91, cel­e­brate 72 years of mar­riage dur­ing a pri­vate tea party in their Ottawa back­yard in 2014. In­set, the cou­ple shortly af­ter their mar­riage in 1942. Be­low, Jean and Ge­orge meet with Catherine, the Duchess of Corn­wall, in Ottawa in 2011.


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