A Safe Haven

As Lon­don­ers sol­diered on through WWII bomb­ings, many of their chil­dren were sent to live in Canada

Our Canada - - Coming To Canada - by Joan Bunce,

In 1937 my par­ents de­cided to leave Regina and re­turn to Eng­land, tak­ing my two-year-old self with them and set­tling in London.

Un­for­tu­nately, by 1940 Bri­tons were at war. The sound of air raid sirens be­came com­mon, shel­ters sprouted at the bot­tom of the gar­dens, and black­out cur­tains and gas masks were manda­tory. Fam­i­lies be­gan send­ing their chil­dren to the north of Eng­land to es­cape the bomb­ings and not long after that I be­came one of a boat­load of chil­dren cross­ing the ocean to safety in Canada.

To a five-year-old child, the cross­ing was rather an ad­ven­ture. I learned later that I was on the last ship to make the cross­ing. The next one was tor­pe­doed and went down in the At­lantic; no more evac­uees were sent over after that.

Canada was a won­der­ful place for chil­dren who had been liv­ing with black­outs and ra­tioning. Al­though my par­ents had ex­pected me to go to mem­bers of my mother’s fam­ily, I was taken in­stead into the home of an el­derly (to me) bank man­ager and his wife, Ed­win and Emma Nel­son. They had never had chil­dren of their own, but they took care of me with tremen­dous kind­ness. I was set­tled in Ker­robert, Sask., where school­child­ren in par­tic­u­lar found me a nov­elty and my English ac­cent a won­der­ful source for mim­ick­ing.

Mean­while, my fa­ther had en­listed in the RAF and my mother worked in a mu­ni­tions fac­tory. Let­ters flew back and forth to keep us in touch. Foster fam­i­lies took great pains to keep the mem­o­ries of home alive in their young charges. Also, the CBC co­op­er­ated with the BBC to broad­cast mes­sages from par­ents to their chil­dren over­seas.

I still have a game put out by the CBC called Car­ry­ing the Tools to Bri­tain. It is dog-eared from con­stant use as I moved the card­board pieces rep­re­sent­ing food sup­plies, tools, arms and so on across the breadth of Canada to the At­lantic Coast and then to Eng­land. Per­haps I thought I was help­ing to win the war and bring my par­ents back to me.

It was five years be­fore we were to­gether again. My par­ents chose to re­turn to Canada. It was only as I grew older that I be­gan to re­al­ize the loss of those five years. My par­ents also never lost a sense of guilt that they had sent me away and missed those grow­ing-up years. Yet they and all the oth­ers only did what seemed best at the time.

On Re­mem­brance Day, I think of all those people, like my par­ents, who sol­diered on bravely in the con­fu­sion of the bomb­ings, short­ages, daily tragedies and sep­a­ra­tion from those they loved, who kept “a stiff up­per lip“and a smile through it all and then picked up and started all over again with­out grum­bling.

Joan (wear­ing hat) at a shel­ter in Regina upon her ar­rival with two other young evac­uees.

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