Photo by Chung Chow
Back in Edmonton, in the early days of the Second World War, Betty and Tony had been an item for a while. He signed up without warning.
“He just appeared at the door in uniform. I was surprised that he did it without telling me because we’d been going together then for several years,” says 94-year-old Gilmore Gardens resident Betty Lefroy.
Tony found himself stationed at a forward signal station on Ile d’Orléans, just outside Quebec City, 3,843 kilometres (2,400 miles) from Edmonton. Their long-term romance continued by mail.
“We’d been going together for five years before I caught him at the alter,” says Betty with a smile.
But in June of 1944, a war-time wedding wasn’t an easy thing to pull off.
“He came home on leave. It was four days home by train to Edmonton and four days back,” says Betty.
“We had two days home. We got married and he got back on the train back to Quebec,” she says.
Tony Lefroy came home for the Christmas of 1944 then left the country.
“That’s when he went overseas and was on convoy duty on the Atlantic. I stayed home and had a baby,” Betty says.
Convoys on the Atlantic were routinely torpedoed. Ships sank with many lives lost.
“I think you always worried. So many friends were dropping around you that you wondered, always wondered. I don’t think (Tony) worried particularly. What can you do when you’re at sea and a torpedo comes?” she says.
But Betty was young and rolled with the times.
“It was part of living. You were going through it. You coped. You hoped and that was it. If it didn’t work out….” Betty’s voice trails off, then she tells a story.
While in hospital in Edmonton having their first child, she says, “There was a young girl there married to a naval officer and while she was in hospital having her baby she got word he’d been killed. That’s pretty tough.”
When asked if people got used to losing people, Betty replies, “Oh yes. Where we lived in Edmonton there were across the street the Brooks. Both boys—gone, and Tony’s best friend—gone. His first flight over the English Channel, he was shot down. “
Betty speaks of her husband, while he was home on leave, going to visit family friends. During the visit, the family got notice that a second son had been killed.
Betty remembers the lad they lost.
“He had the most gorgeous eyes of anybody I’ve ever seen—a nice boy.”
I asked if there was anything they appreciated more in those days.
Betty replied, “You probably appreciated your good luck.”
She continues, “In those days, you were asked to take a service man into your home if you could. We got this young Australian boy, Jack.”
He came by every couple of weeks on a Saturday to get a dose of family life.
“He said, ‘I don’t want you to do anything. I would just like to be in your home.’ One day, he asked if he could play our piano, my father said as long as it’s not this new modern stuff,” says Betty with a smile.
Jack eventually went overseas.
“My mother and his mother were corresponding. He was shot down. We later found out all he wanted to be was a concert pianist. He died. Well that was that. I don’t know whether it was worse when it was somebody from way over in Australia. Such a waste of talent, obvious talent,” she says.
Betty’s younger brother, Pat, also enlisted serving on a minesweeper.
Doing things in anticipation of remembering someone was common. The North Atlantic was a dangerous place.
Betty named their baby Petty after her brother.
Commemorated with the new baby’s name, brother Pat survived the war to return home.
In war, it is not just lives that are lost; time as a family is lost too.
The baby was born in April of 1945, but when war ended, Tony was immediately sent to England to return a ship from Canada.
Once there, he suddenly needed an appendectomy which meant more waiting.
Even after that, with all the troops trying to return to Canada, room on homeward bound ships was scarce.
“I don’t really remember the end of the war because it was messed up with Tony having to go overseas. So he didn’t get home to see Patty until she was at least six months old. He wasn’t there when she was a baby.”
After the war, Tony and Betty went on to have sons Peter and Stuart.
Betty says after he got home, Tony never wanted to discuss the war or socialize with old military buddies.
“When it was over, he was finished with it. He said, ‘I’ve done my duty. I’ve done what I should do.’ And that was it. He was finished and now let’s get on with life.”
After the war, Tony and Betty raised a family; he had a career, retired and lived into old age. In time, he and Betty came to Richmond so their grandchildren had room to play.
Later, the couple moved to Gilmore Gardens.
Reminiscing about their retirement and her husband’s death, Betty says, “Tony was 90 which was pretty good. We travelled a lot. We really had a marvelous time.”
And from the vantage point of her 94 years, how does Betty look back on her life as a young adult during the war?
“It was just ordinary living,” she says.
“But we didn’t learn anything. Look at today—all the wars in the world. I think until they have women in charge it’ll never be anything different because women will say, ‘No, we’re not going to slaughter.’ I think it’s true. They wouldn’t send people out to be killed.”