Whistler's Remembrance Day service honours women in war 

From Second World War heroines to military service today, Whistler residents remember

click to flip through (5) STORY BY BRIAN BUCHHOLZ - From Second World War heroines to military service today, Whistler residents remember This year Remembrance Day organizer Brian Buchholz is honouring women in war. As part of this celebration Pique sought submissions to tell the stories of women who worked behind the scenes, behind enemy lines and in combat so that we all remember and honour their service.
  • Story By Brian Buchholz
  • From Second World War heroines to military service today, Whistler residents remember This year Remembrance Day organizer Brian Buchholz is honouring women in war. As part of this celebration Pique sought submissions to tell the stories of women who worked behind the scenes, behind enemy lines and in combat so that we all remember and honour their service.
 
This year Remembrance Day organizer Brian Buchholz is honouring women in war. As part of this celebration Pique sought submissions to tell the stories of women who worked behind the scenes, behind enemy lines and in combat so that we all remember and honour their service.

On Tuesday, Nov. 11, local and invited veterans, special guests and the Whistler community will gather at the Whistler Cenotaph in remembrance of the more than 115,000 young Canadians who perished in defence of Canada in wars over the past century.

On this, the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War, Canadians from coast to coast to coast will unite — assembling at Cenotaphs, cemeteries and in church halls — as they reflect upon the sacrifice of our soldiers, airmen and sailors lost in war, in domestic deployments and in peacekeeping.

In a war that many predicted would be "all over by Christmas" more than 600,000 Canadians answered the call during the First World War, as battles raged across Europe with a savagery and futility not witnessed in the history of mankind. By November 11, 1918, some 65,000 Canadians had fallen.

This year, the Whistler Service of Remembrance will reflect upon not only the sacrifices of our 'front line' combat forces, but also the participation and sacrifice of the women of Canada; those who served in uniform, and those who served on the home front.

During the First World War, some 2,800 women enlisted in the Royal Canadian Medical Corp serving in rear areas and at forward nursing stations. These women provided an unending and unwavering degree of compassion and care to the endless roster of the maimed and dying. Forty-three Serving Sisters were killed between 1914 and 1918, while 200 received medals for their bravery.

Across Canada, women increasingly contributed to the wartime effort including paramilitary training in small arms, drills, first aid and vehicle maintenance — roles not previously fulfilled by women in pre-war Canada.

By the Second World War, Canadian women were increasingly fulfilling roles in munitions, ship and aircraft manufacturing, flight training and aircraft transport, intelligence, code breaking and even actions behind enemy lines.

Of the 45,000 women who served in the Canadian Army, Navy and Air Force during the Second World War, some 3,000 saw overseas duty and 71 were killed across the globe.

In big cities and small towns women sewed, baked, recycled and raised money in a Canada-wide effort to support the troops. The greatest sacrifice provided by the mothers, daughters, wives and sweethearts — who watched with pride and fear as their sons, brothers and fathers boarded troop trains or embarked on ships for Asia and Europe — was sending them off with a kiss and a prayer. They waited at home trying to maintain some level of normalcy and daily routine, each day fearful of the doorbell's ring and the telegram with the end of the world phrase..."We regret to inform you..."

Today, women make up an increasing percentage of our serving military, including frontline combat roles from submariners, to fighter pilots, to ground forces. During Canada's decade-long deployment to Afghanistan, women shared the danger and made their sacrifice alongside their male comrades. Three female members of our military were killed in Afghanistan.

Author Lucy Maud Montgomery, whose son returned from the battlefields of Flanders, wrote, "our boys give only themselves — we give them."

All past or current serving military members are encouraged to participate in the Veterans' Parade and Colour Party on the day. The Parade rallies at 10:00 a.m. at the Whistler Fire Hall beside the Cenotaph and gets underway at 10:50 a.m., Nov.11, 2014. Village Gate Blvd. will be closed to traffic from 10:45 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Transit will be rerouted.

Whistler Rotary will host a Community Reception inside Fire Hall No.1 at the completion of the service.

(Please contact Brian Buchholz for further details on the service or if you would like to present a Wreath of Remembrance on the day.)

Becoming Blanche, Canada's female undercover agent

Most little girls are raised on the whimsy of princesses and knights in shining armour, but in the d'Artois Whistler household we have a heroine of our own — a feather-like blonde, with the skills to mix a ground-shattering explosive. Sonya d'Artois (née Sonya Butt) was Britain's youngest SOE agent, the last living female undercover agent from the Second World War, and our adored Grannie.

This femme fatale's story is one that trumps any Bond girl, or the workings of a Disney damsel.

Sonya, known to most as Tony, set out at the age of 16 seeking safety from the Germans charming her way through the borders between France and Britain, sans identification. She was away at school at the time in France and usually travelled on her mother's papers.

Fearless, and with a mind that could unnerve any man, she soon found herself in an interview to become an undercover agent. Like any good adventurer, the thrill of what lay ahead, and the need to fight for what she believed, ignited a strength that has since inspired books and films alike.

Ever so humble and coy, Sonya spent most of her life shying away from any interviews, leaving those wartime days as a trail of mysteries behind her. From parachuting into France in a skirt, to escaping the Gestapo, and an infamous forgotten and swiftly recovered handbag containing a Colt 32 — the undercover Sonya (code name Blanche) hardly wavered in her composure.

Her story is not complete, however, without mentioning her male counterpart, who she matched with intrepid force. Guy d'Artois, a Canadian who worked alongside her in training, fell for the girl who could master an explosive while still finding time to offer a flirtatious wink.

The two were soon married and eventually returned to Canada where they bred an army of six children, a task she lead just as gracefully as her undercover missions.

As Sonya once put it, "I went from mixing explosives to mixing baby formula."

This romance was one for the ages, and endures in the form of the Cartier wedding band that she bought Guy in Paris and wears still.

Michaela d'Artois

San Francisco

Eileen Buchholz and millions of women like her win the war!

My mom's life was just being laid out in front of her in the summer of 1939. The youngest of nine children, then Eileen Peters, went further than any of her siblings in public school – all finished at 16. Unfortunately, university for this working-class London girl was not the remotest of possibilities.

After school she went through the usual low-paying jobs including working for BrylCream and in her mother's corner store. Then in September 1939, the world changed for her and millions of others forever.

In wartime England, many civilian businesses and manufacturers quickly converted to the business of victory.

At the outbreak of war, my mom worked for Ascot Gas Water Heaters. That entire business was retooled, employees re-tasked and they started manufacturing the Fraser Nash Gun Turret. She was responsible for ensuring that the required parts and process was stocked and supplied just ahead of the manufacturing requirement — logistics.

Like thousands of women, this 22-year-old now supervised a vital part of the English wartime output, directing a workforce of men and women not very accepting of direction from a "boss" that was a female – but they adapted and got on with the job at hand.

Mom went from being just another young girl in her parents' shop and at the water heater plant, to being a control officer at an aircraft parts' plant in an instant. She was just one of so many young women in England, in the United States and Canada whose hopes and dreams were stopped in their tracks and placed on "pause" for the next five years.

Also, like many women, my mom met and married one of the soldiers from the "colonies" who came to protect and fight for England from 1939 to 1945. She was introduced to my dad by her friend just to "tag along" as a second couple on a date. She tagged along, fell in love and they married just as the war ended.

Like thousands of other English women, mom immigrated to Canada, via Winnipeg, and then on to Vancouver as a "war bride."

She left behind her friends and family in the old world — starting afresh in the new. A Canada that, unlike most of Europe, was unblemished by war and teeming with possibility.

As with many war veterans, my mom speaks hesitantly about her wartime experiences, which include losing a close cousin in the North Sea, bombs landing across the street destroying a neighbour's house, as well as the privations of wartime rationing for everything from stockings to butter to meat to petrol...

Thanks Mom!

Brian Buchholz, Whistler Remembrance Day organizer

Each in their own way

My mother, Ann Teresa Scribner (Dulceno), worked as a nurse's aide in Boston and was on duty the night of Dec. 28, 1942.

A popular nightclub, the Cocoanut Grove, was overcrowded with soldiers on leave, before deploying to the Pacific, as well as sports fans celebrating several local victories during the Thanksgiving Bowl football games. It was presumed that over 1,000 revellers jammed the premises with a permitted capacity of 452.

As the partiers danced and mingled, Tiki torches ignited the artificial palms and the place went up like an inferno. Several exits were blocked by tables or disguised by curtains.

Ann was in the emergency room at Massachusetts General Hospital when the surviving burn victims were brought in. All of the Boston area hospitals were quickly overwhelmed and staff worked 36 hours without substantial breaks.

Nearly 500 people died in that fire. It was the second greatest loss of life in U.S. history of fires — the first being from the Chicago's Iroquois Theater fire in 1903.

The petite, teenaged aide never got over the sights, sounds and stench of those hours. She continued on advancing her nursing career and eventually met a recovering infantryman (from the Battle of the Bulge). They married and set off for Maine to complete a university degree offered to veterans.

They weren't in Maine long before I came along to impose myself on their peace and quiet!

Ann Terry passed quietly, with family at her side this past July at age 91. She had been living independently in her Florida home until the end.

It's apparent to me that during the years of the Great Wars, all were courageous fighters in their own ways.

They rarely spoke of it. Was that to shield us from the horrors and misery they had witnessed?

By Jim Scribner

Former Whistler paramedic, volunteer firefighter and Vietnam veteran

Service is never taken for granted

As I think about landing in Tel Aviv, I recall how quickly we were shuttled onto the bus and whisked away.

"Never mind about their bags," an official barked. "Just get everyone out now!" Hmmm. Border guards, check points, tanks and military installations; it was quite the sight, as we made our way to the United Nations base in the Golani Hills.

For a week prior to the air raids, scuds and bunker drill, I spent time digesting, not only mess hall food, but also what was happening globally and on a personal level. I had said goodbye to my family and friends — as if for the last time — not knowing if I would see them again.

There's nothing quite like the sound of air raid sirens and missile fire in the morning to awaken the senses.

One night, while we sat around sharing stories of family, I commented on the meteor shower in the night sky. My comrade was quick to point out that it was scud missiles, and not stars I was gazing upon.

Benny and his wife lived in Cazrin, Israel. While distance eludes me now, it was, perhaps, a short drive away from our base. I had dinner with them more than once and enjoyed their stories, their hospitality and their friendship. Throughout the chaos and upheaval of war, they reminded me we are, inherently, the same — working hard to provide for their family, worrying about their children's future and just trying to do their best and be the best they can be.

The border guard at Position 28 echoed the same sentiments, too, and wished the hostility would cease — for the children's sake, for the future. What sort of example are we to be for them? How will they learn, properly, about loving their fellow man?

My mother was 24 years old when she said goodbye to her family in England, making her way to Canada in 1944. I can understand a little now how she felt, as she set sail across the Atlantic, saying goodbye to her family and friends not knowing if, or when, she would see them again.

I was born in 1961, into a family of military service. Upon completion of a degree at the University of Ottawa, I joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1985. I have spent much of my life in the service sector and made my way to Whistler in 1996. Currently, I reside in Pemberton and have worked for Tourism Whistler for eight years.

While my parents have since passed away, their spirits are with me. I never take for granted the sacrifices they, and my comrades, have made so that we could have a better life. Ours is a fellowship that lasts long after we hang up our uniform.

Tracy Chaepherton

Pemberton

Margaret Littlewood lived in the clouds

Margaret Littlewood was always a tomboy.

An only child growing up in Toronto, Margaret loved attending football games with her father and spent many afternoons climbing trees with the boys in the neighbourhood. Originally, she wanted to be a secretary, but after befriending the daughter of a flight instructor, Margaret discovered the passion that would consume the majority of her life: flying.

"She was a firecracker as I recall," said Whistlerite Kate Turner, Margaret's great niece.

In 1938, she got her private license, and quit her day job in the Eaton's mail-order department to work for the Gillies Flying Service office at Barker Field. But in the first year of the war, nationwide gas rations forced the civilian flying school to shut down, leaving Margaret unemployed.

Undeterred, Margaret wrote a letter to each of the 10 Air Observer Schools in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) asking for work. Nine turned her down in short order, but larger-than-life ex-bush pilot Wop May needed a link training instructor. She became the BCATP's first female instructor, and between February 1943 and May 1944 she trained nearly 150 pilots in simulated spins, radio signals and blind flying in Edmonton and at the R.A.F. Command Centre in Quebec.

After the war, she completed her public transport, commercial and senior commercial pilot license training — one of only three other Canadian women to do so.

She passed away in 2012 at the age of 96.

Brandon Barrett with files from Kate Turner

Whistler

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