Nov. 21, 1921 - Dec. 25, 2001
by Honorah Sheppard
I am the youngest of nine children.Born in 1960 I would be on the end of what is considered to be the “baby boomer” generation. My parents were in their late 30’s when they had me. I was the last of eight girls with one boy tucked in midway.
Obviously, I wasn’t around to see how life was when my parents were first married or when they went through the war years or when they left England and came to Newfoundland. But I was very much a part of the retelling of those stories. I remember hearing stories, over and over, about how they first met, how my father chased my mother and how hard it was for my mother when she first came to Newfoundland. My parent’s memories of their youth were a significant part of who they were, long before I came into the world.
Mom’s stories went a little like this. My mother was 18 when she met my father. She always described my father as being tall and handsome (and he was). He was 19 and at 6’ and muscular he towered over my mothers small 4’10” petite frame. They met in 1940. I remember my mother telling us that my father followed her home and she couldn’t get rid of him. I guess this tiny woman with the accent caught his eye and he didn’t want to let her go. He had told her he was from Newfoundland and all she knew about Newfoundland was what she remembered from her textbooks in school; Newfoundland was an island, belonging to Britain, where cod came from. That was all she knew.
I remember my mother often telling a story that at first, her own mother never believed that my father was telling the truth about being a “Newfoundlander”. Her mom (my grandmother) told her to watch out for him, he was really an “Irishman, telling stories!” But her family came to like him and accepted him. He was polite, friendly, generous, and treated my mother well. He had chased her and asked her to marry him and he wouldn’t take no for an answer, so six months after they met, she married him.
They didn’t see a lot of each other over the next four years. My father was away at war having his own adventures and near death experiences while Mom lived on in Liverpool and faced the Blitz, one of the worst experiences of bombing a person could go through. She often spoke of the bombings and air raids and the sirens going off and running to the air raid shelters. She went through the horrors of having family members die in those bombings. During that time, the fear of dying or being killed by a bomb was an everyday part of life for her. Dad may have been away at war but the war was very close to her in Liverpool! Mom volunteered as an ambulance driver during those times and experienced even more tragedies. My mother often said that at that time, you learned to live for the moment. I think Mom and Dad made it through those times having had each other to keep them going. Their times together as a young married couple were short and passionate and remained engrained in their memories forever. There is no stronger force then young love.
They started out, at the beginning of the war as two inexperienced naive eighteen year olds. By the end of the war things had obviously changed for both of them but they still had life to deal with and postwar life proved to be a challenge of a different sort!
After the war, my parents stayed on in Liverpool for a few years. My father got a job and they started their family. Their first two daughters were born in Liverpool. I think my parents enjoyed their life there. But my dad was asked to come home by his father and I think that maybe it wasn’t just my grandfather’s nagging to come home that got to him. I think it was in his blood, as is often the case for many who leave this island only wanting to return, hearing its beckoning call to come home.
My father somehow managed to talk my Mom into leaving Liverpool to start a new life in “Newfoundland”. The four of them packed up what they could, leaving behind many of my mother’s favorite possessions. I assume space was limited, that they only took what they could carry in suitcases and trunks because I often heard my mother speak of the beautiful furniture they had to leave behind.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, my mother had not had an easy life going through the war in Liverpool. She had faced rationing, bombs, the deaths of many close friends and relatives. But what waited for her in her husband’s homeland was another “kettle of fish”. They arrived in the month of February so she faced snow and cold like she had never dreamed of. My Mother wasn’t used to Newfoundland winters and arrived dressed in clothing that was designed for English winters.
She also faced relatives that made life difficult for her, religious discrimination (my mother was catholic and my father was Church of England) and a prejudice she had not expected, being a British War Bride! She had stolen the heart of one of Newfoundland’s greatest treasures, one of its men!
My mother had grown up being used to having running water, indoor plumbing. She had never been to an “outhouse”. She had been brought up with streetcars and local transportation and going to movies at the local cinemas. Even though the war was a nightmare, it never seemed to have as hard an effect on her as moving and settling into Newfoundland. At least in England, she had had her family and friends to support her. Over here she had no support and her life back in Liverpool may as well have been on the moon. She often mentioned how she had wanted to go back to Liverpool. But the children kept coming and it became beyond my mothers imagination to think of starting over with so many children and my father had a good job here.
My mother did eventually settle in to life here in Newfoundland. After several trips back to Liverpool and being somewhat overwhelmed with the changes of her hometown, she became content with her life here.
So I grew up with the war stories, they were very much a part of my life. I grew up with “their past” as if the ghosts of their youth sat with us as a part of our family, sitting at our table, always there and always a part of our life. Their past was a very big part of my life. Their past is my past.
You know I grew up with these stories but I hadn’t really appreciated what my mother went through until recently. They say with age comes understanding. I remember when I was eighteen and I would shake my head when my mother told stories about when she was my age. I would say to her “That was then, this is now. Things are different now, please stop living in the past!” But I think differently now that I am a mother of two daughters, one 18 and the other 20. I like all mothers of today worry about trivial things like cell phone bills and them not calling home when they are supposed to. But, I look at my daughters and I can almost see my mother. My 18 year old looks a little like her. Both of my daughters are like most youth at this age,a little naïve, full of life and adventure and an unknown future ahead of them. But I cannot, in my wildest dreams, imagine my daughters living the life my mother did. I pray that they will never ever have to go through a war like my mother did. I realize now how difficult it really must have been for her.
I thank my mother for enduring the hardships she did so my children have the life they have today.