When November rolls around, news coverage zeroes in on war.
We pause to give thanks to the thousands of soldiers who died fighting for the freedom we so often take for granted.
There’s another story that doesn’t get told very often. It’s the story of the children.
The Great Depression in the 1930s caused migrations of people looking for a better life. One of those families was the Summers, who had moved to Canada from Lancashire, England, settled in the London area, given birth to five children and suffered through the lack of work prospects in Canada in the 1930s.
Margaret Summer was one of those five children who went back to England with her parents as her father sought relief from the “Dirty Thirties.”
But being back in England put the family smack dab in the middle of the Second World War.
Children were at incredible risk as large urban centres in England became the bull’s-eye targets for German bombs. Blackout curtains, food rations, and the daily threat of death caused painful decisions by many parents, anxious for the safety of their children.
Because Margaret and her four siblings had been born in Canada, it was easy for her British-born parents to arrange passage for them to go “home” away from the immediate threat of death or injury.
At age 15, Margaret’s big sister Joan was put in charge of all five children, the youngest age five.
The children, carrying their gas masks, were marshaled aboard to spend days at sea in a convoy of two troop ships. The ships were packed to capacity with war brides, injured men, and children. It was 1940.
Margaret’s mother watched. Her children watched back. She stood torn in the worst of possible positions, a British-born infant in her arms, her husband at her side, the war in full swing and her Canadian-born children on a ship to safety.
At the last minute, the ship’s captain called her to board and come with them. There was room. What about her infant child, Pat? What about her husband? Surely the war would last only a few more months.
Mrs. Summer chose British soil. It was a decision she was to regret for the rest of her life.
When the Summer children landed at Pier 21 in Halifax, it was with only one of the troop ship convoy … the other sank at sea. All aboard were lost.
Joan Summer took her young siblings and they made their way back to the London area where they were split up among a number of families. And for the billeting families, taking an extra child for a month or two was one thing … but six years???
Joan, the 15 year old, got a job at Bell Telephone and went to stay with an aunt. Brother Fred stayed with another aunt and uncle. Brother Jack drifted; his care arrangements didn’t work out. Margaret’s little brother Tommy, aged 5, was sent to another family. And Margaret was taken in by a family in the London area.
“During those six years, we saw very little of each other. My little brother Tom and I were very, very close … it nearly killed me not to be with him,” remembers Marg.
Six years passed before those children saw their mother again. Six years passed before that mother was able to reach out and stroke a head, cradle a little body, listen to a problem.
When the war ended, Margaret’s mother got immediate passage with the baby Pat, now eight years old. Marg’s sister Joan had married and was expecting her first child. She and her husband had just moved into a two-bedroom