The Christmases of 1953 and 1954 were extra special for children living in St. Johnís orphanages. An American soldier stationed in Newfoundland named Earl Chilton put in motion a plan to deliver presents to each and every child living at Mount Cashel, Belvedere and the Church of England Orphanage. (To read the full details of this inspirational story, read the December 2010 issue of Downhome.) Below are letters written in 2008 by those orphans, now adults, who still fondly remember those Christmases so long ago and wanted to thank Earl for special memories that have lasted lifetimes.
I'll start by saying hello and hope you are well. My name is John Frank Fowler. I was at Mount Cashel Orphanage when you and your associates, young men from the US Military base in St. Johnís, Newfoundland. Fort Pepperrell Air Force base came to Mt. Cashel and made for us the first real Christmas as we know it now. All of us were happy, excited and appreciative. I have mentioned all you people in my prayers and now I will add a name.
Thank you and your fellow men for making our lives better. Really we had nothing - believe me - that place was a horror house. So thank you and your crew so very, very much for your thoughtfulness and generosity. I have told many people about you and your Air Force men. Iím 70 years old, have four children (all in their 40s), 14 grandchildren and Christmas isn't even forgotten. Thanks.
Forever Grateful, John F. Fowler, Sr.
Dear Mr. Chilton:
It was a surprise for me to receive correspondence from Donna and to bring back memories, which still bring tears to my eyes.
How could we forget your kindness, and Operation Santa Claus. The story has been told many times over the years by me and discussed with girlfriends, friendships from the orphanage, we have kept through the years. I moved to Ontario at the age of 20 and have lived here since. I continue to visit St. John's.
I definitely remember the outings, an incentive for us to follow the rules so we would be allowed to go. It was a cloistered life but it gave us life skills, the tools to balance out what we needed to do, to accomplish what we wanted.
I just retired as a full-time psychiatric nurse, hating to let anything go I will continue to work part time. The caring and generosity given to me as a child I freely pass on to my patients.
Thank you for what you did for us so many years ago.
Dear Mr. & Mrs. Chilton
I was never an orphan, however, my mom was in Belvedere Orphange in the 1920s as a young child.
Actually, I was the one who contacted the Telegram, spoke to Danette Dooley, and suggested she do the story about you and the wonderful work you did while you were in Newfoundland.
I have been following updates from Pat Williams by e-mail. I am so happy that a monument has been placed on the resting place of your little boy, and I know you must be thrilled about this.
Wishing both of you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2009.
Regards, Joan Fogarty
I hope you and your family will enjoy a most blessed and happy Christmas as you provided for so many of us Newfoundland orphans years ago. We will be thinking of you.
Dear Mr. & Mrs. Chilton,
I want to take the time now to wish you both a very Merry Christmas. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the fond memories of our Christmases long ago. It was around this time of year we the children would start our count down for our Christmas party that you people would put off for us. I remember we all had to go to our Sunday clothes closet (we had this big room and all our Sunday clothes was kept in that closet and was kept under lock and key.)
On special occasions we were allowed to wear our Sunday best and this was a very special time. So we would take our turn to go in the closet and get your dress, coat and shoes. The older girls would do the younger girlsí hair and she had to make sure they were washed and teeth brushed. The older girls would be just as excited as the younger girls because they knew they were getting nice clothes. I remember this one particular Christmas I wanted a watch and I had to put down what else I liked just in case they couldn't get the watch. So I asked for a skirt and sweater, to my surprise I got all three. Well don't say I wasn't proud in my new outfit with a new watch on my arm. I felt like a queen. I was 13 then. Well I have to say so long for now, have a beautiful Christmas and good health in the New Year.
Take care me old trout.
(Above written by Florence Sweetapple)
Earl & Emily:
So glad to speak to you last night. It was good to say thank you to a special Santa. You sure made a difference to those of us in the orphanage. Something special to look forward to every year.
Have a great Christmas. I had an e-mail from Pat; he sent me the picture of the marker that was put on your sonís grave. It was put there a week ago. A special thank you from us all - we are talking about five or six thousand.
Than you from the bottom of our hearts.
Edgar and Florence Pink
I recently received in an e-mail some of the pictures you took all those years ago. Well imagine my surprise as there I was front and centre sitting on a tricycle grinning ear to ear. (That may be the only picture of me smiling around that time or anytime for that matter.)
Thank you for caring and bringing good cheer and joy to an otherwise dismal life. I do have some fond memories of those years when good people like yourself cared enough to bring some happiness to us. Everytime I smell Jergen's lotion, I think of Christmas at that time because it was the first time I had ever had it.
Bless you and thank you again.
Love and best wishes at this joyous time, Doreen Pretty
Earl & Emily:
This has been a special year for us all. To be re-united with Mount Cashel, Belvedere and Church of England Orphans and yourselves, and the ceremony for baby Robert. I've painted a picture of a Baptist Church for you. I will send it as soon as the paint dries.
Love, Pat & Shirley Williams
Click here to view a slideshow of photos taken at Mount Cashel, Belvedere and the Church of England Orphanage during the Christmases of 1953 and 1954. A big thank you to Pat Williams and Florence Sweetapple for providing these images.