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The shocking history behind the mummer's mischievous steed, plus how to make your own.
A father and son reminisce about their years filling the shoes of Santa and Santa's elf.
This incredible NL woman survived - and helped others survive - Pinochet's bloody regime in Chile.
The story of a mysterious Christmastime tragedy
On the evening of Monday, November 20, 2017, a group of travellers heading to Newfoundland and Labrador were delayed at Pearson International Airport. While they were stuck at the gate, videos of how they passed the time travelled around, and around, the world.By the time they landed in St. John's, Sheldon Thornhill (accordion), Sean Sullivan (guitar) and 9-year-old Liam Corrigan (singer) were Internet sensations, thanks to videos posted to Facebook by fellow traveller Michelle Sacrey Philpott. Their impromptu kitchen party lifted the spirits of not only those around them in the airport, but also people around the world watching the videos on Facebook and twitter.The entertainers have since been interviewed by TV and radio stations in Ontario and at home. CBC Newfoundland and Labrador's facebook post on it has been viewed over a hundred thousand times, and their story has gone viral. Here is one of Michelle's videos, followed by some of the reaction on social media. (video is best viewed on Chrome browser) This special @TorontoPearson set included - Grey Foggy Day - Sweet Forget Me Not - Music and Friends, and - a solo of Capelin Time from 10-year-old Liam Corrigan. When an airlines gives you lemons, Newfoundlanders have a Kitchen Party. https://t.co/cInQZtIgre ï¿½ï¿½" Seamus O'Regan (@SeamusORegan) November 21, 2017 This is the best. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians kept up their reputation for making the best of a bad situation Monday night, when a group of them turned a delayed flight into an impromptu singalong.https://t.co/MQQ0XMAPQC #MeanwhileInCanada ï¿½ï¿½" Meanwhile in Canada (@MeanwhileinCana) November 21, 2017 Whenever you find yourself feeling that Canada is a boring, mean and vain little country, remember these words and cheer up: Newfoundland and Labrador. https://t.co/KvprRRpPId ï¿½ï¿½" Terry Glavin (@TerryGlavin) November 21, 2017 You decide. You can let life happen to you or you can happen to life. This is wonderful & the spirit abounds. @NLtweets https://t.co/wjrawulEIg ï¿½ï¿½" Craig Button (@CraigJButton) November 21, 2017 Idea for a new musical "Stay Where You're To 'Til I Comes Where You're At" https://t.co/DV0UFEFGjy ï¿½ï¿½" Tom Harrington (@cbctom) November 21, 2017 This is amazing. I hope I'm surrounded by Newfoundlanders during my next delayed flight. https://t.co/dCZ6k7DBcL ï¿½ï¿½" Tiffany Cassidy (@tiffcassidy) November 21, 2017 What weird people those Canadians. No one got pissed off or pulled a gun. Delayed flight in Canada turns into singalong at Pearson International Airport https://t.co/lYqk4HVK83 ï¿½ï¿½" Barend Hamm PhD (@Bareham2016) November 22, 2017
You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in Newfoundland and Labrador today with memories of hobby horses the way they do mummers or janneys from Christmases past. And they would have been memorable. âItâs this weird, creepy and fascinating part of our history,â says Ryan Davis, executive director of the Mummers Festival in St. Johnâs, NL. Hobby horses (a.k.a. Horsey Hops, Horse Chops, Hobby Hoss, Flop Jaws and Lop Jaws) were terrifying creatures, frighteningly ugly marionettes with crazy eyes and snapping jaws. They threatened to nip at women and children, pulled down curtains, yanked away tablecloths and generally caused a commotion wherever they went.Their existence came to light through an outport traditions thesis built upon research from the 1960s, found in the Folklore archives at Memorial University. âThereâs a lot of actual description about hobby horse behaviour, how they moved, what they did, what they looked like, peopleâs reactions - but itâs really hard to find people who have actual memories of this. From what I can tell, after maybe the 1920s it didnât really happen much anymore.âHobby horses are part of the English and Irish tradition of hoodening, believed to be the origin of Newfoundland and Labrador mummering. These creatures were characters in the UK mummersâ plays. When the custom crossed the Atlantic, mummering became a travelling troupe that went door-to-door every night from Boxing Day to Old Christmas Day (Jan. 6), and the hobby horse was among them. âThe classic hobby horses, from most accounts, were made out of a junk of wood,â Ryan says. âSo they would cut a piece [of wood], it would be covered in fur, a part of the piece of wood would be cut off and reattached with a piece of leatherâ¦and then a string would go through it, and it would become a snapping jaw. And that became, from what I can tell, the most popular way of making them. But then there are all these accounts of people using real animal heads. Not even just the skull - the actual whole head of the animal. And not even just the fur - they literally decapitated the animal and put the head on a stick.â And they didnât just use horses; they also used goats, cows, sheep, pigs etc. Of course, back then most people kept livestock, and when they died this was one of the ways their carcass might be put to use. Itâs doubtful any animal was killed for the sole purpose of making a hobby horse. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are much too practical for that!Like mummering, hobby horses are linked to some violent incidents back when the practice was common, around the end of the 19th century. On the Avalon Peninsula there was a sort of hazing ritual that involved âshaving gangs,â Ryan has discovered. A group of males, and their hobby horse, would chase other males and catch them, pin them down and shave them. âThen they were welcomed into the group, and they used to parade a horse from Whitbourne to Markland or vice versa, and you could only go with the group if you had been attacked by the horse and shaved.âFortunately, there is no shaving required to join the hobby horse workshops put off by the Mummers Festival. This year, the ninth annual event, kicks off on November 25 and ends on December 13 with a lecture on hobby horses and, hopefully, a live chat with someone in the UK about their tradition of hoodening. The main event, the mummers parade, is scheduled for December 9, when organizers hope to see âthe largest group of hobby horses in Newfoundland thatâs ever existed,â Ryan says.Join the fun wherever you are. If youâre in the St. Johnâs area, check out the schedule of events, including workshops, at MummersFestival.ca. Or click here for a printable template and instructions on how to make a hobby horse at home, then recruit your family and friends, raid their closets for the best rigouts, and make a mummering memory this year! - By Janice Stuckless
Kelly Pond remembers being a child, standing outside in the crisp winter air in curly-toed shoes, holding a large bell and knocking on front doors. From the other side of those doors, he could hear the excited sounds of children yelling. On those winter nights, he wasn't Kelly Pond - he was Santa's elf. And next to him was old Kris Kringle, though Kelly knew him simply as "Dad."From the early 1970s until the mid-1990s, since the real Santa Claus couldnât personally visit every child during the busy lead-up to Christmas, Ron Pond played the part of St. Nick in St. Johnâs. His son often acted as his trusty elf. Decades later, Kelly recalls the faces of the kids they met.âThey were flabbergasted,â he says. They couldnât believe that on the busiest night of the year, Santa had dropped by just for them. âThey would be over the moon, they just couldnât believe it.âOnce invited inside, Santa would have a little chat with the children and then the magic would happen: heâd break open a bag of cheesies and share them among the youngsters. Then, without hesitation, off they would go to brush their teeth and jump into bed. The cheesies were enchanted, according to Santa, and would help lull the little ones to sleep. Sure enough, the kids would claim they were getting sleepy soon after eating the small snack.âAnd they were just like those little hard cheesies. I mean, talk about suspending your disbelief, right?â Kelly says. âBut, you know, when the most important man in the world is telling you something, youâre gonna believe him, outright.âAnd, of course, the parents loved the promise of a quiet Christmas Eve.Ron has played the part of Santa for generations of children, starting with his own son. Here he is entertaining his granddaughter, Kelia Pond, circa 1994.Filling the role of Santa Claus was a tradition Ron began when his son was a young child. It then expanded to include his coworkersâ families and visits to local charity groups, like the Candlelighters Association, where he lifted the spirits of sick children. When Kelly got older, he joined Ron on his travels as his trustworthy elf. Every year, they would start making their house visits around the middle of November and continue right up until Christmas Eve, dedicating their weekends and some weeknights as well.As designated elf, Kellyâs job was to announce the eminent arrival of jolly old St. Nick at events, help distribute gifts and make sure Santa knew the names of the children.Kelly continued performing as Santaâs elf until he outgrew the role. âIt just didnât look right when the elf was coming in and he was almost the size of Santa!â says Kelly. A friendâs child was then recruited to don the mantle. Ron says there were as many as six elves during his tenure as Father Christmas.Over the years, several children took on the role of elf for Ron, including Judy Benson (right).After all these years thereâs one instance that really stands out in Ronâs memory. A girl around the age of 10 had told her mother that she was going to de-beard Santa at the party, proving he wasnât the real deal. But Ron was prepared. When the little girl approached him, he gave her permission to give a tug on his fake facial hair, and Ron has never forgotten her priceless reaction. âOf course it didnât come off, and she screamed out to her mom, âMom, heâs the real one! Heâs the real one! Itâs a real beard!ââ Ron laughs.âOf course, my beard could never be pulled off because it was glued on. I always used theatrical glue to keep it in place because I had a full beard under it,â he chuckles, âand it wasnât white.âOver the years, Ron went through a few red suits. With age, a suit would become worn and his wife would either mend it or make another, keeping Santa looking respectable. Eventually, the couple moved to Glovertown, where they still live, and Ron passed the suit down to his son. Kelly used it a few times, until the practice fell by the wayside in favour of new family traditions.Though Ron hung up his red suit years ago, Christmastime still makes him long for the magic of being Santa Claus. âI really enjoyed it,â says Ron. - By Elizabeth Whitten
The year was 1973 and Florrie Snow Chacon, originally from St. Lunaire-Griquet, NL, was living in Chile with her young family when life changed forever. Chief of Staff General Augusto Pinochet launched a bloody coup and the military seized control of the country. His forces quickly started to persecute any possible opposition, with thousands of people being executed and tortured, while many others simply disappeared.It all came back to Florrie recently when the Chilean government awarded her a certificate in recognition of her humanitarian work during Pinochetâs dictatorship. It wasnât something she was expecting. âI was very surprised because itâs been such a long time now since those difficult years, very difficult years,â says Florrie over Skype from her home in Santiago, Chile. âI felt very honoured to receive this, but I felt that it was long overdue because I felt that I was representing a lot of people who were in the movement at that time.âMore than 40 years later, she can still recall those first years and the extraordinary things she and her friends did to save lives. Florrie and her husband, Arturo Chacon, were both professors at the University of Chile when the coup happened. The university was swiftly closed and some professors disappeared. When it reopened a few months later, Florrie was one of the few allowed to return to work, though she tried to keep a low profile.It was through other groups, like the church, where she worked tirelessly to help others. âThere was a very strong ecumenical movement at that time here in Chile, to look out for the situation, contacting lawyers, doing all kinds of things - even hiding other Latin American refugees who were here in Chile,â she explains.One of the events that stands out to Florrie happened in January 1974, when she helped 46 people enter the Canadian Embassy. It was a major operation, she recalls. âWe got 46 people into the embassy, which was on the eighth floor of a building in downtown Santiago, in 15 minutes, during the time when the ambassador went out for lunch,â she explains, chuckling. âAnd this was a time before cell phones, so you can imagine how difficult it was to coordinate things.â The Canadian government later flew the refugees to Canada.Florrie and Arturo were also part of a network that helped people hide to avoid being apprehended by government forces. Many people walked through the doors of the Chacon home to lay low. âPeople even arrived at my house, were invited in to have tea but stayed for several days because they were in hiding,â she says. Keeping them off the streets could be a matter of life and death.Things came to a head when Arturo was picked up by police and interrogated. When he was released, they arranged to get him out of Chile. âI stayed here and continued working while he was looking for asylum outside the country,â says Florrie. For several months she never heard from Arturo, but eventually the couple and their two children reunited and settled in Toronto in 1975.While in Canada, their home was confiscated and the people who had been staying there were arrested. âMy friend, who was working with the church committee here, she was imprisoned for a number of months. She disappeared for a while and we finally found her in one of the torture centres. And she had her baby in the torture centre,â Florrie remembers. âThere were many things that happened at that time, friends that disappeared. Iâve managed to keep in touch with a lot of the families. That keeps history alive, I guess.âFlorrie and Arturo stayed in Toronto for a few years, where they worked to help Chilean refugees get established in Canada. She set up the Working Skills Centre, an organization to teach them the English language, life skills and job training.All the while, Florrie and Arturo were eager to return to Chile. So when their children were grown, the couple moved back in â83, still with the fear of the dictatorship hanging over their heads. âWe came back with a small suitcase each; we rented a furnished apartment so that we could leave at any moment. It was a tense situation but we had friends here, so that was a help,â she says. Despite the hardships, it was still their home.The view of the Andes Mountains from Florrie's home in Santiago, Chile.âWe always wanted to come back. It had been my home for many years and my husband was born here, grew up here,â explains Florrie. (Arturo passed away in 2014.)On some days all that Florrie survived seems surreal to her, and as an historian she worries that people are forgetting the ordeal. âPeople are disconnected from history, especially global history,â she says, adding she believes itâs important to teach the younger generations about the countryâs sordid past. Still an active volunteer, Florrie now helps Haitian immigrants settle in Chile.Where the heart isWhile Florrie says her heart remains in Chile, she hasnât forgotten her roots. Every few years she makes her way back to the âNorthâ (as she calls it) to where her family is from in Newfoundland. But itâs evident to her that, in her absence, time marched on. Her last visit was in 2016. âEverything is changed there. I think my idea of Newfoundland is amiss right now. Last time I went I recognized very little, very, very few things about the places. The only place I felt comfortable was in the cemeteries because I knew all the people in the cemeteries,â says Florrie. When she walks through the communities now, she doesnât recognize the people and has to ask who their parents or grandparents are. âAnd I realized thatâ¦I didnât belong there anymore,â she says.Still, there are some things from her first home that she longs for. In the refrigerator in her Santiago apartment is a jar of bakeapple jam. âAnd when Iâm feeling low, I take a spoonful and eat itâ¦So when it ends I know that I have to go back and get more!â she says, giggling. âSo there are little things like that, but theyâre connected more to feelings than anything else.â - By Elizabeth Whitten
On Boxing Day in 1935, the schooner Ada & Maud left Best's Harbour on King's Island in Placentia Bay and sailed into the history books as a mystery that's haunted folks hailing from the area ever since. Crewed by four men - brothers Clarence, Kenneth and George Best, together with their brother-in-law, John Pevie - the vessel was bound for St. Johnâs with a load of dry cod and cod liver oil in casks. The schooner was sighted that night by another vessel rounding Cape St. Maryâs amid a brewing gale. The next evidence of the Ada & Maud was when she was reported to have been found, high and dry, at the high water mark in Lears Cove, not far from the Cape - though the crew were nowhere to be found. It is from this point that things become mysterious. There have been countless shipwrecks around this provinceâs shores over the years. In most cases, the circumstances have told tragic tales with cold, hard facts: the schooner ran into foul weather, was wrecked upon the rocks and all hands were lost, sometimes washed in upon a section of shore or, in many cases, never to be found.However, the case of the Ada & Maud was different. First, it was evident that the schooner had been steered to its position; she could not have just drifted aimlessly to rest in such a fashion on the beach. If she had come to shore driven only by the whims of the sea, then the only remains would have likely been a scattering of flotsam as she broke up with the pounding waves. However, the schooner was found in near-perfect condition. Apart from a broken mast, sails having been rent and some splinters (âspalsâ) taken out of her false keel (a strip of hardwood used to protect the keel from damage when going over rocks in shallow waters), she was hardly damaged. Reports further indicated that the schooner suffered no punctures, so the forecastle was dry. All indications pointed to the crew safely bringing the schooner to its resting place high up on the beach. There were even remnants of the men having had their supper and playing cards prior to the schooner being beached. But where were the crew of the Ada & Maud? It was as if they disappeared into thin air. âIn 1935, investigative aspects of the police force in what was then the country of Newfoundland did not deserve the term âforensicâ and so what could only be considered a cursory investigation took place,â says NL musician Bud Davidge, who included his moving song, âThe Loss of the Ada & Maud,â about the disaster on his 2014 album, Gone From Here. âYes, there was some charges laid against a few people for stealing some rope from the schooner, but as to the whereabouts of the crew, it was concluded quickly that they had drowned while attempting to reach shore.âWho, then, could have steered the schooner to a safe beaching amid what were likely heavy seas?The four men lost aboard the Ada & Maud live on through a song written by NL musician Bud Davidge.âThey are questions to which no satisfactory answers have ever been given,â says Bud. âBut being the inquisitive beings we humans are, and prone to speculation and rumour as we are, there are bound to be theories of what actually occurred. Someone knew the truth, and perhaps someone living today knows the truth as we speak. The rumours were that some persons unnamed from the local area engaged the crewmembers in a fight for some reason and the result was the crewmembers were shot and their bodies disposed of in some manner, somewhere. Was there an attempt to take the cargo of fish in a kind of salvage operation that went wrong when they were opposed by the crew? No one knows for sure.âWhatever the details of the tragedy - a tragedy it was. The Best family never had the satisfaction of knowing where their loved ones rested. Heartbroken, Joshua Best - the schoonerâs owner and father of the three lost brothers - never relaunched the Ada & Maud, which had only been built the previous year and bore the names of his two daughters. It is talked about with sorrow to this very day. The old adage says âTime heals all wounds,â but it seems that this tragedy has left a scar even eight decades have not been able to mend. Bud says writing the song about the mysterious tragedy was one of the most emotional experiences he has ever had as a writer. âI started out sharing an event with people who were complete strangers,â says Bud. âAnd I ended up being caught up in the emotions that the Best family still feel so deeply, after 80 years.â - By Janine Davidge (written with the deepest respect to the Best family and their memories of loved ones lost.)
Our Father, who art in heaven,Hallowed be thy name...Herb Pike recited those words, from the Lordâs Prayer, countless times during his days flying planes for the Royal Air Force. âMy very first flight we were at the end of the runway and we were ready for take off and my navigator said to me, âSkipper,â he said, âwill you do me a big favour?â And I said, âYes, Iâll do you a big favour if I can.â He said, âI would like to say the Lordâs Prayer.â And we all said the Lordâs Prayer, and he said, âThank you, Skipper.â And away you go,â recalls Herb during a recent interview at Valley Vista Senior Citizensâ Home in Springdale, Newfoundland, where the 94-year-old resides. Herb and his crew of seven faithfully kept that tradition on every flight thereafter. âIsnât that something?â says Herb, smiling at the memory.Originally from Bishopâs Falls, Herbâs family moved to Buchans when he was five years old. He still recalls arriving in Millertown and crossing Red Indian Lake by boat to reach his new home, where his father took a job with the Newfoundland Railway to support the large family of six children. The Second World War first touched the Pike family when Herbâs older brother, Earle, joined the Royal Air Force; a couple of years later, Herb followed in his footsteps. Having trained as both a gunner and a pilot in Canada before heading overseas, Herb was ultimately chosen to take the pilotâs seat. âI was 19 years old and there was seven members on the crew who was 25 and 26 years old - and me, a little pickaninny like,â laughs Herb. âI was the boss, oh yes!âA talented woodworker, Herb crafted these picture frames, modeled after the emblem of the RAF. They contain photos of Herb and his brother, Earle. The frames hang in Herb's room in the retirement home where he lives.Herb went on to fly Hudson Bombers, Lancaster Bombers and flying boats on missions that took him mainly over France, Germany and Africa. In 1943, he was part of a risky operation tasked with destroying one of Germanyâs main power supplies - hydroelectric dams located in the Ruhr Valley. He and his crew flew the dangerous route several times, dropping depth charges on the massive cement structures.âAnd sure enough, we broke through,â says Herb. âAnd everyone in England was [saying], âOh, this is wonderful!ââ A short time later, however, he flew over the area again and was dismayed to see their work undone. âChrist, the water was built up again; they repaired it,â says Herb.But it was another mission that would become Herbâs closest brush with death - and his greatest claim to fame. âWe were called to do a suicide job,â begins Herb. â[Hitler] had a place in France, a big place in France. They had thousands and thousands of rounds there, and they were building up, getting ready to kill everybody.âHerb was to fly the plane over the massive ammunitions plant at an extremely low altitude while his crew dropped bombs that would, hopefully, destroy it.âIf you didnât make it, you wouldnât know it; youâd get killed,â says Herb. âWe went in and we dropped the bombs and we gutted her, cleaned her right out. [Hitler] had everything ready to conquer Europe - and we blew it to hell.â Herb later received the Queenâs Medal for his courageous actions that day.âI never thought we wouldnât make it, thatâs the way we felt, or I felt. I know we can make it, I know we can make it. Thatâs the attitude I had,â says Herb, adding in hindsight, âWe were very lucky.âHerb shows off the many medals he received for his service in the Second World War and his involvement with the Royal Canadian Legion.Itâs a Bird! Itâs a Plane!Not all of Herbâs tasks were life and death, however - like the training of homing pigeons for use in the war. On most of Herbâs flights, six pigeons (no doubt conscripted into service) accompanied him and his crew. As Herb explains, training began with releasing the birds close to home base; once the pigeons proved they could successfully make the return journey, the airmen gradually extended their flight path on subsequent trips. It was extremely important work; later, those pigeons could provide vital communication links - able to return to shore with messages from downed planes, for instance.And many, many planes did go down - including one that carried Herbâs brother, Earle. The brothers from Buchans were stationed at the same base at the time of the tragedy.âIt was a big base. He was on one end and I was on the other end. Weâd see each other a couple or three times a week,â says Herb. âHe went away on a trip and usually I knew, and he knew when I was gone.â In November 1944, Earle left for a mission. Herb anxiously awaited his brotherâs return, which never came. It was a bitter blow for the young pilot. âI didnât want to fly anymore. I wanted to call it quits right there and then,â Herb recalls, an air of lingering sadness straining his voice. But he returned to the pilotâs seat and carried on anyway. Herb assumes Earleâs plane was lost in the English Channel, though heâll never know for sure. In Love in London Whenever Herb had breaks from flying, heâd head away for short holidays. Two places he especially enjoyed visiting were Scotland, where the Newfoundland Forestry Corps was located; and London, England, where the Newfoundland Caribou Club in Trafalgar Square was the place to be. âThe Newfoundland Caribou Club was the best thing over in England because you had good food, all Newfoundland food and everything like that,â says Herb. The hostel and social club for Newfoundlanders serving in the war effort officially opened in July 1943, thanks to funds raised by the St. Johnâs Rotary Club. âTheir bedrooms had four in each room and the beds were spotless. They really had it nice,â recalls Herb. But as much as he loved the clubâs food and accommodations, Herb loved a woman he met there even more. An English girl, Doris Lawrence, was in the Caribou Club one day while Herb was on leave. She invited him to her familyâs house for dinner, and they soon fell in love. According to Herb, Doris was eager to get married, but he insisted they wait until warâs end. True to his word, on January 26, 1946, the pair wed in the annex of a London church - all that was left of the bombed building after years of war. Dorisâs parents sold the familyâs food stamps to pay for the fabric that became her wedding dress and the leather that became her shoes. These photos of Herb and his war bride, Doris, are on display in his room.Herb was honourably discharged from the Royal Air Force in 1946, and returned home to Buchans with his war bride in the fall of that year. âShe loved it here because the people were so nice,â says Herb of his wife, who passed away in 2001.The war behind him, Herb went on to work as a chemist for the American Smelting and Refining Company in Buchans until the mines there closed in the 1980s, then moved to Springdale where he managed a laboratory for Atlantic Analytical until his retirement.He and Doris had three children together, including a son named Earle in memory of his late brother. In recent years, Herb has seized opportunities to head back to his once war-torn stomping grounds, spending time at Vimy Ridge and Flanders Fields.âIn Flanders Fields I had the honour and privilege of laying the wreath for Newfoundland. My dear, the nicest thing in the world that could ever happen,â says Herb. âI went up and did my salute and laid the wreath and I could feel the tears coming to my eyes, thatâs the truth - thinking about an awful lot of accidents, planes that didnât return from a tripâ¦and I lost my brother, grave unknown.âThe men he flew with still hold a special place in Herbâs heart, too. âI heard from all my crew. Christmas time I used to get cards, and every year one card less, next year another card missing,â says Herb. Last year, there were no Christmas cards from his comrades. Now, Herb may well be the last to tell their heroic tales - stories of training pigeons, bombing dams and foiling Hitler.âPeople have called me that, a hero,â says Herb. âBut there were thousands and thousands of other fellas did the same things I did. So weâre all heroes? Or weâre good friends.â - By Ashley Miller
As he approached the magistrateâs office to enlist for duty, Leonard Whiffen was feeling anxious - not because he feared going to war, but because he was about to tell a lie. At 17 years old, Leonard was too young to join the fray. But that didnât stop him.âSo I went to the magistrateâs office in Bonavista armed with an altered birth certificate,â says Leonard, 95, over the phone from his current home in Halifax, Nova Scotia. âIâm not the only one who did that.âA few months later, Leonard travelled to St. Johnâs with several other servicemen from Bonavista. âThe guys who went with me from Bonavista to St. Johnâs on the train the first part of February 1940â¦Iâm the only one left,â says an emotional Leonard. âI can still remember their names: Best, Butler, Carpenter, myself, Hunt, Fleming, Way and Keel.âLeonard Whiffen, pictured in 1942Leonard and his buddies shipped out on the RMS Newfoundland. After a rough passage, they arrived in Liverpool, England, then took a train south to Portsmouth.âThat was my first taste of air raids,â says Leonard. âThe blinds were down in the buildings in the afternoons at 3:00 and bombs falling.âDespite the imminent danger, Leonard insists the novelty of his new surroundings assuaged any fears. After an uneventful period spent guarding British beaches during the Battle of Dunkirk, the young gunner was assigned to his first ship, the minelayer HMS Menestheus. The massive vessel carried more than 400 mines below decks on railway tracks - each one larger than a typical home refrigerator, recalls Leonard. Based out of Lochalsh on the northwest coast of Scotland, the Menestheus, along with seven other ships, ferried mines to the Denmark Strait, where they were laid in hopes of thwarting the enemy. In May 1941, as the ship was returning to port after a stint laying mines, Leonard says they were suddenly ordered to change course.âYou didnât know where you were going because nothing was broadcasted - you just went,â explains Leonard. Unbeknownst to him then, the Menestheus was about to join a massive effort to sink the Bismarck. His ship and several others coordinated to form a circle around the infamous German battleship, preventing her escape and making her an easy target for the Allies. âIt was announced that the Bismarck was sunk by aircraft, by torpedo bombers. Everybody was happy,â says Leonard, adding he wasnât close enough to watch the attack itself unfold. The tables would eventually turn, however, when the Menestheus found itself under attack by the Germans. Leonard was on deck manning his gun when the turmoil ensued.âIt was chaos,â remembers Leonard. âWe saw this plane coming and she came in at a low angle and dropped the bombs right on top of us. We couldnât fire at the aircraft because there was seven ships all in a line and we didnât want to shoot any of our own ships.âAs water rushed in, the ship listed 20 degrees - but she never sank. She was towed to shore for repairs; meanwhile, Leonard went on leave, staying with a friend in Bournemouth, England. But it was no holiday.âYouâd sit down to dinner at night in the kitchen, and they had a steel plate on top of the tableâ¦In case of an air raid and bombs were dropping, people would go into the shelter or dive underneath the table so they wouldnât get killed,â says Leonard. âYou could hear the wave of bombers coming from Germany, going to bomb London or whatever, and you didnât know if they were going to drop all the bombs where you were or go on to London.âFollowing Leonardâs duties on the Menestheus, he was involved with training pilots how to land on an aircraft carrier and escorted convoys headed to Russia. And finally, it was all over.âMy significance with service in the Royal Navy was of a minute nature as compared to those of the army and air force - they suffered beyond words,â reflects Leonard. âI was very lucky to have been spared to come back to my home and native land.âWhile training pilots to land on an aircraft carrier, Leonard witnessed many planes, such as this one, go down.A Hero Comes HomeLeonard returned home aboard the Duchess of Bedford, arriving in St. Johnâs on December 28, 1945.âI was totally lost,â says Leonard. âIt was quite a change [after] six years of someone saying, âdo this, do that.ââ While he admits he found the adjustment back to civilian life a bit jarring, he soon found his way. Leonard attended a vocational school in St. Johnâs and began work as a marine engineer. He also met and married the love of his life, Grace Baldwin of Pouch Cove - a fellow veteran. Grace served as a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War, during which she was posted to Halifax and Ottawa. In 1950, after being laid off from his job, Leonard, Grace and their twin daughters moved to Ontario, where he worked with the railway for much of his career. Following retirement, they moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia to be close to their girls, now seniors themselves at age 70. Death parted the couple last year, after 69 years of marriage.âI have my sad moments and my happy moments, but a lot a sad moments since last year,â says Leonard, who suffered a heart attack shortly after his wifeâs passing. âI still miss her.â While the great-grandfather admits heâs slowed down some, heâs keeping busy. He still drives, does his own cooking, tends to his garden and is researching his wifeâs family tree. The month of November sees him particularly active. A speaker of Historica Canadaâs Memory Project - a volunteer speakersâ bureau that arranges for veterans and Canadian Forces members to share their stories in communities across the country - Leonard can often be found touring schools in the Halifax area, especially around Remembrance Day. This will be his 13th year doing so. In 2012, he received the Queenâs Diamond Jubilee Medal for his work with schoolchildren.âIf I can help by talking to the children about my experiences thatâs good, because I think that should be; they need to know,â says Leonard. âIt gives me a lift, too. The kids, they come up and talk to you and shake hands and give you little cards.âHe finishes each of his presentations by quoting this wise, old proverb: âIf there be righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character; if there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home; if there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation; when there is order in each nation, there will be peace in the world.âWise words, indeed. - By Ashley Miller
*Warning: This story contains graphic details some readers may find disturbing.When Lawrence Morgan enlisted for duty in the Royal Navy, it was without any blessing from his father. William Morganâs protests were likely a loving effort to save his young son from witnessing the horrors that he imagined awaited overseas.âHe didnât want me to sign up but I signed up anyhow, went to St. Johnâs and signed up. But I donât regret it,â says Lawrence, donning his neat legion coat, adorned with countless medals.Approaching his 97th birthday, the Seal Cove, Conception Bay-native resides at the Springdale Retirement Centre in Springdale, Newfoundland. Though in excellent physical health, he admits his memory isnât what it used to be. While names and dates often escape him, one disturbing, wartime memory seems to remain at the forefront of his mind. He says he witnessed a close friend, a fellow Newfoundlander from St. Johnâs, getting fatally struck at sea.âMy friendâs head was cut off and the captain sang out - my nickname was Rattler - âRattler, go pick up that head!ââ recalls Lawrence. Though he was horrified by the captainâs grisly order, he carried it out. âThe hardest thing ever I done,â says Lawrence, who later performed his buddyâs burial at sea. âYou canât forget a lot of things. It would be nice to forget everything, but you canât do that,â he says.Lawrence says he served as a gunner aboard HMS Valiant before being transferred to HMS Warspite. âIâve been all over the world. We were protecting Africa and Egypt during the war,â he says.Lawrence and two Navy buddies pose for a photo while serving in Africa.Following the war, Lawrence went on to serve in the Merchant Navy. In the late 1940s, he finally settled in Montreal, Quebec, where he found work as a machinist with Northern Electric (later Nortel), where he was employed for close to 40 years. Oddly enough, in Montreal he met and married a fellow Newfound-lander, Jessie Belbin of Carbonear. Together, they raised two children. Lawrence didnât return to his home and native land until the early 1990s, after his wife passed away. He remarried at age 75 and lived in Robertâs Arm with his second wife, Dorothy, and moved to Springdale in 2011, shortly after she, too, passed.While he says heâs long since put his Navy days behind him, he admits he suffered from nightmares in the warâs immediate aftermath and heâs thankful that he now enjoys a peaceful nightâs sleep. Despite the many life-and-death situations he faced, Lawrence insists he kept a level head.âI wasnât afraid back then, wasnât afraid of nothing,â says Lawrence. âIf you were scared that was the worst thing ever happened.âHe says many of his friends became shell shocked as a result of their experiences overseas, and didnât live the long life that he has enjoyed. And despite his haunting memories, Lawrence is enjoying his golden years. He participates in functions at the retirement home where he lives, and recently went on bus trips to Trout River and Twillingate. He is also a lover of music; during our interview he spontaneously regales me with a rendition of the Scottish ballad, âAndrew Davidson,â about a fishing vessel going down in a storm, and misses neither a beat nor a word. He turns 97 this month.âToday itâs all like a dream, but it was no dream back then - it was the real thing,â says Lawrence. âBut I feel good today.â - By Ashley Miller