Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Bonds of War

In this post I explained how we came to know the Mergens, the family I visited in Luxembourg. Here is a picture of Jay's Uncle Wib, the pilot who was killed, along with all his crew, when his Halifax bomber was shot down during World War 2. He was just 23 years old.

During the war years Jay's mom Romaine was training to be a nurse. This picture of her was taken when she graduated from Vancouver General's nursing program in 1944.

Unbeknownst to her, the very day this picture was taken was the day her brother Wib was shot down. Two days later the Bentz family would receive the horrible telegram - the one every serviceman or woman's family lived in fear of - informing them that their beloved son and brother was missing in action. His official status did not change from "missing" to "killed in action" until the excavation of the bomber in 1997.

Now I am going to explain our family's connections to the Smith family I visited while I was in Kent, England. It also has its roots in World War 2, but is a much happier story. Romaine's parents (my husband's grandparents) were living in Medicine Hat, Alberta while Romaine was training to be a nurse way out west in Vancouver. There was a military base near Medicine Hat where pilots were being trained for the war. The RAF would send instructors over to the base, and one of those instructors, Fred Smith, boarded with Romaine's parents. Over the course of her visits home Romaine and Fred fell in love.

However, the war got in their way, as Fred was sent back to England while Romaine was in Canada coming to grips with the tragedy that had struck their family. They eventually decided it just wasn't meant to be, and they went their separate ways. Sort of.

Even though they had called off their relationship they kept in touch. We are talking about the 1940s, 50s and 60s here, so keeping in touch was limited to the occasional letter. When Jay's parents decided to travel to Britain in 1972 they contacted Fred and his wife Margaret and were able to visit in person. They also met Fred's brother and sister-in-law. That sister-in-law was Pat, the lovely lady I am with in this photo (the picture is taken at Chartwell, in the playhouse that belonged to Churchill's daughter).

Through the years our families have become quite close, and we have visited back and forth several times. But, as you can see, it is a complicated story. Which is why I am glad that immigration agent at Heathrow didn't start asking too many questions. If he thought the fact I was visiting someone named John Smith sounded a bit sketchy, imagine how he would have reacted to this tale of love, loss and enduring friendship.


  1. Drama, tragedy, accomplishment, finding love, losing love, always moving forward. This is a great story. Normally I think it's best to leave exes in the past, but in this case keeping in touch worked out very well.

    The stove and fireplace are oddly small. If you don't mind me asking, where was the picture taken?

  2. @Ric - I am glad you liked the story. The picture was taken in the playhouse that Churchill had built for his daughter. I have edited my post to explain that. I don't want to give the false impression that Pat and I are over 7 feet tall. :-)

  3. Kristie, interesting that you mention Chartwell home of Churchill in this blog, as during the war my grandfather Arthur Smith wrote to Romaine and his letters were full of accounts of the war and Churchill. He obviously had a soft spot for Romaine, his daughter-in-law that was never to be! Linda