The entire world can change in 100 years, and Barbara's life is testament to that.
Born to a Scottish father and an English mother, Barbara entered the world on 17 October, 1876. Queen Victoria was halfway through her reign, Benjamin Disraeli was Prime Minister, and the telephone had just been patented. Her father, David, was a tailor who had, for unknown reasons, immigrated to England before meeting her mother, Margaret, and the two married in 1861, eventually going on to have 8 children.
Not a lot is known about Barbara's early life, but we can assume, based on what we know of David and Margaret's family history, that she was educated, and learned at least a little about her father's trade.
In 1910, when she was 34 and yet to marry, Barbara moved to Canada, alone, for reasons I've still not uncovered. Both of her parents died in 1909, which may have triggered a desire for a major change, but I've thus far not found any reason that Canada specifically would have interested her. In any case, she arrived in Vancouver in 1910, and was in Lethbridge (which would become my own hometown) by 1911. Rumour has it that she met her future husband, Charles Harding, on the ship from England to Canada, and upon becoming engaged, she abandoned British Columbia for Alberta (if only Charles had abandoned Alberta instead, I may have grown up never knowing that -30 is a thing).
Wilfred Laurier was Prime Minister. The Royal Canadian Navy had just been formed. Cars had recently become accessible to the common public. Charles, 10 years Barbara's senior and having been married and widowed, brought five children into his new marriage, the eldest of whom was only 9 years younger than Barbara herself. I often wonder about their family dynamic - did the older kids resent having a step-mother so close in age to them, or did they enjoy having a step-mother they could perhaps relate to? In any case, their family began to grow in 1912 when, at 35, she had her first child, Margaret. Over the next five years, two more children were born - Mavis in 1914, and my grandfather, Frederick, in 1917 - and the family settled permanently on the same block as two of Charles' sisters and their families.
Barbara was deeply involved with the Pentecostal Church in Lethbridge, particularly after Charles' passing in 1929. She often served as the Sunday school teacher, and was given the nickname "Grandma" by church members. She apparently had a tough side as well, as her name appears several times in the Lethbridge Herald in regards to the school board wanting to buy her property and her countering with "excessive" offers (which they eventually accepted).
When WWII - the fourth of six major wars she would see in her lifetime - began, Barbara became involved in community efforts to send care packages to England, earning yet another mention in the Herald when an Essex resident who once lived in Lethbridge sent a note of thanks to Barbara and another woman.
When Barbara turned 100 in 1976, the first mobile phones were being released, Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister, and the Mach 2 Concorde had just entered service. She had outlived all of her siblings, four of her five step-children, her son, and her grandson. She lived through 6 English monarchs, 15 Canadian Prime Ministers, 6 major wars, and the Great Depression. She saw the first patented telephone and the first mobile phone, the first mass-market automobile and the first jet planes, the first commercial typewriters and the first computers. Her life covered a major period of development and advancement, and on a more personal level, both great tragedy and joy.
Barbara passed away on 7 January, 1977, and is buried near Charles in Lethbridge, Alberta.
War is, for better or worse, a major part of history, and therefore a significant aspect of our ancestry. Most of us, if we dig deep enough, will find a point at which our family story was altered, somehow, by battle.
In honour of Remembrance Day, I will be posting a series of entries about my own family's military history, beginning with my closest ancestors who served in WWII.
Frederick Norman Harding
1917 - 1971
Fred was my maternal grandfather, though I never met him; he passed away nine years before I was born. Though fiercely devoted to him (her phonebook entry remained "Mrs. Fred Harding" until her move to a care facility), my grandmother is a very private woman, and did not talk about him much, so everything I know about his military service has been pieced together from newspaper articles and documents I have found over the course of my research.
A September, 1943 blurb in the Lethbridge Herald reports his "safe arrival overseas", and states that he had enlisted three months prior, taking his training in Wetaskiwin. He served as a Private with the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, and in late September or early October of 1944, was badly wounded on the Dutch border and airlifted to England to recover before coming home to Canada.
A few years later, he would meet my grandmother, and the two would go on to raise four daughters in Lethbridge. Fred passed away in 1971 at the age of 53.
George Alexander Stalker
1904 - 1988
George was my great-grandfather, the father of Fred's wife. Like many others of his era, he did not talk about the war upon returning home, but he did keep many material reminders, including his stripes, pay books, identification card, and military portrait, which I am honoured to now have in my possession, and which give us an idea of his experiences overseas.
He enlisted on June 26, 1940, at the age of 35. He served as a gunner, earning the rank of General, and was likely involved in several intense battles as part of the Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment. While it's not known when exactly he returned home, the last pay book in my possession is from late 1944.
George returned home to a four year old daughter he had never met (his wife was four months pregnant when he was deployed), and their seventh and last child was born a couple of years later. He returned to farming, and also managed a United Farmers of Alberta store. I remember him as a kind and energetic man, who took great joy in family celebrations. He passed away in 1988, at the age of 83.
1906 - 1962
Edwin was my paternal grandfather's step-father. The only son* of German immigrants, he was a postal worker and member of the National Guard in Illinois.
At the beginning of the war, Edwin was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 202nd Coast Guard, and was stationed first in Fort Bliss, Texas, then, due to his having been a private pilot, was transferred to the Air Corps, which took him to Missouri, Georgia, and then overseas to the Pacific Theater, where he was promoted to Captain. In my grandfather's own words, "he flew forward artillery and parachute spottings, won the Bronze Star with 4 clusters, the Air Medal with a cluster, was shot down and survived several days in the jungle of Luzon, Philippines. As the war ended, he was flown to a hospital in Japan, where he recovered from severe jungle rot of his legs, (which plagued him for the rest of his life), and was discharged in 1945."
Upon his return home, he continued his military career, training pilots in both the United States and Turkey, becoming among the earliest tactical helicopter pilots, and finally being promoted to Colonel and Commander of the Air Division of the Transportation Corps. A building at the Fort Eustis United States Army instillation is named for him.
My grandfather speaks highly of Edwin, describing him as encouraging, supportive, and kind. He passed away in 1962 and is buried with his wife, my great-grandmother, in Arlington National Cemetery.
*When I first published this piece, I said Edwin was an only child, when he in fact had two sisters. This has been edited for accuracy.