A blog advocating autism through my own personal experiences and insights.

My Grandmother’s Memoir

I want to share with you all something that I will treasure forever. I only have one grandparent left who is still with us, my paternal grandmother Esther Francis Saunders (she goes by “Joy”). I don’t know how much longer she will be with us, which is why over a year ago, I sent her an email asking if she could write a short memoir of her life. I knew that in the 26 years I had known her, she would often talk about her life when my family came to visit her. She replied that she would be happy to do so and has since given it to me. I thought it would be wonderful to share it with you here. I loved that she did this, it is like owning a memory of her life that I will keep forever. I particularly like that I’m now living in a place that she was just a few years younger than I am now: Kitchener, Waterloo in Ontario.

Despite the fact that she will be turning 98 this Halloween, she still lives on her own in a two-storey house and helps out with what she still can in the community. She truly inspires me. Throughout the time I have known her I’ve also appreciated just how many pets she has had. She has had several golden retrievers one after another: Nina, Bart, Ginger, and Preyer. Preyer is also still with us. She has also owned two cats both of whom she has outlived: First there was Jack and then after Jack, Luke. I still get to see her on average twice a year when I fly home from school to be with family. She came to both my high school and university graduations along with my other grandmother who was still alive at the time. Like I’ve written before about my maternal grandparents, I have a lot of fond memories of her. When my family came to visit her when I was little, my sister and I used to climb into her bed in the morning and watch cartoons with her. I also remember writing to her, asking for information about my family tree back then as well. She replied specifically to all my questions in a very nice handwritten letter. I also appreciate the beautiful town that is Lunenburg that she chose to live in after my paternal grandfather John Alfred Glover “Jack” Saunders passed away in 1983, five years before I was born (and although I never knew him, I would undoubtedly have had a good relationship with him as well if I had). I dedicate the rest of this post to her memoir, which you are welcome to read:

I was born and baptized Esther Frances Armstrong in Limpsfield, Surrey, England on Oct. 31st, 1918, just a few days before the end of the Great War so they called me “Joy” and that’s what I’ve been called ever since.

My father was in the Canadian Army and was fighting in France. Soon after the war ended we moved back to Ottawa, Canada where I lived for the next 12 years and then moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba where we lived for the next six years. This was during the Great Depression, a very hard time with vast unemployment and a terrible drought in the West with dust storms across the Prairies. We were fortunate as my father, at that time, was a Col. In the Army. He organized soup kitchens for the poor and hungry men would come to the door begging for food or a cup of tea-never money. They would offer to cut your lawn or any job just for something to eat.

In those days women didn’t work so young men couldn’t ask a girl to marry him until he could support her. Sometimes they waited years. Girls had a “Hope chest” where they collected linens and silver etc. for when they did get married. This was all difficult as young people didn’t sleep together until they got married. There was no birth control.

In 1936, we moved to Toronto where a lot of my mother’s family lived. They were rather “high end” and found us a house in Rosedale and immediately made arrangements for me to “a debutant of the season”. I was 17-18. I spent a year going to fabulous parties and balls-just like the movies and ended up going to England a guided trip around Europe. I had a wonderful time and was spoilt to death. When I returned home we had been moved to Montreal. My father was a Montrealer and perfectly bilingual and they wanted him there to arrange the King and Queen’s visit in 1939. That was George VI and Queen Elizabeth. They went right across Canada by train. My sister, June, I, served tea to the King, Queen at the Chalet on the Mountain. I served the King and had to curtsey at the same time. It was difficult as he was so short. They were charming of course.

In August, 1939, England declared war against Germany and Canada joined them. My father became a Brig. General and we moved to Ottawa and then to Kingston. The war years brought a complete change in my life style. I had never really done anything useful in my life so I decided it was time. I enlisted in the Canadian Womens Army Corps. Our job was to take the place of men so they could fight. It is very different today as women do everything. I went up to Kitchener, Ontario for my Basic Training and No “Just a minute” or “why”. You just did it! You learned the difference between officers and “other ranks”. At basic training we were all “other ranks”-“Privates.” In spite of all the misery, we all thrived. It was a healthy life-we were up at 6 am-in bed at 9 pm. We exercised all day and, in spite of the meals, we were so hungry, could eat anything.

I was an Officer within a year and life was very different. I began to give orders instead of taking them. I was in charge of 30 girls and all their discipline. If they were late getting in at night, they were AWL (absent without leave) and they were punished. I was stationed in London, Ontario and then Capp Bordon, Ontario, North of Toronto. I had a great time there as we had the same privileges as the male Officers. We shared their dining room and could buy drinks of the bar. It was called “The Officers Mess”. Besides training and work, they had great parities. I fell in love twice!! Then I went overseas to Great Britain. It was towards the end of the war and I was stationed in Yorkshire all the time so saw no bombings. I was at the School of Military Engineering so it was interesting.

I never regretted my war years. It taught me so much. It taught me to obey orders-to live in places I didn’t want to and with people I didn’t like-It was a great experience and made me a better person.

For a young lady who had lived all her life in comparative luxury, it was a strange new world. We were issued a uniform-a skirt as women didn’t wear pants in those days-but we also had pants for training-working out and marching. We had a “Great-coat”, a shoulder bag, and a duffle bag. In Kitchener we moved into a Basic training camp. An “H” hut-2 long buildings with 30 bunks in each and 3 potbellied stoves for warmth. The centre of the H were bathrooms for 60 women. No privacy-8 showers in one room. No doors on the Stalls. I was embarrassed to death. The dining Hall was in a different building-we were issued a tin plate, a mug and a knife, fork and spoon, which we washed after every meal and kept with us. The meals were disgusting and the table manners worse as these girls came from all walks of life. My First meal, the girl sitting next to me plunked a piece of apple pie right in the middle of her stew-thought it was delicious. I joined up with 3 friends from Kingston-so when we had a weekend off we went to a Hotel in Waterloo and spent the weekend in the bathtub and eating in the dining room-bliss!

We all went on fire picket-Had to keep the 3 stoves going at all times. We marched miles every day and learned all the commands. The most important thing I learned in the Army was discipline. You followed an order.

When the war ended it was very difficult to adjust to a completely different life. We lived in a large, comfortable home in Kingston, but it was Military Quarters so when my father retired, he had to moved out. They wanted to live in Ottawa, but housing was impossible, so they stored their furniture and went to Florida for the winter. Unfortunately, when they had only been there for a week, my father died suddenly from an aneurysm. A terrible shock as he was only 59. Now my mother and I were homeless. However, my father’s sister, Mabel Bentham, owned an Apr. Building on Sherbrooke St. in Montreal so we took an Apt. there and I got a job with Jaegers, a beautiful women’s clothing store-English. Lovely suits and coats, which I modelled-Having been in uniform for 4 years, I really enjoyed wearing these beautiful clothes. I soon met Jack Saunders, who had just moved to Montreal from Saint John, N.B. where he had been living with my cousin, Jeanne Haycock and her family. He was just retired from the Army too. Was a Capt. with the North Nova Scotia Highlanders. He played an active part in the war, fought in the Normandy Invasion and helped liberate Holland. He was working in Woolworks Dept. Store in Montreal. Jeanne came for a visit and introduced us. I don’t know whether he fell in love with me or my beautiful Jaeger coat! However, love it was, followed my marriage, followed by Heather and then a move to New Waterford, Cape Breton where you father was born Victor John Logie. We gave him all the names not knowing we would have 5 others sons. From there we moved to New Glasgow, N.S. where I had Barry, Geoffrey, Mark, and David-I was a busy girl. Then on to Sydney where I had Jimmy and June and spent the happiest years of my life until your grandfather died in 1983.

We bought our summer home in Margaree Harbour when Jimmy was a baby. That was the best thing we ever did as now seven of my eight children have homes there and enjoy the peace and beauty of that special place. In years to come, I’m sure you and your cousins will continue to go there-Another generation, and then hopefully your children.

After Jack died, I moved to Lunenburg-bringing my old dog, Rob Roy and my old cat, Sam, with me. They are both long gone, but I’ve replaced them often and ended up with Prayer-my 13 year old Golden Retriever. I have spent my years in Lunenburg trying to be useful in some capacity and enjoying this beautiful little town.

Comments on: "My Grandmother’s Memoir" (1)

  1. You are right to treasure these words – they are beautiful!. Your grandmother as quite a way with words, making the reader feel they are inside the situation she is describing..
    Thank her for the insight she has given your readers

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