My mother, Sylvia was born in her parents’ home over the family music shop in
Birmingham. She was one of five sisters, in a happy family full of music, good
fun and lots of mischief. From an early age, she was a leader. She and her
younger sister used to organize song and dance programs on the street and sell
drinks to anyone who would come.
Like so many others, she left school at age 14 after learning the practical
arts of cooking, sewing and weaving. These skills helped her to bring
creativity, beauty and warmth to every situation in which she was involved.
From the outset she expressed her care for others and followed in the
footsteps of a grandmother, two aunts and two sisters (all of whom were
nurses). In her early teenage years, instead of continuing with formal
education, she took her cooking and sewing skills to the slums. There she
helped other children to improve their lives, while at the same time, working
full-time in the family’s music shop.
In her late teens, she joined the women's branch of the British Army and then
enlisted for four years. After Dunkirk, she worked in the war records office,
keeping track of prisoners and the missing, and informing the families of
those who died. During that time, both her own boyfriend and her sister’s
fiancé‚ were killed. To keep up her own and others’ morale, she was part of
the “Atta-girl Review” – a group that entertained the troops with song and
After 4 years of military service she left the army. By that time, she was
already questioning the paradoxes of war. She felt she had missed the real
horrors of the war while Britain's eastern allies were taking the real brunt
of the Nazi aggression which killed 25 million Soviet citizens. During the
last year of the war, she worked in a munitions factory making parts for
anti-aircraft guns. She worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week until, in a
moment of lapsed concentration, she got her hair caught in the machinery and
almost scalped herself. Because the factory was noisy, she taught her fellow
workers sign language so they could talk to one another. Sylvia was always a
Shortly after the end of the war, Dad met Mum at a dance. As the story goes,
he fell in love at first sight. He asked her to dance and then arranged for
all his friends to dance with her so that no one else would have a chance.
They were to become a great team and a close partnership. She created warmth
and atmosphere and always wanted to make things beautiful. Dad’s calm
measured practicality made their ideas a reality . I remember them spending
years designing and building the cottage and the house together.
But now I’m getting ahead of myself. First, Roy persuaded her to come to
Canada for a visit and then after a week they were married. My Uncle Don has
come from Saskatchewan to be here and share his thoughts with us.