Veteran Stories:
Betty Hawkins (née Ackhurst)

  • Betty Hawkins (in wedding dress) in front of her North London, England home - the same one badly damaged by a V-1 in 1944 - with her husband Ken Hawkins of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, the best man at her wedding, and her mother, June 1945.

    Betty Hawkins
  • Newspaper article discussing a War Brides' reunion and showing a photo from the 1945 wedding of Betty and Ken Hawkins.

    Betty Hawkins
  • Betty Hawkins in Fredericton, New Brunswick, July 27, 2010.

    Historica Canada
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"I mean, we took an awful chance, we really didn’t know these men that well."

Transcript

I wanted to join the Wrens [Women’s Royal Naval Service] which was the women’s navy, but my brothers had both told my mum not to let me do that; so I was young enough, I had to have her signature. So I ended up working at the Air Ministry which was, the offices were right on the Strand [a central downtown area in London, England] and I went up there every day to work. We survived the bombing; and our house, it must have been in 1944, when the doodlebugs [German V-1 flying bomb] started coming over. They were the unmanned bombs, and we hated them. And, of course, the war had been on long enough then, they were very nerve-wracking. My sister and I were on fire watch duty the one night and we had moved our piano around so it was against the windows. Our living room had glass all the way across the back of it; and a doodlebug came down with its engines going and crashed into the house in back of us and two semi-detached houses went down, and the one next door, half of it went down. But luckily, ours was okay up to a point. Now, luckily for us, my sister and I had just changed places; and I was on the floor with my mum, who was deaf and couldn’t really hear what was going on, and my sister was in a high back chair awake in the kitchen because it was her turn to be up. And luckily - well, not luckily - but the blast from a bomb like that is worse going back than going in. So instead of falling on us, the piano went backwards and all the glass from the front of the house, which we had a door between the dining room and the living room, and it was open, it was a glass door and it was folded back, but all the glass went into the piano, and we weren’t hurt. But we had to move into another house. The government did requisition empty houses; and we didn’t have that heavy a bombing in our area of London, but we were well aware of it, you know; and you held your breath because you could hear the planes and the guns all the time. I volunteered at the Maple Leaf Club that was manned by Red Cross workers in Victoria, which is part of central London. We used to go there on a Sunday morning because that was the only time we had; and we’d wash all their breakfast dishes and then we’d make the beds. The beds were three tier bunk beds; and we had to ask the fellows that were staying there to help us move the beds, to make them. We’d never seen those awful tied quilts before, that old farm people made out of old coats and they tied them with wool with batting and flannelette in them. We thought they were horrible things, but they kept them warm. And that’s how I met my husband, he helped me make the beds and he asked me to go out. When my friend and I were ready to leave to go home, she said, I thought you had a date. I said, well, I thought I did too, but he disappeared. We were walking along the road to the underground [subway] station; and six paratroopers came out of a pub, and Ken was with them. He said, I was just coming to look for you. So, anyway, my friend and I ended up going to the movies with six of them; and then we met again, and every time he was in London, we got together, which wasn’t very often. And I mean, we took an awful chance, we really didn’t know these men that well; and we agreed, we decided to get married and he had to have permission. And [it] caused a riot at work because the padre from the paratroopers [her husband was a member of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion] came to see me and everybody wondered who this nice looking padre was. They were sent back to Canada, the first full battalion. They were going to send them to the Far East, but they dropped the atomic bomb before they had got them ready to go. So he was able to get out of the army and I managed to get bumped up on the list for the war brides to come. And I came over on the [SS] Lady Nelson. We landed in Halifax on the 23 March in 1946. We ended up living in Fredericton; and I still live in this same old house that I came to.
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