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"Daring chances must be taken"

Remembrance Day always holds a special place in my heart as I ponder the sacrifices that so many men and women made as they said goodbye to loved ones and went off to war. #LestWeForget


Kathleen (Hattie) and Peter Inkster, 1942

My own grandparents, Kathleen Hattie and Peter Inkster, were married during WWII, on January 29, 1942. Grandpa had just joined the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps and was initially stationed at Esquimalt on Vancouver Island. His life wasn’t completely his own anymore; he had to telegram his commanding officer for permission to get married, which was granted. Pete and Kathy were married at the little Presbyterian Church at the end of First Street in Duncan, such a simple affair that no photos were taken.


A few days later, Pete’s unit was transferred to Old Shaughnessy Hospital in Vancouver, with weekends off—from Fridays at 4 p.m until Sunday at 10 p.m. Their time together would be short-lived. On June 10, Peter and the No. 16 Canadian General Hospital left Vancouver by train. They were on their way to England.


According to Art Mann, a fellow soldier from Duncan, everyone felt they were “lucky” to be chosen to head overseas so quickly after the unit was formed. But newly married 31-year-old Peter was aware of the risks. He had bought a pack of Fraser Canyon photo cards, and when he was about 200 miles west of Regina he lay on his top berth, the car swaying, to write a series of notes home to Kathleen on the back of each one:


1. Trip so far very enjoyable darling. 2. It has rained ever since leaving coast honey. 3. Awfully cold all day today (11th). Snowed like hell going through the Rockies sweetheart. 4. Stopped at Banff for 45 minutes. Went for a short march and was it nippy as the snow had just stopped coming down. 5. If this & the card get to you honey it is under false manners but I miss you so much now darling - daring chances must be taken. 6. There are provost officers guarding the mail boxes at every stop we make which are very few honey. 7. Will be glad to pass by the prairies as it gets most tiresome after a day of it dear. 8. Will say a prayer of us every night pet & hope you will also. This will help a lot over the tough going ahead. 9. It is now time to try & sleep again honey. Wish you were here to cuddle darling but I guess we will have to bear the pains. 10. Bye-bye for now darling. My heart aches for you honey more each day but do I love you Kathleen. Chins up pet. x x x x x x x x x


Two weeks after leaving Vancouver, the unit arrived in England. They spent the summer in tents in southern England while they waited for an old mental hospital to be emptied. Finally they settled into their hospital at Cuckfield, an hour south of London by fast train. Nights were dark, and so the soldiers could “see dimly the bombers going out and later returning and soon could identify each by its engine sound including the Germans.” The hospital kept busy treating soldiers injured during training and “routine winter ailments.”

A WWII soldier sitting in a chair
Peter A. Inkster, WWII

After ten months, in June 1943, the unit was moved north to Marston Green, near Birmingham, but letters home were only allowed to state “somewhere in Britain.” During down time there were opportunities to play sports in the army. Peter was a strong athlete, having played soccer and baseball back home. As the No. 16 unit arrived in Birmingham, they took over from another Canadian Army Hospital unit. Art Mann recalled: “Just as they were leaving they said “oh, by the way, you’re in a baseball league in 2nd place and you have nice new uniforms.” We got the uniforms out (we’d never had any before) and were we ever shocked, in big letters was “DUREX”… the name of the army issue condoms. We were almost too embarrassed to trot out in them!”


Grandpa was a huge soccer fan, so arranged to go to Scotland with Art to see some cup matches. “Just before we headed out there was a rail travel ban. The invasion of Europe was close at hand and they needed all the rails for moving supplies. I said, ‘let’s hitch-hike’ but he felt that was too dangerous and he was so much in love with Kay. So we did not go.”


Peter sent birthday, anniversary, Christmas cards and telegrams to “Mrs P A Inkster” in Duncan. “There is no card obtainable which expresses my thoughts in print towards you darling…” (19 Dec 1943). He was careful to plan ahead: a Christmas card was posted on November 17, and their second year anniversary card sent on Christmas Day: “Cheerio dearest and although out of sight you are never out of mind - Always your loving Pete.”




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