Written below are excerpts from my story, Love Blooms, a true Second World War love story that took place in he Halifax Public Gardens.
Highlights of this story were requested by the Halifax Public Gardens for use in their weekly blog dated Aug. 12, 2012, the 70th wedding anniversary of my parents, Roy and Madeline LeDrew, the main characters of the story. This shortened version recounts their story.
Roy and Madeline LeDrew are two truly remarkable people now living in Bath, Ont. They are unique in the sense that there are very few, if any, alive today that were in the service at the same time during the Second World War and are celebrating life today after more than 70 years of marriage.
By RODGER LEDREW
Twelve Walnut Street is only a ten-minute walk from the Halifax Public Gardens.
The Halifax Public Gardens are more than a Victorian urban garden. It’s a place where the story of people’s lives play out. Where children’s first steps are taken, graduates ponder their future and newlyweds record the start of their new lives together.
These Gardens have played a role in the lives of many generations of Haligonians throughout its 171 year history.
Today we celebrate one of these stories. A love story, which began and blossomed at the Gardens.
Twenty year old Madeline Graves had recently moved to Halifax and was working and living close to the Gardens, looking after six-year-old Mary Lib Kaye. On a beautiful July afternoon, during her day off, Madeleine and a friend made their way to the Gardens to listen to a band and relax in the beautiful surroundings. The year was 1941 and the war had been going on for two long years.
Bedford Basin was the gathering spot for the ships, which would travel across the Atlantic in convoy, escorted and protected by Armed Merchant Cruisers. A return journey took six weeks. The Battle of the Atlantic lasted 2073 days.
One of those escorts was tied up for 10 days and her crew was granted shore leave.
Madeline and a friend entered the Gardens through the Summer St. entrance and immediately
caught site of the beautiful Victoria Jubilee fountain whose nymph was overlooking a group of sailors lounging on the grass.
Quite a sight, but not a place for two unescorted young women to linger in, so they
They wound their way around Griffin’s Pond and stopped to admire another fountain.
Roy from Grand Falls, Newfoundland, was a crew-member of the The HMS Montclare, one of the Armed Merchant Cruisers.
After a six-week tension-filled crossing he was looking forward to leaving the war behind him (even for a night) and enjoy some relaxation onshore. He and a few buddies headed down Lower Water St. on a warm evening. They made their way to the Halifax Public Gardens to join the crowds of people who were out enjoying a warm summer evening. Their mood was buoyant.
After hours of wandering around the girls were ready to take a load off their feet. They walked down the green tunnel formed by the elm trees along the Grand Aleé and decided to sit on a bench beside a towering elm tree facing Griffin’s pond. A couple of sailors were swaggering toward them talking and laughing, and one of them broke into song. Madeline didn’t realize she was staring until the singer smiled at her and said ‘Hello.’
Madeline and Roy were immediately drawn to each other. After introducing themselves and spending a short time bantering with each other and their friends, Roy suggested they take a walk in the Gardens. They sat by the bandstand, and told each other about themselves. An hour passed very quickly and Roy’s curfew was fast approaching so he offered to walk Madeline home. Arriving at Madeline’s house, Roy asked if they could
meet the next day, same time, same place.
They met again the next evening by the large elm tree, and time flew by as they became
immersed in the story of each other’s lives. They shared their hopes and fears and future
plans as their feelings for each other blossomed. Unexpectedly, it would be many weeks before they would see each other again. On Roy’s return after another mission, he called
Madeline fervently hoping that she wouldn’t be upset by his unannounced departure.
Madeline was delighted to take up where they had left off.
They got to know each other like many couples during the war… through almost daily
letters which arrived in batches and were savoured during the times when there was no
word. They met up whenever Roy was on leave at their special meeting place, the
Halifax Public Gardens.
In mid-October of 1941, on a moonlit night, Roy and Madeline where once again faced
with having to say goodbye to each other. By now there was no doubt about their
feelings for each other. They sat by the Victoria Jubilee fountain as their precious time
drew to a close, and Roy asked Madeline to marry him.
Seventy years ago today, Roy and Madeline became man and wife in Madeline’s home
town. Like many newlyweds during the war, they only spent two nights together before
Roy had to return overseas. They were often separated.
Two days after Madeline gave birth to their first child, the bells started ringing and the
sirens wailing to mark the end of the war. Roy would soon be coming home permanently.
Now they could start their lives together.
Rodger LeDrew lives in Dartmouth and is a Master Gardener as well as a frequent visitor to the gardens.
Written below is an excerpt of chapter two of Roy LeDrew’s Love Blooms In the Gardens. It tells the story of Roy LeDrew, a Grand Falls mill worker who enlisted the Royal Navy during the Second World War.
It would be the last time the old mill whistle sounded for Roy LeDrew as he walked through the gates of the paper mill to go home. The Anglo Newfoundland Development Company in Grand Falls had been his employer for the last few years and today he was leaving for more important matters. Turning around to take a one last look, he was not surprised that he felt like he would not miss this place. Wood, steam and smoke stacks would be forever in his mind. The pay was good and the work was extremely hard, but now a life of adventure lay ahead.
At twenty years old, Roy had been a big part of his community. He was well known as the center field member of the Guards baseball team. In 1936 the Guards competed in the hardest fought battle ever remembered for a playoff and won the baseball league championship. The contest was between four league teams which included the Scouts, C.L.B., the Cadets and the Guards. Through elimination the Guards ended up playing C.L.B for the championship. It was the ninth inning. The score was tied at 4-4. There were two out and one on base. Roy was at bat and he nailed the first pitch with a long drive to center field, knocking in the run. The game was over and the wild cheering crowd never forgot the excitement of the series. The Tie Cup was presented by Mr. S. E. Tuma.
It was on February 17, 1940 that Roy enlisted in the Royal Navy at the Court House in Grand Falls. Since then he was preoccupied waiting for the call to report which came for him May 1st. 1940. It was Sir Winston Churchill that inspired Newfoundlanders to enlist. He was the First Sea Lord of the Admiralty and made the statement that “Newfoundlanders are the best small boat men in the world.” It was urgent that the men and women of Newfoundland respond to the WWII effort. In keeping with its seafaring traditions, Newfoundland and Labrador produced more volunteers for the Royal Navy (RN) than for any other single branch of the Armed Forces during the Second World War.
At the end of April a going away celebration was planned for Roy by the Guards baseball team. It was to be a real smoker. They came with gifts and cheer, songs and music, a kitchen party at its best. They brought him very sensible gifts, some of which were a leather travel case, toilet articles and most import the colours, the ribbons of the Guards baseball team. Roy considered this to be his good luck charm.
On May 7, Roy said so long to his family in Grand Falls. They did not go to the train station with him. His father was not home when he left. His mother was trying to put on a brave face but you could tell by looking at her that she had a very heavy heart. “Good bye Mom” says Roy in a soft voice. “God, look at you Roy, going off to war” she whispered, as she choked back the tears. “I don’t imagine I will ever see you again” as she gives him a one last hug. “Sure you will Mom, it may be a few years but I will be back and I’ll write too!” he said with enthusiasm. She watched him fade away as he walked down the street and turned the corner.
The RMS Newfoundland was a former Royal Mail Ship, thus the title and it was about to carry the seventh contingent of recruits to England. It was probably the worst made vessel out of the British Isles for rolling and making everyone sick. It always seemed top heavy. It didn’t bother Roy so much and he along with eight of his friends from Grand Falls sailed from St. John’s on May 10, and docked in Liverpool, England on June 2, 1940. Roy was assigned to the land base Chatham and after basic training served on different ships and ended up in Bermuda where the HMS Montclare was being re-crewed for the Battle of The Atlantic. It was December 1940 and Roy became part of her crew.
The “Battle of the Atlantic” was the longest battle of WWII. It lasted 2073 days. The HMS Montclare, an Armed Merchant Cruiser was one of many ships that escorted and protected convoys of ships carrying supplies and personnel across the Atlantic. A trip to Europe and back would take about six weeks. On return to Halifax, shore leave was granted. The ship would be tied up for about ten days while waiting to escort another convoy. Curfew for all crew was 2300 hours.