We’re often influenced by people from different walks of life. By men and women we respect, admire and look up to.
This is the story of one such person.
He was born to Raymond and Mary Windsor on the 29th November 1918 into a world recovering from a great war that had ended eighteen days before. He grew up in Tilt Cove near St. John’s, Newfoundland in an environment where mining was the lifeblood of the community and miners were at its core.
This man’s family moved to Montreal when he was still a boy and he and his brother would eventually leave for the far north to pursue a lumberjack’s life and run a small farm in northern Ontario.
The wanderlust in this man was ever-present. The desire to follow an opportunity, have an adventure, chase a dream. In his early twenties, this would manifest itself with the ultimate sacrifice and lead him away from his peaceful Canadian homeland to a region viciously tearing itself apart.
|His attestation papers for the Canadian Army. Photo credit: Mrs Joan Windsor|
An expat for country and for love
On the 20th June 1941, he enlisted with the Royal Canadian Engineers. Trained as a sapper, his role was to perform military engineering duties such as bridge-building, demolitions, field defence and general construction. He remained in Canada for three months before shipping out to the United Kingdom. Final destination: Continental Europe.
He served for 54 months during the height of the Second World War. He served in the UK, in France, in Belgium, Holland and Germany. He was awarded several medals for his actions but he wasn’t an entirely ‘model’ soldier, his military papers revealing an occasionally disobedient side that would cost him forfeiture of pay and allowances for relatively minor offences.
While serving in the UK, he was biletted to stay at a house in the small southern English town of Basingstoke. It was there that he met little Joan Tarr Davies, a shy Welshwoman and the daughter of his wartime hosts. The pair were soon smitten with each other and, on the 8th April 1944, they married.
Not long after, she fell pregnant with twins and the young family set sail on the Queen Mary for Montreal in 1945. Joan was now one of thousands of war brides leaving England for Canada, with her twins swaddled in Moses baskets close by. They lived with his parents in Montreal but Joan suffered bouts of homesickness and the family returned to the UK. For the second time, this man became an expat – the first time for his country, the second time out of love for his wife.
They would emigrate to Canada eight years later to support his father when his mother died but, again, returned to England after several years. Unselfishly, this man gave up his home for the third time and he would never see the Great White North again.
A life cut short
This Canadian expat who had fought abroad for his country before finding love on the British Isles developed an aggressive form of cancer and died in May 1972, still in the prime of his life and leaving behind a grief-stricken wife and three heartbroken daughters. He never met his grandchildren, the first who was born just two years after his death.
He was a man who followed his heart and made serious decisions that would affect the entire course of his life. He stood by those decisions, from enlisting in the army to marrying the love of his life in a foreign country, and he stayed the course in a country not his own during a long post-war period of uncertainty and unease.
He was a family man first and foremost. He may have missed his home, his own people, his Canadian family, but his priority was his immediate family and he embraced his new home and the British way of life as if they had always been his own.
His untimely death was tragic and unfair and, on that day in May 1972, a bright and beautiful Canadian light was extinguished.
His enduring influence
This man is a stranger to me and my biggest regret is never knowing him.
In the remaining black and white photos of him, I can see that we share a likeness in our height, some similarities in our faces, and possibly a seriousness in our attitude. I believe we also share something more profound. We share a particular outlook on life.
A love of adventure, a desire to take life by the horns and shake it hard to discover what falls out, decisions made by the heart over the mind.
We share a passion for Canada. I moved there seeking opportunity and adventure, exploring the country as he had and treading in the faint ripples of his wake. I am deeply connected to the country of his birth, yet like him I also hold dear to the love of my homeland.
We both gave up our homes for love yet gained infinitely more in the process. I married my lady from a far flung land and I adopted her home as my own. There was no backdrop of war, of devastation and crippling loss, but the decision had serious consequences and was made entirely out of our feelings for each other.
We share an outlook on the world around us. Both rebellious towards authority, above all we believe in right over wrong, fair before unjust. It guided him in his choices and it underlines everything I do.
I think he’d be proud of me. Proud that I didn’t sit still. Proud that I followed my dreams, that I came to his country and sought to understand more. Proud that I met my true love and committed to her, stood by her, and made her own home my own.
Yet, in all this, he continues to sit at the periphery of my vision. He is always out of reach, unfocused, not clearly defined. This is the way of things and this is the way it will always be. The sad reality is that he’s long gone even though he remains an important figure in my life and his influence is apparent in all that I’ve done.
For his full and wholesome life, the ultimate sacrifice for his country and the love of his wife, his strength of character, and his big ole Canadian heart, this tall and well-built man from the far reaches of Canada is for me the greatest expat of them all.
His name was Victor Gordon Windsor. This man was my grandfather.
Who or what have been the major influences in your life? Did someone or something trigger your own expat / travel / life journey?