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Heather Broadbent celebrates 85th birthday, 50 years Caledon

February 6, 2020   ·   0 Comments

Written By CONSTANCE SCRAFIELD

“When I was a little girl,” said historian, Heather Broadbent, having just rung in her 85th birthday, “all I wanted to do was to survive the war and the bombing on the south coast of Britain, where we lived. I started school on the Monday when the war was declared. We lived in Southhampton.

“I was in a bomb shelter one time, and a bomb fell. Our teacher had told us to lay on the ground and I could feel the shutter of the bomb when it hit the ground.”

Even more remarkably, “I actually saw the Battle of Britain because my father took me out of the shelter during the daylight – it was being fought during the daytime, which was unusual – and he sat me on the grass on the outside of the shelter – they were covered with grass. He said to me, ‘Watch this and don’t you ever forget.’ At the time, I didn’t really know what I was watching but I could hear a noise that I could realize later was gunfire. And I never forgot it.

“From my bedroom window – we had double summer time – I could see the grey colour ships taking troops out and then because we had a double time they brought soldiers came back, I could still see the ships. It was wonderful when they painted them white and all the colours again.

“My mother worked in a field kitchen getting things ready for when the soldiers came back. She’d ride her bicycle home at 11:00 in the evening and, with the double summer time [turning the clocks forward two hours], it would still be light.”

Children needed to go to school, war or not, but as Ms. Broadbent related, “The school teachers were all old. Only a few of them were young. The retired teachers were coming back to teach because the younger ones were going to the war.

“When I went to the senior school, the temporarily Headmaster, Mr. Dedman told me that ‘Both my parents taught your parents and uncles..’ and when his son came back, he taught me too.”

“For some amusing things,” she went on to say, “when the late Bill Rea put me in a beer advertisement, it caused great amusement among my friends here and overseas, especially in Callington, Cornwall, where in a 1400’s pub, they put that picture up. The church there had its 1000th year recently. I lived in that hotel that was built by 1447. Many members of my family were historians and archivists.

“Cousin Richard,” she continued to tell us, “who has just retired, was the archivist for the New Forest, which was William the Conqueror’s hunting reserves in 1075. It’s still a reserve – [New Forest] ponies and cattle can roam at large. It’s still preserved as a wild place.”

History lives on in us.

“So, it’s not much wonder I’m interested in history – it’s genetic. My second cousin is a Roman [expert] and written a couple of books about them.

Speaking further on her young life, at our request for the history, “Rationing went on for a long time, on everything. The thing I remember: it was getting toward the end of the war. If the bells rang, it was to tell you that invasion had started. My mother said I didn’t have to go to school one day and I was out in the garden and the bells started ringing. I was terrified – I thought the invasion was coming again. So, I ran indoors.

“Mom was standing at the sink and she was hand washing some hand knitted socks and tears were pouring down her face and she said ‘it’s over.’”

“I was exactly the same age when that war started as my mother was when the first war started,” she said, as we considered the irony. 

“When I was coming up [from secondary schooling], I told the principal, when he asked me, I would like to go to Naval college. The principal happened to mention that to my father’s friend and who told my father and my parents were horrified. 

“My aunt and uncle owned the old hotel [est. 1447] in Cornwall. I was learning typing and I went to the hotel to help them and, so, never went to Naval College. My aunt had that hotel until she died at 104 years old. 

In 1970, Ms. Broadbent, “Came to Canada. My husband’s company was here already and they needed a quantity surveyor, which was to do with construction. A quantity surveyor could find the land, get the design – get it built and they needed one here and in the West Indies. The big boss moved on and Peter replaced him. 

“I was a volunteer for 11 years in the history department of the Town of Caledon and, then, when I applied for the job as historian, there were other qualified applicants but I knew the area best. I’ve been retired for 20 years but I could have never been replaced by anyone better than Sally Drummond.

To bring us up to date on what Ms. Broadbent is working on, “Currently, I’m working with other seniors, trying to encourage Caledon to preserve old farmhouses as a social use for seniors. Some old farm houses are surrounded by subdivisions. Rather than incurring the cost of demolishing those houses and the disposal of all the materials into the landfill, these houses can be renovated for lower cost, to create housing for seniors and they could live there close to the amenities of the subdivision. To cut the cost of waste and building rubble into landfills.”

Dismissing the trials of stairs, she proposed, “Stairs can be avoided by building in little, two person elevators between floors. They’re a fraction of the cost of elevators in bigger buildings. Or the chairs that go up the stairs can be installed. The Region of Peel has a huge problem with low cost housing and a need for residents for seniors that aren’t ‘homes.’”

The answer to the inevitable question of staying so well: “Swimming [she swims twice a week]; keeping my brain active; being involved with community things and heritage things and caring about things.

“There’s the Circle of Friends: I’ve knitted at last 3,000 squares and two nice friends have knitted them into blankets. I’ve made toques, little things for girls in the hospital. They meet Tuesday afternoons, in the basement of Christ Church on Nancy Street. People are welcome to pop in and meet us and knit.”



         

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