War bride, artist, dancer, gardener. Born on May 2, 1925, in Morecambe, England; died on March 23, 2014, in Montreal, of cancer, aged 88.
Peggy Robertson joined the British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in 1942 and was posted to a radar base in Devonshire where she worked as a radio operator using Morse code. That same year, Dave Savage took early graduation from Bishop’s University in Quebec to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He received his commission in January, 1943, and joined the war effort overseas as a radar officer. He ended up on the same base as Peggy and, after a year-long courtship, they married in the local parish church.
Dave returned to Montreal after the war ended and Peggy followed on the Mauretania about six months later, one of the estimated 48,000 war brides from Britain and Europe who joined their servicemen husbands in Canada. The mementos she kept – photographs, letters of instruction from the Canadian government, menu cards from the voyage, a cookbook to introduce her to Canadian food – paint a vivid picture of what it was like to marry during wartime and embark on a new life in an unknown country.
The ship docked in Halifax and Peggy took the train to Montreal, where Dave and most of his family met her at the station. His mother had carried on a lively airmail correspondence with Peggy, treating her as a daughter from the time she and Dave were engaged. Peggy felt welcomed and at home right away, unlike some war brides who faced hostility or rejection when they arrived at their final destination in Canada.
Peggy lost her father when she was a year old and she was placed in foster care with her younger brother, so she had few family ties to England. The first time she and Dave returned was in 1970, a quarter-century after she boarded the Mauretania, but they loved the country and visited often in later years. Their family life always had a British flavour – everything stopped on Christmas Day for the Queen’s speech, and tea was an afternoon ritual.
Dave trained as a teacher after the war and his first job was in Granby, Que., where their daughters Susan and Jayne, and sons Chris and Murray, were born. Because Dave had summers off, the family was packed into the car with camping equipment piled on the roof, and spent two happy months in New England or the Maritimes, usually at seaside campgrounds.
Although she had little formal training in art, Peggy was a talented artist. She enjoyed sketching and painting and could turn her hand to any craft. She and Dave, both devoted gardeners, had a small business making lampshades decorated with their own pressed flowers. Only one of Peggy’s children inherited her artistic talents but several of her five grandchildren did, and they liked to spend time painting with Nana.
When Dave retired in 1981, he and Peggy took up round dancing and spent many winters in Florida, where they had a large circle of friends who shared the same interest. After Dave’s death in 2006, Peggy continued to live independently in their Montreal home. She managed her financial affairs, joined Facebook to play word games online, and kept up with everyone by phone, e-mail and letters. She was a voracious reader and completed two crossword puzzles every day.
When Susan started doing genealogical research a few years ago, Peggy was fascinated to learn that her mother’s line dated back to the 1400s in England. Because she was too frail by then to travel overseas to meet previously unknown relatives, she took pleasure instead in discussing Susan's discoveries and reminiscing about some of her favourite places.
Susan Baumann is Peggy’s eldest child.