Two pieces of fabric, stitched some 25 years apart, tell the story of one Nova Scotian family in both world wars. The first is a cloth postcard, purchased in France as Allied armies battled Kaiser Wilhem’s forces in the trenches of the western front. The second, a needlepoint fire screen, was stitched by a British lord at a wartime hospital and left unfinished.
The story begins with Melvin Flynn Macleod. A Cape Breton miner, he joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force on October 30, 1915 at the age of 33. His family believes he helped dig tunnels at Vimy Ridge that allowed Allied troops to set off explosions beneath the German defences.
From the front, he mailed the cloth postcard to his daughter, Ruth Ambersine, born just months before he enlisted. Embroidered with three suns and the words “to my dear daughter, from your loving father,” Ruth would keep the item the rest of her life.
Mr. Macleod went back to work in the mines after the war, dying in the Princess Colliery disaster in 1938. By this time, Ruth was studying to become a nurse at the Victoria General Hospital in Halifax. Four years later, she signed up for the Royal Canadian Medical Corps and followed in her father’s footsteps, shipping out across the Atlantic.
After postings in Newfoundland and Ireland, she was sent to Aldershot, an English town southwest of London.
It was there that she met a fellow Canadian, Victor Howard (Howie) Munro. Mr. Munro, who grew up in Toronto, St. Catharines and Barrie, was first posted to Gibraltar, where he was tapped to become an officer. Just as he was finishing training, his appendix ruptured and he was hospitalized.
At the request of a friend, he took Ruth to a dance one night in August, 1943. Just a little more than three months later, they married. Mr. Munro took part in D-Day and the liberation of Holland, where he was injured. While there, he also acquired a precious memento.
“One day he and another soldier were asked to accompany a Dutch jeweller to pick something up. The jeweller lifted some of the cobble stones in a quiet street and took out a package,” recounted his daughter, Anne Munro, in an e-mail.
“He opened the package and showed them some gems he had hidden, he urged both to pick something. Even though they weren’t supposed to, both men took a small stone. This small diamond became Mum’s ring after the war.”
Ruth Munro, meanwhile, was posted to a hospital at Cliveden, the estate of the wealthy Astor family.
Among the soldiers she met was Lord Willoughby, Lord and Lady Astor’s son-in-law, she would later tell her family. Like many of the recuperating men, he occupied his time with needlepoint, stitching a floral-patterned fireplace cover. When he had to return to the front, he gave the project to Mrs. Munro to finish. She never completed it but, like the postcard, saved the piece.
After the war, Mr. and Mrs. Munro settled in the Toronto area and raised five children. Mr. Munro died in 1972. Mrs. Munro eventually went to work at Newmarket and York Hospitals. She died in 2010.