Kathleen Mary Alexandria Griffith. War bride. Veteran. Raconteur. Great-grandmother. Born Dec. 10, 1923, in Bradford, England; died April 14, 2021, in Sidney, B.C., of natural causes, aged 97.
At her finest, Kathleen would regale with winding and detail-rich stories of her youth in West Yorkshire, with loving parents, one sibling and her family’s allotment garden near the birthplace of Anne, Emily and Charlotte Brontë. For much of her adult life she read a book a day, undoubtedly influenced by the literary landscape of her childhood: Her father served in the First World War and exchanged nods around the neighbourhood with fellow veteran and noted scribe J.B. Priestley. Kathleen Smart was married by Father John O’Connor, the real-life inspiration for G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown. To prepare for service with the Royal Army Pay Corps during the Second World War, Kathleen marched over the moors at Haworth, and was so enchanted with the setting for Wuthering Heights that she later named her first child Catherine.
During the war years, “we danced as if there was no tomorrow,” she said. Before she set off for one evening’s festivities, her father cautioned 20-year-old Kathleen not to get mixed up with any of those “Canadian bomber boys.” But by the end of the evening, Gerald Griffith had asked her to dance, walked her to the train and said he’d see her again. “Yeah right,” she thought and was pleasantly shocked when he showed up at her parents’ home two weeks later.
Kathleen and Gerald kept on dancing. Their favourite haunt was the famed Bettys Bar in York, where young men were plucked from the dance floor and sent straight to the skies over Europe, often to their deaths. Despite once crashing in a field of brussels sprouts (and thereafter developing a deep distaste for them), Gerald was one of the lucky.
They married in April, 1945, and honeymooned for two days in Edinburgh. One week later Gerald returned to Canada to prepare for the war in the Pacific. In 1946, along with thousands of other war brides, Kathleen, now 22, sailed from Southampton, England, to Halifax’s Pier 21 to join the husband she hadn’t seen for a year.
They raised four children, moving from Halifax to Montreal, Marathon, Ont., and finally Toronto, where, at a fearless 4-foot-11 she worked in security at the Ontario Science Centre. She loved to prepare traditional British food, especially Sunday roast, and would taste and nibble as she cooked. When the meal was ready, she was often too full to eat with everyone else. Kathleen was a devoted parent and held on to basic motherhood duties to the point that her youngest son (aged 68) had to endure questions from her about clean socks and underwear.
She experienced the hardest challenge a parent can face with the death of a daughter in 1978. She helped her husband overcome alcoholism and they walked hand in hand until his death in 1987. Widowed and retired, in 1989 she moved again, this time to Vancouver Island, where her two sons reside.
Settling in Sidney-by-the-Sea for the next 32 years, she joined the vibrant, non-profit Silver Threads organization that serves the well-being of seniors as a treasurer, never missed a Remembrance Day ceremony, was active in the Legion and sang in the official chorus at the opening of the 1994 Commonwealth Games. She attended the annual war bride reunions across the country until the last in-person meet-up in 2019.
Kathleen would often be seen walking around town in jaunty hats, indulging her weakness for fish and chips, picking blackberries for her jam and sharing untold pots of tea with fellow pensioners. The Yorkshire lass who relocated to a country she hadn’t seen, and never disappointed with a tale and an infectious smile, was found in bed looking wholly at peace, a final teacup at her side.
Joanne Will is one of Kathleen’s granddaughters.
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