Elizabeth Gaynor joined the air force in the spring of 1941. (Contributed)

Elizabeth Gaynor joined the air force in the spring of 1941. (Contributed)

Armstrong resident defies adversity with resilience and determination

Elizabeth Gaynor is a resident of Heaton Place Retirement Community

Elizabeth Gaynor joined Heaton Place Retirement community in Armstrong back in April of 2020.

Joining a new community in a new town wasn’t the easiest transition for Elizabeth; however, looking back on her life, her resilience to change has always been a strength.

I had the pleasure of reading her book titled The Tear and the Smile. She starts it quoting a song her granny used to sing: “Come all ye lads and lasses and listen to me awhile.”

The songs were called “come-all-yeas” and it was her granny’s way of passing along old legends and locals stories.

She quotes in her book, “I was born an Irish exile in a one-room cottage in a Yorkshire town” Halifax, on Nov. 1, 1924, and still feels she is an exile in a Canadian city.

“There are too many of us to be able to return, it seems though, that our souls are never at rest, songs and memories take us back — the longing for something lost is ingrained in our souls,” she said.

Her great great grandfather, John Gaynor, took his family to England during the famine of 1847. The family settled in Halifax, in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

Elizabeth’s father, John Gaynor would fall in love and marry her mother, Elizabeth Coulter.

John made a promise to his bride that she would be able to return to Ireland for half of the year, and that is what they did for many years.

A lot of Irish folk had the same idea; being strangers in a hostile land, they clung together, and a community within a community was formed.

Elizabeth’s grandparents referred to as ‘Ma’ and ‘Da’ were loved and respected by everyone.

Childhood memories of Da teaching her shorthand and doing ‘stuff’ throughout the weeks stands out.

“For doing our ‘stuff,’ we got paid a piece of mouldy chocolate, (Da said it was good for us), and a penny which paid our way into ‘Joe’s Cinema’ for the Saturday matinee,” Elizabeth said.

The sisters took good care of Ma and Da and the two died within days of each other.

Cobbled streets and horse-drawn carts bringing coal, fruit and vegetables as well as bread and milk to the households was a common sight for Elizabeth. With the Great Depression ascending upon the world and the troubles that Ireland faced, Elizabeth’s family would go through some very difficult times but always faced them together.

When she came of age to enter the workforce, Elizabeth signed up with the air force. Her training began in Blackpool while Britain was being bombed in the spring of 1941.

She heard rumours that she would be sent abroad, but ended up going to Liverpool to be trained as a balloon operator.

The balloons were at ports and were there to protect the ships.

“For the first year, I was on balloons; a lot of excitement happened,” Elizabeth said.

Once the bombing had halted, she was moved to another area in the air force, training as a mechanic on Rolls Royce engines. This trade would give her more time in the service as well as more money.

She went from place to place but ended up in a town in Northern England called Millom, in Cumberland.

“I started out working on body and was put on to engines at a later date. We worked on eight training planes which were bombers from the First World War,” she said.

It was a difficult time for all. England had been badly bombed and everything was blacked out.

“One was not permitted to go outside at night with any lights whatsoever,” Elizabeth said.

Shortly after entering the air force, Elizabeth would be reconnected with a familiar face.

Rewind to when Elizabeth was 12. She was walking out of a market and ran into Ken Sutton.

“I am going to marry you,” he said when he looked up at her.

Elizabeth replied: “That’s what you think!”

Little did they know that one day they would.

The two were seriously dating when Elizabeth signed up for the force. Ken was on duty as a rear gunner; however, he was also being trained to become a pilot. Sadly, Ken’s life was cut short as he was killed on February 28, 1945.

It was a tragic time for Elizabeth as she was also pregnant and would end up having a miscarriage.

With a determined spirit, Elizabeth pulled through this terrible loss. She would work as a mechanic for four more years and as the war was coming to an end, she was granted compassionate leave.

During this time there was a fella that crossed her path, Meikie and the two would later marry.

Meikie and Elizabeth would eventually end up renting a furnished home in Scunthorpe and paid 10 pounds a month.

Soon after, Elizabeth became pregnant and would go on to have a long, painful delivery.

On March 14, 1946, Ian Crawford, her first of four children was brought into the world!

Soon after, three more lasses came along, Sheelagh, Seoniad and Ayne.

The family would stay in Scunthorpe for a time and then eventually travel to Canada where they lived in a small shack in the bush of Smithers, British Columbia.

Meikie would go on to work on a farm while Elizabeth would raise the children. The little shack would one day become unsafe to live in and the family built another close by.

Eighteen years passed and she took up employment at the local tourist board in 1969, and went on to work as the assistant manager of the Bulkley Hotel.

By this time, Meikie had made decisions that would take him away from the family and thus Elizabeth was once again a single lady.

While working at the Bulkley hotel, she would become acquainted with another gentleman named Herman Pruellage.

He was known as one of the best logger/feller’s in B.C. The two would court for two years before marrying.

The kids were grown, with Ian already graduated from university when Elizabeth was presented with an opportunity to assist in running an office in Prince George, so the family packed up and away they went.

Herman would continue to log, coming home occasionally until the tragic day that he had a logging accident.

Ironically, on February 28, 1975, 30 years to the day that Ken passed away, Herman lost his life.

Loss in Elizabeth’s life was not a rare occurrence, but the strong lass would pick up and carry on with determination.

She stayed working for a while longer and then moved to Williams Lake where she would step into the assistant manager role at the Chilcolton Hotel.

By this time, all the kids had fled the coop and were living their own lives.

The hotel eventually folded and with Elizabeth’s help, the hotel came under new ownership. A new season of life would result in Elizabeth closing this chapter and heading to Whiterock where she and her daughter Seoniad would get busy running a boutique.

Days turned into months and with her other daughter Ayne living in Victoria, it was decided that they too would move to the beautiful city and try opening their boutique in Market Square.

During this time, a fella by the name of Fred would come into her life. This relationship would be one that rekindles after time and distance kept them apart.

Elizabeth and her resilient spirit would make a few more moves before settling down with Fred in Victoria. The two would spend the next 20-plus years together, until the day he passed along from an illness.

Elizabeth is not a gal that gives up and so, she decided it was time for travel.

She would take two grandchildren at a time and off to Ireland she went showing her grandchildren the history of where she grew up. She’d also frequently travel to Mexico to visit with her daughter.

When I asked Elizabeth what message she would want to share with others, her reply was “Always venture!”

Despite COVID-19 challenges, Elizabeth somewhat reluctantly came into the little town of Armstrong, where she would be welcomed into her new home at Heaton Place.

I remember when she first came into the building. I knew I had my hands full with this tenacious Irish lass. But I was up for the challenge, and as it turned out, we get along pretty darn good.

Taking time to get to know her has been a pleasure, and playing songs like “The Fields of Athenry” to her, while watching tears flow down her face affirms my knowing that deep inside, there is a loyal and endearing heart.

Elizabeth has eight grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren. I trust and know that she will leave behind a legacy of resilience, determination and adventure to all her wee’s.

I can hear her say to them, “Come all-yea’s, let’s have a wee chat.

Thank you for sharing your story Elizabeth, we both know there is so much more to say, but it is an honour to share even a wee bit!

— Carrie O’Neill is the resident relations coordinator at Heaton Place in Armstrong. These are the stories of its residents.


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Heaton Place resident Elizabeth Gaynor was born Nov. 1, 1924. (Contributed)

Heaton Place resident Elizabeth Gaynor was born Nov. 1, 1924. (Contributed)

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