Edith (Pendle) Niddrie
Life and Work
I was born in Ely, Cambridgeshire in 1923, but from the age of three onward, all of my life was spent living in Wimbledon, south west London. I have one sister, Barbara, two and a half years my senior, and although we attended different high schools, we have always been close. When Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain went to Germany in 1938, and returned triumphantly saying he and Adolph Hitler had made a pact for “peace in our time”, like everyone else my family (consisting of my mother, Barbara and I) breathed a sigh of relief.
At first, the war that was declared in 1939 made little difference to our lives. We were quite content, having been assured that the Maginot Line was the entire defense needed to keep France (and Europe) safe. However, while I was still fifteen, I signed up to serve in the Air Raid Precautions service, where members were taught first aid, the fitting of gas masks, and all the duties that would be necessary should a war come to pass.
In May of 1940, after having occupied most of Europe with little opposition, the Blitz on London was begun. Every evening, around 6:00 p.m., the air raid sirens would wail out their warning, and people in general took to their air raid shelters. Some of these were small tin huts, which had been dug deep into the ground, others used the Morrison shelters, which were like a substantial table, reinforced, and placed on the ground floor of the house. Many Londoners preferred to use the Underground or “tube” stations, and travelers were treated to families and groups sleeping on mattresses at each station. For our family, this habit had bad repercussions. We lived in a two storey house, and below us, on the ground floor, lived a family of three - father, mother and sixteen year old daughter. There was also a son, who was married and living in his own home. One morning, I returned home after A.R.P. duties, and my mother was holding the young girl, who was sobbing uncontrollably. The previous evening the family had gone as usual to the local underground station, but a bomb had dropped directly hitting the station. When the bomb hit, the girl was some distance from her parents, visiting a friend, but managed to get up to the street level. Here she searched for the rest of the family, her brother and parents, but had been unable to find them. I spent the morning going to various nursing stations, but there was no sign of the family. Eventually, when all hope of finding the parents had gone, the girl’s grandmother came and took her to her own home. The son had also been killed, he had spent the night with his parents because his wife was in hospital and had given birth to a baby that day. This is just one of hundreds of such occurrences during those times.
When the R.A.F. won the battle of Britain, the air raids became less frequent, but continued nevertheless throughout the war. And another phase was begun, that of the V.1s and V.2s. These were pilotless planes, and the first wave consisted of the V.1s. These could be heard from quite a distance, but at a certain point, the engine would cut out, then the craft fell to earth, exploding on impact. In flight, the V.1s made a tremendous noise as they passed overhead, the silence as the engine cut was “deafening”. At this point, everyone dived for shelter! The V.2s came later, and were far more destructive, a single one on impact could destroy a whole city block.
The war in Europe ended in May 1945, victory over Japan coming in August of that year following the dropping of the two atomic bombs. In August, 1945 also, Hugh Munns of Craik, Saskatchewan and I were married, with Hugh returning to Canada shortly after. In February 1946, I boarded the Aquitania to sail for my new home in Canada. Hundreds of “war brides”, many with children, made the voyage with me. After boarding a train at Halifax, I was on my way to my new home. It was March 7th, 1946, when I arrived in Regina, to step off the train into a cold blast of air such as I’d never experienced! And I just couldn’t understand how the sky could be blue, the sun shining, and all that snow on the ground. It just didn’t seem natural!
After spending a couple of days in Regina meeting relatives, Hugh and I left for Craik, where yet another “different” experience awaited me. We were met by Hugh’s parents, who took me to the house of a friend, and I was old to change from my skirt and jacket into warm ski pants and a heavy coat, because the ten mile trip to Hugh’s home was to be made with a team and wagon! This was just the beginning of so many different experiences, and I’m sure all the women who came to Canada as war brides shared the same experiences.
Hugh and I spent twenty happy years farming at Craik, raising our family of three, but Hugh didn’t particularly care for grain farming, although he had done it all his life. We had also raised cattle, so in 1967 we left Saskatchewan and made our home at Sundre. We remained on the 19 Mile Ranch (so named by Hugh because of its distance from Sundre) for a further twenty years, at which time we purchased our present home at the north end of Sundre. Today, both in our mid eighties, we continue to live in and enjoy this town.
hen the Unitarian Service Committee of Canada needed warm bedding for displaced people throughout the world, Edith Niddrie took up her needle.
She would cut sewing scraps and stitch them into swatches of colour, with flannelette on the back. She made crib quilts, which were easy to fabricate on her kitchen tabletop. Hundreds of cold and homeless children slept under Edith's needlework.
Along with this, Edith Niddrie balanced the demands of the farm and her husband's public life as the Social Credit MLA for Olds-Didsbury. She was a member of Eagle Valley Women's Institute.
But she took time to listen to Hockey Night in Canada and the Back to the Bible Hour on the radio. She loved to sing at Christmas concerts.
With the death of her husband in 1958, she maintained the farm home and continued her service to the community until her death on March 23, 1980.
Contributors: Mrs. Mildred Henry, Lynne Henry, Jeanette Warren, Eagle Valley Women's Institute archives and local history book Wagon Trails Plowed Under.