Ivy (Bottriell) Kaasa
Life and Work
Ivy Bottriell was born on February 16, 1923 in Wimbledon, England. There were eight children in the Bottriell family: four girls and four boys. Ivy's father was a pipefitter and a bricklayer. Her mother was a homemaker. Growing up in wartime England meant that everyone had to carry gas masks and tin helmets with them whenever they went out. Ivy's mother and two younger siblings were evacuated to the countryside with numerous other families with young children. They were unhappy there, however, and after a short time they returned home. There were frequent assaults from German forces in the air, and most homes were equipped with an air raid shelter. Ivy's family had an underground shelter outside in the backyard, complete with a mattress for sleeping. A cast iron table in the kitchen with a mattress underneath served as another shelter. It had a chain link that could be pulled down to close up the sides.
One night in the backyard air raid shelter, Ivy was confined for a few hours with her father and two siblings. Ivy had her first cigarette that night, which her father gave her to calm her nerves. Rainspark, the railway station, was located behind the Bottriell home. On the street fronting their house, huge guns called "Big Berthas" were hung. Both the railway station and the guns were favoured targets of the German air force. Whenever there was an air raid, sirens would sound for a few minutes or longer, and then an "All Clear" signal would follow.
Ivy also had a shelter at the aircraft factory where she worked. A 'spotter' would wait on the roof and watch the sky for enemy planes and sound an alarm to alert the other factory workers.
Along with air raids and bomb shelters, the war triggered food and clothing rationing. Each family member was allowed one egg each per month. Fish was one of the few things not rationed, so many families at seafood until their next month's ration coupons arrived. There was one store in London called the "Petticoat Junction" that was owned by a kind Jewish fellow who would let people buy clothing without coupons.
Ivy met George Kaasa through a friend, Jim Douglas (who was dating Ivy's sister Doris at the time). It was Christmas 1943 and Jim was pleased to invite his friend George to the Bottriell family home. Ivy didn't know what to think of George when she first met him. She didn't really understand his sense of humour, but the young Canadian persevered and eventually won young Ivy over.
Ivy and George dated for a year until George was sent off to battle in France, Belgium, and Holland. He was a private in the Royal Engineers Chemical Warfare Branch serving as a dispatch rider. While stationed at Leatherhead, France, he had weekend leaves and would travel by train to England to visit with Ivy.
On December 20, 1944 while on duty in Tilberg, Holland, George was involved in a motorcycle accident and broke his leg in several places. After a hospital stay in Holland, he was sent to a hospital in England. Ivy was a regular visitor, and they soon made plans to be married. Ivy's parents liked George; however, they did not like the idea of Ivy moving so far away. Mr. Bottriell offered employment to both George and Jim Douglas (who was then engaged to Doris) to encourage them to stay, but they refused. Both men were honest about their intentions to return to Canada. Twenty-two year old Ivy did not require consent to marry, but her younger sister Doris did. Ivy's father appreciated the young men's honesty and felt it would be better for the girls to be together in Canada, so he gave consent to Doris. A double wedding was planned.
The Bottriell sisters' wedding took place at a church in Raynes Park, SW London on a sunny St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1945. The brides wore white, and the bridesmaids (friend, Peggy and sister, Joan) wore pale green. Ivy's younger sister Sylvia was the flower girl, and her little brother Peter was a page boy. There was no long honeymoon. After the wedding, George returned to the hospital and Ivy to her parents' home to live until her voyage to Canada. Ivy's father was saddened by his daughter's departure and said, "We probably won't see you again." Ivy didn't realize at the time that it would be nineteen years before she returned to England.
When the ship landed at St. John's to let some forestry officers disembark, Ivy was surprised to see all the little wooden houses perched on pilings amidst the rocky shore. England had mostly brick or stone houses, which were much safer from the fire that would eventually come to strike Ivy's new home in 1953.
Ivy disembarked at Halifax on August 19, 1945 and boarded a train for Calgary. When the train stopped at stations across the country, children would offer to buy the passengers snacks. Not yet familiar with Canadian money, Ivy gave a child a twenty-dollar bill for some bananas and received no change back!
There was a mix-up with the Red Cross communications, so no one was in Calgary to meet Ivy. Officials put her on a train for Edmonton, directing her to get off in Millet to meet her husband. George, however, was waiting for her in Edmonton. Millet looked bleak and desolate on that Sunday morning when she stepped off the train. George's parents, Christina and John, drove to Millet and arrived just as the train stopped. They drove her to Edmonton to meet George, who was out on a day pass from Colonel Melbourne Hospital.
Ivy was lonely during the early months of their marriage because George remained in hospital in Edmonton. She was very homesick and yearned for her family in England. Her younger brothers were only four and five when she left, and she was used to being part of a large family. Her mother-in-law saw when she was getting homesick, and she and John would drop what they were doing to take Ivy to see George.
When George was discharged in 1946, the young couple purchased the Kaasa family farm through the Veteran's Land Act. Life was hard, and there were so many different things to do on the farm. The friendly and helpful community of Millet proved to be a pleasant district to live in for a city girl who didn't know a thing about farming. Ivy recalls that many war brides were not as well received.
Many people, including peddlers, would often stop by at mealtime. Ivy "never knew how many people to cook for." She recalls a small, dwarfish man, Seth Wells, who would sharpen scissors and knives and often stay overnight.
Once, when George was harvesting in the evening, Ivy decided to save her husband some work and milk their one cow. Try as she might, however, there was only two inches of milk after four hours of squeezing and pulling. This was Ivy's first and last attempt at milking a cow.
On the farm Ivy learned to drive the tractor, bake bread, keep a large garden, and do a lot of canning vegetables and meats. They had a locker rented at Moen's store in Millet where they kept the meat that George butchered. She learned to wash on a scrub board and whiten the clothes in a big boiler of water on the oil stove. On August 10, 1948, George and Ivy had a son, Brian. The Kaasas operated a mixed farm with beef cattle, pigs, and chickens until they switched to dairy. They produced most of their own food.
In 1953, fire struck the Kaasa home. Ivy was baking bread, and George was in the barn tending to piglets. Brian was five and the first to see the fire. The pump house had caught on fire and burned very fast. Soon the fire spread to the house. They were able to save a few things from the first floor, but nothing from their bedrooms upstairs. Firefighters were called from Millet, but by the time they arrived it was too late.
After the fire, the Kaasas rebuilt the barn, but did not have the money to rebuild their house. They moved into the garage and built bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living room. They lived there comfortably until they moved to Wetaskiwin in 1972.
Ivy and George farmed for twenty-seven years. During that time, Ivy was able to return to England to visit five times. When they retired, Brian took over the family farm and lived there for several years. Eventually he sold it and moved to Wetaskiwin.
George celebrated his eightieth birthday on August 21, 2002 at the Senior's Center in Wetaskiwin. He passed away later that year on December 4, 2002 in the Wetaskiwin Hospital.
Compiled in 2003.
Compiled by: Sylvia Larson, Gabrielle Kristjanson, Marilyn Hawkins
Sources: Ivy Kaasa, Brian Kaasa