Jessie (Farmer) Russell
Life and Work
Jessie Farmer was born on July 12, 1921 in the farming community of Watford, England. She was 18 years old when WWII began, and she soon joined the Auxiliary Territorial Forces as a cook. As the war progressed, Jessie's duties expanded to include nursing, policing, and generally helping out where needed at the Sandhurst Military College. In 1942, she was living in the town of Camberly, a community roughly eight miles from the Aldershot military base.
Roland Russell, from Winfield, Alberta, joined the Royal Canadian Engineers at the age of 18. In April 1942, while his battalion was stationed at Aldershot, he and a friend visited Camberly. The young soldiers met two British army women on the street and invited them out for fish and chips. This chance meeting between Roland and Jessie was the beginning of their lifelong romance. The couple was soon engaged and Jessie married Roland on October 3, 1943 in Wales.
Jessie was discharged from the service after her marriage, and she returned to Palsburough, Wales, where she lived with a friend. Roland was stationed nearby, and after work he was able to leave the base and stay with Jessie in the evenings. They had a son, Freddy, who sadly died of pneumonia as an infant. On April 4, 1944, they had a daughter, Eva.
In 1944, Roland and his division were sent to France. While on duty, Roland was hit with machine gun fire above the ankle. He hid in a ditch for most of the day until the Germans found him. They took him to a French farmhouse a mile away where they abandoned him.
Roland was found and sent to a hospital in Boyer near Normandy for three days. There he underwent an operation on his leg and was then flown back to England and taken by truck to Watford, Jessie's hometown.
Jessie's parents received a telegram informing them of Roland's injuries and went to the hospital to sit with him. Jessie returned to her childhood home to be with her husband. Roland had five bone-scraping operations and had to stay in Watford for three months. He was on crutches for eleven months and was unable to return to duty.
Roland left for Canada in March 1945 on the hospital ship "Lady Nelson." Jessie arrived in Canada in April that same year. She travelled with her young daughter, Eva. Because she was pregnant, she was very seasick during the voyage. Mother and daughter travelled by train to Winfield, where Roland and his mother met them. Roland continued to serve in the armed forces upon his return to Canada and was discharged on July 1, 1945.
Jessie liked Canada right away, even though life in Winfield during the postwar years was rugged. The roads were muddy and the land was barely arable. It was country much more suited to lumbering than farming. Roland's mother took a shine to Jessie, and Roland recalls that the first time he ever saw his mother have wine was the day Jessie came to Canada. Jessie's own mother died shortly after her daughter arrived in Canada.
After Roland's discharge, the Russell's lived in a small log cabin on his military pension. Roland found work with the McDougall sawmill and remained there until the mill closed. The Russells moved to Brule, where Roland worked in a lumberyard. They later relocated to Faust. Jessie was a busy housewife and mother of six: three boys and three girls. Roland remembers a great deal of excitement when Helen was born. Jessie was in need of a quick trip to the hospital, but they were stranded due to weather and poor road conditions. Help presented itself with a C.P. "speeder" (a train shuttle), and Jessie was rushed to the Rimbey hospital.
The Russell family moved to Wetaskiwin in 1962. Jessie worked in the laundry at the hospital and was later a cook in Peace Hills Home. Roland worked in retail sales until his retirement in 1985. The Russells loved to bowl, and they formed a bowling team consisting primarily of family members.
Unfortunately, Jessie and Roland were involved in a motor vehicle accident near Falun, and Jessie sustained serious injuries to her right arm. She could no longer work, bowl, or participate in any familiar activities. She was later diagnosed with diabetes and lost the use of her legs. For the last few years of her life, she was confined to a wheelchair. Roland stayed home to take care of his ailing wife until she passed away on November 26, 2000. Roland passed away on April 8, 2003 while living in long-term care at Crossroads Hospital.
Compiled in 2003.
Compiled by: Sylvia Larson, Gabrielle Kristjanson, Marilyn Hawkins.
Sources: Roland Russell, Alberta Hill, Eva Walker, Helen D. Bryan.