Betty (Taylor) Turner




Life and Work

Betty Taylor was born on May 12, 1920 in Walton Hill, England, fifteen miles from London. Her dad was a bricklayer, and her mother was a busy homemaker with thirteen children: nine girls and four boys. At age fourteen, those who did not continue on to higher education had to find jobs. Betty worked as a cook in a private school.

When Betty turned 21, she was called up to participate in the war effort and was asked to join the women's service or work in a factory. She chose a job in the munition factory. Everyday, Betty would walk to and from work. In 1939, while walking home from work, Betty noticed three soldiers sitting together watching for invading "chinter" planes. One of the men was from Saskatchewan, Canada, and his name was Ivor Turner. They spoke, and Ivor asked Betty for a date. It was difficult to make time for social get-togethers because many people were working 12-hour shifts. They went to the picture show for their first date.

Ivor and Betty were married on December 24, 1942 by the Justice of the Peace on Ivor's two-day leave. It required twenty clothing coupons for her wedding outfit. Seven coupons were used for a blue dress, and another seven for the shoes. Many of the coupons for her clothing and the wedding food were borrowed from family friends. Betty was late for the wedding, so Ivor was kept locked in a room with his best man until she arrived. The next day, they attended the Christmas dinner put on at the army barracks. Both soldiers and married couples were invited.

When Betty found out she was expecting, she repeatedly asked for time off from the munition factory. Every request was met with refusal until finally, ten days before her daughter, Kathleen, was born, Betty's supervisor finally agreed that she was unfit to work. Kathleen was born January 8, 1943. Their son, John, was born thirteen months later on February 9, 1944.

Betty came to Canada in November 1945 with her two small children while Ivor and his battalion continued to fight in Italy. It was an emotional time for the young mother. She would always remember the sentiment expressed by a fellow resident regarding the loss of England's native children: "I'll never forget that there was a woman...when I was leaving...who said to me, 'It's sad. These are [Britain's] children, and you're taking them away.'" Betty and her young family crossed the Atlantic on the Andes. There were "war drills" held on board the ship. Because there had been a U-boat sighting, these drills were practiced often. A siren signaled the adults to wake the children, dress them, and report to a designated area on deck. After an "all clear," they returned to their cabins. It was rumored that the Andes was followed by a submarine for its entire ten-day journey.

Arriving in a strange country with two small children was a frightening experience for the young bride. The three of them traveled by train to Regina, and the four-day train ride was uncomfortable. The hours were long, and the children were bored and cranky. Ivor's sister-in-law had made living arrangements for Betty and the children in an apartment that she had just vacated.

Betty worked in Regina until Ivor returned home in May 1946. He arrived unannounced and surprised everyone. Ivor's ambition was to farm, and he had previously discussed the possibility of purchasing land in Alder Flats with another soldier from his army unit. The Turners moved to Alberta, arriving in Alder Flats with two children and three suitcases. They borrowed a team of horses and went out to their property, which seemed to Betty, a city girl, little more than a field, bush, and old log building. Years later, she commented, "I tell you it wasn't funny. I felt like walking away...but where would I walk to?"

Betty had no idea of the hardships she would find in her new rural setting. She had grown up in a suburb of London, where bread and milk were delivered daily. The farm that she moved to with Ivor had no roads and few vehicles. Everything was done on horseback.

Betty was forced to learn how to drive a team of horses, make bread, make butter, draw water from the well, and keep the house warm through the bitter Alberta winters. This last task she struggled with, and the fire would often die in the wood stove. In England, modern amenities meant that there was gas and electricity in most homes.

Farming at Alder Flats was not a comfortable living. Betty often worked outside of the home, doing housecleaning, baking, or anything that would pay a few dollars. The family eventually grew to include nine children.

Ivor worked in lumber camps but had to walk many miles to work. As times got tougher, he had to leave home to find employment in larger centers. Betty was often scared being alone with the children on the farm while her husband was away. At night, she would board up the doors--and act that would prompt neighbors to think of her as "different."

Trees and swamps with a few pathways surrounded their farm. Ivor had told Betty before he left for work that she would have to walk through the bush to the neighbor's farm to get milk for baby John because the Turner's cow had stopped producing. After walking for what seemed like hours, Betty became lost in the wilderness. It was a terrifying moment for her, her baby John, and her toddler Kathleen. They walked and walked and finally caught a glimpse of a roof far off in the distance. Betty headed in a straight line for it and was soon waist deep in a swamp, carrying the children. She was determined to reach the house before nightfall. She did, and found that it was her own home. She put the children to bed until morning, when she headed out again for milk.

One night, Betty heard footsteps on the roof. Being alone, she was terrified and packed up the kids to leave. She stopped at the neighbors to tell them that she wouldn't need anymore milk and explained why. Her neighbor talked her into going back home, assuring her that it was only a squirrel. A few days later, the noises returned, and Betty grabbed a flashlight and shone it out the window. She must have scared the creature, because it came crashing down the side of her house. Afterwards, Betty arranged for her neighbor and his son to stay overnight as protection. The strange noises returned, and they discovered a black bear preparing to hibernate in her attic.

One year, prairie fires swept in from the East. Betty and her family saw the fire coming and ran to a nearby creek. They frantically doused their house with water, and the children ran to the neighbor's farm, crossing the fire on their way to safety. They lost their home and had to rebuild.

At one point, Betty took all nine children back to England, returning to Canada two years later. Back home in Alberta, she attended her nephew's wedding and, to her surprise, met her younger sister, whom she had not seen since leaving England in 1945. During WWII, Betty was separated from her younger siblings who had been evacuated to the countryside.

The Turners sold their land in 1975 and bought a lot in Alder Flats to build a retirement home. On December 7, 1993, Ivor passed away. Betty presently resides in Wetaskiwin.

Compiled in 2003.


Compiled by: Sylvia Larson, Gabrielle Kristjanson, Marilyn Hawkins.

Sources: Betty Turner, Kathlene Beale, Susan Woytowich