Florence Wilkinson Albers
Life and Work
Florence Wilkinson lived out her childhood in London, England in the area of St. Marlebona from 1922-1939. She recalls the Friday afternoon custom of eating cream puffs at 'Davis,' the street on which the Penny Fartherington bicycle ran over her and caught her hair in the chain, and the family's two-storey house, where her father carried her up and down the stairs when she could not walk because of rheumatic fever.
Dancing and movies were a part of the limited entertainment available when Florence was young. Her mother taught Florence the Irish jigs and reels. Because Florence liked the Irish dances so much, her mother affectionately referred to her daughter as "Irish Molly."
When Florence was fourteen, she finished school and went to work in a toffee factory wrapping chocolate bars. She worked there for two years and then found work at a paper mill pushing poster paper through large rollers. After one year at the mill, she began working for Vi Spring Brothers making bedsprings.
When WWII began, Vi Spring was converted into a recoil spring factory for Tommy guns. In the recycling department, Florence disassembled useable parts from Wellington Bombers that had been damaged during landings and takeoffs, or were shot down during bombing raids. She worked this job until the end of the war.
In 1939, Florence's brother died, followed by her father nine months later. Florence and her mother shared a home with Florence's sister and brother-in-law until 1943. They subsequently moved into a home that was bombed, causing them to lose everything. Two more homes were bombed and lost before they moved into a house on Loverage Road.
In 1942, Florence and her friend, Sally, were on their way into a movie theatre when two handsome young soldiers walked by. One of the men called out to Florence, "Hi Blondie!" This man was Harry Albers, and Florence affectionately recalls the movie Casablanca as their first date.
Harry was a private with the Westminster Regiment. He was stationed at the nearby Aldershot Army Camp. His battalion went into active duty and he fought in Italy, Holland, and Belgium. When on leave, Harry would return to London to stay with Florence at her mother's home. He told her that he owned a 'gopher ranch' and that he was a millionaire because he owned a million gophers.
Florence and Harry married on October 20, 1945 at the St. Catherine's Lutheran Church with friends and relatives in attendance. Florence wore a sky blue blouse with a navy blue skirt. Harry wore his private's uniform.
Harry returned to Alberta in January 1946, and Florence followed later that year in June. A band was playing "Oh Canada" when she left Southampton on the Queen Mary. Her voyage was spoiled by seasickness. The ship docked in Halifax, where the passengers were met by a group of Canadian women shouting for the war brides to go back to England. Florence then boarded a train for the four-day ride to Edmonton.
In Edmonton, Florence found that the Red Cross officials had not notified Harry of her arrival. They sent her to Camrose on a coal train that stopped at every 10-mile siding. In Camrose, Florence had to wait for the 'Hog Special' to get the rest of the way to Ferintosh, where Harry and his family were waiting to meet her.
Florence and Harry lived in a small two-room house until Harry's veteran status allowed him to purchase some of his father's land in the Malmo district. They spent the first year without power or water. They had three children: Janet, Marlene, and Keith. After Harry retired, the couple moved to Wetaskiwin, where they reside today. Florence has returned to England three times since her marriage.
Compiled in 2003 by Sylvia Larson, Gabrielle Kristajanson, and Marilyn Hawkins.
Contributor: Florence Albers