Foothills in wartime

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Old photographs, news clippings and letters stuffed in a 60-year-old scrapbook offers a glimpse of what life was like at home in the Foothills and on the front lines during the Second World War.

A family’s surprise discovery of a scrapbook filled with names, faces, anecdotes and letters from Okotoks, Black Diamond, Turner Valley and DeWinton residents involved in the Second World War compiled by the late Alice Spackman was recently turned into a book.

Spackman’s grandson Ron Spackman, of High River, said he had no idea the scrapbook existed until about three years ago.

“When my grandmother passed away us grandkids didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “When my aunt passed away (decades later) my cousin found it among her belongings. It was in terrible shape but it seemed like something too important to let go.”

The Spackman family loaned the scrapbook to the Nanton Bomber Command Museum. In addition to photographs and newspaper clippings, the collection includes letters Alice received from soldiers overseas.

Months after the Nanton museum received the scrapbook, Calgary author Anne Gafiuk was asked if she would be interested in turning it into a book.

Gafiuk, who had just published Wings over High River the year prior, immediately accepted the challenge and began penning She Made Them Family: A Wartime Scrapbook from the Prairies.

“It’s chock full of people’s stories, but it also has a lot of historical content in it,” Gafiuk said. “It features advertisements, letters, anecdotes, photographs and newspaper and magazine clippings.”

Gafiuk set to work pouring over the collection and getting in touch with some of the people featured in the scrapbook to dig deeper into their stories.

“I pulled from a whole bunch of sources, some firsthand accounts from the person themselves,” she said. “I heard stories about them from their friends or their sons or daughters or grandchildren or whomever I could track down.”

Gafiuk collected various anecdotes about flying accidents, airplanes filling the sky over Okotoks and packing parachutes at the DeWinton air base.

“I got the back story of the DeWinton air base,” she said. “It’s not just about the pilots.”

Among those who helped Gafiuk connect with these citizens from 60 years ago were Len Gavel and brothers Bill and Lawrie Wedderburn.

“Those three men’s voices carry throughout the book,” she said. “Without their help the book wouldn’t be the same.”

Bill, who grew up on farm a mile north of Okotoks now owned by Lawrie, was a flight instructor from 1944 to 1945 in Ontario while their other brother was an aero engine mechanic stationed in Nova Scotia and Iceland. Lawrie was too young to join the war efforts.

Bill met Gafiuk in Ottawa and was glad to help her with names and stories of people who served in the war.

He successfully bid on a special edition of the book during Gafiuk’s book launch in Okotoks last weekend and is eager to read it.

“I’m interested in all the people who were in it,” he said. “I’m pretty sure most of my class in (Okotoks) high school enlisted.”

Ron said the book exemplifies the kind of person his grandmother was.

“She loved caring for people,” he said, adding she was a midwife in Okotoks and Turner Valley. “She would always bring all of these people into her home.”

With three sons in the war, Ron suspects his grandmother reached out to so many people because she missed her sons so much.

He said it was her nature.

“It doesn’t surprise me that she did that,” he said. “It was so her.”

Ron said he’s impressed with how well Gafiuk brought his grandmother’s scrapbook to life.

“Anne has done just a beautiful job of putting this together,” he said. “My grandmother would be surprised at the attention this is getting now.”

During last weekend’s book launch at the Rotary Performing Arts Centre, five special editions were auctioned off for a total of $1,495. The money will be split evenly between the Okotoks Museum and Archives and Nanton Bomber Command Museum.

Copies of She Made Them Family: A Wartime Scrapbook from the Prairies are available at the Okotoks Art Gallery, Bomber Command Museum or by calling Anne Gafiuk at 403-241-2983. The books cost $40 each.

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