Today, Nicola Springford is paying respects to a few men in her family who served their country in whatever ways possible during wartime.
Like thousands in Maple Ridge who normally visit the cenotaph on Nov. 11 to respects to all who sacrificed for their country, Springford was instead forced to “remember in place,” and in doing so opted to share the story of her father, grandfather, and great grandfather – each who served in their own way and are no longer here to share their own recollections.
Her father’s contribution was pretty straight forward – though no less significant than that of his male ancestors, Springford explained. Nicholas Williamson Jr., was of the right age to take part in the Second World War and became a flight sergeant in the air force.
However, her grandfather, Nicholas Williamson Sr., was 55 at the time. He was considered too old to be recruited – or so he was told.
“Well, there must be something I could do,” he told the recruiting officer, or so Grandpa Nick (as she always addressed him) recounted on many occasions for his granddaughter.
As the story goes, the officer laughed and told Nicholas Senior that if he could speak Japanese they’d take him in a minute.
“To which my grandpa replied ‘Well then you better sign me up!’,” Springford chuckled, remembering her grandfather’s pleasure in retelling that story over and over. Turned out her grandfather could read, speak, and write Japanese and was recruited into the army immediately.
He was subsequently stationed on Yorke Island, a small bit of land strategically located at the south end of Johnstone Straight between Vancouver Island and the mainland coast of British Columbia.
As best Springford could explain it, the military had established a base there installing artillery to confront enemy naval forces should they attempt to sail down the inside passage to attack Vancouver.
The Yorke Island base had sophisticated radio receiving equipment and her grandfather’s job was to listen to Japanese naval submarine radio transmissions, translate them, and forward the information to allied intelligence services.
“My Grandpa Nick, who eventually became a corporal, played a very unique and clandestine role in the Second World War,” she shared.
”Not a lot of people know about Yorke Island. A tiny island that could easily be overlooked. I believe it was the only West Coast island to be used as a coastal defence during the Second World War. Many of the concrete buildings that were built to form the fort still stand today.”
Although her grandfather is gone now, he died in 1978 at the age of 91, she’s confident his story will live on – in her memory and in the pages of a book by Catherine Marie Gilbert called, Yorke Island and The Uncertain War.
“He was an incredible man, and seemed able to do anything he put his mind to,” she said, explaining how he was born in England, but moved to Canada with his parents, bride, and first son in 1910 – later settled in Victoria.
“His father and my great grandfather was much the same. When the First World War broke out, my great grandpa John was too old to be recruited, but he wanted to help,” Springford said, having become a bit of a family historian.
Her great grandfather John joined the Knights of Columbus, and became one of only a couple Canadian Knights of Columbus to be sent to Europe (mainly France) to assist with the injured soldiers for the duration of the war.
Like his son, he was 54 years old when he signed up, unwilling to let his age hold him back.
“I just think it’s so interesting that although my great grandpa was too old to be recruited during the First World War, he managed to find a way to help out by joining the Knights of Columbus at 54 years of age, and my grandpa – who was too old to be recruited during the Second World War – was able to sign up, at the age of 55 years, due to his ability to speak, read and write Japanese,” Springford said.
”Like father like son, heh?” she added. “Obviously both very committed men with a sense of duty. It makes me very proud of both of them, and proud of my father’s part in the Second World War, as well.”
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