NO GREATER LOVE
“No greater love has a man, than one who lay down his life for his country”.
This truth has been demonstrated by every man and woman who has served their country in a military capacity. All of their stories are remarkable and deserve to be shared.
We met Bill and Marjorie after they had been married for 50 years and came to us to redesign their wedding rings which had started to show their wear. That relationship continues to this day, and we’re delighted to share their inspiring love story that spanned 70 years.
Bill Green was born in Lomond, Newfoundland in 1921. At the age of 18 he enlisted in the RAF Volunteer Reserve and trained in Ontario and Manitoba, Canada.
In 1924 Marjorie Hill was born in Yorkshire, England; she was 15 when the war started on September 3rd, 1939. The following day, the children in her village were given gas masks and immediately evacuated to rural England to live with families they had never met – all in an effort to preserve a generation.
Sometime later Marjorie was allowed to return to her home and was determined to participate in the war. When she turned 18 she enlisted in the Women’s Air Force. She immediately started training to work on a secret communications base among an elite group of grounded aircrew and WAF personnel. As a result, she has always identified herself as a war veteran as well as a war bride.
Following his training, Bill was sent overseas and assigned to Squadron #7 of the RAF. In 1942 he was recruited to join a special Bomber Command Squadron called the Pathfinder Force. It consisted of crews of airmen of high navigational ability. They led the main force against the enemy until shortly before VE day when the bombing offensive ceased.
Bill flew as an Air Observer on 37 bombing missions, performing navigation and bombsight activities – with limited technology. He was responsible for both the navigation of the aircraft to the target and once in the area, for ensuring that the bombs were dropped on their targets.
In 1942 Bill experienced two significant events. First, during a return run from a mission to the Ruhr Valley in Germany, the pilot of his aircraft became ill and was unable to fly the plane. Under instructions from the pilot, Bill managed to fly the plane back to base and land it – thus saving the lives of the crew and the aircraft.
For this act of bravery he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the first ever to a Newfoundlander. The medal was presented to him by King George VI at Buckingham Palace in December 1942.
Second, while departing England on a subsequent bombing mission, Bill’s aircraft collided with another RAF aircraft from a neighbouring base. Fortunately, Bill was able to parachute safely from the doomed aircraft. However, he landed in a tree, sustaining serious back injuries, which ultimately ended his flying days.
Following a short rehabilitation Bill was assigned to a high-level/high tech communications operation in coastal Norfolk.
In August 1943, Bill and Marjorie met in Norfolk on the operation known as Project Oboe. Their whirlwind courtship began that October and culminated in marriage the following May.
Together they adapted to the new normal of managing a rations book, leave chits, air raid shelters, bombings, destruction and immeasurable loss. It was a time when a mug of tea brought great comfort, and bread dipped in warmed bacon fat and spread with ketchup was considered a nutritious meal.
But with all the chaos surrounding them, they found joy. And they were happy. Bill had a great job as a Squadron Leader, and Marjorie’s family was there for support. They thought the war would go on forever. They didn’t worry about tomorrow. They took care of today.
And courage wasn’t shown just in battle. Two months after they wed, Marjorie became pregnant. Due to her “condition” she was Honourably Discharged on “compassionate grounds”. The following year in April 1945 their first child was born. Their son was 2 months old when Bill held him for the first time.
A NEW NORMAL … AND NEW CHALLENGES
On May 8, 1945 the war ended with an unconditional surrender from Germany. Suddenly everyone needed to adapt to yet another new normal…getting home, getting educated and getting jobs. Bringing veterans home was a big challenge, with the vast number of people seeking passage across the Atlantic.
As Bill was being debriefed and waiting his turn to be shipped home, Marjorie, now 20 years old, and their 11 month old son boarded a ship for Halifax, Nova Scotia. The ship continued to North Sydney where they held up waiting for the SS Kyle to bring her to Port-Aux-Basques.
From Port-Aux-Basques, Marjorie and their son took the Newfie Bullet to Bill’s family home in Deer Lake where she was welcomed with open arms and hearts by his parents and seven siblings.
A year later Bill and Marjorie moved to Montreal so that Bill could complete his education at McGill University. Post war conditions prevailed and financially it was tight for everyone. They were provided with subsidized housing on the west island, which meant a one-hour train ride each way to school.
Together they lived in two rooms and shared a bathroom with their neighbour. Marjorie worked in an office near their residence while Bill attended school full time and held down two part time jobs. During their 9-year stay, they had two more children.
Finally, in 1955, 10 years after the war finished, Bill graduated from McGill and moved the family to St. John’s. There they had two more children, and started another new chapter in their colourful lives.
Bill passed away five years ago, having enjoyed a long and wonderful life. Today at age 93, Marjorie continues to keep calm and carry on.
Bill and Marjorie did not let the war define them, but rather help shape them into the extraordinary people they became. They raised their family and lived their lives joyfully and thoroughly. Not in fear of having to face another war – but in quiet gratitude and thanks for the life they were able to carve out for themselves and their children.
There are many veterans that came before and after. And there are many that are in active service right now. We must remember all of them. Their courage and tenacity have provided us with the freedoms we enjoy today. We must remember not only those who lost their lives, but also those who survived under less than ideal circumstances, with injuries and suffering that lasted long after the end of war celebrations were over.
Thank you again to Marjorie for sharing their story, which reminds us of how many people gave so much.