The first thing you notice about Victoria Badcock is her eyes. They sparkle, literally, the way good crystal plays with light.
She’s 100 years old.
Or, as she likes to rhyme off, 100 years and 6 months old. "I’m full of life," she says, getting me to feel biceps fuelled by weight-lifting.
Full of life, and full of history.
Her father, Francis Ernest LeMessurier, fought with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment at the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel, and was one of the few men to come home.
He was alive, but badly injured, says Badcock. "He got shot through the hips, the two hips, and they landed in a mud hole made by the German bombs, a mud hole full of water … and that's where he was for 2 days, in that hole."
Also alive in that mud hole was the enemy. A mortally injured German soldier, whom Francis LeMessurier wanted to kill. But he didn’t.
Did her father ever mention The Danger Tree?
Francis LeMessurier wasn't one for sharing what he'd seen. "He never spoke a word. He said, 'There can't be a god that could be so cruel.' They had to attack with bayonets and run at people … the field was full of blood and men. He said there can't be any god that would let that happen."
After I turn off my tape recorder, she tells me he stopped going to church after he came home.
Strangers to each other
Victoria Badcock was born just a few months before her father went away to war. She was six years old when he came back, a complete stranger to her.
It was an unpleasant adjustment at first for a little girl who was no longer welcome to share the bed with her mother, but the two soon got used to each other.
Badcock says her father was a happy man, even though soon after coming home he had to take a job for a time as a welder in Long Beach, California because there was so much unemployment in St. John's.
Eighty years ago — yes, eight whole decades ago — Badcock attended Memorial University College in St. John’s (now of course known as Memorial University), the school named in honour of men such as her own father.
Today, ask Badcock if she's the last living son or daughter of any of the men who fought at Beaumont-Hamel and she says, "See, I don't know anybody that is. Nobody else knows anybody but me. And here I am, over a hundred years old. I know it all … it's a queer feeling."
Ramona Dearing is the host of CrossTalk on CBC Radio. Her interview with Victoria Badcock airs Tuesday, Nov. 11 right after the 1 p.m. NT news, 12:30 p.m. in most of Labrador.