Margaret Guildford, a 94-year-old veteran of the Second World War, received a roaring ovation as she dropped the first puck at a recent Halifax Mooseheads hockey game. But her journey to centre ice started more than 70 years ago.
Guildford graduated from the Toronto Western Hospital in 1940 as a nurse and was desperate to help the war effort. But she was turned down by Canada because of her age and inexperience.
Instead, she travelled first to the United States, then to England, where she was signed up just after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
"The first thing you knew, you were ready to go to sleep and you heard the big guns and you thought, 'What are we getting into?'" she said.
Guildford was sent to Belgium to work on the front lines. She said she'll never forget the young men in battle.
'You heard the big guns and you thought, 'What are we getting into?''— Margaret Guildford
"I can see a lot of them, when I close my eyes. You can see the very worst ones — you'll never forget them," she said.
Guildford was given some opportunities to relax. She can remember visiting Paris after its liberation.
"What an experience. The city was wide open, all the clubs were open and all the Parisian dancers," she recalled.
Guildford's final stop during the war was across the German border. She said no buildings were left standing as she treated allied wounded and German prisoners.
After Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945, she helped victims from the concentration camps who were brought in by Canadian soldiers.
"They were wrapped in army blankets," she said. "They were just on the floor in the hospital and they were beyond consciousness. You couldn't tell whether they were eight or 80. They were grey and most of their hair had fallen out. It was the worst sight I had seen in the war."
Despite the horrors of war, there were moments that made Guildford smile. Just after the fighting ended, her boyfriend returned from fighting in Italy.
"We had a rowboat there, and we rowed out in the lake and he proposed. Since I couldn't swim, I said yes," Guildford said, laughing.
They married in 1945 and moved to Halifax. Now 94, she attributes her longevity to being a vegetarian and simply doing what she needed to do.
Hockey fans erupt
When Guildford stepped onto the ice at the Oct. 28 Mooseheads game, the crowd gave her a standing ovation for more than five minutes as she walked to centre ice with the puck in her hand.
She said she never imagined she'd receive such a response.
"I was very emotional when I first got out there and heard all this cheering," she said.
Guildford compared her moment in the spotlight to having a taste of life as the Queen.
"I had five minutes of being really euphoric."
But the honour also made her reflect on her incredible past and the people she met along the way.
"To think of the soldiers, who were all young, just like those hockey players who were playing that hockey game the other night, I just kept thinking about how most of those patients that we had were just young kids like that," said Guildford.
To this day, the veteran wears bright silver dangly earrings — in the shape of peace signs — as a tribute to the past.