Manitoba

Winnipeg veteran couple receive military honours

A Winnipeg war bride and her husband are finally being recognized for their service to Canada and Britain during the Second World War.

Medal arrives '70 years late' but better late than never, says Ian and Betty Wilson's son-in-law

Winnipeg veteran couple receive military honours

CBC News: Winnipeg at 6:00

6 years ago
2:09
A Winnipeg war bride and her husband are finally being recognized for their service to Canada and Britain during the Second World War. 2:09

A Winnipeg war bride and her husband are finally being recognized for their service to Canada and Britain during the Second World War.

Ian Wilson, 96, was a corporal in the Royal Canadian Air Force's No. 411 Spitfire Squadron, working as ground support. He received the Legion of Honour, France's highest national honour, for his service in France between D-Day and Aug. 25, 1945.

His wife, Betty Wilson, 92, was drafted and worked for the British Royal Air Force as an administrative clerk at Redhill, England, near London. She received Her Majesty's Armed Forces Veterans Badge and the War Medal 1939-45 for service to her country.

The honours were presented to the couple on Tuesday by RCAF Col. Andy Cook, commander of 17 Wing Winnipeg, at a ceremony at Deer Lodge Centre, a long-term care home and rehabilitation facility. The presentation was part of the home's annual Starburst Celebration fundraising campaign.

Betty Wilson, left, and Ian Wilson receive their military honours at a ceremony Tuesday at Deer Lodge Centre in Winnipeg. (Karen Pauls/CBC)
"That's nice to be honoured," Ian Wilson said.

"I never expected it at 92 years old," Betty said with a laugh.

Both were also awarded a Certificate of Recognition, signed by Canada's prime minister, as part of the 75th anniversary of Canada's role in the Second World War. Anyone eligible for the award can apply for it until the end of 2020.

"I think it's important that all these veterans get the recognition they deserve, because how much longer do they have left?" said Denis Rochon, the couple's son-in-law.

Applied earlier this year

The couple's family did some research after Ian Wilson moved into Deer Lodge earlier this year, and they happened upon a ceremony where veterans were receiving certificates of recognition.

They discovered Ian was eligible for the same honour, so they filled out an application online.
Ian Wilson, 96, was part of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s No. 411 Spitfire Squadron, working as ground support. He will receive the Legion of Honour from France for his service in the country between D-Day and Aug. 25, 1945. (Denis Rochon)

"So Ian gets a certificate, but what about his wife?" Rochon said.

"She was a veteran too. The literature talked about Canadian veterans, but when he examined it very carefully, it talked about Allied veterans also and, of course, RAF was Allied British forces. So we fill in the form, sent it in and lo and behold, she got the certificate also."

The family did some more research and discovered that Betty was eligible for a lapel badge offered by the British Defence Ministry, so they applied for that, too.

Then they heard about France's Legion of Honour, which was created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte. It is being given to all surviving Canadian veterans who served in France between D-Day and Aug. 25, 1945, helping to liberate the country from Nazi occupation. In Canada alone, nearly 600 veterans have already received their decorations.

Denis Rochon holds the War Medal 1939-45 that his mother-in-law, Betty Wilson, has received for service to Britain. (CBC)
"We applied for Ian and were told he met the qualification, and the forms have been sent off and we're waiting for his decoration now," Rochon said.

"Now I joke with Ian, it's equivalent to the OBE in England, so I said that he's really a French knight — he's a chevalier — so I have to refer to him as Sir Ian once he gets his medal, but Betty is not going to genuflect whenever she sees him."

'Reluctant recipients'

But that wasn't all. The family did more digging and found that Betty is entitled to the 1939-45 war medal for serving with the British forces. Once again, the forms were sent in.

"A couple months later, we received the medal in the mail congratulating Betty," Rochon said.

Betty Wilson, 92, was drafted and worked as a Royal Air Force administrative clerk at Redhill, England, near London. She will receive Her Majesty’s Armed Forces Veterans Badge and the War Medal 1939-45 for service to her country. (Denis Rochon)
"This medal arrived 70 years late. I'm thinking how many other ladies out there who go to veterans events and are entitled to a medal, but the only thing you see when you pan across is all these men wearing medals, and how many of these women deserve to wear their medals? Well, Betty is going to wear hers proudly from now on."

Rochon said that while the Wilsons are honoured, they believe "there are more deserving people out there, so they're reluctant recipients."

"When Betty found out she was getting this medal, she said she wasn't deserving. She talked about a Silver Cross Mother that had raised four sons who had gone off to war and lost all four sons," he said.

"But I said, 'Betty, you owe it to all the other women who have served and haven't received the recognition they deserved. The story isn't about you receiving your medal, it's about you representing all these other women.'"

The couple met near London in 1942.

"We were at a dance one night and when I turned around … ah!" Betty said, laughing. "There were these huge massive blue eyes looking at me. So what do you do? You dance with him all night and then go out with him."

They married on May 25, 1945, just before Ian returned to Canada. Betty followed shortly after on the Mauretania, the first dedicated sailing of British War Brides sent to join their husbands in Canada.

She landed at Halifax's Pier 21 in February 1946 and then took the train to Ian's family farm near Virden, Man. The couple moved to Winnipeg in 1955 with their family.

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