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A look back at the life of Mary Lilian Edwards

Mary Lilian Edwards


Mary Lilian Edwards

War bride, grenade maker, fire warden, great-grandmother, cookie baker. Born July 8, 1922, in Manchester, England, died July 2, 2012, in Thunder Bay, Ont., of heart failure, aged 89.

Lily's life could make a great novel, but the stories she told her family never dwelled on the obvious hardships she experienced.

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She grew up in a household of 13 children in Manchester, England, in a home she proudly reported was once lived in by lords and ladies.

She remembered the call bells strung throughout the house, used in earlier years to summon servants.

For Lily and her siblings, the bells were a source of entertainment.

Memories of her Manchester home always brought a smile to her face.

When the Second World War started, Lily worked in a munitions factory assembling grenades. She was also a fire warden, whose job was to extinguish incendiaries dropped to light up German targets at night.

She shared vivid memories of the Manchester Blitz, which brought devastation to her friends, family and neighbours.

During the war, Lily was given the name of a Canadian soldier to write to. Clifford Edwards and Lily exchanged letters regularly.

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The first time Clifford went to Manchester, he was invited for afternoon tea at Lily's home. Their correspondence continued afterward, and they married near the end of the war. It was only recently that Lily shared these special letters with her family.

Lily fondly remembered the day the war ended and soldiers wheeled her family's piano into the street.

The singing and dancing continued through the night to celebrate the end of the fighting.

After the war, the SS Aquitania brought Lily to Canada to start her new life with Clifford. She and other war brides were welcomed in Halifax before boarding trains that delivered them across Canada.

In Fort William (now Thunder Bay), she discovered a place quite different from Manchester. Even more shocking was her arrival at Clifford's farmstead at Sellars in Gillies township. To her horror, she discovered her new home did not have electricity or indoor plumbing.

In addition, Lily was the only English girl in an area settled primarily by Finnish immigrants, including Clifford's family. Communication was challenging.

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She adjusted by immersing herself in her home and in Clifford's daily activities. She regularly helped him in the forest, peeling pulpwood and working on the farm.

As a new wife she had a few cooking disasters. When she made her first cake, she accidentally used cod liver oil instead of vanilla.

Lily raised five children, and over the years she entertained grandchildren and great-grandchildren with her stories, baking, hugs and laughter.

Lily and Clifford were married for 66 years, the last few residing in a long-term care facility, where Clifford still lives.

Both became somewhat deaf, but the love they shared was obvious. They didn't need to hear each other to communicate.

In her final days, Lily was surrounded by those who loved her dearly, including Clifford, who sat by her side holding her hand.

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