Sheila Seymour still remembers where she was when news of World War II broke out.
The 20-year old Cominco worker was hiking Kokanee Glacier with three friends when a fisherman came by and told them the war had been declared and all boy scouts were called up.
She was supporting her mother and younger sister with the smelter job in 1939, Sheila’s father had passed 13 years earlier and family duty came first.
At the time, they lived on Perdue Street. So she became part of the war efforts in Trail until the day came that she could leave her kin to join the air force. Sheila was a member of the skating club, the rink was where Jubilee Manor now stands on Bay Avenue, and sold war bonds through the organization.
And she recollects her role in civil defence, which is such a striking part of the Silver City’s past.
“All around Trail was blacked out,” she said. “When you went home you turned your lights off at a certain time.”
Protecting civilian populations (civil defence) in wartime grew dramatically with the advent of mass air raids in WWII. Local black out drills began in the early 1940s, Cominco production had Trail at risk for becoming an enemy target.
One of her civic duties was to patrol for “lights out” near Butler Park.
The entire city was blanketed in darkness, except for a tiny light she spotted across the river.
“Somebody was lighting a cigarette on Topping Street,” she recalled.
As soon as her sister was old enough to work in May of ‘43, Sheila walked into the Blue Room of the Crown Point Hotel and enlisted.
“It was just the fact that someone had to do it, I was old enough, so I did it,” says Seymour, now 98 and a resident of Silver City Gardens. “My brother had too many kids to take (care of) so I went for him.”
After travelling to the Calgary recruitment centre via Kettle Valley Railway, Sheila boarded another train and headed across country to Ottawa for basic training in Rockcliffe.
She recalls a very special event from her rookie days – U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a visit to the base. Sheila still beams with pride talking about her troop of air force newbies who were selected to parade by the Parliament buildings for the FDR visit.
(A military parade is a formation of soldiers whose movement is restricted by close-order maneuvering.)
“Our Sergeant was so pleased none of his girls keeled over,” she shared. “Not one of us dropped, (we were told) you have to just keep wiggling your toes.”
Once she completed her Fighter Ops training, Sheila was posted to Patricia Bay on Vancouver Island. Her job was to track and mark the positions of planes and ships on a large map, so the controller could monitor and relay information.
She recalls tracking some large balloons sent ashore by the Japanese. The devices had incendiaries attached, which would explode on impact and spark fires.
Later on, Sheila learned that remnants of one of those balloons was found near Rossland, but it didn’t detonate because of the snow pack.
Another memory from her Fighter Ops days involves a pilot who veered off course after too much revelry.
It was Christmas Day when some of the returned Battle of Britain pilots were on “Pat Bay” base.
One of them had a little too much to drink and decided to take one of the planes up in the midst of the very thick fog. He was not able to find his way back down, so it was up to Sheila and the controller to guide him to safety, which of course, they did.
Following discharge in December of 1945, Sheila came back to Trail and picked up where she left off.
She went back to work for Cominco and joined the Trail Legion in 1946 – she recently received her 70th year pin.
It was at a Legion dance where she met her first husband A.B. Condy. He was an army vet who survived being shot down in Italy in 1939, though he carried huge shrapnel scars the rest of his life.
The two moved out to Kinnaird, built a home and raised their family. Even then, her hand-to-hand combat and rifle training came in handy. When gophers, marmots and other predators tried to steal her chickens, she was forced to give chase and deal with them.
After A.B. passed in 1980, Sheila continued her very active life at home and in the community. A number of years later, she met and married her second husband, the late Paul Seymour.
Always up for an adventure, Sheila took up downhill skiing at 49, began belly dancing at 60 and travelled extensively, just last year she took a cruise down the Panama Canal.
Through it all, she has remained devoted to the Legion and has never missed a Cenotaph ceremony on Remembrance Day.
On Friday the 98-year old will be at the Trail Cenotaph.
“She wants to honour those who served that are no longer able to do it,” said her daughter Willa Condy Seymour. “Especially for the women veterans, it’s very important, and we have very remarkable ladies right here in Trail.”