Adventure

Veteran Peggy Douglas lived a life filled with adventure, tea and marmalade

Veteran Peggy Douglas lived a life filled with adventure, tea and marmalade

Peggy Douglas: Veteran. Adventurer. Mother. Nature lovers. Born October 5, 1923 in Macclesfield, England; died January 25, 2022 in Surrey, BC; from natural causes; 99 years old.

Peggy Douglas.Courtesy of family

After a difficult childhood in the north of England (her brother Peter said, “We were poorer than the poor”), Peggy Birkett enlisted in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in 1941. She trained as a wireless operator and served at RAF bases across the country during the Second World War. When the war ended, she continued her service in Palestine and Egypt, where she once climbed to the top of the Cheops pyramid with the help of a local guide.

Peggy returned to England and worked briefly at the American Embassy in London. While looking for accommodation, she noticed an ad in a store window for a studio. One of her new neighbors insisted that Peggy meet her brother, who had also served in the Middle East.

John Home-Douglas and Peggy quickly fell in love. The couple wanted to escape the gloom and rationing of post-war London and moved to Vancouver in 1948. All their possessions fit in a few suitcases. They were married in June 1948 at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church on Vancouver Island. Peggy worked as a secretary at Vancouver General Hospital, but John’s wartime work as a frogman, clearing the ports of Holland and Germany of unexploded mines, had little commercial value in their new town. Eventually, John found a job that would take the family across the country. Rod, their first son, was born in Chilliwack, British Columbia. Pierre arrived four years later in Vancouver and Susan was born in Toronto in 1963.

When the family lived in Montreal, they would often run away to a 130-acre dairy farm they had purchased in northern Vermont. Peggy planted many trees on the property – like everywhere she lived. She had a deep love of nature. One day, she saw a man hunting groundhogs on his farm. “Have you ever heard of Albert Schweitzer’s respect for all life? She cried. To which the local replied: “Albert Schweitzer? Who the hell is he, a guy from Enosburg? (referring to a town a few miles away).

Peggy read voraciously. Before the war, she was forced to leave school at 14 to work 12-hour night shifts at an aircraft factory in Manchester. Her children would find her better educated than most college graduates they knew.

Eventually, John and Peggy’s marriage fell apart. Peggy remarried. When that relationship didn’t work out, she sold her house in Montreal, stored her things, and drove across Canada. She was 65 and wanted to spend her last years in a warmer province. The trip lasted nine days. She camped in her truck (Peggy had packed her mattress) and found a condo in White Rock, BC.

Peggy Douglas in her WAAF uniform during World War II.Courtesy of family

Peggy enjoyed her own company – she enjoyed walking, picking berries and making marmalade. She reveled in her solo vacations to cities like Venice and Seville in her 70s. She made a promise to herself to celebrate her 75th birthday in Paris, where she had spent a glorious week’s holiday in 1946, and even with a recently broken hand, she kept that promise.

Peggy followed her grandchildren’s lives with interest and offered advice on which books Allison, Ariel and Cooper should read. Ariel was also grateful to have her 27-year-old car in tip-top shape when Peggy quit driving. But Peggy was not close to them. Unfortunately, geography and a childhood largely devoid of love had left a scar that never healed.

Peggy was definitely a Brit with a stiff upper lip. When she had knee replacement surgery at 84, she took no painkillers, a fact that stunned her physiotherapist. She drove until she was 90, and at 88 she made 51 pounds of her Seville marmalade, which she managed to consume in a year with frequent daily cups of tea. Towards the end, she still got pleasure from the smallest thing, like the touch of a baby’s hand.

Pierre Home-Douglas is Peggy’s son.

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