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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Edythe Mary Hunt described as gallant Red Cross nurse attending wounded from Dunkirk expedition in World War II


Edythe Mary Hunt planned to return to her home in Chapleau from England on September 1, 1939 on the SS Athenia  just as World War II broke out.

On September 3, the Athenia was torpedoed by a German submarine and sunk in the Atlantic Ocean, but she was not on board. At the last minute, she had cancelled her passage, deciding to stay in England for what  was expected to be a short war.

She joined the 130th Durham Nursing Unit of the British Red Cross, and finally returned to Canada in 1944 aboard the Queen Elizabeth  arriving back in Chapleau on October 19, four and one half years after she went to England. 

To honour all women who served in time of war, as we mark Remembrance Day, I decided to share the story of Edythe Mary Hunt, during World War II, as compiled by my cousins Betty (Zufelt) Gartner, Anne (Zufelt) McGoldrick, Joan (Zufelt) Cotter and Leslie (Zufelt) Morin. To us, she was "Nanny", our grandmother.

My sincere thanks to them for writing Nanny's story -- and a special thanks to Betty and Anne for answering my questions and sending me information. Except where noted, all information comes from my cousins.

Nanny with daughters Elsie left and Muriel right on 80th birthday
Our grandparents, Edythe and George Hunt, arrived in Chapleau in 1913 with their two daughters, Elsie, my cousins' mother, and Muriel, my mother. Elsie married B.W. 'Bubs' Zufelt and my mother married J.E. 'Jim' Morris.

Nanny went to England in the Spring of 1939 upon learning of her mother's failing health but her mother died before she arrived. Her sister Sal  lived in England.

After she joined the nursing unit, for a time she was on a night shift "walking through the rubble from the bombings with air raid sirens wailing." 

She went to work at The Infirmary "using a flashlight or 'torch' as it was called, with thin black paper over the light, carried light down on the ground. She was on call to various Red Cross hospitals in Britain over the next few years, nursing the lads returned from the infamous Dunkirk expedition. As well as many wounded British, she also attended to German prisoners."

Back in Chapleau, the family collected and wrapped food parcels to send to her and her sister Sally as well as other relatives since food in England was becoming scarce.

"The blackest day of the war came when the news arrived on July 16, 1943, that Muriel's husband, Flying Officer Jim Morris  and all his crew had been killed when the Wellington which they were testing exploded in mid air. The funeral a few days later in Ripon was heartbreaking as Jim was their dear boy".

When my father went overseas in 1942, my mother and I had returned to Chapleau, and were living with the Zufelt family and spending time with his parents, Harry and Lil (Mulligan) Morris.

After Nanny returned home, she told me that my father often rode on his bicycle to visit with her and our Aunt Sal, and had been there the weekend before he was killed.

By 1944 when the Atlantic was becoming clear of German submarines, she applied for passage back to Canada. She travelled on the Queen Elizabeth and sailed totally in the dark at nights on the Atlantic arriving in New York on September 17 and Chapleau on September 19.

I still recall her arrival. She got out of Uncle Bubs' truck in her uniform, and her arm was in a sling. I was so impressed, but really I couldn't wait to go and tell my friends, Mr. Hopper and Mr. Brownlee that my grandmother was home, and that Hitler had wounded her. She had actually sprained her wrist.

The Chapleau Post of November 3, 1944, described her as "one of the gallant Red Cross nurses who received and attended the wounded who returned from Dunkirk."

She told the newspaper that the "thrifty British manage very well and one never hears any grumbling or complaints from them." She was amazed at the amount of food and goods on the stores in Chapleau and so much of it unrationed.

My cousins noted that it "took several weeks for this unshakable lady to learn to cook and bake again as she was not used to such an abundant supply of food. She picked up the pieces of her life and carried on with her family, church, lodge and Legion until her death on October 19, 1966."

Their history of our grandmother's role in World War II concludes with a reference to the meaning of the word indomitable -- invincible, unyielding, resolute, firm, persistent, courageous. 

"Every one of them describes Nanny Hunt and that is how we remember her." Well said! Thanks Betty, Anne, Joan and Leslie. My email is mj.morris@live.ca

In Nanny's prayer book is the following from the King's Speech, at Christmas 1939

"I said to a man who stood at the gate of the year,
Give me a light that I may tread safely into the darkness,
and he replied:
Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God,
that shall be to you better than light
and safer than the known way."

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Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet

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