In mid-August I wrote an obituary for The Globe and Mail on Loretta Smyth Martin, who had died at the age of 91.
Martin was thought to be the last of the Regiment widows, the last woman married to a soldier who had served with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in the First World War. It was thought amazing that in 2012 there had still been such a living link. Even more amazing — she wasn’t the last.
Soon after the article ran, Bert Riggs, who is an archivist and librarian at the Archives and Special Collections at Memorial University’s QE II Library, and whom I quoted in the article, received an email about Marjorie (Pye) George. She had been married to William George (Reg. No. 720); she is 100.
She was born October 1912, in Cape Charles, Labrador, to Albert Pye and Eliza (Stone, of the Stones of Henley Harbour, Labrador). She was the youngest of seven, with four brothers and two sisters.
Albert Pye worked the Labrador fishery in season and then moved the family to Bay of Islands for the winter, sometimes to Petries and sometimes Mount Moriah. George’s second oldest brother, Hayward Pye, volunteered with the Regiment on May 31, 1918 (Reg. No. 5549) and she can remember him coming home after being discharged on July 12, 1919.
George met her husband, William, when she went to work for him as a housekeeper in Corner Brook.
He was an older man (born on Bell Island in 1897), a widower with seven children, all nearly grown. They married in May 1951, and he died of a heart attack in 1961.
“My husband was in the army, and he was gassed,” George said in a recent interview.
William joined up on Dec. 15, 1914, was in the trenches at Gallipoli, and eventually his injuries were such that he was discharged on June 11, 1917.
George, as might be expected from someone still giving interviews after her 100th birthday, was very active.
She ran a boarding house, where she was renowned for her cooking — taking boarders was one way she could earn money to pay off the mortgage her brother-in-law had taken out for her, as widowed women were not permitted to do so themselves in those days.
She volunteered for decades with the Corner Brook branch of the Royal Canadian Legion (“I sold 50 years of poppies,” George said), as well as the Anglican Church Women group, Western Memorial Hospital Auxiliary and the Liberal Association.
And she can still play 120s.
It seems likely that George is the last of the Regiment widows. In fact, she may be the lone widow survivor of any First World War veteran in Canada.
Is this so? Or are there other stories out there?
Joan Sullivan in the managing editor of Newfoundland Quarterly, the author of a new non-fiction book, “In the Field,”
a playwright and freelance writer.
She lives in St. John’s.