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Students visiting retirement home to hear first-hand accounts of Second World War

Parkwood Place, a retirement home for about 100 residents, is welcoming Grade 6 and 7 students from nearby Lansdowne Middle School

They remember the dropping of bombs in the darkest days of the Second World War and, after much too long a time, the joy of crowds in the months following the end of the war.

A trio of veterans will meet with schoolchildren on Wednesday to share first-person accounts of their war experiences.

Parkwood Place, a retirement home for about 100 residents, is welcoming Grade 6 and 7 students from nearby Lansdowne Middle School in Saanich to hear some of their residents talk about their experiences during the war in a lead-up to Remembrance Day.

For Lexie Stephen, the most lasting memory was dancing the Highland Fling on a stage set up at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris just months after the war ended in 1945.

Stephen, who turned 100 years on July 1, was just 20 when she and her younger sister joined the 24-member Canadian Women’s Army Corps Pipe Band to do their part in the war effort. Their two brothers were pipers that served with the Canadian Scottish Regiment.

It was an exciting time for Stephen, who was a drummer in the band. They toured across Canada three times, stopping in every province to encourage people to sign up for the armed forces or to support the troops in other ways.

The band has the distinction of being the only active-service pipe band in the Commonwealth of Nations during the war, as well as the only women’s military pipe band in Canadian history.

At the end of the war, the band toured England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, entertaining Canadian and American troops still stationed in Europe.

“Everywhere we went people were so grateful,” said Stephen, who is one of only two surviving band members. “I am so proud to have been a part of it all and I’m glad the kids today are interested in learning about our experiences — it is important.”

Her proudest moment was performing with the band at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe.

“All the troops and people were listening, it is the most incredible memory,” said Stephen, who was born in Scotland and moved with her family to Brampton, Ont. when she was one year old. She moved to Oak Bay 60 years ago, and to the retirement home in 2013.

The highlight of that Paris performance was when she got up on stage for the Highland Fling for an appreciative crowd.

Other presenters at the Real Life Remembrance event include Chuck Naylor, a Royal Canadian Legion member for more than 60 years.

“I lost my grandfather in World War One. My uncle Hugh was in charge of a Spitfire squadron which took down 15 German planes during World War Two. He was quite a guy and so was his team,” said Naylor, 86. “Ceremonies like these are really meaningful and important. Coming together with students to share our experiences, learn from and honour those who fought for our country and our lives is important. We have to pass what we know along, and we must be grateful together.”

His sentiments are shared by Herb Grew, 94.

“I lived in a war zone. I remember the sound of the planes and the dropping of the bombs. I remember sleeping in bomb shelters, the rationing and the whole experience of being there,” he said. “I’m proud to share those memories with the students, it’s imperative they know what happened.”

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