Springdale, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
Gladys is close to being legally blind, but she continues to write to the service personnel regardless of this, even though she may have slowed down a bit. At her peak, she was writing up to 1,000 letters a month. It had been her goal to continue for another eleven years (from 2012) when she would be one hundred years of age, but she now wonders if her eyesight will hold out.
Gladys was born in Grand Falls, Newfoundland and Labrador. She was able to have a good education, thanks to the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company, a paper mill which supported the schools financially and with well qualified teachers and all the modern conveniences of the 1930s. She graduated from Grand Falls Academy (GFA) and obtained her training for the Salvation Army clergy at the Salvation Army College for Officer Training, in St. John’s, NL.
Originally, teaching was not a career choice. She had been trained and commissioned as an officer/clergy in the Salvation Army. In 1944, on taking over her first charge in the small coastal town of Paradise Sound now known as Monkstown an unexpected directive was issued to her. She was informed that there was no school teacher available and that it was necessary for her to assume that post as well. Thus, she carried out her roles as minister and teacher. The Salvation Army prescribed the curriculum that she used. For the benefit of readers who are unfamiliar with Newfoundland and Labrador, schools for the most part were operated by the churches until some time after the dominion became a province in Canada in 1949.
This was a one-room school with 35 pupils from kindergarten to grade 9. The children wrote on slates, using slate pencils. How many of us remember those? Prior to this assignment, she had never been in a one-room school nor had she seen slates being used. A couple of Dick and Jane books and little else made up the reading essentials. Gladys sent an urgent request to her mother for supplies. Her mother, with help from friends, sent paper, pencils, and books for all the students. Gladys felt that she learned as much as her students did during that first year. On more than one occasion, she had to call upon her Home Nursing and St, John Ambulance knowledge. She has high praise for the behaviour of her students.
In addition to being the teacher, she was also the only clergy in town. The community did not have either electricity or telephones. Therefore, in the school also where Gladys taught, there was no electricity or telephone. There was postal mail about once a month.
In 1945, during WW II, she taught a class of 54 students from kindergarten to grade 10 in a one-room school at Creston. Again, she could report excellent behaviour on the part of her students. She also served in the clergy, having assistance from an Anglican minister once a month. In this role, she was required to break the sad news to a widowed mother that her son had been killed overseas, just as he was preparing to come home.
In 1947, the Salvation Army appointed her to Peterview, near Botwood. She was not only the sole clergy in the community, but she also became the only teacher with a student body of 84 children from kindergarten to grade 8. When she began her year there, she had another teacher for kindergarten to Grade 2. However, this teacher resigned in October, leaving Gladys with all 84. She tried to have the older students assist her with the younger students. However, the parents objected, claiming that she was being paid to teach all of those students.
She enjoyed teaching. Her students even the 84 were excellent and treated her with great respect.
Because she did not have a teaching certificate, she was paid at a lower rate than a regular teacher. In her first year, she received $30 per month. At Peterview, she received a gross salary of $125 per month.
Her main position in each community was clergy. She kept up her housework and cooking in her small quarters. She preached each Sunday morning and evening service and taught Sunday school every Sunday afternoon. In addition, she visited the sick, elderly, and shut-ins after school. She performed all the bookkeeping for both church and school. Often it was necessary to light fires in both buildings. She dedicated babies and conducted funerals. In later years, she conducted weddings. She still has the authority to perform these today. First, she had the rank of Lieutenant, and then Captain. She resigned her commission in 1947 because she found it too difficult to continue both the officer clergy and the school. However, she volunteered as Corps Sergeant-Major, being backup for the incoming officers and teachers.
She did marry and raise a family. She also organized the first town council and fire department in Peterview and taught part-time. In 1972, following the death of her husband, she moved to Springdale, NL. She worked with Social Services for a short time, and then rejoined the Salvation Army. She was posted in Newfoundland and Labrador for two years, after which she was transferred to Toronto in 1983. In 1988, she retired and returned to her native province.
She began her writing of letters to military personnel during World War II. At that time, it was very difficult to obtain names, unlike now. Her cousin in Belgium shared his letters, which helped to make a small list. In high school, she was president of the Junior Red Cross, a group that knit items for the troops. More intricate work was created by the mothers of the students. Gladys also volunteered at the Salvation Army Red Shield canteen.
In 1983, Gladys met a couple whose son was serving in Bosnia. As she had always liked to write letters, she obtained John’s address and began writing to him. Because he, too, shared his letters, her mailing list grew. Currently, she is mailing more than 1,000 letters in addition to email every month. In the process of writing to the troops, she has learned much geography. She firmly believes that the men and women of the Canadian Forces are the finest in this country or in the world. They have expressed their appreciation for her letters and her prayers. Several years ago, a young Lieutenant asked her to adopt her Unit. Gladys decided to adopt ALL of them and to write to them as extended family.
In 1990, Gladys began volunteering at the Valley Vista Nursing Home, in Springdale. She was invited to lead a weekly Bible study with the residents and to cover for town Clergy when they were not available for their turn. She read some of her letters to the residents, who, in turn, prayed for the safety of the troops. In 1997, a letter from a soldier referred to her and the residents as the Honourable Granny Brigade. Many of the letters which Gladys receives still send love to the Granny Brigade and thank them for their prayers. A great, loving friendship grew out of this connection, with soldiers telling about their grandparents and their own childhood.
The Granny Brigade is known and loved by the military and at Rideau Hall, the Governor-General’s residence. Gladys has not been able to spend much time with the Granny Brigade since 2007 because of her poor eyesight. The oldest of the Granny Brigade, Ellen, was able to help herself with dressing and going to the dining room at the age of 108. Gladys saw her a day before her passing. Ellen placed two loonies on the table to help with postage for letters. It was all that she had! Gladys wanted to replace those and to use hers on a chain. However, Ellen meant those for postage and that is what happened to them.
Gladys has received many honours from her province and her country through her contact with the Canadian Forces. Many members from every branch and every rank have come to her home about two hours travel from CFB Gander to visit. She made a promise that as long as she has the use of her hands and her eyes, and as long as her mind cooperates, she will write to the men and women of the Canadian Forces until they are all safely home. She finds that her life is exciting every day.
In August 2000, Lieutenant Colonel Ken Jenkins, 9/Wing, Gander, presented her with the Commander’s Commendation.
In 2003, the crew of HMCS Regina chose her as Mariner of the Month.
In 2004, Lieutenant Colonel Conrad presented her from Afghanistan with the Commander’s Commendation.
On November 20, 2004, Lieutenant-Governor Ed Roberts presented her with the Governor-General’s Caring Canadian Award and pin at Springdale, NL, on behalf of Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson.
In 2005, General Hillier, then Chief of National Defence Canada, presented her from Afghanistan with the Commander’s Commendation.
On June 7, 2006, General Hillier presented her with the Canadian Forces Distinguished Service Award and Medallion at her home in Springdale.
On May 27, 2008, she received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LL. D.) from Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador on campus. This degree allows her to use the title Doctor and to attend all events at the university, including a special reunion in August.
On December 11, 2009, Lieutenant-Governor John Crosbie presented her with the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador at Government House, in St. John’s.
She was guest of Governor-General Michaelle Jean and outgoing and incoming Generals in Ottawa. She attended the Change of Command and other associated events during a week in Ottawa.
July 18, 2011, she was chosen by the town of Springdale to greet the RCMP Musical Ride and to take their salute.
She was invited by the local Kinsmen to speak when the town had the Portrait of Heroes unveiled and to assist the the artist in the unveiling.
She does public speaking at schools and other groups without charge.
What a joy it is to have a former student come to visit her! In 2011, she received a visit from Donald Hodder, whom she had taught in first grade. This former student has been a medical doctor for many years. She had not seen him since he was 6 and she was 22.
Her book, Dear Gladys….Letters From Over There, was released on January 1, 2009, by Queen’s-McGill Universities Press and is listed on Amazon.com and other sites throughout the world. Copies given to her by the publisher were presented to her four children, to military persons who have visited her, and to Generals Hillier, Natynchyk, Vance, and Dallaire. There is also a copy in the archives at Memorial University of Newfoundland. One day, many of her treasures will be kept there.
Gladys will be remembered by the Canadian military across Canada and around the world long after she has written her last letter. She has illustrated the power of a simple letter many times over.
(This page was updated in June 2012.)