Qualicum Beach resident Eileen Griffin turns 100 on June 3, 2022 and it is an understatement to say she has led a long and interesting life.
One of the last surviving war brides in the PQB area, Griffin and her infant daughter arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax on RMS Mauretania in 1944 after a dangerous journey at sea, en route from England.
It was “full speed ahead, zigzag course — if anybody fell overboard, they wouldn’t stop for you because of the U-boats underneath. The war was still on,” she said.
Griffin decided to leave home for a better, safer life in Canada, away from the action in the Second World War. She met her first husband in England at a dance hall, but they were divorced before she immigrated to Canada, where she would later remarry.
She worked for the Canadian government in London, Ont., before moving to Vancouver, where she got a job with Veterans Affairs. It was around this time she met her second husband. The two would have six more children together in a small community called Albion, now part of Maple Ridge.
A lot of things have changed since then. Griffin uses email, Facebook and Messenger to keep in touch with friends and family.
“I like Messenger better than Facebook and Gmail is OK, too,” she said.
She has an older sister in England, who is 107 and still lives in her own apartment. The two used to talk on the phone, but her sister’s hearing declined, so they stay in touch with email and letters, Griffin said. She flew across the Atlantic Ocean to surprise her sister on her 105th birthday.
“She didn’t know I was coming,” Griffin said. “She said, ‘I never thought I’d see you again.’ We cried and we sang all the old songs that nobody else knows.”
Griffin said she plans to visit again on her sister’s 110th birthday.
When asked what her secret to a long life was, she said it was all in the genes. One of her brothers lived to 103, a sister in Australia reached 98 and another sister made it to 90. “And my other brother, who was five years older than me, was 85, but he had a bad heart.”
She lost her mother to cancer at 10.
“I didn’t have my Mum and it makes a big difference in your life. I still miss her. She wasn’t there when I had my babies or anything.”
Griffin still loves to drive, passing a road test last year with flying colours.
“I went into the same office two or three days later to get my insurance renewed and the woman said, ‘Oh, you’re the one!’ She said, ‘the whole office knows about you!’” Griffin said with a laugh.
She always takes a driving lesson before a road test to make sure she is up-to-date on any changes to the rules of the road.
Griffin said she enjoys driving to see her friends, to her church in Nanaimo, as well as the place where she has her nails done. On a Saturday, she will drive to her hair appointment, followed by lunch, grocery shopping and then the park, where she likes to watch people walk their dogs.
For years, Griffin has had two flags mounted on her vehicle because she is a proud Canadian.
Lately she has been mistaken for an anti-vaxxer, sometimes she will receive a honk, a thumbs up, or even a nasty comment.
“I got four shots and the flu shot, so I’m a pin cushion,” she said.
Griffin and her late husband moved to Vancouver Island in 1989. They lived for some time in French Creek before moving into a place in Parksville, where they lived for years. When her husband passed away she lived with the family of one of her daughter, before settling in to the Gardens about two years ago.
Griffin has grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even great-great-grand children.
“I think I’ve got about 12 [grandkids], I’m not sure. I’ve never counted them,” she said with a laugh. She has family across the Island and B.C., many of whom will be in attendance at her 100th birthday party.
When she moved to the Island and joined the War Brides Association, there were about 35 to 40 members, but few remain today.
“There’s only one in Berwick, myself and there’s one lady who’s moved to Ontario — that’s all that’s left out of them. I’ve gone to many funerals,” Griffin said.
She recounted memories of the Blitz while living in Croydon, a borough of London, during the Second World War, including witnessing a German air attack.
“There was a whole bunch of women and their babies going down the main street with their buggies — prams, and a German plane came down and strafed them,” she said.
Once Griffin could not take the train to go to work because it had been blown up.
“So I get on the bus and they couldn’t go their usual route because of all the firehoses all over the place. We never knew, until we got there, whether the office was still there,” she said.
Griffin said at the time she put on a brave face, but she felt, and still does, for the women who were left to struggle and look after the household and the children while their husbands were away during the war.
At night people would take refuge underground for safety from air raids, and then witness the night’s bombing destruction as they made their way home in the morning.
“It didn’t bother me at the time, but it has bothered me since then, when I think of it all, especially those poor women. But they stuck it out. Old Hitler wasn’t going to beat us,” Griffin said.
It was a difficult time, to say the least. She could wait in line for hours for food, only to be turned away because the supply had run out.
When asked what stays the same after all these years, Griffin said friendships and love.
“I think without the Lord, my life would have been a lot worse. He looks after me and I’m thankful.”