Mary Short, nee Nash, was born and raised on the shore of Lesser Slave Lake north of the Town of Slave Lake. She was in the Canadian Air Force during peacetime, but her husband and five of her brothers fought in World War Two. Her husband was British, but served with the Americans and one of her Canadian brothers flew for the British.
“I was the only girl with seven brothers,” says Mary. “And I still live in the same general area.”
Mary’s mom and dad were both widowed before she was born, so her older brothers were her half-brothers. These were Fermien, Baptiste, ‘Bernie’, and Peter L’Hirondelle, and Fred Nash.
Mary’s husband had several given names, but went by ‘Sam’ Short.
Sam was a farmer’s son from Sussex, England, Mary says. He served with the Americans in North Africa. He was a messenger on a motorcycle behind enemy lines. He was shot several times, with bullet holes in his arms, and one bullet grazed his forehead. However, it was malaria which almost killed him. He survived however, and decided to come to Canada.
“Lucky for me he did,” says Mary. She met him after the war, when she was 16. She was thrown from her horse. While she recuperated, Sam volunteered to exercise the horse. At the time, Sam was keen on getting married, but Mary would have none of it. Instead, she joined the Air Force, and he returned to England. When she left the Air Force, she returned to Slave Lake. So did Sam.
“He changed his tactics,” she says. Instead of asking her to marry him, he “killed me with kindness.” When Mary was 24, they got married.
Sam died from lung cancer in 1994. Mary assumes this was from working in an asbestos mine.
Mary’s third brother Bernie became an Air Force pilot, she says. Early in the war, he was sent to England.
“Germany just tried to annihilate it (England),” Mary says. “He (Bernie) flew with the British on 30 missions over Germany.” But on the 31st, he was shot down near the German/Dutch border.
At first he was listed as missing in action.
“My poor mom,” Mary says. “She tried not to let us children know she was hurting,” but in the middle of the night would go into the chicken coop to wail in grief. Picturing her son as a prisoner of war was the hardest part. Thankfully, Bernie and the other three soldiers in the bomber were found. They are buried on the German/Dutch border.
Mary’s mother was from Belgium, says Mary. So having her son buried so close to her original country was a comfort. In later years, Mary’s mom and aunt went to see the grave.
Mary was 11 when Bernie went to war. She has a vague memory of him, but can’t say she really knew him.
“When I married Sam,” Mary says, her mother told him, “England took one of my sons, and they gave me one back.”
Mary’s other four brothers served in Canada. However, this didn’t keep them out of danger.
Fred was in a ship on Halifax harbour, which was torpedoed by a German U-boat. The sailors on the other half of the ship all died.
“It could have been a second sorrow for my mother,” says Mary.
Fermien was a mechanic in the Canadian Air Force. Baptiste was a navigator in the Air Force.
Peter was in the Navy.
“He (Peter) was apparently a heck of a shot,” Mary says. “He was in some kind of secret group,” which she only heard about much after the war.