Excerpts from “A Life of Adventure” by John Love

pocket watch
By John Love

Afterword by Ingrid Love

The 30’s – Edinburgh, Scotland

My adventures started even before I knew where I lived. According to Mum, as a child, I would tend to wander away from the avenue in which we lived and end up on one of the avenues that ran parallel to ours. In those days, mail was delivered by Mailmen who traversed their routes on foot and, apparently, I was brought home by friendly Mailmen who had heard that a lost child probably belonged to 40 Craigentinny Avenue. I wonder how often Grandma dished out tea and scones to compassionate mail deliverers?

Wars should not be glorified, but when they do happen, unusual feats of human courage, compassion and inventiveness come into play. When World War II started, in September of 1939, I was five (going on six) years old, so I had nothing to offer to the national undertaking, but did have the privilege of experiencing what was going on around me. In September 1938, I was enrolled in the Primary Division of Leith Academy School. At first, we were expected to take a lunch with us to school, but just after the war started, it was decided that lunches would be served in the schools to ensure that children would have at least one meal per day. The only thing which stands out in my mind about those meals was my introduction to tapioca pudding (commonly referred to as “frog’s eggs pudding”), which I rather liked. The order of the day was that pupils should avoid being noticed by the teachers, but I soon fell afoul of this draconian ruling. Pupils were not supposed to be in the school building during the lunch break, except for the time spent eating their lunches in the first-floor area. Being of an inquisitive nature, I soon found out that if I stood at the top of the stairs on the first floor when the corridor was empty and yelled at the top of my voice, I could get an echo in the unoccupied corridor. In short order, one of the teachers, Mr. Harkness, appeared and asked me if I thought I was at a football match before telling me to go out to the playground.

In my younger years, I was rather skimpily built. With a name like Love, I was an easy target for some of the other boys who would call me “love-a-duck” and punch me. I would turn my back on them, so that I would not get a bloody nose and just assumed that it was part of school life. When I was about six-years-old, I had my tonsils taken out. Once I was free of that infected organ, I grew upwards and outwards. That operation was a bit of an adventure; it was during the war years when hospital space was kept for seriously wounded people, so low-grade surgery was performed in what was once a block of flats. After the operation, my throat bled a bit and I was told to go into the bathroom to spit the blood out into the bathtub. Several other patients must have had the same problem because the bottom of the tub was strewn with gobs of blood and what looked like discarded tonsils. I assume that the tub was washed out at least once each day. The upside of this happening was that I was given several helpings of ice cream over the next few days. A month or so after the tonsil incident, I was swinging on an overhead drainpipe in the school playground when the leader of the boys who had tormented me tried to take it over. With my newly robust arms, I grabbed him by his jacket and told him that he would have to wait until I was finished with the pipe before he could use it. That was the end of any bullying.

The 40’s – Edinburgh, Scotland

When Dad came home from his spell in the Army Pay Corp., he said to me, “You are becoming a bit of a loose cannon so I want you to join either the Boy’s Brigade or the Boy Scouts.” The Boy’s Brigade wore silly little pillbox hats, so there was no way that I would join them. When I did go to join the Boy Scouts, I was highly impressed with the Scouters (boys eighteen years or older) who helped the Scout Master and hoped to become like them. The first Scout camp that I went to was at Abbey Saint Bathans. During the first week, we had a thunderstorm one night. It was quite an experience to have the tent lit up by the lightning, feel the ground shake from the thunder, and hear the rain pelting on the canvas roof. After I became a Patrol Leader, I could take other boys out on short camps.

One place we would go to camp was the Earl of Dalkeith’s estate, just outside Edinburgh. The estate grounds were well kept and had many beautiful trees and flowering shrubs. We were given free run of the grounds but asked not to climb or damage the trees. During one of the camps, a couple of the boys threw a rope over the branch of a tree to swing on it. I told them to take it off, but unfortunately they had used a slip knot and it was locked onto a branch about fifteen feet above ground. Being mindful of the fact that we were not to climb the trees, I thought that if I climbed the rope and lay on the branch, I would be able to untie the rope and drop back to the ground without actually “climbing” the tree. Just as I reached the top of the rope and extended my foot to hook over the branch, the knot decided to come undone. I tried to turn over to land on my knees but only managed to get halfway and landed on my left wrist. There was a sickening crack, and waves of nausea engulfed me.

This injury was a perfect opportunity to make use of the first aid kit, which was part of our basic equipment. I had the boys make me some hot sweet tea, form a sling out of one of our triangular bandages and then help me dress in my uniform and kilt. In public, a Scout must always be neat and in full uniform. I put the Second in charge of the boys and walked into the doctor’s office in Dalkeith. The doctor took one look at the wrist and told me that I’d have to go into Edinburgh to have it set. I had a Coles fracture; the head of the radius had been driven onto the shaft of the bone. The doctor in the Edinburgh Infirmary insisted on getting my mother’s permission before setting the bone. She told our Scoutmaster, and he sent a Scouter to close the camp and bring the Boy Scouts home. All my training in how to deal with an emergency had come to nothing.

The 50’s – Northern British Columbia

Jobs were not easy to come by in Britain in the 1950s. Most of the fighting forces had been demobilized and reintegrated into the workforce. Many of the women who had been pressed into working during the war did not want to give up the pleasures of a paycheque, and the country was also staggering under the debts incurred during the war. I had always assumed that I would “go out into the world in search of fame and fortune.” In the fall of 1951, I saw an advertisement in a newspaper that said, “Come to Canada for a life of excitement and adventure in the frozen North.”

The advertisement I had responded to was put out by the Hudson’s Bay Company. There had been 300 applicants, and 16 were selected. We were flown from Scotland or England to Montreal, where I met three of the others. We were then shifted around between Montreal, Winnipeg, and Edmonton while the company decided where to send us. It was decided that I should go to Babine, in British Columbia, so I spent my eighteenth birthday on a train en route from Edmonton, Alta. to Smithers, B. C.

On the shore of Lake Babine, I met the store clerk whom I was replacing. We introduced ourselves, and he said, “Here is your sleeping robe, snowshoes, grub box and your guide who is called Plasway Williams. Good-bye.” He hopped into the truck which had taken me to the lakeshore, and there I was, on a snow-covered, frozen lake, in temperatures of minus 20ºC with a horse-drawn sleigh, a man that I had only just met and a one-hundred-mile-long lake in front of me. It took us three days to cover the distance to the Hudson’s Bay post at Babine, and during the trip I learned to use snowshoes, spent a night in a local family’s cabin, and another night in an American prospector’s cabin. Not bad for the beginning of a new adventure.

From my Boy Scout experiences, I knew the basics of camping in the wilderness. On Saturday evenings, I would head off into the bush for the night. In the winter months, I would follow the shoreline of the frozen lake, as that was the path of least resistance. On one occasion, I had walked a few miles from the village of Babine and set up camp amongst some trees about 40 to 70 feet tall. I camped under a large fir tree where there was not much snow. I cleared an area on the forest floor for my campfire, gathered a pile of deadwood for the night, cooked a meal and turned in for the night. During the hours of darkness, a fairly strong wind came up. I could hear the treetops thrashing about, but at the base of the tree, all was quiet and serene. My moccasins had become wet from the snow during my hike, so I had stuck a couple of tree branches into the ground and hung the moccasins over the fire to dry them out. In the morning, I found that, during the night, the fire had crept out under the snow and weakened one of the branches. The result was that one of my moccasins had fallen into the fire and was no longer serviceable. Because of my Scout training, I had brought along extra socks, so I made the return journey with a sock and a moccasin on my left foot and three socks on the right.  

The 60’s – Vancouver Island & Northern Alberta

Later, I was sent to Holberg on Vancouver Island. It was at Holberg that I did my courting of Barb. She was a nurse in training at the Misericordia Hospital in Edmonton, and I could afford neither the time nor the money to take trips out of Holberg. Of necessity, our courting was done by phone. Because Holberg was an Air Force Base, all off-base calls had to be approved by the Duty Officer. Each time I would phone his office in the evening and say, “I’d like to make a call to Edmonton,” I’d get the reply, “Oh yes. We have the number right here.” I wondered if his staff was making bets on the outcome of our fourteen-month-long telephone romance?

In July of 1962, Barb and her family expected to be in Vancouver as part of their holiday. Because Holberg was an Air Force Base, there were no hotels, so I could not invite them to Holberg, nor could I afford the time to go to Vancouver. One day I was chatting with the Commanding Officer, with whom I was quite friendly, when he said, “I hear that your fiancé will be in Vancouver next month, why not bring her up here?” I pointed out that there was no place for her to stay, but he said, “Oh that’s all right, she can stay in the nurse’s residence.” After a few hours deliberation, I heeded the adages, “He who hesitates is lost, faint heart never won fair lady, a coward dies a thousand deaths etc. etc.” and phoned one of our suppliers in Edmonton to order an engagement ring. In due course, three arrived.

On the appointed day that Barb flew into Port Hardy, two M.Ps drove me there to pick her up. I proposed to her (not on bended knee, I’m sorry to say), she accepted, and the rest is history. On the day we got engaged, July 28th, 1962, we had a picnic supper on the beach. In the cool evening, the engagement ring slipped off her finger, and we had a frantic few minutes sifting through the sand to recover it. I, at least knew that I still had a couple of rings in reserve.

Because our married life has been the biggest adventure of my life, I think that it deserves a bit more space than anything else. In January of 1964, Barb and I were sent to Habay in Northern Alberta; this would turn out to be our “four-year honeymoon” post. Because of the limited medical facilities at Habay, Barb decided to return to her family home in Yellowknife to have our first son. During the summer months, it was not possible to drive into Habay (in those days). When Barb was ready to return to Habay, the company chartered a plane to fly her from Hay River to Habay. Because of my Scottish upbringing and Hudson’s Bay Company training, I decided to have the remaining space in the Cessna filled with cases of frozen meat. 

The usual procedure would be that the incoming pilot would circle the store and then land on the airstrip a short distance from the Bay buildings. On the day that Barb was due to return, we had a strong crosswind at the airstrip, and I was uncertain if the pilot would be able to land. Around noon, the plane swooped down over the store and headed off towards Assumption, which was at the other end of an impassably muddy road. I took this to mean that he was going to try to land at the Assumption airstrip, but realized that I could not expect to get over there by truck. As I drove over to the Forestry Station to ask the Ranger if he would drive me over to Assumption in his tracked scout-car, I noticed an object by the Habay airstrip. Closer inspection revealed that this object was a pile of about twenty cases of meat, and Barb, valiantly fighting off a horde of mosquitos and horseflies with our week-old son. I’m still not sure if Barb was glad to be back or not. 

When it came time to order a turkey for our first Thanksgiving, I was uncertain which size would fit our roasting pan. From some half-forgotten math lessons, I remembered that “If A=B and B=C, then A must =C.” We weighed our first-born son Sandy, placed him in the roasting pan and ordered accordingly.

A Granddaughter’s Afterword

Without fail, rain or shine, when my grandfather picks up the phone, and I ask him how things are going, he lays on the thickest possible version of his Scottish accent and replies: “I’m just thrrrriving.” It doesn’t matter what has been happening, whether a worldwide pandemic has broken out or every highway in British Columbia is washed out or even if he has a cold, he always tells me that is he is “just thrrrriving.”

John has been thriving for his entire life. This much is apparent through his many recollections of adventurous incidents as a boy during the Second World War in Edinburgh, Scotland, through his adventures (and sometimes mishaps) while working in Northern Canada. Even the most serious incidents are recollected humorously, from near-misses with herds of stampeding reindeer to his fiancée almost losing her engagement ring on the night of his proposal. John’s sense of humour shines through in this memoir, and I think he elucidates the manner in which he has thrived through life: a bit of luck, a few glasses of single-malt whiskey, and the ability to find a silver lining or at least a joke in every imaginable scrape.

In his twilight years, John is a history buff with extensive knowledge of the military going-ons of the second world war, a bit of a philosopher, and has a zealous interest in the various theories circulating about the creation of the universe. I often think that in an alternate reality, or perhaps in another life, he may have become an astronomer or philosopher by profession. If I was to speculate about his past lives further, he would most certainly have been a writer in one of his past lives. Then again, he certainly is a writer in this life too, as his memoirs will attest.

About the Author

John Love had a long career in the retail industry, which took him across the NWT, Northern BC, Saskatchewan and Alberta. After retiring to Salmon Arm, BC, John worked on a volunteer project in Ghana and enjoyed extensive travel around the world. John continues to reside in Salmon Arm BC and recently completed his memoir, A Life of Adventure.

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