Frank and Winifred “Win” Smirfitt would probably have celebrated more wedding anniversaries had their nuptials not been interrupted by the outbreak of war.
World War II, to be precise.
The happy couple celebrated their 71st anniversary last Wednesday surrounded by friends and neighbours at Berwick by the Sea retirement community. Childhood sweethearts in Vancouver before Canada was drawn into the war in Europe, they postponed marriage as Frank marched off to join the fight.
“Win wanted to set a date, but I was going to war and I didn’t know how badly damaged I was going to be when I came back,” said Frank, 95. “Well, I got my foot badly damaged, but that wasn’t the part she was interested in.”
As the guests around the birthday table broke into laughter, Frank grinned mischievously while Win swatted his arm in mock indignation.
His injury, suffered while serving as a tank gunnery instructor, resulted in his discharge and early return home. After he spent nearly a year in hospital recuperating and rehabilitating, Frank and Win finally tied the knot Sept. 2, 1944, almost a year before the end of the war.
“We knew we were going to get married eventually, because I’d set my mind to it,” Win said as Frank nodded emphatically.
Frank said Win was originally attracted to him, “because I had wheels,” he said. “I had a bicycle. She fell in love with that bike. Eventually she learned to love me, too.”
After marrying, the couple moved from Vancouver to Kittimat, where Frank worked as a draftsman for a bridge-building company, helping on projects including bridges, dam gates, buildings and transmission towers.
The couple had five children before eventually moving to Quadra Island, where they spent 34 years before moving into the newly opened Berwick house last fall.
Frank said he still had that old bicycle, an English Paragon, right up until the move to Quadra.
“We left Kittimat in 1980, and I left the bike leaning up against the wall of the house,” he said.
Far worse than having to postpone her wedding date was the wait Win endured on the home front while Frank was off to war.
“It was terrible, of course,” she said over birthday cake and juice. “But you went on doing what you had to do and waited for the postman to come.
“Some people were worse off, because they were having kids. There were kids growing up not knowing who their dad was.”
Asked if he ever expected to share 71 anniversaries with Win, Frank seemed genuinely surprised.
“All you think about is staying alive until Christmas,” he said.