Dedication to Legion spans generations for Port Moody family

The Royal Canadian Legion has been a refuge for military veterans and their families since 1926.

In Port Moody, Branch 119 has always been a family affair.

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Since it opened in 1935, there has likely been a member of the Berrow family involved, as a founder, builder or supporter.

Albert Berrow was a veteran of the First World War when he settled in Port Moody with his growing family following several years of post-war toil at a fishery in Esquimalt, a farm in Red Deer, Alta. and a sawmill near Lake Cowichan. They were enticed to the city by the prospect of steady employment in the Flavelle cedar mill and built a small bunkhouse just down the street.

With eight kids to feed on Berrow’s modest pay, it was a spartan existence that left little left over to spend for a night out at the old Tourist Hotel.

But when Berrow — who was 13 years old when he enlisted and had been just dispatched from Halifax prior to the big munitions explosion that devastated the city in 1917 — scraped together enough coins for a night out, he liked to bend his elbow with some of the other veterans who worked at the mill.

Eventually, they sought their own venue, away from big, dark moose head that loomed over the Tourist’s dingy lounge, where they could share stories and offer one another the kind of quiet support that’s only understood by those who’ve pulled on a scratchy military uniform and felt the fear of enemy fire.

Bill Berrow was still too young to understand the demons that pulled his dad to the new Legion but, as another world war gathered steam in Europe, he was quick to enlist as soon as he could. He was 17 when he was sent to England for training in 1942.

Now 95, Bill Berrow remembers the distant thud of German bombs falling through the night on nearby London, just 40 miles from his encampment, where he had to hunker down in a pup tent.

“We got to the action before we got to the action,” Berrow said.

Assigned as a dispatcher who would ride a Harley-Davidson motorcycle ahead of his platoon, Berrow said it took him a while before he figured out exactly what that meant.

“There might be a sniper up there,” he said.

After one and a half years in England, Berrow was finally deployed to a ship full of heavy transport trucks headed across the English Channel to Juno Beach. Heavy fog diverted his ship back to the Isle of Wight, away from the worst of the D-Day fighting, and the remainder of his service became about the laborious accumulation of enough points to qualify for discharge, he said.

When that happened, Berrow travelled back and forth across Canada for a stretch, driving long-distance truck, working in Squamish, then living in New Westminster before returning to Port Moody in 1949, when he got married.

And naturally, when Berrow’s shift ended at the cedar mill, he headed for the Legion hall.

“We didn’t sit down and drink beer and talk about the war,” Berrow recalled, "but everybody had common experiences.”

As Port Moody grew up around him, those visits to the Legion remained a constant in Berrow’s life, although they diminished when he got older and the ranks of veterans dwindled. Still, he proudly carried a flag as part of the colour guard for the city’s Remembrance Day ceremonies until his legs could no longer transport him the length of the parade route.

Berrow’s dedication rubbed off on his daughter-in-law, Mary Lou, who joined the Legion so she could accompany him on his visits.

“I wanted to keep this going, keep things remembered,” she said, adding Bill Berrow’s granddaughter, Shannon Berrow, also volunteers at the Legion.

Over the years, Bill Berrow said the Legion, which recently reopened in a new facility on Clarke Street, has become less about sharing war stories with his family of veterans than about sharing good memories with his family, whether at the weekly dances when his legs were more spry or just a lunch out with his daughter-in-law and granddaughter.

Shannon Berrow said seeing her grandfather amidst the younger generations that now populate the Legion givers her perspective.

“It’s easy for the stories of how we got here to be lost,” she said.

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