Remembering Bill Hussey with love

When I think of love and sacrifice, I think of Bill Hussey, newly engaged to Peggy and about to go off to war. He told her: “If you meet someone, please let me be the first to know. And if I meet someone, you will be the first to know.” Fortunately there was no one else, and they were married as soon as he returned.

Sometimes on the way home from work, I used to stop off at a white frame cottage on the east side of Victoria Park just south of Bracken, where Bill sat by a lilac bush in his front yard enjoying the sun. Over several cups of tea, Bill gave his take on current events, or talked about the past, or demonstrate the exercises he had learned as a paratrooper in Special Forces during the war and still practised to stay limber. He was the kind of man many would have liked for a father or grandfather – kind, patient, wise, and up-to-date with his ideas.

Bill, 92, died in July. For the previous couple of years he lived in a seniors’ home. Peggy passed away  several years ago.

The cottage at 97 Victoria Park Ave. has now been torn down and replaced. It was built by his father, and was where Bill and Peggy brought up their own family. Bill attended Courcelette Public School.  He was a member of  Kingston Road United Church, where he was an amateur organist and met Peggy.

He joined the Canadian Army and was sent to Catterick in England for a motor mechanic’s course. His marks were so high that he was sent for officer training and became a captain, but “felt like a fish out of water,” resigned his commission and got his sergeant’s stripes. “I didn’t want to send men out to die. I had to be part of it with them,” he said.

The gruelling training for Special Forces including parachuting, scuba diving, and 48-hour marches carrying equipment with the occasional 10-minute break.  (Swimming as a 13-year-old from the waterworks past the Scarborough Bluffs had not prepared him for live ammunition exploding in the water around him.) The drop out rate for trainees was 20%.

“We were supposed to be tough enough to take on five men at a time,” he recalled.

There were 70 men in the Special Forces – Canadians and Americas. Bill led a team of 27 Canadians.  The Special Forces moved ahead of regular soldiers, preparing the way. In early 1943 Bill’s  group was involved in the first marine landing of the Canadian Army in Sicily, helping to secure a safe landing place for the aircraft that would be used to back up the allied troops in the Sicily Campaign and get provisions to them.

Before the Anzio landing, Bill and his team rowed ashore from a submarine to sabotage three cannons, a fuel depot, tanks and cars. The operation was timed for 22 minutes, and the submarine would leave after 24 minutes with or without them.” Each of us knew what we had to do, and we made it back on time, including bringing back five wounded men.”

Bill attributed having a future to come back to for keeping him sane during the dangerous years in Special Forces. Nevertheless, on his return he went for six months three times a week to the old Christie Hospital for “nerve shots” to help obliterate flashbacks.

After the war, he sought a quieter life. Bill and Peggy brought up two children, and he worked in the printing trade.

In later years he returned to his old school, Courcelette, and along with other veterans volunteered each week in the reading clinic. On Remembrance Day, Bill gave his annual address to the students.

“I like to tell them that they can be anything they like – as long as they are willing to work hard,” he said.

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