Bill's Story

William ("Bill") Elliott (1917-2013) wrote this early in 1988, a few months before his 71st birthday.

I was born at Loch Libo cottage not far from Paisley, Scotland, on the second day of May 1917; the fourth child of William and Robina Elliott. The eldest a boy, John, then Margaret (Peggy) and Robina (Ruby), then myself. Later five more were added: next to me my sister Betty, then brothers Matthew and Robert; then, after coming to Canada, sister Grace and youngest brother Charles, making nine children in all.

[1] You can read a more detailed discussion of his father's World War I service here.

My father had a good education and started out as a draftsman for Coats' Thread Co. of Paisley; this was before World War One. Enlisting in the army he served in Egypt and the Dardanelles in Turkey, where he was gassed, then discharged.[1]  Consequently his health was never good after that, so he was forced to find outside employment. For the next several years he was employed as a gamekeeper to some of the large estates further north in Scotland.

Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of accompanying my father on his rounds as a gamekeeper, when he was surveying the deer on the hills or trapping rabbits. For catching rabbits sometimes he used ferrets which he would carry with him: a ferret was sent down a rabbit burrow, a net placed over the entrance; in a matter of seconds a rabbit was in the net.

I also had great pleasure in roaming and running over the hills, usually by myself as there were not many children of my age close by.

Bill in about 1937.

At one time we lived in a town for some months when I was about six years. It was a quaint old town with a cathedral and bell tower. I liked to accompany the old bell ringer up the long winding stone stairway and help him ring the bell. It was in a gate at this cathedral that I stood up on the gate, put my head between the bars, and stepped down off the gate, but was caught behind the ears. As I remember it was some time — an eternity — before a policeman came along, lifted me up and released me.

It was at this same town, at the school we attended, I had my first introduction (as it were) to a ghost. It seemed in those days there were many superstitious people and I heard many stories of ghosts and such. It was not really surprising when one evening about dusk another and I saw an apparition in the upstairs window of the old schoolhouse, the figure was all in white with a white face; needless to say we ran, and for several days no children went near the school. There were many ghost stories day and night: some people had been chased by the ghost; it could jump from the top of the schoolhouse unexpectedly, and apparently had springs on its feet as it could bound about thirty feet in the air.

[2] His brother's description of these events (and his punishment) may be read here.

However it turned out it wasn't a real ghost, as it happened to be my older brother and a friend of his, the minister's son. They were taking turns haunting the schoolhouse, dressed in a white sheet and covering their faces with chalk dust. Finally they were found out and punished accordingly.[2] 

I started school about five years of age, and my elder brother (about seven years older) made sure my two sisters and I got to school on time: he used a switch to make us run and as a result I became a good runner for my age, and had no trouble winning all the races. It seemed my older brother was always my nemesis; one of the events he made me participate in was collecting seagull eggs. It seemed he could sell these eggs and make some money to buy cigarettes and such. I was the unwilling partner but did not receive any remuneration.

He would dangle me down the precipitous cliffs over the sea on the end of a rope about twenty or thirty feet straight down. My job was to retrieve the seagull eggs from nests on the side of the cliffs, while the seagulls shrieked and screamed around my head. He would then pull me up with my hands full, and the process was repeated. This I did not enjoy.

After all the ghost stories and tales of boogey-men, drunk people and such, I developed a great fear of the dark. However, it seemed on several occasions I had to run errands in the dark. On one such night (when I was about eight) I was sent to mail some letters at the post office. At that time we lived over two miles from the post office and school where myself and two sisters went to school. To get there we had to walk across country past the big estate house along the river for a long piece, across the river (Cannich River) by a narrow swinging foot bridge, then along the road to the village. I had accomplished mailing the letters and started home; I had been given a lantern to light my way. The gardener, an older fellow from the estate house, very drunk, saw me and latched on to me and my lantern. I was scared to death; however he clung to the lantern and we stumbled along the road over the swinging bridge — it really did swing that night — then started along the river bank, where he stumbled and fell down to the river. I managed to retrieve the lantern, which had gone out, before I ran as fast as I could back home. My father went back and rescued the gardener from the river bank, no worse than usual from his fall.

Many of the places where we lived in Scotland were near farms, so I have some very pleasant memories of visiting the farms, playing with calves, sheep, foals etc. Most of all following the plowman and his horses for hours, then getting a lift onto one of the horses for a ride back to the stable... it was then I think I decided that some day I would be a farmer. A poem I learned at school then, part of which I remember:

To plow and sow,
to reap and mow,
and be a farmer's boy.

These are a few of the episodes I remember but still have very pleasant memories of Scotland and the estates where we spent some years 'till I was about ten.

[3] Actually, the family departed Scotland in late March. You can read a more detailed story of the voyage, written by Bill's sister Peggy, here.

In April 1927[3] , my parents (who had seven children by this time) could not see much of a future for the family in Scotland, and they had a chance to emigrate to Canada. The Soldiers' Settlement Board was taking applications from First World War veterans to take up farming in Canada. The pictures of the golden wheat fields, large houses and barns painted a wonderful opportunity. However, it did not turn out exactly as painted: this was just before the stock market crash in 1929 and the following depression years leading right up to World War Two.

However, we arrived in Olds, Alberta, Canada in April 1927, after over three weeks by boat and train. The weather was mild, snow all gone and the roads were muddy— our first experience with a chinook. So we arrived at the farm seven miles west and two north from Olds.

A few days after arriving it started to snow, a real blizzard, and for the next week or so we almost froze. The house had one stove and very little wood for a fire. I can still see my father pacing up and down wondering why we had come to this country.

But it was a great experience and we could have a horse to ride to school. The children and the people were very friendly and helpful, although they would laugh at our Scottish accent at school and when we said "yes sir" and "no sir" to the school teacher. The first summer we were in Canada we made many friends with the neighboring children and used to visit them often. On one such occasion I had walked about two miles to the neighbors where there was a boy about my age (ten). I was allowed to stay for supper and a little longer, so it was dark by the time I started home across country through willow brush and pasture land. I still had some fear of the dark and there were also some wildcats and cougars in the area at that time. As I was walking along I noticed a pit-pat behind me. Now I was afraid, so I started to run, but the faster I ran the faster the pit-pat right behind me. If I stopped and listened the noise stopped, but as soon as I started to run the pit-pat was behind me again. It was a fairly warm night so I removed my coat and found that the noise had stopped. It was then I realized my coat, which was leather, had a split tail and when I walked fast or ran it went pit-pat. So apparently there were no cougars that night, although in the years since I have seen a few in that area.

I attended Waterside School four years from 1927 at ten years of age, until 1931 when I was thirteen; then Hainstock School for three years for grades nine, ten and eleven.

When I was sixteen I started working on farms. The pay was very limited but I enjoyed working with the horses in the fields.

[4] Esther Elliott (née Christensen, 1922-2017).

In 1939 after working on the farm I had accumulated very little wealth; there was little chance of getting enough money to start farming on my own, so it was very frustrating. By this time I had met Esther,[4]  in 1938, but there was little hope for the future in farming.

Esther Christensen in 1938

When World War Two broke out I decided to enlist, hoping after the war things would improve (which they did) and most people thought the war would not last long. In March 1940 I enlisted with the Army Service Corps as a driver, and spent the next four years in England except for a time at Dunkirk in France, before we were evacuated back to England.

It was during these war years that I became re-acquainted with my relatives in Scotland whom I had not seen since 1927; my family had lost touch with them. So I spent all my leaves in Scotland and still have some very happy memories of those times.

During my service overseas I traveled all over Scotland and England, bringing in new vehicles and hauling tanks from the ships at the ports to the various units, ready for the invasion of France.

In 1944 I was recommended for a commission but had broken my leg earlier playing soccer and this started to give me some trouble, so I was unable to finish officers' training. It was then I had a chance to return to Canada in May 1944.

This clipping, showing Bill's return aboard the HMCS Lady Nelson hospital ship, was found carefully folded amongst Esther's papers.

Esther and Bill Elliott wedding photo.

Esther, who had written letters faithfully and sent parcels, was still waiting, so we were married June 1, 1944, soon after I returned.

I did not receive my discharge from the army 'till July 1945. Then I worked at Dominion Bridge Co. in Calgary for a time while waiting for my application to Veterans' Land Act to be approved for a quarter section of land. It was 1946. This was finalized and we left Calgary. Meanwhile our daughter Karen was born in 1945. So we left for the farm west of Olds with everything we owned in a 1930 Chev sedan.

At first we farmed one quarter section of land, milking a few cows and feeding pigs, chickens and turkeys, which kept us in groceries but not much more.

We had some hard times for a few years owing to hailstorms and low prices for our products. Esther did all the sewing of clothes for herself and the girls.

Margaret our second daughter was born in 1948. My dad died in 1949, at age 59. Marilyn our third daughter was born in 1954.

In 1963 we were again hailed out completely. That year Esther's mother died on March 28, her dad died July 2, and also my mother in April... a very sad year.

Finally our son James William was born in 1960, and our family was complete.

In 1961 we went into debt, bought another half section of land, later another quarter, rented some more, and purchased bigger and better machinery.

About this time I started growing seed grain and have received some awards from seed fairs; this has given me great satisfaction. I have sacked and shipped seed grain to every part of Alberta, and some to British Columbia.

It was in my later years of farming that our son-in-law Don McCulloch helped me immensely and we still have happy memories of the times we spent together harvesting under the harvest moon. Don also helped me at other times, seeding etc.

We decided to leave the farm in 1973. It was very hard to get help at that time, also our son Jim was allergic to almost everything on the farm, and I had trouble with a pinched nerve, so these helped our decision to leave the farm and move to town. Don had his own business by this time.

Since retiring we have enjoyed life very much, involved in many volunteer projects, and have been active in our local Royal Canadian Legion.

I have kept books for the Legion, been treasurer and on executive. At present I am chairman of the Legion Senior Group; this is most interesting and rewarding.

I still work on the farm in the spring and fall seasons for Brian and Barb Clarke. I have also had the pleasure of helping Marilyn's husband Bill Fessler at harvest time. Altogether we are busy and enjoy it.

I am proud of all our children and grand-children; they give us many joys— some pain but OH! so many joys.

It has been a very enjoyable and rewarding life, with good health for which I am thankful. My only regrets are that my children grew up too fast and it seemed I was too busy to spend much time with them. Now our grand-children help make up for this, although it seems they grow up fast also.

I have had many birthdays over the years which never troubled me very much growing older, but on my last birthday (seventy) I woke up in the morning and Esther asked, "Well do you feel any older?" "No," but suddenly I thought... Threescore years and ten, a life-time— then I felt down, with not much more to look forward to.

Later (I think the same day), a telephone call from our daughter, with an invitation to come for a visit and supper, also a chance to see our grand-children. It was then I realized I have lots to look forward to.

Bill passed away on August 17, 2013 at the age of 96. Read Bill's obituary. Esther passed away on March 18, 2017, aged 95.

Basically this is the story of my life, as my memory serves me, boring though it may be. To this end I dedicate it to my children and grand-children, hoping they will have a life no worse than I.