Lambton Heritage Museum
Grand Bend, Ontario

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Grand Bend - Our Stories, Our Voice




Our cottage, like many that have been in the same family for more than one generation, binds our family together. For more than 60 years, it has been a place of shared memories and experience, and where we celebrate the special events in our lives, birthdays, marriages, anniversaries, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But the cottage is also a place that has come to mean a great deal to another family, living on another continent, and linked to us by blood and the events of the Second World War.

Growing up in London Ontario with my brother and sisters, Sunday was reserved for visiting our grandparents Rose and John, at their home on Baseline Road.

On a small table in their living room was a photograph of a young man in the uniform of the Royal Air Force. His name was Hugh Reilley, and he was Rose and John's nephew. When his mother died in 1928, 10 year-old Hugh came to live with my grandparents and his cousins, my father and uncle.

In 1939, after finishing high school, and working for a year, Hugh and his best friend went to England, and upon the outbreak of War, both joined the Royal Air Force, Hugh became a fighter pilot, and by September 1940 was flying Spitfires in the Battle of Britain. Tragically, he was killed in action just a few weeks later, leaving behind his young wife Molly, and a three-week-old son named Chris. He was just 22 years old. My father arrived in England with the Canadian Army in 1942, and following strict instructions from my grandparents, went immediately to see Molly and Chris. Many letters passed between Rose and Molly during those years, but after the war ended, their correspondence became less frequent, ending altogether when Molly remarried.

In June, 1947, Rose purchased Lots 9 and 10, Plan 14 in Hay Township for $1,200 and built a summer home. It was her project and hers alone, my grandfather had little to do with it other than driving her up to "The Bend" and watching her give orders to the builder. We have old photographs of Rose moving dirt in the wheelbarrow and painting the exterior of the cottage. John preferred to sit under a tree reading a good book or doing the crossword.

Right away the cottage became a place for family and friends to gather. Even before she married my father, Rose would invite my mother and her fellow nurses from Westminister Hospital, up for the weekend. She loved nothing better than to surround herself with "young" people. There was no place she loved more, and when my parents threw a surprise 50th anniversary party for Rose and John, Grand Bend was the logical location.

One day in 1975 my father received a rather mysterious telephone call. "Is this the same Herb Miller who was in England during the War?" he was asked. Somewhat apprehensively, he, replied "yes, who's calling?" It was Madge Flemming, Hugh's mother in law who was in Canada on holiday. Her daughter Molly had recently passed away and Madge felt it was time that Chris got to know his Canadian family.

My grandparents had both passed away by this time, but the place Rose had loved so much was still in the family. The next year, Chris's wife Lesley and their small son Alex came for a visit, and the following year, Chris was able to come himself. Arriving in Grand Bend on the Labour Day weekend, he was immediately taken to an end of summer party, and later to an after hours corn roast at the drive-in theatre. After three hours sleep, he found himself taking part in a sailboat race. Chris was now fully indoctrinated into the Grand Bend way of life and later said it was a visit he was not likely to forget.

Since then, all of the Reilley's have stayed at the cottage. Chris's children Alex and Louise have spent the most time in Grand Bend. When Louise was 16 and here for a visit, Chris phoned more than once, keeping tabs on his daughter. "Remember", he said, "I've been to Grand Bend, I know what it's like."

Both of Hugh's grandchildren are married now, each with one child, and we eagerly await the arrival of yet another generation of the Reilley family. Rose would be thrilled to know that Hugh's family has come to love the cottage as much as she did.

Today, the same small table with Hugh's photograph that once sat in my parents' living room now occupies a special place in the cottage. And occasionally, visitors will ask about the picture of the young man in the Royal Air Force uniform.


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