By Jessica Messerer-Trosin
A chance meeting brought together two members of the Canadian Air Force — one originally from Victoria and the other from Winnipeg — for almost three-quarters of a century.
Nora and Norm Morrison met the Christmas Eve of 1943. They were both at a bar in Haringey, England. Nora was there with a date and planning to attend a dance that night. She was also with another couple, who happened to know Norm. Once Nora and Norm started talking, Nora’s plans changed.
“Next thing I know I’m out the door to the dance hall with Norm,” she explained. A new romance blossomed.
Because Norm was an officer and Nora was an “air woman,” they weren’t allowed to be seen together, so they had to keep their dates secret.
“We had quite the time of it, trying to put the odd civy clothes on or what have you,” she said.
Mo – as Norm was nicknamed overseas – and Nora were married June 16, 1944, with about 300 people in attendance.
Because of the blackout at that time, they had to be married by 6 p.m. Even if it was five minutes too late, it wouldn’t have been considered legal.
The happy couple even had a three-tiered wedding cake, which was a luxury at the time.
“There were none in England during the war. Everything was rationed. The girls from the mess(hall) for three months saved a wee-tablespoon full of flour, maybe a teaspoon full of raisins until they got enough to make that. That was my wedding present from the girls,” Nora said.
Because Nora was not yet 21 when she wanted to go overseas to join the war effort, she needed her father’s permission.
“We were real good buddies,” she said of their relationship. He let her go.
Nora’s main motivation to go to England was to join her only sibling, her brother Ted, who was 15 months older and had gone over in 1939 to join the Royal Air Force.
Nora said they were like twins and used to double date.
“He was a great guy. We had a real good time over there, the two of us,” Nora said.
“That alone made it worthwhile going over there, never mind meeting Norm.”
Sadly Ted was killed in 1944, six weeks after Nora met Norm.
Overseas, Nora drove transport, mainly ambulances and trucks. She never had a single accident — not even a bumped fender — in all the hours she drove, sometimes 20 or 22 hours per day.
She also drove through the blackouts when there were no streetlights and no house lights allowed.
“I loved it. I loved driving,” she said.
Norm was a member of the Air Force air crew for almost five years, flying as well as training.
“It was a scary time because I knew what it was all about over there. It wasn’t fun,” said Nora.
“It gave you a different outlook on life for the rest of your life. You appreciated what you had, you enjoyed what you had and you forgot all about those petty things. You did. You didn’t have time for it.”
The couple came back to Canada at the end of 1944.
They moved to Winnipeg, Norm’s hometown, for three years, where they owned a baby shop and by this time were raising two boys of their own.
Faced with the decision of hiring a nanny or another worker for their shop, they decided to sell, uproot, and move to Vancouver. There Norm worked for Eaton’s for three years before he thought about going back into the Air Force.
He got a phone call that offered him a position.
He would drop one rank, but would be able to earn it back within a year.
He needed his wife’s approval.
“He asked me, ‘Would you like it?’ and I said ‘Oh, I’d love it!’” Nora said. “It was right in his blood, the Air Force. Me too, I loved it.”
Within two months he was back in, and the family’s travels around North America were beginning.
Norm trained in London for three months, while Nora and the kids stayed in Vancouver.
One day he called, told her to sell the house, car and furniture, pack up the kids and drive to meet him in northern Quebec.
Then they went to the Gulf of Mexico, then back to Quebec, and then to Yuma, Arizona. Some of these moves involved a lot of driving.
“The kids are wonderful travellers,” Nora said.
“To this day the kids still joke about it. The first thing I did in the morning, because we used to be on the road by 5 a.m…I’d make a big bag of sandwiches and when the kids got restless, I’d pass them a sandwich. That kept them happy.”
After that, the family was transferred to Comox Air Force Base before being sent back to Quebec.
Next Norm was sent up to an isolated part of the north. He decided that it wasn’t fair to their kids — who were teenagers by that time — to be up there, so he asked for his discharge.
With four boys in tow, they moved back to Vancouver, and Norm was again looking for a job.
He happened to walk by the Indian Affairs office and saw that they were looking for a clerk. He walked in, got the job and moved his way up to become the Indian and Northern Affairs Superintendent of Social Development in the Campbell River district.
“He was an absolute go-getter,” Nora said of her husband.
“No matter what he tackled, it had to be done right.”
After their retirement in 1977, the veterans eventually decided to build a house in Kamloops and make it their permanent residence.
Together Nora and Norm liked to golf and they spent a lot of time attending to their grass and garden. Norm was also an avid curler.
They also spent a lot of time with their family: their four sons, six grandchildren — two girls and four boys — and seven great grand kids.
“They’re a fabulous family,” she said. “At the drop of a hat, we’ll get together and have a party.”
Norm Morrison passed away in July of 2014 at the age of 96.
“We were just short of our 74th anniversary. We just did everything together. You never saw one without the other,” Nora said.
Nora said they had the perfect marriage and that she wouldn’t want to change a day of it. They were often teased for how happy they always looked. “He was always taking my hand…he was just an absolute sweetheart,” she said.
Nora Morrison fought back tears as she recalled a conversation she had with her late husband just three weeks before he passed away.
“He was sitting over there,” she said pointing to the couch across the living room from her favourite chair. “He was getting frail, he was almost 97. He always got me everything, but anyhow, I got him a glass of milk, he loved his milk…and he said, ‘you know what sweetheart?’ and I said, ‘what?’ and he said, ‘we’re more in love now than we ever were.’ That’s my best memory.”