My mother was only able to tell me a limited amount about Claude, and I have always wished I knew more about who Claude was as a person. I still have a sense of loss, so perhaps being able to ask him even a few questions, to hear his voice and to see his mannerisms, would help ease some of that. I believe I look more like my mother, but would I recognize myself in him? I know it would be an intensely emotional meeting.
The outline I have of Claude’s life is based on what relatives have shared with me over the years, and what little else I have uncovered in family photos and papers, local newspapers, and online.
The above family group photo is the only one I have that shows Claude as a boy. As his Grandfather Hunt died in Sep 1928, and as his younger brother was born in Jan 1924, I am guessing it was taken in 1927 or earlier in 1928 during the warmer months.
As I’ve already described in my earlier story about his father Angus HENSON, life on the homestead was difficult for the HENSON family right from the beginning. After his father lost his right hand in a sawmill accident, the depression made it even more difficult for a man with disabilities to get a job. So as soon as they were able, the oldest three went out to work to help support the family. And everyone worked to maintain and survive on their homestead. Claude may have made it up to grade 11 in school before seeking employment.
There is one other story from this period that may have involved Claude:
“One thing though that Daddy did do, with the help of one of the boys, Claude I think, was to dig a 60 foot well in the center of Boyle. This was in 1934 and that was the village’s main water supply for the next 30 years.”
Both brothers also lived in Ontario for a time, which is where Claude enlisted in the military. First he signed up in the active militia on 10 Jan 1941. He was assigned to the Algonquin Regiment and attended the NPAM Training Centre for the next month. But he would have rather been in the Air Force! He is described as 6 ft 1 inch tall, with blue eyes, fair hair and complexion, 190 pounds. He claimed a public school education, and was living at the time in South Porcupine, just east of Timmins, Ontario. Two months later in nearby Matheson Ontario, Claude married Mary Hykaway.
By 1945 he is listed as a voter and soldier in Boyle, Athabasca, Alberta. Claude was demobilized on 25 Jan 1946 at the Armoury in Calgary Alberta. By Sep 1946 he was up mining again in Yellowknife NWT. By this time he was obviously separated from his wife Mary, but his divorce took quite a while to finalize.
In 1951 Claude’s mailing address was a postal box in Duncan BC, where his sister Ethel and family lived, and where he met my mother Mabel Marion ANDREW (1918-2000), perhaps at a dance or event at the local legion. I know that Claude was friends with my Mom’s brother Dean ANDREW, a fellow veteran who had been badly injured during the war. I also know that Mom was friends with his sister Ethel (whose husband Joe KING was also a veteran I believe), but don’t know whether either of these friendships were the cause or in the aftermath of Claude and Mabel meeting. So many unanswered questions!
Claude was buried on 26 May 1954 in the Mountain View Cemetery in the Somenos area outside Duncan BC, and close to Mt Prevost. His sister Ethel was to join him in his grave many years later. The local newspapers published a very short account of the accident as well as a short obituary for Claude HENSON:
1954 news clipping, Victoria Daily Times, Victoria BC, Friday, May 21 1954:
1954 obituary, Victoria Daily Times, Tuesday, May 25, 1954, pg 18, deaths:
In 1980 and also in 1987, I met Claude’s surviving 6 siblings, some of them for the first time. I wish that I had asked many more questions then, but at least I took some photos. My Aunt Pearl and Aunt Mae also sent me some family papers and information. It wasn’t until years later that I found a couple of articles online that Mildred had written about her HENSON and HUNT family and then published in 1982 in a Boyle Alberta local history book titled “Forests, furrows and faith : a history of Boyle and districts“. These articles gave me further insights into their lives and the hardships and misfortunes they suffered. All these HENSON siblings have since passed. Claude of course was the first.
Early in 2017, I was thrilled to meet a new first cousin Sherrill from Alberta for the first time, although we had been corresponding since 2014. She is a daughter of Claude’s youngest brother Dick. Sherrill and her husband visited us in Victoria for an afternoon while on vacation in our area, and she shared lots of old family photos and stories with me. Dick was the last HENSON sibling to pass away in 2010, and I learned that among his affects was a WWII army kit bag complete with canteen, shaving kit, and wool cap with ear flaps, which Sherill later mailed to me. I was extremely moved to hold and touch them - an unexpected gift and invaluable family keepsakes! There was also a beret with a badge that reads "Sherbrook Fusilier Regiment, Droit au But". Claude's name and number are written on the back of the kit bag, but the cap and beret aren't labeled. However, I recognized the beret and badge from one of his army portraits, and the wool cap with earflaps from a younger portrait of Claude in uniform.
Dick served in the Air Force, but had managed to meet up with Claude during the war. He and Claude were said to be quite close, and Dick had obviously held onto these mementoes of his brother for all those years. I am so very grateful that Sherrill developed an interest in her family history and recognized their significance when sorting through her father’s belongings. They are very special to me.
So, if it were possible to finally meet my father, over dinner or anytime, there would be two different lifetimes of stories to catch up on. Wouldn't it be wonderful if such wishes really could come true?