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Community honours Quesnel veteran
Quesnel Cariboo Observer - 12/18/2020
The cancellation of a formal, public Remembrance Day service in Quesnel couldn't stop the community from honouring 98-year-old Second World War veteran William (Bill) Stevens.
Maureen Boerboom and Lenora Beal organized an at-home Remembrance Day event for Stevens.
"With the fact of COVID-19, we decided to honour our father on Nov. 11," she said in an email, noting they pulled it all together in an hour and a half. "Rose Scott played the bugle music, and we stood in silence for two minutes. People came and shook his hand and thanked him for his service. I called his two sons, Tom Stevens and Pat Stevens, and they both showed up. Pat had been estranged from my father for many many years … I was in total shock when he showed up but very happy."
Boerboom says about 30 people came throughout the day to honour their father.
"My father was very overjoyed and happy," she said.
Stevens enlisted in the army in 1943. He signed up in Wells and reported two weeks later in Victoria'sLittle Mountain. After basic training in Vernon, Stevens was assigned to the Mechanical Corps.
Stevens received his overseas papers as a private in the Rocky Mountain Rangers. When he arrived in Europe, Stevens was assigned to a non-combat military base in Ghent, Belgium, and then transferred to a combat posting with the Scottish Regiment in Holland, where he joined a six-man machine gun unit.
Stevens remained with the Scottish Regiment for a year until the ceasefire was signed, then spent about six months in Holland during the peace process. One of his jobs during that time was transporting German prisoners to Rotterdam Prison.
"He never talked about the war with us when we were growing up," said Boerboom. "For me, it was when I was going to the Netherlands for Christmas that he actually told me a few stories about being in the war. He told me that he drove the Jeep at the head of the victory parade with the colonel over the Nijmegen bridge and that there was a place over near Arnhem that was called slaughter hill where his platoon and him went. He was the only one who came back not injured, and his sergeant handed him a mug with straight rum in it, as my father was in shock."
Boerboom ended up staying in Holland after that Christmas trip, and when she was four months pregnant with her daughter, her husband paid for her parents to come over to visit them. While there, he was able to meet up with and talk to a nurse named Ann Wessels. He met her during the war, and he would make sure she got to work and home safely every day.
"The town of Breukelen honoured my father," said Boerboom. "He got a paperweight with the town of Breukelen sketched into it, as they drank tea and ate cookies, and my dad told stories about his time in the war."
Boerboom says her father also got to see where the treaty was signed, as it is on a restaurant wall in Nijmegen.
Stevens earned many medals for his service, and he was honoured by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
"My dad is the oldest living veteran in Quesnel as far as we all know, and we are all very proud and honoured to call him our dad," said Boerboom. "He is Lenora and my stepfather, but we love him very much, as our real father died when we were very little."
Boerboom is the youngest of five children, and she feels Stevens is very special, as he took them all in after marrying their mother, Lois. Stevens had placed an ad in the newspaper for a housekeeper, and they fell in love and were married a year after Lois and her children came out to B.C. from Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick. Bill and Lois Stevens will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in June 2021.
— with files from Annie Gallant