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Winifred Mary Arundel

Life Stories

Aunt Legal Secretary Wordsmith Humanitarian

Born: January 17, 1922
Died: May 4, 2019 in Hamilton, Ontario
Interred: Holy Sepulchre, Burlington

The facts of Winifred Mary Arundel’s life – survivor of the Birmingham Blitz, postwar work commission in Germany, emigrant to Canada, long time legal secretary – are just the bones of her remarkable life. What they don’t tell is the story of sacrifice and kindness that marked so many of her days.

Win was an “old girl” and graduate of the reputable St. Paul’s School for Girls in Birmingham. She had attended business college at 17 when the Second World War broke out. One night, during an air raid, she and her mother sought refuge in the backyard bomb shelter. They had invited their neighbours to join them but they politely declined, choosing instead to hide under their stairs. The bombs fell all night. In the morning, Win and her mother emerged from the shelter blinking in the strong sunlight. They found their neighbour’s house flattened by a direct hit, and their own house shattered. Sadly, Win’s mother passed away just a few years later when Win was only 20 years old.

After the war, at 23, she was commissioned by the British Foreign Office to work as a shorthand typist in Kiel, Germany, helping to rebuild the country. Upon return to England and its postwar economic depression, the family decided to emigrate to Canada where there were reportedly many jobs. She boarded the RMS Franconia following her sister, brother-in-law, their three children and her father. who had arrived months earlier.

Win landed in Halifax in the dead of winter, 1949. Leaving the ship, her first impression was, in a word: “Cold,” she said. “There was snow,” she added succinctly.

She journeyed by train to Hamilton where she worked as a legal secretary into her late 60s and lived in the area for the rest of her life.

Known to her six nieces and nephews as “Gags” (none of us could say “Aunt Winifred“ as small children), Win was like a second mother. Living with our family for about 20 years after arriving in Canada, she helped in countless ways, cleaning house and looking after the kids. Some people have hobbies like knitting or bridge – Winifred loved ironing. Pillowcases, sheets, even socks – nothing escaped the iron. She said she enjoyed the warmth of the fabric and the board on her hands.

When I asked Aunt Win once why she had never married, she said she had been too busy. She volunteered with the Scott Mission and sponsored several foster children in third world countries.

Her grammar, spelling and syntax were impeccable. She knew every saying/adage/proverb in the English language. She was a fan of Dickens. She had planned to travel upon a well-earned retirement, but her plans were interrupted by the terminal illnesses of my parents. Once again, Aunt Win rose to the occasion, ditching her own plans to nurse first her sister, Veronica and then brother-in-law, Louis . “You look after your own,” was all she said whenever asked how she managed. She never played the martyr.

Aunt Win had a wicked wit and was still cracking jokes at 97. When asked how she was doing, she replied, “Mildewing.” She was the last surviving relative of that generation and I will miss her like no one else.


Submitted by Ann Cooper, Win’s niece.