The Second World War was a time of sacrifice and loss for many around the world, but for Jean and Dudley Thompson, it was also a time of budding romance.
The Thompsons were married for nearly 69 years and spent their golden years living near Cadboro Bay but their love story began some 75 years ago just outside Westminster Abbey.
“They lived great lives” and “theirs is a really nice story,” said Julie Forster, one of four Thompson children. Her parents both lived to be 96 – Dudley died in April 2015 and Jean in March 2018.
Before her passing, Jean wrote down their stories for her children and Forster spent the last few days of October rereading and reminiscing.
“As the legend goes,” they met on the Westminster Bridge just outside Westminster Abbey on Easter Sunday in 1943, Forster said.
Dudley – a young lieutenant in the third Canadian Division who enlisted after graduating from Western University in London, Ont. – stopped to ask a pretty Canadian Air Force officer, Jean, what time the service would start. Jean and her father, who fought in both world wars, invited Dudley to join them for the church service. It was the start of a wartime romance that included afternoon tea, motorcycle dates and long periods apart.
The things they survived put the COVID-19 pandemic into perspective, Forster said. Jean joined the Women’s Division of the Royal Canadian Airforce in 1942 – shortly after completing high school in Toronto – and went overseas as part of the first contingent of the women’s division. She became a commissioned officer that winter and worked in Code and Cypher. She told stories of Hilter’s “buzz bombs” that quickly became a daily occurrence – forcing Londoners down into the subways to hide while the bombs destroyed the world above – and family members and school chums who never returned home.
Dudley also faced hair-raising events during his service. He was “right in the thick of it” but not fighting, Forster explained, noting that he undertook difficult journeys and experienced “severe winters” while delivering supplies to the front across Europe.
Despite the terrifying moments of the war, Forster said her parents spoke of it as “the best time of their lives” as it’s when they fell in love and got to be part of “a great army of young people from every country.” Dudley wrote that whenever he had days off, he would travel into London “to see [his] true love, Jean.”
After the war, he sailed to New York on the Queen Elizabeth in 1945 and married Jean on June 15, 1946. They were together for nearly 69 years and lived in various cities across Canada. Dudley worked for Woolworths in Toronto for several years before starting with Simpsons-Sears in 1954 which led to the family heading west with the company; their children, Dudley Jr., Rodger, Mary and Forster were born along the way. The family moved more than 20 times – spending the ’60s in Winnipeg and the ’70s in Vancouver – before eventually settling in Greater Victoria where Dudley and Jean remained active members of the community into their retirement.
“I think Mom and Dad developed a real appreciation for life based on what they experienced” during the war and felt lucky to have served and met one another, Forster said. She noted that they were happy people who didn’t let the little annoyances of life bother them.
“They really enjoyed each other’s company despite their differences,” she explained. “They laughed a lot,” loved the theatre and traveled back to London often to visit the spots where their romance blossomed.
Forster remembers the “loving couple” retelling tales of the war and their meeting on special occasions – always focusing on the positives. In her later years, Jean told her daughter that “war changes everything.” People from around the world were brought together and chance encounters led to many finding love with people they may never have otherwise met, Forster explained.
Both Jean and Dudley are buried in the cemetery at St. Luke Cedar Hill Anglican Church and their headstone notes that their love story began on a bridge in London.