Eight Métis brothers from Battleford, Saskatchewan served in the Canadian Army during World War Two, following in their father’s footsteps. One brother married and fathered a son while stationed in England, but returned to Canada without ever seeing the boy. The marriage ended, and Ben Ballendine died without knowing that both his British son Colin, and his British grandson Ian, continued the family tradition of The Fighting Ballendines. Here is their fascinating story.
Wonderful connections have been made through Wartime Wednesdays, and recently another came to light. One of the stories in my new book titled My Favourite Veterans: True Stories From World War Two’s Hometown Heroes is about The Fighting Ballendines.
(My new book contains twenty-eight stories previously published on Wartime Wednesdays. The book is not available in bookstores. Learn how to order your copy at the end of this post.)
The story of The Fighting Ballendines told about two Metis brothers, James and John Ballendine of Battleford, Saskatchewan, who served in the Canadian Army during the First World War as crack snipers.
Both were wounded, but both returned to Saskatchewan after the war. John and his wife Marie Ouellette had eight sons, and one younger daughter named Doreen. All her brothers are deceased now, but Doreen Ballendine Gilles still lives in Battleford, and she shared her family story and photos with me.
When World War Two broke out, all eight boys followed in their father’s footsteps and joined the Canadian Army. You can read the original story and see some great photographs by clicking here: The Fighting Ballendines.
Ben Ballendine served as a sniper in the Italian campaign. Before leaving England to return to Canada, he married a lovely English girl named Dot Lambert. Ben went home without seeing the son who was born to him nine months later, and the marriage ended.
Through the power of the internet, I have been in contact with that son, Colin (Ballendine) Payne, who took his stepfather’s name after his mother remarried.
Colin never even knew of his father’s existence until he was thirteen. A few years ago, he finally reached out to his Canadian family. Later he came across my website and we have been corresponding since then. When he emailed to request a copy of my new book, I asked him to share his story.
Colin’s Early Childhood in England
Any girl would find it hard to resist the handsome, boyish Ben Ballendine. Back home he was an athlete who loved to play baseball and hockey. His parents were respected members of the community, and faithful members of St. Vital's Catholic Church in Battleford.
Like his father before him, Ben Ballendine was a sniper in World War Two and fought with the Canadian Army up the boot of Italy.
Benjamin Ballendine married Doris (Dot) Lambert in the Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart and Holy Souls at Acocks Green, a suburb of Birmingham, on September 29, 1945. Ben's brother Wilfred Ballendine was his best man. The newlyweds looked forward to a new life together in Canada.
It is unclear what happened next. The war was over, but Ben was apparently posted back to Europe and from there he sailed to Canada. Their son Colin was born nine months after the wedding, on June 2, 1946.
Here’s an excerpt from the email Colin sent to me:
"Mum never talked about this time, but I was told by an aunt that after they were married, Ben was sent back to Europe and returned directly to Canada from there.
“We had two tickets to sail, but just before we were due to go, Mum received a letter from one of his brothers advising her not to travel, as Ben was in some sort of trouble. My aunt found her crying in the toilet.”
One can’t help but feel sorry for the pretty young mother, anticipating a happy life in Canada that would never come to pass.
The "trouble" referred to in the letter, although his wife didn’t know it at the time, was that Ben was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, or shell shock as it was called then. He ended up with psychological problems that plagued him all his life. He never married again.
After receiving the letter from Canada, his young wife and baby moved in with her parents.
According to Colin: “England was still on rations and we were poor, so life was quite hard. Ben came from a strong Catholic family, and I had been christened in the Catholic Church at his request. So my mother and grandparents took me to the local church, and asked if there was any help available. They were told that the church would take me into the care of the monastery! They ran out of there with me in tow, and I was never taken near there again.
One member of the Ballendine family stayed in touch with Dot. Wilfred Ballendine, who had been best man at the wedding, obviously felt badly about the young wife and child left behind in England.
“My uncle Wilfred Ballendine wrote and offered to put us up with him and his family, but by now mum was afraid that once I was in Canada they wouldn't allow me to leave!”
Here's a photo of Colin's uncle, Wilfred Ballendine.
Although the family didn't have much money, Colin grew up with loving grandparents and his aunt, who was also living with the family. Here's a photo of the adorable little boy with his cousin Susan, playing with toy animals in the back garden.
Colin’s Mother Remarries
While Colin was cared for by his grandmother, Dot found work as a clerk in the bustling Lewis’s Department Store in central Birmingham.
Here she met Jim Payne, who was a carpet fitter in the department store. Although her marriage to Ben was unofficially over, Dot was still legally married at the time.
Colin recalls: “When my stepfather told his mother that he was seeing a married woman, she was so angry at him that she broke a copper stick, used to take wet clothes from a copper wash tub, over his back! Later she came around after they were married, and always loved to see me.”
Dot divorced Ben, and married Jim Payne on December 30, 1950. Colin was five years old at the time, and he took his stepfather’s name. Jim Payne proved to be a loving husband and father to the little boy. After the marriage, Dot no longer kept in touch with the Canadian branch.
“I know that Wilf’s family continued to send parcels from Canada until my mother remarried, and then we moved to a different address and lost contact.”
Colin Learns About his Canadian Father
Colin wasn’t even aware of his real father’s existence until he turned thirteen years old.
“At the age of thirteen, I was sat down by mum and dad, whereupon they proceeded to tell me about my background. They told me later they had been terrified, wondering what my reaction would be, but they needn’t have worried. I decided it made no difference.
"I was told I could call my father Jim if I wished, but with no thought whatsoever, I chose to continue to call him dad. That’s what he had been, and that’s how it was until the day he died.”
Colin Feels Compelled to Join the Army
Now here’s where the story gets even more interesting. Unaware that his father, seven uncles, grandfather and great-uncle had all served in the Canadian Army, Colin was drawn toward the military.
“I was something of a rebel at school. I loved the friendship of the other children and made many friends easily, but unfortunately found most of my teachers dull and boring. On leaving school I secured a job as an apprentice carpenter, but after a while moved into the office and started to study to be a quantity surveyor.
“As part of my duties, I had to check daily with the architects for a building we were doing in the city centre, and this took me past the army recruitment office. I could never walk by without stopping to look in the window.
"One day I walked in and the recruiting sergeant said he had been waiting for me. He had watched me looking in for a few weeks, and knew it wouldn’t be long before I came inside. I was advised to take one of the trade jobs on offer, but I wanted to be a fighting soldier."
Colin joined the infantry. This photo shows his happiness and pride at wearing the uniform he longed for.
Colin Serves on Active Duty
“After basic training, I joined my regiment in Somerset and was then sent to Aden for seven months in 1964. We came under fire on numerous occasions. It was times like these that made you feel alive, and we all considered ourselves invulnerable. From here I went to a lovely posting in Malta in 1965, and for the next three years we went back and forth to Libya.
“We had to pull out of Libya in 1967, at the start of the six-day war between Israel and the neighbouring Arab countries. Until then we had always gotten along well with the locals, but the six-day war saw the strengthening of the rule by Libyan leader Muammar Ghadaffi, and then we were no longer welcome.
“I was among the last British soldiers in Malta in 1968 when we were sent in to evacuate the consulate. After a cup of tea served by the consulate staff, we drove out and came under attack by brick-throwing locals! We looked suitably brave whilst the consulate staff sang “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” as we drove through the mayhem.
While still stationed in Malta, Colin married his English wife Jane Allden on April 5, 1969.
Colin and Jane Start Their Family
After their marriage, Colin was posted to the Persian Gulf and Jane became an army wife.
"We were based in Bahrain, and would go over to the nearby country of Oman. They were at war with their communist neighbours from Muscat, and we were there in what was termed a “hearts and minds mission” to stop them becoming communist by bringing them medicine, digging wells, and doing other things as needed. We did come under fire a few times, but came through unscathed.
“During this time my son Ian was born. He was three months old before I saw him. I was home for a week, and then off I went for another three months.
“When my unit disbanded, I joined my new unit and started a two-year posting to Ireland. This was classed as a relatively quiet posting. At the time we were sent to Londonderry close to the border, with lovely countryside and nice people. We were given quarters in a place called Ballykelly, a village fifteen miles from Derry, just a nice bus ride after work.
“We were there for two weeks when all hell broke loose. My only way home became an escorted armed patrol. At first the Catholics liked us and thought we were there for their benefit, and the Protestants hated us. Since our mission was to stop them killing each other, soon no one liked us! It was a terrible shame what was going on. Mostly the people were nice but were being manipulated by crooked people who saw it as a way to further their own ends (and some are still around now.)
“I had a few near misses, and our daughter Angela was born here in Ireland. The only way I could visit them in the hospital was to have two sergeants babysit Ian. I would sign out a pistol, then change into civilian clothes, conceal the pistol, and walk across the field to the road about a mile from our quarters. Then using my best Belfast dialect, I would take the bus to the hospital.
"Luckily I had freckles and red hair so I didn’t look out of place, and we were encouraged to grow our hair longer than military regulations would normally allow so as not to call attention to ourselves.
"Had I been caught by the army it would have been a court martial, and if I had been caught by the IRA, it would have been curtains!
“After some near misses, this posting came to an end and we went to Cyprus. Although this was a quiet posting, I realized that military life was not good for the family, so a year later I left the army and was demobbed in June 1973 after serving for nine years."
Colin Rejoins Civilian Life
It was a difficult adjustment for the keen soldier. “I hated life in civvy street and it took me ten years before I felt settled. I changed my jobs like changing my socks. They were all good to start but I soon became bored and I was never very happy among civilians.
"Finally I found a job as a premises manager for the council with a biggish staff and lots of responsibility for building maintenance and repairs, staff and budgets. I was always busy and didn’t have time to get bored.”
Ian Continues the Family Tradition
“At the age of eighteen years, my son Ian came to me and told me he wanted to join up. At the time, bodies were coming back from Ireland in a regular basis. I wanted to say no, but I couldn’t deprive him of what I had enjoyed so much. I gave him the same advice that I had been given: take a trade, and don’t join the infantry.
“Off he went and, you guessed it, he joined the infantry! My wife Jane wasn’t happy, but as a former army wife herself she understood more than most mothers would.
"He served six years in Northern Ireland and in the Gulf during the 1980s. Although I pull his leg by telling him he had an easy time of it, he probably saw more action than I did.”
This photo shows Ian in combat gear, left, during his days in Northern Ireland.
This more recent photo shows both of Colin's children, Angela and Ian, the fourth generation of The Fighting Ballendines.
Colin Discovers his Aunt in Canada
After many decades, Colin finally decided to track down his Canadian family.
“I had never attempted to look for Ben, as I felt it would be disloyal to my stepfather, but in the end it was he who encouraged me to look for my family in Canada. I searched the internet to no avail, so I posted a message on a genealogy website.
“I heard nothing for two years. Then one day back in 2008 I was contacted by a lady who said she knew my aunt Doreen, and that’s how we got in touch. We have spoken on the telephone and exchanged letters.”
Doreen Gilles, who will turn eighty-two years old on November 18, 2016, is very proud of her father and her eight brothers. This photo shows her with the Ballendine family display at the local Fred Light Museum in Battleford, Saskatchewan. (Photo by John Niddrie)
Colin Learns of his Cree Heritage
It was his aunt Doreen who informed Colin of his father's mixed French-Cree background.
“When I was told about my real father, my mum didn't seem to know about Ben's heritage, or didn't think it important enough to mention. When I found out from Doreen, I was fascinated!
"I remember thinking how disloyal I had been as a child going to Saturday morning cinema and cheering on the Seventh Cavalry as they raced to save some unfortunate wagon train!
“When I mention my heritage to anyone, I get a WOW, how fascinating, and then lots of questions. If I had known when I was at school, I would have been the school hero that every kid wanted to be seen with!
“And when I found out that all the Ballendines had served in the army, including both my father and grandfather, I wondered if there wasn’t something genetic in my strong attraction to the armed forces."
Colin's Life Today
Today Colin, now seventy years old, is expected to make a full recovery from a recent bout with cancer, but he will likely never embark on the long journey to Canada to meet his extended family. After forty-seven years of marriage, he and Jane are retired and enjoying their grandchildren.
Their son Ian has four daughters – Lorna, Rihanna, Eleanor, and Layla. Their daughter Angela, married to Martin Timson, has a son named Lewis.
I asked Colin how he would feel if one of the five grandchildren wanted to join the military.
“I would support them, reluctantly,” was his response. “Thankfully at this point they all have their sights set on different careers.”
Whatever path they choose in life, Colin’s children and grandchildren, along with all the numerous descendants of the original brothers James and John Ballendine of Battleford, Saskatchewan, can be justly proud of their famous family -- The Fighting Ballendines.
Thank you so much, Colin, for sharing your story with Wartime Wednesdays.
* * * * *
MY FAVOURITE VETERANS
The amazing story of The Fighting Ballendines, along with twenty-seven other original stories from Wartime Wednesdays, are now available in printed book form.
To read more about the book, click: My Favourite Veterans: True Stories From World War Two's Hometown Heroes. To order a signed copy for $35.00 Canadian, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 250-342-1621.
You may also purchase a copy from Amazon by clicking here: My Favourite Veterans: True Stories From World War Two's Hometown Heroes.
DELIVERING THE BOOK IN PERSON
Since thirteen of the twenty-eight veterans in the book are still living, I've been fortunate enough to deliver a few copies in person.
Here I am with two Invermere veterans. Jim Ashworth, who flew a Hurricane over Burma, is nintey-seven years old; and Joy Bond, who served with the volunteer women's militia, is ninety-eight years old!
I visited Jessie Middleton in Abbotsford, B.C. to give her a copy of the book. This former military nurse, who served in Italy and Europe, will be one hundred years old in December. She creid when I gave her the book, and said: "Now I'm glad I lived so long after all!"
Finally, I was thrilled to visit the couple pictured on the cover of my book, Stocky and Toni Edwards of Comox, B.C. Stocky was a fighter ace with the RCAF; and Toni is also an air force veteran. They haven't changed much since their wedding day!
About My Novel
Bird’s Eye View is fact-based fiction about a young Canadian woman who serves as an aerial photo interpreter in World War Two. In 2016 it was named a Canadian bestseller by both The Globe & Mail, and The Toronto Star. It's available as a trade paperback through any bookstore, and also as an ebook. To order online from Amazon, click Bird's Eye View. It's also available from Amazon's U.S. and U.K. websites.
About My Website
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