Louis Bockner/News staff
“I found myself doing something I had long ago promised to do. I left the house quietly, and alone, and unashamedly knelt down to kiss the ground,” writes Lew Duddridge in The Flying Duddridges of Hanley. The book, his fourth, is no masterpiece. The prose doesn’t rival Hemingway or Joyce.
Yet it tells the truly remarkable story of Len and Lew, brothers from a dusty town in southern Saskatchewan who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War defending their country the only way they knew.
On a warm July evening in 1940 Lew’s mother became the first Canadian woman to pin RCAF wings on both her sons at the same time in Dauphin, Manitoba. Following this momentous day of “pomp and ceremony” the brothers were whisked away to defend the skies over Europe and North Africa.
Now, 73 years later, 95-year-old Lew sits in the comfort of his Langford living room, while is wife Hilda answers the never ending phone calls.
His hands are large. His broad, striking face carries the creases and scars of a life well lived and although his short-term memory falters from time-to-time, the long-term is wielded with a precision that defies his age.
His eyes close as he remembers seeing Hilda for the first time. There she is, standing on a German railway platform with four other girls, awaiting a train. It is a Tuesday.
An offer to carry her bags led to a date later in the week but this wasn’t good enough for Lew.
“I was a flight commander and I thought ‘you know, I don’t want to wait until Friday to meet this girl.’ I was smitten and there’s no use kidding.”
It’s a feeling that Hilda, 88, reciprocates.
“Oh he was pretty sharp looking in his wings and officers uniform and he was Canadian and a real talker,” she says. “He could talk the hind leg off a donkey.”
Six months later they were married and 68 years later they carry out the dance of life with a compatibility and grace that is a joy to watch.
They plan to publish a children’s book together called Friends in Picture and Verse, in which Lew provides the poetry and Hilda the artwork.
In a culture where divorce rates soar Lew offers a few secrets learned during their marathon marriage.
“You have to be able to laugh at things that aren’t funny,” he says. “Just remember that there is two ways and two answers to a lot of questions and your way isn’t always the best one. You have to be prepared to recognize that.”
Lew doesn’t know what to credit with his old age and vitality but his ability to stay away from alcohol has helped.
“I have a pretty strong mind in a lot of ways and whenever I start losing my faculties or begin feeling uncomfortable, I quit,” he says. “You can lose male friends with that attitude but I don’t think I lost too much in life by being called a chicken. Anyhow I didn’t give a damn. It’s my life and not somebody else’s.”
To keep up with Lew (and good luck with that) you can visit www.theflyingduddridges.com.