The night after his wedding day, Gerry Gaudet was behind bars.
It was the end of January 1946.
After getting married in Medicine Hat, AB, the soldier who had spent two-and-half years in Europe and had just taken a seven-day train ride across the country to finally see his longtime fiancée Irene, reported to his depot in Calgary only to find himself accused of being AWOL.
“The MPs came and got me out of the hotel and yanked me by the scruff of the neck and put me in the hoosegow,” says Gaudet, now 93 and widowed.
It took some begging the next day, but he was released and had his discharge from the army back-dated.
He was a civilian again and free to continue a romance that was to last decades.
Gaudet, who now lives in Guildford, first met Irene when he was on duty in Medicine Hat in late 1942.
At the time, Gaudet was a member of a Royal Canadian Engineers unit building a prisoner-of-war camp. He and a buddy, both in uniform, met Irene and a girlfriend of hers on the street walking into a restaurant.
Gaudet and Irene were smitten, and a romance blossomed before Gaudet was called away to war. He promised to keep writing while away and to marry her as soon as he got back home.
He kept both promises. (Below is the couple on their wedding day in 1946).
The roughly 300 letters, now in his possession, caught the attention of Langley’s Jennifer Thompson about a year ago.
At the time, Gaudet and Thompson’s late father John Thompson received the Légion d’Honneur – France’s highest military award – in Cloverdale from the Consul General of France in Canada.
Jennifer Thompson took some mental notes, then got to know Gaudet better after her father passed away last summer.
“Irene was just as much a part of the war as Gerry was,” says Thompson, having sifted through letters that Gaudet wrote to his love “Plum” during the war.
He wrote every two or three days, and she wrote back from home, but he wasn’t allowed to keep her letters after reading them. Only his letters to her remain.
And because of the two- or three-month delay in the delivery of letters and packages, both Gaudet and Irene knew little of their opposite’s immediate day-to-day situations.
Gaudet wasn’t wounded during the war, but he did crash his motorcycle in England in early 1944. He spent two months in hospital.
After mending, he was temporarily transferred to a unit other than his own, the 20th Field Company – engineers attached to the First Canadian Army.
He found himself on a barge bound for Juno Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Gaudet did what he could to stay alive for the next month until his 23rd Field Company caught up with him. He spent the rest of the war as a motorcycle dispatch rider, doing reconnaissance, clearing mines, moving and repairing army vehicles, including boats, and building and repairing bridges.
“Whatever they threw at you,” he says. “There was no specialized job.”
His unit supported the boat rescue of a trapped Allied Forces army at Arnhem, Holland, in September 1944.
“We brought 3,500 of them back.”
Gaudet covered the route of the Canadian Army in Western Europe: France, Belgium, Holland and Germany.
Following the medal ceremony a year ago, Thompson recorded Gaudet’s story through interviews, photos and letters, as well as those of other veterans, including her father. She’s shared the stories with families of the veterans she’s met.
Earlier this year, she penned a tribute, “What Makes Love Last” (see below), based on Gaudet’s letters to Irene while he was away.
Thompson says he’s an example of how love can be deeper than what contemporary romance is made out to be, especially around Valentine’s Day.
“Take if from an expert,” she advises.
Both Gaudet and fellow veteran and Légion d’Honneur recipient John Thompson were widowed years ago.
Both of their romances lasted 58 years.
What makes love last?
According to veteran Gerry Gaudet, it’s appreciating the simple things.
His friend, Jennifer Thompson, shares some of Gaudet’s insights from the memoir she is writing:
As he survived the battles of the Second World War, with the support of his beloved “Plum,” also known as Irene from his letters, there was a combination of things that kept love alive.
The couple’s story is about a journey – two people who dared to be real and openly honest. A couple who shaped a relationship that was years in the making and recorded in numerous letters Gerry sent home.
“Plum you can never imagine how much I love you! Darling if I can only have you, so I could call you mine, I would be the happiest boy in the world.
“Remember Plum, I will always love you. Remind me Plum, how you felt the first time we kissed. Could you dear remind me in your next letter?”
Gerry didn’t reveal his hands were still shaking as he wrote this, not mentioning the human guile of war that he has just witnessed.
What makes love last?
A combination of commitment, understanding and friendship.
A solid relationship followed by a marriage contract.
Two people who share a promise and dare to be honest and raw.
Living on a dream for the future.
Enduring the temptations of loneliness.
During the Second World war, for more than three long years, Gerry waited to return to “The Hat,” the small town where he and his Plum first kissed and made their promise to each other.
For Gerry, was it love at first sight? Probably. Irene was the only woman he completely loved. He met her as a boy and returned as a man. Would she still want him?
Plum was tired and done paying ransom to the wicked war. Now, after three long years, she needed his word. His commitment.
For 58 years following Gerry’s return, they would celebrate, as Gerry says, the simple things in life.
Every day. Each other’s smile. Holding hands. A hot cup of coffee and a donut.
And most of all, the freedom to love. This proved to be enough.