Headingley Heritage: Herb Britton
by Amber McGuckin
He’s seen the horrors of war and the tragic loss of life but that’s never stopped Herb Britton from smiling.
Even though Britton is nearly 96, he’s always been a fearless jokester and has stories to prove it. When he was young, growing up in the area, Britton and the neighbourhood kids swam in the Assiniboine River in Headingley, a river with pockets of strong currents.
“My older brother, Spencer, would always say ‘if you go over your head and you can’t swim, just stroke towards the shore.’ I think that saved my life a couple of times,” Britton said. “I just got back to the shore, like he said, and went back in again.”
Britton had six siblings. His older sister died of tuberculosis when she was 20 and his mother when he was eight.
“I became the chief cook,” he said. “It was pretty basic, heavy on the bologna.”
Britton was a mischievous kid, even with the added responsibilities like taking care of the family cows.
“I used to try to get on their backs and ride, but they will not let you stay on. They will shake there until you get off.”
Part of his job was to drive the cattle over the highway to graze, because the Brittons didn’t have land.
“With our bare feet, we’d go across the prairie to get the cows home,” he said. “We could walk even on gravel, our feet were so tough.”
Britton became tough himself when he volunteered in the Second World War.
“I didn’t like to think it was about shooting people, so I thought I would join the army and drive a truck,” he said.
Cpl. Britton drove a motorcycle and accompanied four vehicles carrying 40 infantry men from the Lincoln and Welland Regiment.
Britton’s job as an outrider during troop movement was so dangerous that the troops would give him the death sign but it didn’t hold Britton back.
“(Once) I had the motorcycle going 100 km/h and I passed the officer at the head of the convoy. Boy, did I get hell,” he said with a laugh.
While Britton was in England he met a young lady named Peggy Patricia Jennings.
“I met her at a dance. Her hands there were all calloused and mine were soft as putty,” he said, laughing.
The couple fell in love, but almost didn’t get married.
“The minister who was going to marry us didn’t show up. We were standing there waiting and waiting,” he said. “Along he comes, the minster, with about three pounds of sausages… When he was coming to do the marrying, he saw there were sausages for sale and when he got in a lineup he didn’t want to get out.”
The couple did end up getting married and moved to Headingley after the war. They had three children and according to Britton “nice life together.”
Page revised: 1 March 2015