Cynthia Llewellyn, OM, ODNW would have smiled hearing those words. She was one of the early leaders in Diocese of New Westminster working for social equality and Indigenous justice issues. Cynthia was engaged all through her life on projects bigger than she was, including the 127 Society for Housing. Her support of these issues and her volunteer work resulted in being awarded the Anglican Award of Merit in 2001.
And yet there was another part of her life yet to be discovered. Cynthia asked me to be her executor and after she died in 2016, we discovered a treasure trove of letters Cynthia wrote to her parents while she was stationed in London in World War II. We knew Cynthia had enlisted in the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) and served from 1943-1945 stationed in Jericho Beach, Esquimalt and London, England but didn’t know any details about those years.
Who knew she wrote 236 letters to her parents about every 2 -3 days from March 10, 1943, to March 24, 1946! The only gap in correspondence is from April 1943 to February 1944 when she was stationed aboard the HMCS Burrard. Was it because there was nothing to write about, or was it because they were not allowed to write home or say anything about their work during this period? We will never know.
We also discovered a photo album and a collection of programs from theatre and musical performances Cynthia attended while in London. She saw John Gielgud as Hamlet at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and Laurence Olivier’s film of Henry V for a penny in the Marble Arch Pavilion Theatre. They calculated things differently than; the length of the film was (literally) 12,296 feet! The Apollo Theatre’s Private Lives program provided guidance regarding Air-Raid warnings.
As an executor you are responsible for “distributing the assets” according to the deceased’s wishes. But what does one do with such personal memorabilia as these letters. If you knew Cynthia, you would know she wasn’t sentimental nor prone to collecting things. And yet she continued to keep the letters that her parents had saved all those years ago. What should happen to them?
Luckily, I had the support and wisdom of Joan Siedl, one time Director of Collections and Exhibitions at the Museum of Vancouver. After some discussion Joan and I made a “pitch” to the Canadian War Museum and offered them the collection. By Museum standards, the response was swift and positive. The letters, the entertainment programmes and the photographs, ending with Cynthia’s photos of the Royal Family attending a Service pf Celebration for VE Day at Westminster Abbey will soon be sent to the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
One of my last decisions was what to do with Cynthia’s manual typewriter. It had created so many letters, recorded the minutes of so many meetings. Eventually I decided to have its components made into a sculpture and once the artist heard about Cynthia’s work and her love of nature, he recommended a seahorse. It lives in the hallway and reminds me of Cynthia’s faith-full life and work, and how it quietly leads to “more than we could ask or imagine.” Cynthia’s identity will live on in the Canadian War Museum as a record of her thoughts and experiences.