While strolling through the bright sunlight in the Camp Hill Veterans Memorial Garden at the QEII, Henry Cooke’s mind returns to the days of 1941. A safe refuge and private sanctuary a few feet from busy city streets, the garden’s cenotaph and Walk of Honour encourage reflection for the veterans.
Henry, who turns 93 this November, joined the fight two years into the Second World War. He trained in Sydney, Cape Breton, sailed to England and fought the crucial Battle of the Atlantic aboard the new HMCS Algonquin.
“Not too many bad scares, because if you’re in battle, you don’t have time to be scared. You’re doing your job,” he says.
Henry worked as a deckhand, doing everything from steering the ship to operating the guns. He also took turns peering into the gloom to watch the ship in front of him, lest the silent convoy drift apart.
“The convoy to Murmansk, Russia over to Norway was a bad run. We used to lose a lot of ships,” he recalls.
After the war ended in 1945, Henry returned home safely and returned to civilian life as a printer. Four years ago, he moved into the QEII’s Camp Hill to access a better quality of life in his later years.
He felt uncertain about his decision at first, but another veteran soon befriended him. “I was happy right there. I had a friend right off the bat,” he says. Since then, he’s bonded with the nurses, whom he describes as friends, and enjoys afternoons socializing in the on-site pub (Club 29), while others enjoy cards, cribbage, bingo and live music.
“They treat you good, you’re well-fed,” he laughs, patting his belly. “It’s beautiful. If I found somebody that was thinking about coming here, I’d say do it. They’d be making a wise choice.”
Camp Hill is home to 175 veterans, with an average age of 90, who served overseas in the Second World War or the Korean War. As determined by Veterans Affairs Canada, all of the residents are Canadian, or from an Allied country such as Greece or Britain. Some veterans left the armed forces right after the war, while others built careers in the military.
“It is a really unique window to work with a generation who is exceptional in so many ways,” says Heather White, manager of Rehab and Supportive Care Services. “They have incredible life experience, resilience, and a depth of character that’s really inspirational. We’re extremely privileged to get to work with this group.”
Heather supervises programs for the residents in recreation therapy, spiritual care, music therapy, social work, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and psychology. In addition to the regular services, outings to things like the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo and Halifax Mooseheads hockey games are also organized.
“It’s an opportunity for veterans to receive excellent quality care at a time in their life where they may need additional support,” she says. “For many of them it’s an opportunity to be with other veterans.”
While the residents lead a vibrant social life, providing health care to meet their often complex needs is most important. The veterans are encouraged to do what they can for themselves but there is a team of caring, knowledgeable staff to step in where needed.
“Our goal is for the veterans to enjoy the best possible quality of life,” says Elsie Rolls, director of Veterans Services. “We do that through a team approach that includes participation by staff from all departments and services – various health disciplines, food and nutrition services, nursing, housekeeping and other support staff. Everyone works together with the veterans and their families to improve the lives of residents.”
While every Remembrance Day is significant, Elsie says this November’s services carry special meaning. On the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War – and the 75th anniversary of the start of the Second World War - Camp Hill veterans will spend their Remembrance week remembering the contributions and sacrifices of all who have served our country with a candlelight ceremony, a service at the cenotaph and a