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‘I’ve cried many times’: WW II ‘miracle’ baby saved by Canadian soldiers makes long-lost connections

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Mary Crabb was sitting at her living room table in suburban Hertfordshire, England, staring into a laptop.

“Hello,” she exclaimed with a smile and a hint of nerves as she greeted the man who was staring back at her.

“Hello, how are you?” the man replied from 5,000 kilometres away.

And so began a conversation 77 years in the making, the culmination an emotional roller-coaster for Crabb that took off again in recent weeks.

“I’ve cried many times,” Crabb told Harry Curtis, the son of a Canadian soldier who helped save her life within hours of her birth in 1941.

“If you’re like me right now, you’ve had lots of thoughts running through your head,” Curtis told her from his home in Stittsvile, Ont., southwest of Ottawa.

Crabb has known for much of her life that she was adopted as a baby. It was only after her adoptive parents died, however, that her family dug into her past.

Crabb was adopted at the age of five months in 1942. (Submitted by Mary Crabb)

The family’s research revealed that on Sept. 23, 1941, Crabb’s birth mother had abandoned her as a newborn. The baby was left hidden in blackberry bushes in Horsell Common, a 355-hectare park on the outskirts of London. She was blue and clinging to life.

Then three Canadian soldiers came along and saved the day.

“I owe my life to them,” Crabb, 77, told CBC News.

The soldiers’ story

Stationed in England during the Second World War, the three Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA) members happened to be nearby at the time. Their regiment was out on manoeuvres, part of preparations in the event of a German invasion.

The men heard a noise from the bushes and went to investigate, according to media reports at the time.

They “thought it was a chicken,” Crabb said.

To their surprise, the soldiers found the baby, cut the remaining umbilical cord with a knife and wrapped the girl in a white shirt.

Crabb’s nephew Graeme Elliott recently discovered this photo of three Canadian soldiers, including Sgt. Ernie Curtis, centre, with his aunt after they found her abandoned as a baby in 1941. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

An entry in the 8th Army Field Regiment’s war diary from that day says Q Battery “during their scheme found a newborn baby in the gun area.”

On Dec. 31, 2018, Crabb’s nephew told her he had found a new clue about her past — a photograph showing her as a baby in a British hospital, surrounded by the three Canadian soldiers she never got to thank.

“Tears were running down my face to think that was me,” she said.

Searching for relatives

Crabb’s nephew, Graeme Elliot, took to social media, posting the picture — first published in London’s Daily Mirror in 1941 — in search of family members of the Canadian soldiers.

It wasn’t long before Harry Curtis was shown the post and both families started organizing a reunion of sorts.

“My wife saw the picture on Facebook and said ‘Oh my God, I recognize that picture … there’s your dad,” Curtis said.

His late father, Sgt. Ernie Curtis, is seen in the middle of the photo wearing his RCA uniform.

Harry Curtis had kept the same photo in a book at his home. His father “just said that he and two of his buddies had found a baby in a field or a meadow,” Harry Curtis recalled hearing as a child. “He just wished that she was well.”

Harry Curtis, son of Sgt. Ernie Curtis, lives in Stittsville, Ont. (Harry Curtis/Facebook)

This week, the long-lost connection was rekindled when Harry Curtis reached Crabb using FaceTime on a laptop supplied by CBC News.

Both fought back tears.

“It’s a miracle, really, isn’t it?” Crabb said.

They chatted about their respective families. Crabb has one grandchild, Curtis has six. They promised to keep in touch.

Curtis even plans to send Crabb the epaulettes from his father’s RCA uniform.

“I had Dad,” Curtis told CBC News. “She never had a physical connection to him, so this will give her one.”

‘Daughter of the regiment’

The extraordinary encounter made headlines in both Britain and Canada in 1941.

The Daily Mirror reported the soldiers intended to adopt the baby as a “daughter of the regiment,” naming her Virginia Regina Brandon after their hometowns.

“The child was rushed to an army truck” and then taken to hospital, according to a piece in Regina’s Leader-Post on Nov. 5, 1941.

Within months, the girl was adopted by an English couple and given the name Mary. She grew up in Hertfordshire, 65 kilometres from where she had been dumped as a newborn.

The soldiers found the baby on Sept. 23, 1941, in Horsell Common, a large open space southwest of London. (Rob Lowrey/CBC)

Crabb only learned much later in life that her birth mother had pleaded guilty to abandonment and was reportedly sentenced to two months’ probation.

At the time, the Mirror identified the three soldiers as Gunner Brackett, Sgt. Curtis and Gunner Griffin.

Susan Griffin, who lives in Massachusetts, told CBC News her father, Bob Griffin, is the man on the left of the 1941 photo.

CBC News has not, however, been able to formally name the third soldier, identified in various media reports as A.J. Brackett or E.J. Brackett.

Crabb acknowledges she’s still learning about the first days of her life, all these years later.

“There’s a load I don’t know.”

With files from Stephanie Jenzer

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Ottawa Book Expo 2020 – Authors, Publishers look forward to a top-notch Canadian book fair

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Diversity has always been a complex issue, no matter where you look.Case in point, world-famous writer, Stephen King, has recently come under criticism for his views on diversity. The best-selling author had stated, “I would never consider diversity in matters of art, only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.” Many criticized the novelist as being out of touch and “ignorant,” but one cannot deny that King’s opinions on diversity, mirror the thoughts of a whole lot of people in the creative industry.

The Toronto Book Expo is coming back in 2020, with a multi-cultural concept that aims to include marginalized authors.  The Expo intends to celebrate literary works of diverse cultural backgrounds, and the entire literary community in Canada is expectant. Book-lovers and writers alike, are invited to three days of uninhibited literary celebration where diverse cultural works will be prioritized. At the event, authors will be allowed to share their culture with a broad audience. The audience will be there specifically to purchase multi-cultural works.

Multicultural literary expos do not come every day. In Canada, there is a noticeable lack of literary events celebrating other cultures. This leads to a significantly lower amount of cultural diversity in the industry. The Toronto Book Expo would aim at giving more recognition to these marginalized voices. Understandably, more recognizable work will be prioritized.

The Toronto Book Expo is making a statement that diversity is needed in the literary community. The statement is truly motivating, especially if you consider the fact that this could mean more culturally diverse works of literature.

There is a lot of noticeable cultural ignorance in literature. This is an issue that needs to be addressed and books are one of the best means of improving multi-cultural diversity in literature. The Toronto Book Expo is going to fully utilize books to fight ignorance in the literary industry.

Real progress cannot be made if there is a substantial amount of ignorant people in the industry. In spite of advancements made in education in recent years, there is still a considerable percentage of adults who remain unable to read and write.The Toronto Book Expo aims to bring awareness to social literacy issues such as illiteracy.

It is important to uphold high literacy levels in the community and to support those who are uneducated. A thriving society cannot be achieved if the community is not able to read their civil liberties and write down their grievances.

The major foundation of a working and dynamic society is entrenched in literature. Literature offers us an understandingof the changes being made to our community.

The event would go on for three days at three different venues. Day 1 would hold at the York University Student & Convention Centre at 15 Library Lane on March 19. Day 2 would be held at the Bram and BlumaAppel Salon Facility on the second floor of the main Toronto Reference Library near Yonge and Bloor Streets in downtown Toronto on March 21 and day 3 of the expo would take place at the internationally famous Roy Thomson Hall.

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A Week In Ottawa, ON, On A $75,300 Salary

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Welcome to Money Diaries, where we’re tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We’re asking millennials how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we’re tracking every last dollar.Attention, Canadians! We’re featuring Money Diaries from across Canada on a regular basis, and we want to hear from you. Submit your Money Diary here.Today: a biologist working in government who makes $75,300 per year and spends some of her money this week on a bathing suit. Occupation: Biologist
Industry: Government
Age: 27
Location: Ottawa, ON
Salary: $75,300
Paycheque Amount (2x/month): $1,930
Gender Identity: Woman

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Ottawa doctor pens nursery rhyme to teach proper handwashing

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An Ottawa doctor has turned to song to teach kids — and adults, for that matter — how to wash their hands to prevent the spread of germs.

Dr. Nisha Thampi, an infectious disease physician at CHEO, the area’s children’s hospital, created a video set to the tune of Frère Jacques and featuring the six-step handwashing method recommended by the World Health Organization.

Thampi’s 25-second rendition, which was co-authored by her daughter and Dr. Yves Longtin, an infectious disease specialist at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, is featured in the December issue of The BMJ, or British Medical Journal. 

Thampi said as an infectious disease physician and a mother of two, she thinks a lot about germs at home and school.

“I was trying to find a fun way to remember the stuff,” she said. “There are six steps that have been codified by the World Health Organization, but they’re complex and hard to remember.” 

Thampi said she came up with the idea to rewrite the lyrics to the nursery rhyme on World Hand Hygiene Day in May, when she was thinking about how to help people remember the technique. 

She said studies have shown that handwashing is effective in reducing the risk of diarrhea-related illnesses and respiratory diseases. 

“So I’d say it’s one of the most important and easiest things we can do.”

The video includes such often-overlooked steps as “wash the back,” “twirl the tips around” and “thumb attack,” which pays special attention to the first digit.

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