Ronald Battersby sits on his green velvet couch, the dappled afternoon sun illuminating the age spots on his cheeks. The 100-year-old sifts through a leather-bound book full of black and white photographs, mostly dated between 1934 and 1937: a sepia snapshot of a young boy sitting on a rocky bluff, a row of smiling teenagers in army work wear, countless airplanes.
An image of a boy, his head lifted from a pillow, smiling a bit dazedly at the camera, is dated 1936, and says ‘R.B. at Halton’ beneath it in silver pen.
“I suppose that’s me,” Battersby says.
It’s difficult to look back on a century of life, both because there’s a lot of ground to cover, and because age starts to wear on what memories you have left.
Born June 8, 1919 in Penrith, Cumberland, a market town in the northwest of England, Battersby spent the early years of his life “in the midst of hills, mountains and lakes.”
In a short biography he wrote a number of years ago, Battersby said “it was a great place to grow up.” But at only 15 years old he took an RAF exam for a three-year apprenticeship at a technical training school in Halton, about 65 kilometres from London.
So began his time in the British Army. Between 1937 and 1942, he served with four squadrons on eight stations and serviced eight different air crafts, “beginning with ‘Gladiators’ and ending with ‘Stirlings.’”
|Ronald Battersby, about to turn 100, stands with son Kevin Battersby outside his Oak Bay home. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)|
Battersby was drafted to overseas duty and described the morning the ship he sailed on was escorted to a new station, where he and 200 other men would put together “Hurricanes and Spitfires for the defence of Malta and the North African campaign.”
He said the station was attacked, resulting in the death of one man from his RAF group. Battersby himself carried out the “burial at sea” by pushing the man’s body overboard.
His military career continued and included a brief training stint in Winnipeg – a stint which would later become the motivation for his move to Canada after the Second World War.
In Winnipeg, Battersby worked for the United Grain Growers, until he met Anne Cromarty, and 11 years after they married in 1954, the couple moved, by rail, to the West Coast, and eventually bought their Oak Bay home in 1967.
Battersby worked for Canada Post while the couple raised two sons, Keith and Kevin.
Cromarty died at 91 in 2016, after 65 years of marriage. Battersby still lives in their Oak Bay home, surrounded by photo albums, books and 1960s-era furniture.
When asked how he feels about turning 100, Battersby said, “I feel much the same as I did yesterday and last year.”
He still goes for regular walks, sometimes all the way down to the water. And he meets regularly with a local stamp collectors club.
His advice for aging is simple: “When it comes down to it, you just realize this is the way it is, and you either like it or lump it,” he said.
“Make the best of whatever comes your way.”