Nellie Yeo was a war bride who traded village life in southern England for the wilds of northern Manitoba.
After living on a First Nations reserve near Swan Lake, she worked as a hairdresser while raising three children with her husband, a former Canadian soldier she met at a dance.
The Red Deer resident, who moved to central Alberta half a century ago, accepted the many changes she experienced with good grace — even enthusiasm.
“I had a lot of fun,” she said, when recalling her long, eventful life.
Yeo will turn 100 years old on Wednesday. Her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren plan to throw a party for her at Revera — Aspen Ridge seniors’ home.
Having outlived her husband, her three brothers and a sister, Yeo admitted she never thought she’d live this long.
She was born in Storrington, Sussex, England on Nov. 24, 1921 to a father who was a village home builder and a homemaker mother. Life was much simpler then, some five years before A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories made it into print.
But quiet village life came to an abrupt end when the Second World War broke out.
She still remembers hearing the deafening roar of German bombers flying overhead, on their way to devastate London. “Some days it would be quiet until nighttime… then it was very scary,” said Yeo.
She slept under the staircase for extra protection, and dreaded hearing whirring bombs explode.
Like thousands of other women, Yeo was called up to serve in the Women’s Land Army. Although she initially knew nothing about agriculture, she joined a civilian organization that aimed to grow more food at home and increase the amount of land in cultivation.
With most male farm workers joining the armed forces, women had to provide a new rural workforce, so Yeo learned to cut and sheave wheat. Her days were tiring, but Yeo took advantage of her free evenings to go dancing with friends.
It was at one of these dances that she met Canadian soldier Harold Yeo. She recalled it was love at first sight. “He was very handsome.”
The two married, and when the war ended, Yeo agreed to move with her Canadian husband to his native Manitoba, where he got work as an Indian agent in the northwestern part of the province.
“I had done some reading about Canada,” she said, so she knew what isolation to expect.
She recalled getting along fine with her Indigenous neighbours. In the winters she would travel by horse-drawn sleigh.
Later, Yeo worked as a hairdresser — a skill she learned in England — and raised three children with Harold near Winnipeg.
About 50 years ago, her husband was transferred to central Alberta and the couple moved to Red Deer. Yeo nurtured her love for gardening, dressmaking, and dancing. She recalled that she and Harold used to love dancing at the Legion on weekends.
Now that she’s a widow and living at Aspen Ridge, Yeo still enjoys attending the regular dances held at the facility.
When asked what’s the secret to living to be 100, she replied, “Dear, I have an apple every day and that’s about it!”
But an Aspen Ridge staffer noticed Yeo’s easy-going nature takes change in stride. “She didn’t complain a lot in life…”