By Melanie MacDonald, Canadian Red Cross in Nova Scotia

Say hello to lifelong Red Cross supporter Betty Anderson!Meet Betty Anderson, a lifelong supporter of the Red Cross

Had Betty’s mother not slept in the morning of the Halifax Explosion on Dec. 6, 1917, we would have missed out on meeting an extraordinary woman and lifelong supporter of the Canadian Red Cross.

“It was the first and only time my mother ever slept in on a work day,” recounts Betty, who at age 96 only “retired” from volunteering two years ago. Her mother was employed at National Sea Products that fateful day.

“Mom left her bedroom window open the night before. It’s what saved her, you see. It didn’t shatter from the blast,” referring to the catastrophic explosion of a munitions ship following a collision in Halifax harbour, resulting in at least 1,950 deaths, 9,000 injured, some 1,630 homes destroyed and 12,000 damaged.

“I remember mom telling me she ran out onto the street but managed to grab her favourite green velvet hat as she fled. She threw her arms around a strange man she was so scared.”

The Volunteers Program coverBetty first came to the Canadian Red Cross at 16, through a first aid course and women she later met through Red Cross volunteer work became friends for life. During the Second World War, she served in the Royal Canadian Air Force but four years later rejoined the Red Cross as a volunteer in Halifax. “I served tea, coffee, sweets and the occasional bandage. We basically made sure people didn’t faint,” she says.

Later she rejoined the air force and for her first overseas posting in 1953 was stationed 100 miles from London and she jumped at an opportunity to attend Queen Elizabeth’s coronation that June. “Me and the girls scored tickets at the last minute and eight of us went. It was overcast the whole time but it was full of fun, just wonderful. The sun came out just as Her Majesty departed the church.”

Betty stayed in touch with her colleagues and Red Cross friends over the years including many reunions.

“In 1983, it came time for Halifax to host the very last reunion for air service women. I worked on the committee as co-chair for three years planning the event. More than 600 women attended. Halifax hasn’t been the same since,” she said with a laugh.

Last week, a monument titled The Volunteers was unveiled in Halifax to recognize the contribution of women volunteers in wartime. It pays tribute to women like Betty Anderson.