Veteran of the Second World War, multiple medal-earning soldier, proud husband to the love of his life, caring step-father to 10 children, life of service… Fraser Boyles is well accomplished and now has one more achievement: as recipient of a Quilt of Valour.
“I was really surprised and really honoured,” to receive it, Boyles said, sitting in his comfy living room in Trenton.
Like many young men his age, Boyles joined the Army when he was 18. He served for three years and covered plenty of territory during that time. And he saw plenty of action. He doesn’t like to talk about that, but he loves to chat about the friendships he made and the hijinks of he and his fellow soldiers.
Boyles grew up in Green’s Point, Hillside, and other than his time in the service, spent his entire life in Trenton working hard and raising a family.
Now 96 (he’ll be 97 in December), “Sir Fraser Boyles” spends his days at home, holding court from the comfort of his plush recliner, television not far away, surrounded by framed photographs of everyone he loves and everyone who loves him.
He was surprised recently by a knock at the door.
“I saw the car pull in the driveway,” Boyles said; he knew he didn’t recognize the visitors.
Three navy veteran siblings — a sister and two brothers — came to the door with a colourful work of art — a Quilt of Valour — that was handcrafted in the Bedford area.
Quilts of Valour are presented to Canadian military members, past and present, who are ill or injured as a result of their service and sacrifice.
Boyles served with the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps and trained in Debert before his deployment overseas. The corps joined forces with the Royal Canadian Electric Mechanical Engineers or (RCEME) and Boyles was with the 3rd Recovery Unit. He saw plenty of combat action while he served and his job was a dangerous one — as a dispatch rider he delivered important messages to officers, troops and anyone needing to receive them, by motorcycle.
He served in England, Scotland, France, Holland and finally Belgium and Germany until the war ended in 1945.
He recalls his days in the Armed Forces but does not like to talk about them. “I don’t like to go back too far,” he shakes his head.
But what he does like to share are stories about the friends he made and the capers they got involved in. Like the time he and a fellow soldier, Mike, who was from Ontario, had to seek refuge under a truck trailer. They fell asleep there after a night of fighting died down, and when they awoke in the morning the truck was gone, having driven right over them but not harming them.
Boyles explains, “They were dropping bombs and trying to shoot the planes out of the air, the ack-ack was going and gee whiz, you name it and everything was going. So we were dug in, mud piled over us …” At daybreak the truck was gone but the two soldiers were safe.
Another time, he and “Big Fergie” were in Holland after the war was over and their job was to keep the roads clear. There was a chesterfield where it shouldn’t have been. “It looked pretty inviting and I said, ‘Nobody is using it, Fergie. We can use it.’” They left the furniture alone and went about their day. Hours later, they learned that some English soldiers who were repairing the road decided to eat their dinner in comfort, on the chesterfield. When they sat down on it, it exploded.
“We looked at that chesterfield two or three times and thought we’d take it away …” he says.
“I always had someone looking after me,” Boyles smiles.
When he left the Armed Forces, Boyles worked as a welder at the carworks in Trenton. He started cutting hair about a decade later, taking the barbering course in Moncton during a period of slowdown at the plant. He worked first for McMullen’s then Humphreys in a two-chair shop. From there, Boyles went on to operate his own barber shop from his home on High Street.
“I had to keep busy. I couldn’t sit around.”
Severe arthritis in his hands from sleeping in trenches during his time overseas, coupled with glaucoma ended his working years.
But to this day, if Boyles is out in the community he is frequently stopped by people telling him, “You used to cut my hair.”
A hard-working man who was always a pillar in his community, Boyles had never married. Until he met a widow with 10 children who was from Cape Breton.
At that time, Boyles had helped found a club for teens in Trenton called Teen Town. Leaders like Boyles mentored the youngsters who belonged to the group. Boyles was a kind, compassionate and gentle leader who quietly commanded the attention and respect of the group — teens and fellow leaders alike.
One of the friends he had while volunteering with Teen Town had an aunt from Cape Breton who was visiting, so he set up a blind date with Boyles and his aunt, Eva. The two hit it off and got married and Boyles became an instant father of 10 children who love him dearly and affectionately refer to him as “Papa.”
“I always did get along well with kids,” he smiles.
Over his lifetime and leading a life of service, Boyles has mentored thousands of kids.
For his time serving his country, Boyles was awarded several medals: Star Medal for taking part in the battle of Britain; France & Germany Star for serving in France, Holland and Germany; Canadian Veterans Medal for full-time service in the war; and 50th Anniversary Medal of Remembrance for the liberation of France. This he received about four years ago, presented by then-Central Nova MP Peter MacKay and current Pictou Centre MLA Pat Dunn, making him Sir Fraser Boyles, a knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour. The medal is awarded in recognition of his personal involvement in the liberation of France.
And now, he has a Quilt of Valour as a prized possession.
Fellow Trenton resident Donald Tupper nominated Boyles to receive the Quilt of Valour. Tupper said, “I grew up in Trenton and have known the Boyles (family) and McDonnells for years. Fraser was always known as a well respected veteran and leader in the community. After retiring from the military with 36 years of service myself, I could think of no one more deserving. It was an honour and privilege to nominate Sir Fraser Boyles for the prestigious Quilt of Valour. He and his generation are deserving of the utmost respect and recognition.”
Sir Fraser Boyles wrapped up in his Quilt of Valour. (Jardine photo)
INSET: Sewn on the inside of the Quilt of Valour.