Soldier Spotlight: Vernon “Bill” Cunningham

Image: The HMCS Bayfield was a minesweeper which patrolled the east coast from Boston to Halifax, dragging the ocean waters for mines planted by German U-boats. (SPRA 264.02)

Soldier Spotlight highlights veterans from the Archives’ online Soldiers’ Memorial. Each week, our volunteers select a remarkable individual to showcase in this new blog series. The Soldiers’ Memorial commemorates more than 1,100 WWI veterans and 2,300 WWII veterans from our region. Three dedicated volunteers have contributed over 1,200 hours to this project by researching and writing biographies. Our goal is to have all South Peace soldiers acknowledged for their service. If you know of someone who lived in the South Peace and should be listed on the Memorial, or would like to get involved by researching a local veteran, please contact the Archives.

Vernon, known as “Bill” Cunningham, the eldest son of Berl and Ella (Perron) Cunningham, was born on November 9, 1922 in St. Albert AB. At age one he and his parents moved to St. Front SK. Then they returned to St. Albert in 1929, and he lived with his grandparents while starting school. In 1934 he rejoined is family in Mearns and attended Egg Lake School. The family moved to Girouxville AB in 1937, but Bill stayed behind because he was hired for farm chores by a neighbor. Unfortunately he did not continue his education.

When Vernon enlisted with the navy in 1943, he was nicknamed “Bill”, and he was known by that name from then on. (His brothers, Norman and Raymond also served in WW II.) After brief basic training, he was on active duty serving on corvettes (ships) Nonsuch, Naden, Stadacona, and Avalon. It was dangerous work aboard these ships as they were used for minesweeping and anti-aircraft protection. Bill received honorable discharge in 1945.

For several years he hauled gasoline by truck from Turner Valley to Edmonton. Then he worked for Mills Motors in Alcomdale AB, and he was also a school bus driver. Bill met his future wife, Hilda Janke, while coaching a ladies’ softball team. They married on March 11, 1949 and lived in Alcomdale. With help from the VLA, Bill acquired land in the Whitemud area which he cleared in 1950, and planted a crop in spring of 1951. That summer their Alcomdale house burnt down; shortly afterward their cabin on the homestead also burned to the ground. Bill went into partnership with his brothers in the logging and sawmill business. In 1955 he went to Prince George finding work falling trees, and he moved his family there. After some severe injuries at his job, Bill took up carpentry and built a beautiful house for his family. But a short time later they returned to the homestead, and now having a full line of farm machinery, they prospered at farming. In 1981 Bill was diagnosed with lung cancer, and he passed away that December 7. Hilda moved back to Prince George. Bill and Hilda had 4 children: Gary, Vicki, Cindy, and Sandra.

Source: Reflexions pp. 467- 468, Photos pp. 469, 231