The Santo girls (l-r): Phyllis Santo, Edythe Santo and Jeanne Santo.

Beginning in WWI and extending through to the end of WWII, communities like Kipling, Windthorst and Bender were part of what was called ‘The Home Front”.
None of the battles that were fought during World War II took place along that front. But make no mistake. “The War” demanded its sacrifice here too.
For Shirley Santo and her son Michael – that sacrifice is inextricably woven into their family’s history.
Alex and Margaret Santo (Shirley’s father & mother-in-law) farmed in the Bender area (east of Kipling). Seven of their 10 children joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) during World War II.
Edythe, the couple’s oldest child was a teacher in Bender (and taught Shirley’s future husband Edward when he started school) until she joined the RCAF during the war.
As Michael points out, little is known about what Edythe’s wartime role was or if that experience prompted her to make a significant change in her life when it was over.
“We have no idea what Aunt Edythe was doing during the war. She might have worked in a hospital or been a nurse. But we just don’t know.
“She went to university in Saskatoon after the war and started taking medicine. Then she went to McGill and two years in she met her husband there. After they were married, they lived in Montreal.”
However, he notes that there was evidence that Edythe’s experience during the war may have left her with wounds that she did not reveal to anyone in her family.
“We think that Edythe suffered from depression because she would lock herself away in her room for days. That likely had something to do with the war. But we don’t even know that.
“And her family had no information whatsoever about her life prior to McGill. They didn’t even know that she’d been to university in Saskatoon and knew nothing about her life here in Bender. She just never said anything.”
The Santos’ second oldest child Jeanne also joined the RCAF during the war. Jeanne was stationed at Goose Bay, Labrador and worked as a Nurse’s Aide. She also worked in the hospital at the #5 Bombing and Gunnery School in Dafoe.”
Robert Santo signed up for the RCAF in 1940. After training as a Wireless Operator Air Gunner, he was posted overseas in September 1941. He completed a tour of operations with RAF Coastal Command and was promoted to the Rank of First-Class Warrant Officer.
Robert then went to #22 Operational Training Unit as an Instructor, but was killed in action in May 1943, when the plane he was in crashed near Worcestershire, England. He is buried in Evesham Cemetery near Worcestershire
Robert’s twin brother John joined the RCAF in May 1942 and graduated as a Navigator from the AOS at Edmonton. He went overseas in July 1943 and was posted with 429 Squadron.
John and six of his comrades were killed in action in Aug. 1944, when the Halifax Aircraft they were in went missing in a night trip over Coquereaux, France. He is buried in the Communal Cemetery, in a little town called St. Martin-au-Bosc.
Shirley recalls meeting Robert and John only once.
“I wasn’t there on the (Santo) farm until after the war. Edward and I were married in 1951. But when I was about 16, it just happened that Edward and I were in Kipling one evening. Both John and Robert had been home, and we met the boys when they were in Kipling, to take the train back to Winnipeg. That was the only time I ever saw them.”
Phyllis Santo also joined the RCAF during the war. But Michael says that very little is known about what Phyllis did during the war.
“With Phyllis, we don’t know for sure. But we think that she was on the west coast at a Listening Post.”
David Santo joined the RCAF as a radio operator during the war and completed 32 operational flights over France and Germany. He re-enlisted after the war but took his discharge in 1953.
Carlyle Santo was the youngest of the Santos’ sons to join the RCAF during the war. He was still in training when the war ended and did not go overseas.
After the war was over, Michael says that those who had left to join the RCAF never really came home and adds that even younger children who had not been involved in the war were displaced and isolated in its wake.
“The war basically destroyed the family. The two boys were killed overseas and that was hell for everyone. But none of those kids ever really made it back.
“Edythe very rarely came home. And one of the only times that Edythe did come back to the farm after the war, she took all of the clothes and things that had belonged to the boys who were killed and threw them out a window into a wagon. Then my dad (Edward) took them and burned them.
“Jeanne came back home after the war. But she committed suicide in 1946. Phyllis stayed on the west coast for the rest of her life. My Uncle David came home and was on the farm for a while. But then he got a job in Regina and left. Uncle Carlyle was only on the farm for a while too before he went and got his own place.
“I talked to Dad’s youngest brother Dick one time. He told me that he had very little recollection of the family, especially his older brothers and sisters, because he was born in 1932. They all started going off to the war by 1940. So, he was just a kid when they left. And Grandma sent him to school in Winnipeg and then off to camp during the summer. So, even he didn’t come home much and really didn’t know the family.
“Like Grandma said, everyone signed up, and one by one she watched them walk out the door.
It was never the same again.
Once everybody was gone, they were gone.”
Shirley notes that this was especially hard for her mother-in-law Margaret Santo (who would be chosen as Canada’s Silver Cross Mother in 1973).
“I always felt so sorry for Edward’s mom. She was something else. Somehow, she watched them all go. I remember that she told the Legion that the thing that bothered her most was seeing the empty clothes hangers in the closet every time one of them left.”
“During the war, she read constantly, everything that she could. We had a whole library full of books and I think that was her escape. I think that was how she and grandpa got through it day by day.
“But I really don’t know how all of it didn’t blow Grandma away.”
The sacrifice made by the Santo family during World War II was one of many that were made in this part of the Home Front. As Shirley points out, her brother, Campbell Bill as well as several others from her hometown of Windthorst became involved as well.
“Cam, my brother, went to officer training school in BC. Then he went overseas. He started up in England and then went to Italy (Sicily) and fought all the way up through Italy. And then they went on to France and kept fighting.
“And there was Smitty (Alan Smith) He signed up and went overseas too. Then he came back home and finished his schooling. He was like a brother to me because his mother died when he was quite young, and he came to live on the farm with us.”
“I’ve also got about ten photos that were given to my parents of some of the others from Windthorst who signed up.”
Michael notes that the cost of these sacrifices could be measured by the number of Telegrams that families in this area received. But he observes that the business of living left families with little time to grieve.
“Those telegrams that came from the War Department saying ‘Your son/brother/husband/father was either Missing in Action or dead were hitting homes all around here. You got the telegram, and that was it. There were no officers coming to your door to say ‘Sorry’.
“But people were so busy just living. You had to get on with harvest. You had to preserve things from the garden for your winter food. That was how people lived. So, even if that telegram came, you still had to get stuff done if you were going to make it through the winter.”
Despite having to cope with the everyday business of survival, both Shirley and Michael say that people in these communities contributed to the war in other ways as well.
“I can remember the ladies in the Legion packing parcel after parcel to send to the boys” recalls Shirley. “And when they packed them, they would wrap them in flour sacks and stitch them closed.”
“Families sacrificed a lot in other ways during the war effort at home” agrees Michael. “People supplied machinery to melt down and make whatever was needed. And if you produced things (like eggs) you had to give a certain amount to the War Effort.”
After the war ended, returning veterans often found it impossible to share what they had been through with those waiting for them on the Home Front.
As Michael explains: “I’ve heard veterans say that they don’t talk to other people about this stuff because those people just can’t understand. And it’s true. When a veteran talks about the stuff that happened, we don’t have a clue. We don’t know the smells, the taste, the sounds, the rest of it.
“And you can’t pass that stuff on to someone. They can’t know what you’re thinking or feeling without going into hours of description. (and even then, the people you were describing it all to wouldn’t really get it).
“So, these veterans would just shut up until they get into a situation where they’re sitting around and getting drunk at the Legion with their buddies on Remembrance Day. Because their buddies understood and knew what they went through.”
As time passes and the details about what happened both on the battlefield and the Home Front during the two World Wars are increasingly confined to pages of history books, Michael wonders how those left to “Remember Them” can find ways to truly understand how costly their sacrifices were.
“The World Wars changed the face of our country and our communities.
“But we are so many generations removed from removed from it now. I don’t think a lot of people understand. People now have no way to connect to it. Even I don’t really understand. I just read stories and hear people tell stories.
“And how do you teach that? The only people who really understand are the people who lived it or have connections to it. And if you can’t connect with where a person lived and what life here was like for them, how are you going to understand what they went through during the war?”

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