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PHOTOS: Custodian from Mission’s first high school compiled album of fallen WW2 alumni

Affectionately dubbed Robert ‘Pop’ Grinsted, he regularly wrote to former students through war
Robert ‘Pop” Grinsted took it upon himself to regularly correspond with locals serving in the armed forces. Photo courtesy of Mission Community Archives.

Guest article from Val Billesberger, Mission Community Archives:

Their young faces full of promise look out to us from the past. Page after page of their portraits are thoughtfully placed in a beautiful, handcrafted leather-bound album embossed with the Mission High School logo and the title “IN MEMORIAM.”

This book of remembrance for World War II was lovingly assembled by the revered Robert Grinsted, “chief janitor” at the high school, to commemorate some of the 240 “boys and girls” who responded to the call of duty during wartime.

Affectionately nicknamed “Pop” by the students, he took it upon himself during the war to regularly correspond with many local youths serving in the armed forces, keeping them up-to-date with what their friends and school chums were up to as well as providing the latest news about Mission.

In 1944, the Fraser Valley Record (known today as the Mission City Record) began to publish a weekly column by “Pop” titled: “With the Boys And Girls in The Services.” Often expressing the utmost gratitude for the letters received and that his response was in the mail or forthcoming, Pop’s newsy column recounts the experiences of those in active combat along with the casualties and homecomings, infused with words of kindness, encouragement, humour and great respect.

In a column dated December 7, 1944, he wrote:

“Very sorry to hear that Lieut. Bill McIntyre has been wounded in Italy and pray it is not too serious… Cheer up Bill, we will keep you in our thoughts and pray for a speedy recovery; we shall all be happy to see you at home again ..Was speaking to a young veteran from Italy, Pte. Gleig of Stave Falls. He was wounded in Italy in early May when with the Princess Pats, and was very pleased to be home again…Pleased to meet fellows like this….Saw Sgt. Angus Krieger. He has now been fitted with his new hand and it’s really marvelous, he can do wonderful work with it, but I warned him not to learn how to use a shovel. Good for you Angus, perseverance has certainly paid in your case and we are proud to know you.”

When one considers the horrors of war, it must have been heartening to read the weekly column which often started off with “Hello, fellows and girls” and always ended with “So chins up” followed by wishes of good luck “where ever you are.”

The students at Mission High paid special tribute to “Pop” in the 1945-46 school annual which in part read:

From this town of ours, by means of our paper and through the untiring efforts of a man who was interested enough in his “kids,” we learned of events that were probably left out of our letters from home – possibly that we were to return to a more impressive main street, on which a few new stores had been added or that one of the local women’s societies had sent more badly-needed clothes to the Red Cross. As we all now know, these so called “small” items of interest, bound together, constituted one of our powerful weapons, a high morale. So may we who benefited by this outstanding contribution once again thank you “Pop” for a service well rendered.

Preserved in the Mission Community Archives as part of the Mission Secondary fonds, you may access the IN MEMORIAM album through the online digital repository which was launched on Sept. 25 of this year.

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All photos courtesy of Mission Community Archives: