Harry Neilson's Children

By Christopher Bretz

 

Evelyn Diana Catherine Neilson

Diana was born in Uganda in 1918 and spent the first nine years of her life there. Her father Harry was stationed in the village of Gulu when she and her brother Hal were born, which at that time had little contact with the English speaking world. She wasn't christened for three years until her father moved the family to the larger town of Kampala.

Diana gained many pleasant memories while growing up in Uganda, but in 1927 her parents decided she and her brother should go back to England to be educated at boarding school. This devastated her as she had never been away from her family for any length of time. As well, soon after she arrived in England Diana was afflicted with osteomylitis and spent a good deal of time in and out of hospitals. For a number of years she had to have many operations, metal frames, casts, and drugs to stabilize her bones. Afterwards her left leg would always be shorter than her right, and her hip would continue to cause her problems. These years would have a lasting impact on Diana's character.

During the late 1930s Diana found work in London as a model and film extra.

When she was nineteen she was swept off her feet by Rowley Richardson and quickly married him. They had a daughter, Sheila, in 1940. Rowley was with the British Foreign Service and stationed in Nigeria during the war, so Diana and Sheila spent the next few years with her parents on the Isle of Wight. This was a very lonely time for her and things grew difficult between her and Rowley.

In 1943 Diana met Orville George, who was overseas with the Canadian army. She said it was love at first sight, however her being a married woman presented some difficulties. She requested a divorce from Rowley, but that took some time, and soon Diana was pregnant with Orville's child, Bobbie. Complicating matters, Orville shipped out to the Italian front before the baby was born and would not return for a year.

During the war Orville and Diana took to calling each other Bob and Pat, but no one knows why. They would meet as often as they could between Orville's postings at various training camps in south England.

They were married in 1945 after Diana finally obtained a divorce from Rowley. Out of the circumstances of the divorce Diana also was forced to give up custody of Sheila. This was devastating to Diana and shaped her nurturing feelings going forward. She would not hear of Sheila again for over twenty years.

As a war bride, Diana returned after the war with Orville and young Bobbi to his home in Canada. They moved to Neepawa where Orville had a small house, little more than a shack really, certainly very different from the large, elegant homes of her upbringing. However this culture shock was dampened by her love for her husband. Together they built a new house for their family, which grew when the twins, Judy and Jennie arrived in 1947. Diana would receive photo albums and gifts from her father in England, but would never see much of her family again.

Orville worked for many years as a rural delivery man, and later as a heavy equipment operator at the Neepawa and Winnipeg airports. He also participated with the Canadian army reserves into the 1960s.

Diana and Orville had four daughters; Roberta (Bobbi), Judy and Jennie (twins), and Laurie (adopted). They raised their family in Neepawa but later moved to Winnipeg in 1961. Her children each appreciated their rural upbringing.

As her children grew up, Diana began to care for various foster children, mainly infants who needed care while waiting to being placed in permanent homes. One of these children was so precious she decided to adopt her for her own - Laurie.

Diana had numerous hospital stays over her years, mostly as complications of her childhood illnesses of malaria and osteomylitis. This caused her to be somewhat frail, but will was strong. So strong in fact that she proved doctors wrong after being told she would never walk again in the 1970s.

In the late 1960s Shelia reached out to find her lost mother. Diana was thrilled when she made contact and even visited Shelia in England in 1974. Sheila would also remain in touch with her half-sisters afterwards. She married Tony Courtlauld and they lived in Colchester. Tony sadly passed away in 2002, but Sheila is still a part of the lives of their 3 daughters and 7 grandchildren.

As for Diana's other children, Bobbi married Dick Prawdzik, a school teacher and they live in Hamiota. They have 3 children and 8 grandchildren and spend their time visiting between them in Pilot Mound, Whitehorse, and Calgary.

Judy married David Bretz, a chartered accountant and they live in Calgary. They have 3 children and 4 grandchildren living in Toronto, Guelph, and Calgary.

Jennie married Terry McDowell, an office manager and they live in Winnipeg. They have 2 children and 4 grandchildren, all from Winnipeg.

Laurie is unmarried and lives in Calgary.

Diana had a life long affection for song birds. She kept over a dozen budgies and canaries over the years.

Diana died in September 12th, 2000 near her daughter in Hamiota. Some of her ashes were taken back to England and spread by her daughters on the Isle of Wight.