Silvera Veterans: Doreen Kamis-Christoffersen

7 March 2024

Silvera is home to many veterans. To honour them and their selfless commitments, we are sharing the stories of a handful of the residents who have served. We are grateful to them for their service and their willingness to share their experiences.

Doreen Kamis-Christoffersen, a resident at Silvera’s Aspen community, was only the tender age of 16 when she began nursing school during World War II at a military hospital in Surrey, England.

Her mother made a mistake on the application and aged her by a year, so she was accepted into nursing in 1943. She was, however, already mature in many ways, having endured the Great Depression and then the early years of the war.

“As soon as the war began, we all quickly became old – we had no choice,” she says.

Becoming a nurse

Doreen wished to become a wren (a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service) but “got talked into nursing instead,” she says.

She recalls helping patients who were injured during air raids. “One girl, who was only 18 at the time, developed pneumonia after she was injured. She died in the hospital, and I had to break the news to her parents,” she says.

“Some stories you don’t forget.”

She remembers buzz bombs circling overhead the hospital – planes with no pilots that would indiscriminately explode. “We had to take the mattresses off the beds and put the patients underneath, just in case the hospital was bombed,” she recalls.

Penicillin was still new and not always easy to acquire. A doctor asked her to take a box of penicillin vials to the train station to distribute to other hospitals. “I was just shaking carrying it on the bus to the station, I was so nervous. I was so glad to get rid of it!”

War bride

When Doreen was just 19 and on two days’ leave, she and a friend attended a dance at nearby Greyshott. There, she met a handsome Canadian soldier named Anders Christoffersen. Shortly afterward he was sent to the Netherlands, but when he returned to Surrey three months later, he proposed. “What he actually said was ““I don’t suppose you’ll marry me?’” Doreen laughs. “And, of course, I said yes.”

Anders required permission from the army to get married and Doreen needed permission from her parents. “My father thought I was crazy, but I was up for the adventure of it.”

Doreen became one of nearly 44,000 women who married Canadian soldiers during World War II and moved an ocean away from everything she knew. After 10 days upon The Empire Brent steamship in January 1947, she arrived in Canada and travelled to Anders’ farm at Nightengale, near Strathmore, where he raised cattle.

“I had very good in-laws. Many of the girls weren’t as lucky,” she says.

Life in Canada

Anders and Doreen eventually moved to Calgary, where Anders worked in construction and Doreen worked as a psychiatric nurse at the Holy Cross hospital for nine years. They had three children, a son and two daughters, and she now has 10 grandchildren and 18 great grandchildren.

Anders died 15 years ago. A few years later, at the Royal Canadian Legion #1 branch in downtown Calgary, Doreen met and then married “a navy guy”, Wilfred Kamis. They were married for five years. She moved to Silvera’s Aspen community shortly after he passed away in 2015.

It’s been a good life, says Doreen. “I miss my birthplace, but Canada has been good to me.”