From dodging a German Second World War plane to dodging COVID-19

Thelma Baker, 90, has the unique experience of living through two distinct global crises, namely the Second World War as a 10-year-old, and the global COVID-19 pandemic this year.

Most people would say 2020 is the worst year they’ve ever lived through. However, Thelma Baker, a Whitby resident, might have a different opinion. After all, she’s 90 years old, which means she’s lived through some interesting times.

Baker was born on June 27, 1930 in Ilford, Essex, in East London.

This means when Thelma was around 9 or 10 years old, like many of her countrymen she had a terrifying encounter with the enemy.

“I was playing with the girl in the house where I was billeted, and we were on the hills behind the house because it was a country area,” she recalls, the memory still fresh in her mind 80 years later.

“And, suddenly, there was this ‘dang, dang, dang, dang’, and it was a German plane flying overhead. We threw ourselves right on the ground, which is what you’d been told to do, and it missed us! I guess he had some extra ammo and he saw people on the ground, and he decided to fire on us!

She’s able to chuckle about it for two reasons – it happened so long ago and her country ultimately came out victorious in the Second World War. But perhaps more importantly, she was just a child back then and didn’t realize the gravity of the situation.

This time around, when we’re in the midst of another global crisis, the stakes are much higher for Baker.

She’s scared to venture out of her retirement home at Lynde Creek Manor in Whitby, especially now that the number of cases is rising back up again. There is one striking similarity between the two global crises Baker has faced. Both involved masks.

“Gas masks were given out to us immediately. And you never went out anywhere without this smelly rubber thing that was in a cardboard box with a piece of string so you could hang it round your shoulder,” she explains, remembering how the U.K. government feared that the Germans would use chemical weapons against the civilian population.

Eight decades later, Baker finds everyone around her covering their noses and mouths once again.

“Well, yeah there is a difference,” she points out. “Because the masks we’re wearing are much easier to wear than a full rubber mask that you’d have to put in to not be gassed.”

That’s why Baker cannot understand why some people still protest having to wear masks, especially when it protects everyone.

“I don’t have any time for people who won’t wear masks,” she says with a sigh.

Baker is one of about 80 residents living at Lynde Creek Manor Retirement Community in Whitby. Before the pandemic began, she used to enjoy the entertainment events during the evenings.

“One time a band came in with 10 people, they were fabulous,” she says, recalling a memory that seems further away than six months ago.

COVID-19 has put a stop to all of that now. A representative at Lynde Creek Manor Retirement Community confirmed they are adhering to the new visitor restrictions that were announced by Premier Doug Ford last month.

While the Ontario government is trying to battle the second wave of COVID-19, Baker hopes everyone will follow the rules, especially when it comes to wearing masks and social distancing.

“I just don’t want to catch it,” she says. “I want to die a normal death, not something that’s happening because somebody was careless originally.”

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