(Staff) A NEWFOUNDLAND grandmother who hand-wrote “hundreds of thousands” of letters to Canadian troops overseas has died at the age of 91.
Gladys Osmond wrote her first letter to a Canadian soldier serving overseas in 1983. In 2011 she told the press that she composed “more than a thousand letters every month,” not to mention countless emails. It’s estimated more than 400,000 letters were sent to Canadian Armed Forces members over three decades as a result of her efforts.
“As long as I have my eyes, the use of my hands, and as long as my brain still works, I’ll be writing to soldiers,” said the recipient of the Order of Canada. “I want to make something useful of myself. I’ve got time on my hands.”
A former schoolteacher and later a member of the Salvation Army clergy, Osmond
died on Jan. 14th in her hometown of Springdale, where she was born. Her passing was marked by Canada’s top military commander. General Tom Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff, said Ms. Osmond’s “devotion and dedication” to the troops “was like none other” he’d ever seen.
“She was a dear and true friend of the Canadian Armed Forces,” he said. “Her letters provided inspirational messages, strength and heartfelt support to the thousands of soldiers, sailors and aviators who received them…. her words were known to lift spirits and bring smiles to faces around the world, even on the darkest of days.”
“I was moved to hear that members of the Canadian Armed Forces were with Ms. Osmond in her final moments, and I hope her family and friends know that we in uniform will not forget her legacy of service,” said Lawson.
In 1991 when Canadian soldiers went to Bosnia as part the UN peacekeeping mission, Osmond founded the Granny Brigade — a group of women who all turned their hand to letter-writing to boost troop morale. By 2005 the grannies were sending a whopping 10,000 letters a year to soldiers.
“Dear Gladys,” as she was fondly known, wrote whatever was on her mind, from the weather to what was happening in Canada. She felt the troops were “like [her] children.”
“I write about what’s happening in Springdale, if the birds are singing,” Osmond said in 2006. That same year General Rick Hillier, then Chief of Canada’s Defence Staff, presented Osmond with the Canadian Forces Medallion for Distinguished Service. He said her correspondence was a welcome connection to “normal life” for troops working amid violence and death.
Captain Carl Squires, wing operations officer at the Royal Canadian Air Force Base in Gander, Nfld, said, “It’s one thing to receive letters or e-mails from family but even more striking to hear sincere good wishes from someone you’ve never met. To get a letter that’s full of so much love from a stranger is what touched people.”
In 2008 Osmond wrote a book called Dear Gladys: Letters from Over There. She slowed down in recent years after her eyesight began to fail. She was laid to rest at the Salvation Army Citadel in Springdale.