Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Women 'united' by Olympic torch run

Winnipegger nominates husband's war saviour

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LOIS Spellman was at her Wellington Crescent home last night, her thoughts with a woman she has never met and the man whose life had linked the three of them.

More than 1,300 kilometres away in Brigham City, Utah, Antonia (Tonny) Moller-Knudsen, 78, brought the Olympic flame into the centre of her town, remembering the risks she and her sister had made almost 60 years ago to protect a complete stranger -- Peter Spellman, a downed RAF pilot in Holland hiding from the Nazis.

"We hid Peter for 51 days in our house," Moller-Knudsen said, reliving a drama that included her older sister Johanna. "When the Allies finally liberated our area (in October 1944), the three of us walked out together."

Moller-Knudsen was chosen last fall to participate in the cross-country Olympic torch run that proceeds every Olympic Games, in part because of the risks she had taken as a young girl during WWII.

"Her family contacted me and asked if I would nominate her to be chosen for the run," Lois Spellman said. "She and her sister saved my husband's life."

In a strange coincidence, both women's first encounters with Peter Spellman were brief. A then-young Lois Minns first met Peter in April 1943, when he had come to Manitoba to participate in the British Commonwealth pilot training program. On his leaves, he would billet at her mother's Garwood Avenue home in Fort Rouge.

"When Peter left, he proposed to me and promised to come back for me," Lois said. "But almost every one of the pilots who stayed at our house proposed to me -- I was considered quite attractive -- and if I didn't get at least one proposal a week I thought I was slipping."

Spellman flew several missions over Holland during the war and was shot down three times but each time he was able to get back to England. The last time, the summer of 1944, however was the most harrowing. With the help of a local farmer, he spent 42 days hiding in a pig sty. The local underground eventually pulled him out and moved him into a village, Roosendall, where he stayed with Antonia Van Dam and her sister Johanna. Whenever the Nazis swept through the area, Antonia and Johanna hid him in their apple cellar.

Peter Spellman did come back for Lois, in 1946 after the war, but she hadn't waited for him, she had married someone else. But she said Spellman continued to board with her parents, studied at the U of M and then moved to the states after he graduated. She only met him again once after he returned.

Fifty years later, in 1996, Lois said she was contacted by a private investigator who had been hired by Spellman. His wife had died and he wanted to see her again.

"He came out to visit for a couple of weeks and we were married in 1997," she said

Peter Spellman died in April 2000, a few days short of his 77th birthday.

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 7, 2002 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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