Brian Eyres: A long and winding story

It was the occasion of his 60th wedding anniversary that brought Brian Eyres to the offices of the Battlefords News-Optimist.

He and his wife Maureen Eyres were married on May 9,1956, 60 years ago this week.

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As a result, he was showing off congratulatory messages from all sorts of dignitaries — Lt. Gov. Vaughn Solomon Schofield, Senator Raynell Andreyvhuk, Premier Brad Wall and Gov. Gen. David Johnson.

There was nothing from the Queen, yet, but her greetings were expected to arrive soon.

Eyres has lived a life that has led him from England to North Battleford, and his career has taken him to the farthest reaches of the world.

He was born in Rochester, Kent, England not long before the Second World War started.

The war was on when he was in school. When he was eight years old he was sent to boarding school in the western part of England, mainly “to keep away from the danger” from the German bombings.

He remembers that when the German bombers flew over the children would all have to dive into the underground to avoid the bombs. The children had gas masks in case there were gas attacks.

“For the young people like myself, we had a Mickey Mouse gas mask,” Eyres said. “I was so proud of it.”

When the war ended, he returned to Kent. He remembers that the war had “caused a huge shortage of many things because the Canadian wheat was not getting through.”

“It was all rationed, so they gave you a ration card,” he said. Soon enough, his family got fed up with the living conditions.

“This is not for us to live like this anymore,” Eyres remembers them saying. “Let’s live where it’s nice and sunny.”

They took the ferry to Calais, France and boarded a train to Marseilles, and then got on a boat called the “S.S. Cairo,” that sailed to what is now Mozambique.

They then headed to Cape Town, South Africa. Eventually, his parents heard of better opportunities in central Africa in Rhodesia, and they moved there where Eyres finished school.

“I decided I wanted to go mining,” Eyres said.

 He remembers there were a number of copper mines up in Northern Rhodesia (which later became Zambia) where there were opportunities. It was called the “Copper Belt.”

He found a job at one of them, but fibbed about his age, claiming he was 18 when he was actually 17.

Eyres worked underground as a mine trainee for a year, doing all the tasks of that position.

He got the qualification to be a miner when he was 18 and was there as an underground operator.

It was soon after that he got married. He and Maureen had three daughters, all of whom were raised in Africa.

Eyres went on to work as an underground miner. He worked in northern Rhodesia until 1962 when his career took him to southern Rhodesia, which later became Zimbabwe. He rose to the ranks of underground supervisor for a number of different employers in Rhodesia.

Apart from one year in nearby Swaziland, Rhodesia was home for several years. It was a beautiful country, Eyres recalls, with lots of mines and beautiful tobacco and corn farms.

But things were slowly but surely changing for the worse in that part of southern Africa. The colony, which later declared independence from Great Britain, was infamously led by white minority rule.

“The Africans wanted to have self-government, they wanted to run the government,” Eyres recalled.

In order for the government to deal with the rising tide of opposition, “all the young men had to be trained in the military.”

Eyres said the Russians were responsible for stirring up much of the trouble. The Soviet Union was helping train young black soldiers and would send them across the border to fight the government.

“The Russians were pleased as punch because they were doing a fine job of embarrassing the British, because it was a British colony.”

Soon after he started his career as a miner, Eyres was pulled out of the mines to train in the military in southern Rhodesia.

After his year of training, he went back to the mines, but was called up to the military from time to time over the next several years.

His roles included being an armed guard for convoys, and he would also be sent to guard mines and guard farms that were isolated and under threat. 

He also learned how to properly deal with landmines, which were a big danger at the time.

On one occasion, he was ordered to drive up and down a runway with a jeep to see if he could detonate a landmine in order for the plane carrying the managing director of a mine to know before landing that there were no landmines planted on the runway.

He travelled back and forth on the runway on the jeep and confirmed there were no mines. Later, he talked about the experience with his wife and became very upset.

“That man who arrived in that plane, that managing director, he said to himself that his life was more important than my life,” Eyres said.

“He was so arrogant that he didn’t care if anybody else was hurt and it wasn’t his problem as long as he was OK.”

By this point life in Rhodesia had become so out of control, with guerilla warfare being waged and crippling international sanctions against the government, that Eyres was convinced he was going to end up killed.

He remembered he would take his daughters to the rifle range to train them how to shoot automatic rifles, so they could defend themselves in case he was ever shot or ambushed.

“I thought, why am I doing this?” Eyres said. “This is a crazy place, a crazy way to live. Where am I going to live the rest of my life, because eventually the Africans are going to get majority rule and we’re going to be kicked out of here anyway?”

Fortunately, Eyres had obtained his certification to become a mine manager. He had registered himself with the College of Mining and did the requirements by correspondence to become a mining engineer over a number of years. He felt confident that he could land a good job to provide for his wife and family somewhere else in the world.

The whole family moved back to England in the latter half of the 1970s. When he got there, he read the paper and learned of an opportunity in Greenland.

He had an interview with the company in Copenhagen and said he had certification to be a mine manager. After an intensive interview he got a job as an underground supervisor.

He ended up living in a small town called Uummannaq, but worked at what was called the “Black Angel Mine,” which he was able to get to by a cable car that took him up the mountain to where the mine was located.

The conditions were harsh in Greenland. Because it was so cold and isolated not many people wanted to work there. Eyres recalled taking a helicopter ride that was caught up in whiteout conditions that made it difficult to see where to land. 

But Eyres said the job offer was a good one — no taxes, as long as he signed a two-year contract. That was the incentive the Danish government gave people to attract them there.

Also, Eyres got plenty of time off. He would work for four months and then got a one-month vacation. He took that time off to go back to England where his family was located.

All expenses to and from England were paid, he said.

Eyres says he made good money on the job.

“We saved a lot of money, the pay was good,” he recalled.

After his two years were up, Eyres briefly returned to Zimbabwe Rhodesia for a job there, but the political situation was still as unstable there as it was before and he quickly looked around for other options.

It was at this point that he said he went to the Canadian embassy in London looking to emigrate to Canada. He was told about an opportunity in Elliot Lake, a uranium mine, where there were several vacancies.

He worked there until 1986, and then went to a number of other jobs in several regions of Canada, including northern Manitoba and other parts of Ontario, until he retired at age 65.

He later lived in Wabamun, Alta. where he operated a gas station for a while, but in 2008, he moved to North Battleford where one of his daughters has a business at Frontier Mall.

“So you could see I’ve had an interesting life,” said Eyres.

“Now I’m retired, and I’ve got my computer and I’ve got my garden, and I’ve got my daughter living here, and now I’m 60 years married.” 








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