Meet George Midgley: War veteran, engineer, amateur zoologist, and MCH Volunteer

By Lisa Dutton
Henry David Thoreau wrote,Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” George Midgley is not one of these men. 
Born in England, Mr. Midgley is one of the few surviving ‘homeboys’, more than several thousands or so children from Great Britain who were taken from impoverished families, orphanages or street life and sent to Canada to settle the land. At age 14, he found himself working a farm in Sherbrooke.
At the start of World War II, Mr. Midgley was captivated by the rousing speeches delivered by Winston Churchill. He also heard King George IV (not Colin Firth) deliver the king’s speech on September 3, 1939. Anxious to do his part for the war effort and craving adventure, Mr. Midgley hitchhiked and worked his way to Halifax. He was 16, too young to enlist, but not too young to work as a helmsman on a Norwegian tanker that crisscrossed the Atlantic delivering aviation fuel to Britain. “The tanker carried 7-million gallons of fuel. It was a floating bomb,” says Mr. Midgley. “We saw a lot of action during our voyages.  During battle, the crew would stay on deck towards the back of the ship so if bombed we’d be blown into the ocean rather than blown up.”
Mr. Midgley says all seamen were given lifejackets equipped with a light; this allowed them to be spotted bobbing in the water. One night the tanker was surrounded by lights; he could hear the men screaming for help. But the ship stayed its course. Mr. Midgley turned to the captain, “Aren’t we going to stop?” The terse answer “No”. Getting fuel to England trumped the value of the men in the water.
After the war,  Mr. Migley enlisted in the Canadian Army. He pursued an education at the armed forces school in Kingston and studied at Sir George Williams University. He graduated as a mechanical engineer. “To this day, I can take apart an engine and put it back together with my eyes closed,” he boasts.
Once discharged, he worked for the Shawinigan Engineering Company building sub-stations, cement plants, and irrigation systems around the world. He also pursued his lifelong passion for animals becoming one of the founders of the Montreal Zoological Society. To this day, he continues as society president.
At retirement, Mr. Midgley started volunteering at The Montreal Children’s Hospital, working two days a week. He helped Child Life Services bake cookies with the children, play board games with the children and on several occasions he had a slide presentation of his Safari trip to Africa for the kids & their families.
He moved on to do office work for Volunteer Services tracking the number of hours worked by MCH volunteers. Ever the engineer, he streamlined the compilation system and thus now works only once a week.
Today, at age 83, he says, “I’ve never been one to sit on my buttocks (Mr. Midgley used a shorter word) and do nothing. You’ve got to keep busy,” he says. “I’ve led one good life, but I haven’t thrown in the towel yet,” he jokes, noting there are many projects on his bucket list.  
He adds that he volunteers because so much good was given to him by others that he now wants to give back.