Pooley boys making their family — and their hometown — proud

By on November 6, 2017
Mo Dixon of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 96 kicked off the annual fundraising drive by pinning the season’s first poppies to Catherine and Gordon Pooley, whose sons — 25-year-old twins Court and Hayden — have served in the Royal Canadian Navy since they left the Nicola Valley as 17-year-olds. (Cole Wagner/Herald).


It was a brisk late October morning in the empty parking lot surrounding the Merritt Cenotaph, when Mo Dixon pinned the first poppies of 2017 to Gordon and Catherine Pooley’s lapels.

There was no fanfare, no playing of pomp and circumstance. Only a pair of parents, humbled by the solemn occasion, but nonetheless beaming with pride at the thought of their twin sons — Naval Cadets Hayden and Court Pooley — who are well on their way to becoming commissioned officers in the Royal Canadian Navy.

Every year, the Royal Canadian Legion’s Branch 96 awards the first poppy of the season to a military veteran or family with roots in the Nicola Valley. This year’s recipients come from a family with a rich tradition of military service, and deep roots in the region.

Hayden and Court Pooley’s great-grandfather, Bartle Dodding, enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War, explained Gordon. His service record lists his occupation as a farmer and a millman, who was born in Lancaster, England but lived in Lower Nicola.

Lance Corporal Bartle Dodding served in the First World War. (Photo courtesy of the Pooley family).

“My father, Bill Pooley, he lusted to serve — he was 19 when the Second World War came about,” said Gordon. “But he was deemed essential, he couldn’t go. It broke his heart for his whole life.”

“They were cattle and sheep ranchers, so they had to stay behind for food,” added Catherine. 

But nothing was going to stop another generation of Pooley boys from serving their country. 

A month after accepting their diplomas at Merritt Secondary School in 2010, the twins shipped off to basic training.


Naval Cadet Hayden Pooley and Naval Cadet Court Pooley. (Photo courtesy of the Pooley family).

Following the completion of basic training, the twins were placed into electrical and mechanical engineering programs at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s, explained Catherine. Proving themselves to be a quick study, the boys achieved their diplomas and were placed aboard the HMSC Calgary to complete their apprenticeships as WENG (Weapons and Engineering) technicians.

Thanks in part to their top grades, and their willingness to say “yes” to any challenge, the boys were selected to become commissioned officers, said Gordon.

“That means, ‘We offer you a job in management — a commission. In exchange for that, we’ll give you a degree in anything you want,’” he explained. “Now they are back at the University of Victoria, both studying economics.”

Now 25-years-old, both Hayden and Court Pooley have two more years of study before they enter the MARS — Marine Surface and Sub-Surface — officer training program. Should they successfully complete that program, they may one day serve on the bridge of a warship.

But while their sons’ remarkable achievements have filled the Pooley parents with pride, it is clear that both parents see their service as more than just a rewarding career path.

My tagline for them has always been: Hayden and Court entered the service from the Nicola Valley,” said Gordon.

“Hayden and Court now feel like they can go anywhere in Canada and within a 100 miles, they have a friend. They’ve met someone, or they’ve met a family. They’ve met people from all over the world, and they’ve said ‘You know what? It’s a good place out there,’” elaborated Catherine.

With Remembrance Day approaching, and the names of fellow Nicola Valley soldiers long since passed inscribed on the cenotaph, both Pooleys understand what it means to be a military family — but said they wouldn’t change a thing about their sons’ willingness to dive into a challenge.

“As a mother, it was the hardest thing in the world to let them go. To trust. And now, I cannot believe what they would have missed if I hadn’t. They have been safe the whole time. Canada is a good place. We are not out to hurt anyone, we are out to help,” said Catherine. “I don’t regret it for a second.”

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