Armstrong’s Heaton Place Retirement Community Sam Thompson shares glimpse into his life filled with travels and adventure. (Contributed)

Life is an adventure for Armstrong resident

Heaton Place resident Sam Thompson travelled the world and has stories to share

Sam Thompson was born on Feb. 6, 1941, in a small village called Moneyreagh, located around 16 kilometres south of Belfast.

He attended primary school until he was 11 years old and life was pretty calm, but it wouldn’t always be.

He had two younger brothers and the going was tough in Ireland. His mother worked in a large Linen Mill and his father was a truck driver for several years before moving into the office — both travelled to work by bicycle.

“I was with my father the night he bought his first car at an auction in Belfast in 1952. He bid on a little square Ford 8, and he got it for 84 pounds (160.00 Canadian dollars).” Thompson said.

The Thompson family lived in a little brick bungalow in Moneyreagh with no water and no flush toilet.

“Those times moulded me for the future,” Thompson said. “They toughened me up to face whatever would come along in life.”

In those days, you had to take an 11-plus exam, which, if passed, would permit you to go on to high school, but if you didn’t pass, you were demoted to a technical school where you would learn a trade.

Thompson passed and was given a uniform and off to Belfast High School he went.

“I liked school at first, but eventually it wore off,” Thompson said with a laugh.

Thompson was in school until he was 16.

With the family unable to afford to pay for university, he decided to get a job.

After applying for various jobs, he landed one at the largest newspaper company in Belfast. He worked as an estimator for the Belfast Telegraph.

“The pay was horrible,” Thompson said, making only $7 a week.

During this time, Thompson learned he could immigrate to Australia for 10 pounds and this piqued his interest.

With enthusiasm, he took the paperwork home to his parents only to be told by his mother, “No way are you going off to Australia at 16!”

He tried again at 18, and he received the same response. At 20, he made one more attempt and finally received the answer he was looking for.

At 20, Thompson gathered as much money as he could and off to Australia he went via train and ship.

While on the ship, Thompson was able to buy himself a camera — knowing it would be a great asset to his adventure.

After arriving in Perth, he sailed into Melbourne.

With only 15 pounds in his pocket, he was greeted by his aunt and uncle who resided in Morwell. Jobs were easy to come by compared to Belfast, and Thompson got a job right away at a printing company in Melbourne.

After around six weeks, Thompson decided it was time to go on another adventure and he landed himself a job as a ‘Jackaroo,’ or a farmhand. This position taught him some valuable lessons, particularly to pay attention to detail and his surroundings which helped him greatly in his life.

Along the way, Thompson would make friends with an array of people. One of his friends announced that the Commonwealth Games were being held in Perth and suggested they should go. With excitement, Thompson said, “Great idea!”

Before long, Thompson, his friend and a couple of pretty gals were off on another adventure. They chose to explore the Outback and found themselves at the entrance of a farmyard. The farmer advised the group to be careful to not camp out in empty creekbeds as they tend to fill up rapidly when rain falls.

So bit by bit, the crew were gaining knowledge about the country and how to live and function in it. The gang had a .22 rifle and would hunt for food, eating everything from snakes to rabbits. It took about three weeks to travel across Australia and when the games were over, Thompson quickly landed another job.

It didn’t take long to repay some debt and save money that would allow him to continue his travels.

After a couple of months, Thompson took another job in the bush on a farm where he would spend his days plowing a 2400-acre field.

Later, Thompson returned to Perth and bought a 650cc bsa motorcycle and carried on towards New Zealand with a friend.

It was a bit of a rough ride as most of the terrain was sand, dirt and small gravel. Upon arriving in Sydney, they sold the bikes and boarded a ship to New Zealand.

There, the two travelled by peddle bikes and Thompson got a job right away working in a psychiatric facility. After saving some money up, he was off on another motorcycle to explore New Zealand. He had a lot of fun playing his guitar and singing in the local coffee shops along the way and meeting all sorts of people.

On his journey to Auckland, Thompson passed through a town called Tokora where he landed a job in a papermill. He saved up more money and after five months, he had enough to carry on.

He wanted to go home to see his family, but didn’t want to fly as he would miss a lot of sightseeing.

So instead, it took him five months to get back to Ireland, travelling through places like Singapore. Thompson’s brother was stationed on Singapore Island.

The two haven’t seen each other in a while at this point and when the moment came where they came face to face,

Thompson said with a chuckle, “My brother was disgusted at my appearance.”

He couldn’t believe how Thompson had changed so much. He cleaned him up to his liking and they had a nice visit.

While in Singapore, Sam was walking along the street with his guitar on his back when a car pulled up and the driver yelled out, “Where you going mate?”

They eventually invited Thompson to join their family, and he stayed in their home for a few weeks. The neighbours would gather for parties and a good time was had by all.

On the road again, this time travelling through Malaya and to Northern Thailand, where the girls are beautiful according to Thompson.

Times were interesting, Thompson recalled. He would sleep wherever he could pitch his tent but some nights were a bit nerve-wracking, especially the night where he attempted to sleep in the jungle.

Thompson’s journey took to all kinds of places where he met a variety of people. He eventually returned home to Ireland to see his family.

A lot had changed, his parents had aged and he had as well.

One of Thompson’s favourite memories in all his travels is a time when he landed himself in hot water at an airport in Columbia.

Thompson had purchased some gems in his travels, which he had rolled up in a handkerchief tucked into his sleeping bag. The guards at the airport unrolled his sleeping bag and found five blue sapphires.

Thompson was then taken to another room where he was stripped and searched. They found undeclared monies from various countries.

The guard said, “You’re being silly, you could lose everything you own.”

Thompson’s reply was, “Yeah, but you won’t do that.”

The guard asked why and Thompson replied, “Because you’re a nice man and you’re looking for drugs and I don’t have any.”

The guard insisted Thompson put his clothes back on and report his story to the chief customs officer.

“If you take the sapphires it will be on your conscience for the rest of your life because those are for my mother in Ireland who is in a wheelchair,” Thompson recalled telling the guard.

The sapphires were returned and the guard said a fine would be issued.

After Thompson paid them one English pound, the guards told him to be on his way.

“Boldness, be my friend,” Thompson said with a laugh.

In truth, the sapphires weren’t really for his mother, but he wasn’t sure who they would be for. Soon, that would be revealed.

Thompson met the love of his life in Vancouver: Doreen. The two would marry Sept. 10, 1971.

Those beautiful sapphires would end up being custom-designed into their wedding rings.

The couple would seem oddly connected as Doreen was a suburban mother of three and Thompson was a travelling musician, but they were twin flames – meant to be together!

Thompson’s job at that time offered plenty of travel all over the world and Doreen never knew what her next adventure would be.

She and her man enjoyed travelling the world together.

The two bought beautiful waterfront property in Australia and enjoyed their home very much.

After Doreen’s passing, Thompson made the decision to move back to British Columbia to be closer to his son’s family.

Thompson has an attitude that when something ends, you don’t mope.

Instead, you get ready for the next thing to look forward to. And that is what he did.

Off on his quad enjoying the outdoors, or singing and playing music with his grandchildren, Thompson always brings laughter into the room.

As life has ups and downs, Thompson experienced some health concerns which caused challenges with his walking.

After time spent in the hospital, Thompson eventually came to the Heaton Place Retirement Residence in Armstrong where he enjoys being pampered with delicious meals and friendly staff.

Circumstances don’t weigh on Thompson’s optimism. We love having him as part of our family at Heaton Place, resident relations coordinator Carrie O’Neill said.

Read more of Thompson’s story on VernonMorningStar.com.

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