The Last Salute

The Last Salute Virtual Exhibit – Plain-text

The Last Salute Virtual Photo Exhibit: Celebrating Centenarian Veterans of the Second World War in Words and Images


In the summer of 2022, renowned photographer Yuri Dojc took striking portraits of forty of Canada’s oldest veterans from the Second World War. All of the veterans photographed are 100 years of age or older: Centenarians. In 1939, when Canada entered the war, they were in their late teens or early twenties. Many have said they had to enlist: they saw it as a great adventure, a way to do their part, and a chance to see the world.

They served in the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army, and the US Marines. Today, they reside in the Veterans Centre at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

Thirty men and ten women sat for their portraits. Twenty-eight were interviewed by Alannah Campbell, well respected broadcast journalist. They spoke with humility, and compassion. Kindness, and a whispering trust. Many confided that if you wanted to survive, you learned to take orders. You had to adapt and adjust. You couldn’t dwell on the losses. Most lost friends, comrades. Many came home with injuries that still haunt them today. But they also said that making it home safely, “simply being alive” after witnessing the horrors of war, made them appreciate Canada – and the life that lay ahead.

These veterans exhibit a grace and an appreciation for every passing day. Many admit they often refuse to talk about their war experiences; it is too painful. But in old age, the memories of their youth seem to have come into sharper focus. One Veteran said, "If not now, when?" To sit for a portrait, to tell their story: to be seen and heard.
This was a gift that Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre wanted to give them.

The Last Salute Virtual Exhibit has been created from a live photo exhibit which took place in November 2022 to share with family, friends, and members of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, including staff, partners, sponsors and patrons.

About Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre Veterans Program

In 1928, Alice Kilgour donated Sunnybrook Farm to the City of Toronto, in memory of her husband Joseph Kilgour for use as a public park.

Almost twenty years later, on Remembrance Day, November 11, 1947, with the consent of the Kilgour heirs, 400 hectares of Sunnybrook Park in Toronto was transferred to the Government of Canada, to be the site for a hospital for Canadian veterans.

By 1948, the hospital began providing care for the courageous men and women who served in the Second World War. As time passed, the military hospital that once cared solely for veterans has grown – into the world-renowned Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre that exists today.

The Veterans Program at Sunnybrook is an integral part of the hospital – and it remains the largest veterans’ care facility in Canada. Working in close partnership with Veterans Affairs Canada, it offers long term and complex hospital care to over 360 veterans annually.

How to experience the virtual exhibit

The Last Salute Virtual Exhibit was created to allow viewers to click through the pages of each of the portraits to enjoy the beautiful photography, read the impactful stories and, in many cases, listen to their voices.

Please click on the white chevrons at the side of the pages to move forward or backwards throughout the exhibit. On smaller screens, chevrons may appear at the bottom.

For many of the stories, an audio clip has been included to which you can listen.

Please click on the blue triangle to listen to the recordings.

The audio will continue to play until you click on the white chevron, which will take you to the previous or next page.

Please note that not all stories include a recording.

You may also click onto any name listed on page 5 to go directly to his or her page. You can also return to the Table of Contents on any page by clicking on the 'Back to Contents' button in the bottom right hand corner.

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Table of contents

Introduction – 2
About Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre Veterans Program – 3
How to experience the virtual exhibit – 4
Jim Barr – 6
Jack Barton – 7
Jim Bays – 8
Gertrude "Gertie" Beharriell – 9
Pamela Bird – 10
Clarence Damas Brideau – 11
George Chassie – 12
Stan Dinneym – 13
Joe Duffy – 14
Norman Dunbar – 15
Harold "Harry" Garthson – 16
Bevers Gill – 17
Ken Gooding – 18
Harry Gower – 19
Doug Hames – 20
Ken Hawthorn – 21
Ernest "Ernie" Hampton Hudson – 22
William James "Jim" Hynds – 23
Harry Katz – 24
Nancy Ann Keeping – 25
John Henry Knipe – 26
Phil Kommit – 27
Orville Howard Marshall – 28
Anthony "Tony" Joseph Mastromatteo – 29
Hugh McGeach – 30
Beverly John McGill – 31
Bert McGinty – 32
Frances "Fran" McIlroy – 33
Joyce Minister – 34
Isobel Pearl Montgomery – 35
Ida Bell Morin – 36
Roderick "Rod" O'Reilly – 37
John Peter Pearson – 38
Joseph Russell "Russ" Phillips – 39
Seymour Pollack – 40
Howard Garner Preston – 41
Gladys Reeves – 42
Don Edward Taylor – 43
Jean Annie Vanwart – 44
Janet Watt – 45
About Yuri Dojc – 46
About Alannah Campbell – 47
Credits and Acknowledgements – 48

Our Centenarians

Slide 1: Jim Barr

Jim Barr
B. September 10, 1921
Glasgow, Scotland
Royal Canadian Air Force Flight Sergeant

Slide 2: Jack Barton

Jack Barton
B. December 28, 1922
Scarborough, Yorkshire, England
Royal Navy Able Seaman

Slide 3: Jim Bays

Jim Bays
B. January 21, 1918
Toronto, Ontario
Royal Canadian Air Force Sergeant
“I chose the RCAF because that’s where the smart guys went!”

Jim grew up lived in Toronto, a child of the Depression. His father returned from World War One with shell shock, so his mother worked, and Jim had a deep sense of responsibility. “I went to Central Tech and took three extra math courses. When I went to enlist, I chose the air force because that was where the smart guys went.”

Jim’s daughter Alison Vandenberg fills in the rest of her father’s story.

“During the Battle of the Atlantic, he serviced the planes that flew overhead and helped keep the east coast safe. He met my mother when he was on a training course in Brantford. When the war was over, he came home and got a job driving a horse-drawn delivery truck. His horse was called Bess and I think he enjoyed that, but the RCAF asked him to come back. He did and stayed for almost thirty years.

“Dad had many Canadian postings and went overseas on a Hercules cargo plane, delivering cargo to embassies around the world. He wanted to reach a good ripe age and he’s done it! He and Mom loved bridge, books and had a busy social life. He had my mother – and she had him – and they cared deeply for each other for seventy-five years. They wanted my brother Don and me to do well and we both have, and Dad’s so proud of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

Slide 4: Gertrude “Gertie” Beharriell

Gertrude “Gertie” Beharriell
B. April 15, 1920
Campbellford, Ontario
Canadian Army Medical Corps Registered Nurse
“Our generation sure grew up in a hurry. The war changed everything.”

Image: Blue arrow indicating an audio file.

View audio transcript »

Gertie: So D-Day came and the patients came in, one ambulance after another and we fixed, we met them, we, we did a first aid on them. We did their dressings. If some of them were pretty bad, if they were very bad, like they couldn't be moved, they stayed. I, you know, they were just little young boys, you know, crying. It was sad. It was very sad.
Alannah: And could you help all of them? Was there something to be done for each of them?
Gertie: There was something to be done for each of them. There was, even if it was just talking to them.
Alannah: Did you sometimes meet Canadian soldiers?
Gertie: These were all Canadian soldiers.
Alannah: Oh, they were all Canadians?
Gertie: Yes, they were all Canadians. They were our friends, our brothers.
Alannah: It must have meant the world to them to be with Canadian nurses and doctors.
Gertie: Oh, yes.
Alannah: To be able to say, I'm from Campbellford, yeah, I'm from Kingston. And you knew where they were from.
Gertie: Yeah, yeah. And they were all so young, you know, it was sad. It was very sad.
Alannah: Well, how do you cope with that? How did you process that?
Gertie: Well, you never, I don't know. I don't know how we coped. We worked 24 hours a day practically, you know, because they just kept coming and coming after D-Day one, one convoy after another.
Alannah: Did you talk among yourselves? You and your best friend?
Gertie: Oh yes, we did. And one convoy came in and it was a boy from Campbellford.
Alannah: Did you recognize him?
Gertie: I've recognized him as, yes, exactly. I recognized him and I think he had serious leg wounds and, and that, so they moved him on. He wasn't there that long. But it was a shock to see somebody you knew.
Alannah: Really? It brings it home.
Gertie: Yes.
Alannah: It makes it all very real. And in those days, they really didn't talk about post-traumatic shock.
Gertie: Oh, heavens no. You carried on. You worked until you dropped, you know. But we were young, we had stamina, and it was just the way things were.

Chic, elegant, and good natured, Gertie was born into an Ontario farming family in 1920, “smack in the middle” of seven children. “I remember being quite shy in high school, a girl who really wanted to have a profession. There were two options for girls back then – teaching and nursing. I got my RN at Hotel Dieu Hospital in Kingston. After graduation, I joined the army with my best friend Inez Leeder and before we knew it, we were working day and night as nurses at a Canadian Army Hospital, in Farnborough, England.”

In 1945, after a final posting in Holland, Gertie arrived home to find a giant sign on the front door, celebrating her safe return. She soon met and married Douglas Beharriell and they raised their daughter, Suzanne with much love. Gertie says she never regretted her time overseas. “The war made me wake up and understand I was not the only one in the world. Others had suffered far more. It makes you realize how lucky you are – and what a good place we come from.”

Slide 5: Pamela Bird

Pamela Bird
B. March 31, 1922
London, England
British Army Auxiliary Territorial Service
A close friend of Pamela’s says they were not sure of exactly what Pamela did during the war.

However, she is sure her British friend did important work in Washington DC.

Curious about Pam’s war years, her friend asked what it was like to cross the Atlantic, in early 1944, with the threat of U-boats in her path. She says Pam exclaimed, with aplomb, “I thought I was heading in the wrong direction. The war was not there!”

Pam joined the Auxillery Territorial Service (ATS), the women's branch of the British Army in March 1942 when she turned twenty. She was always a superb organizer, and her skill was recognized when she was promoted and posted to Washington in January 1944.

Slide 6: Clarence Damas Brideau

Clarence Damas Brideau
B. January 12, 1921
Tracadie, New Brunswick
Canadian Army Private
“To me, after the war, every day was a beautiful day.”

Image: Blue arrow indicating an audio file.

View audio transcript »

Clarence: I was in the Infantry.
Alannah: You were in the infantry.
Clarence: That's right.
Alannah: What did you do?
Clarence: Everything that was supposed to be done, I guess. We were told to do this and do that and do this and do that, you know? Hmmm.
Alannah: A lot of discipline.
Clarence: Yeah. Discipline. Yeah. Nothing you could do about it.
Alannah: You had to take the orders.
Clarence: That's right. Take the orders.
Alannah: How did you manage that?
Clarence: Pretty good, I guess. Yeah, I would say so. Pretty, pretty good. I loved it.
Alannah: You did?
Clarence: Yes.
Alannah: Why?
Clarence: I don't know, because there a bunch, bunch of the boys together, you know? It was, it was great. We were all in the same boat trying to do the best out of it, you know?
Alannah: Did you have a couple of really close friends?
Clarence: Oh my god, I quite a few of those.
Alannah: Did you?
Clarence: Oh yeah. We were all together. One was not better than the other. We were all, we were all equal and we looked after one another very, very well. It was a little rough at times, but it was a real life, you know. We took it, we took it pretty good. Matter of fact. Very good.
Alannah: But you had close calls
Clarence: Couple of times? Yeah.
Alannah: Yeah. What does that mean? What was happening when it was a close call?
Clarence: Of course you got to, to the enemy and you know, guns going on to beat hell. The big guns. The small guns.
Alannah: So you faced enemy fire a lot?
Clarence: Enough.
Alannah: Enough?
Clarence: Mm-hmm.
Alannah: And you must have lost friends, Clarence.
Clarence: Oh yes. Oh, I did. A lot of them.
Alannah: How do you cope with that as a young man out in the field?
Clarence: I dunno how you would say it. Oh, you lost your best friends. It was awful. In your mind you are saying am I next? You know, we all, we all thought of it the same way. You know, he's gone today. Maybe tomorrow we'll be gone. It was not pretty.
Alannah: Would you have talked to your friends about that when you were there?
Clarence: No, I don't think so. No.
Alannah: And you saw action in Italy?
Clarence: Mm-hmm.
Alannah: France?
Clarence: Mm-hmm.
Alannah: Germany?
Clarence: Mm-hmm.
Alannah: Holland?
Clarence: Mm-hmm.
Alannah: Belgium?
Clarence: Mm-hmm.
Alannah: And North Africa?
Clarence: Mm-hmm.
Clarence: That's right. Mm-hmm. How do you know that?
Alannah: How do you survive that?
Clarence: Take taking orders. Yours were there and then you had to take them.
Alannah: Did you always like your commanding officer?
Clarence: I guess so, yeah. Mm-hmm.
Alannah: Is there one place? What place really stays with you?
Clarence: Um, you know, quite a few.
Alannah: What was North Africa like?
Clarence: Sad, terrible. North Africa, France, Italy, Germany, Holland, and Belgium. We says never, never again. But when the time is there and you gotta go in, you know, it's not much you can do,
Alannah: But how do you do that time and time again?
Clarence: It was hard at first. You know, once you are in it, you kind of forget all about it, I guess. You just keep going on.
Alannah: And did you, did you carry anything with you? Some of the veterans have told me they had something always in their pocket. Did you have any, anything from home that you carried with you?
Clarence: Yeah, there was something. I always had it with me. I think it was a picture. Picture of my dad. Yeah.

The eldest of eleven children, Clarence began life on the family farm in Tracadie, New Brunswick. His father was French speaking; his mother was proud of her Irish roots. “We all went to the same school. The people made the place. Everyone was so nice.” Clarence joined the Canadian Army as a young foot soldier. He said it began well. He enjoyed the company of other young men, and he respected his military officer. But when they went into battle, he realized he had not foreseen the brutality of war.

Clarence is grateful for his daughter Shirley and his granddaughters Mika and Nadia. He says both are so beautiful, so kind, and they’re here because he survived so many battles. “When the war ended, that day it was good, very good. We’d made it through everything. We were a proud bunch. When we got home, we were looked after so well. People were proud of you as a veteran! And the peace we admired so much — it returned. War was not pleasant, let me tell you. Oh, pray to God, never again may it happen. We served our country quietly and with dignity.”

Slide 7: George Chassie and daughter Judy Spano

George Chassie and daughter Judy Spano
B. January 14, 1921
Chapeau, Quebec
Canadian Army Lance Corporal
“I was never afraid of death. You walked up to it. You went through it. And you came back – if you were lucky.”

Image: Blue arrow indicating an audio file.

View audio transcript »

George: War didn’t make you unhappy. You're with a lot of other people and, and they provide you with a lot of memories and you never forget them. That's what I think about them. I know. I was never afraid of, of, death. No, you walked up to it. You went through it and you came back, if you were lucky. Rarely do you remember the hard times that you left behind. You just went by them and you carried them on your shoulder. They were your memory and you'll never ever forget them. I cry when I think of some of them. Some of them will come back and some won't. The tears go, oh boy. The tears go down when I think about it. But yes, remembering the past. Never forget them. Thank you for listening to me because we don't have that opportunity. Yeah. Makes me cry a little bit. Just think about the crazy world, and all these sad things to go through with them.

George was the eldest of fourteen children and he and his father enlisted together, with one of George’s brothers. They sent their wages home to ensure the younger children would not go hungry, in Chapeau, Quebec. On June 6, 1944, Lance Corporal George Chassie stormed Juno Beach with hundreds of other soldiers. His interview took place on June 6, 2022, 78 years later.

After D-Day, George and his group made their way to Holland. He remembers how grateful the Dutch were to see them, embracing them like brothers. George was considered a “sapper” – a soldier who would do any job that was needed, and he built many bridges during the war. He returned home to become a master carpenter. He and his wife raised two children, Judy and Gary, and he has one grandchild, Michelle. “Once I got home, my wife brought me peace. Mildred was a beautiful girl and every day we remembered that we lived! We were alive, and we gathered the days up, every single day.”

Slide 8: Stan Dinney

Stan Dinney
B. July 4, 1922
Moncton, New Brunswick
Royal Canadian Air Force Armourer
“I loaded ammo onto Mosquitos. And I loved those Mozzies. They were mighty good aircraft!”

Image: Blue arrow indicating an audio file.

View audio transcript »

Stan: I love Mosquitoes.
Alannah: Describe what made that airplane so special. Stan: It had two engines, and they were good engines. They were same ones on the Spitfires, and they were mighty, mighty good. They could take on all the Messerschmitts and what you name it. It's, uh, great to have, uh, an aircraft like that on your side.
Alannah: Stan. They're made, they were made of wood, the Mosquitoes.
Stan: I know. So, because one time and the aircraft come in, we were down in England and I don't know, I think the pilot was blind because he, he come in, but he missed the, um, he missed the, the tarmac, the runway. And he skid across the grass and missed the, uh, control tower. But he hit a machine and all we had was a pile of wood. Another armourer and myself, we had to go in and get the, the 20 millimetre, uh, guns out of it. They were the big ones, Suizas, Oerlikons, and we got 'em out, but amongst all the splendour of wood. But you know, about that time, uh, the bombers started to go over and I can look up there and hear the war of thousands of machines, Lancasters, Halifaxes and what you name, name it. But you know what they did to me? They, uh, in the summer of 43, I boarded another ship and I went through the, the Mediterranean. I saw smoke. It was, uh, two ships, uh, ships on fire. And the men, there was U-boats there. Well, I didn't know through the Suez Canal, Indian Ocean, then India, and down to Ceylon to 413 Squadron. And I'm looking for squadron leader Birchall. He got to be well known. He was the saviour of Ceylon.
Alannah: So when you were that young man witnessing all of this war, how did you cope? How did you cope with the planes overhead, the pressure of doing your job, the travel to unknown places?
Stan: You know, I never really, I never really thought too much about it. I thought, well, I'm over here having a, a good time. When I first went over, well I thought I was having a good time joining the air force. Then when I went overseas and, uh, different squadrons, I felt really good too that I would belong to the, uh, the adventure, the, the war. So, I never ever thought I would, but when I think back now, I was actually more serious than I imagine.

Stan was working at his uncle’s lumber mill in Moncton in 1939 when Canada entered the war. By 1941, the RCAF came calling, looking for recruits. Stan initially thought he might become a radar operator – but he became an armourer. His job was to look after the guns on Canadian aircraft. He loaded ammunition into the four cannons in the bellies of Mosquitoes. He was sent overseas, and then crossed the Mediterranean, dodging German U-boats, sailed through the Suez Canal, across the Indian Ocean, until he ended up in Ceylon, with the 413 Squadron.

Stan is known by almost everyone at the Veterans’ Centre – residents, staff and visitors. He makes a daily effort to connect with others. He says it’s what keeps him young – and he always tries to make new residents feel welcome. “I say you’re here for a reason. It’s a place to heal and a place to enjoy. You may be old now, but you will grow oooooool-der! So please, put that in your noggin! And smile.”

Slide 9: Joe Duffy

Joe Duffy
B. January 1, 1922
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Royal Canadian Navy Lieutenant Commander
“I’m satisfied that, when called upon, I joined up and fought with my country. It made me a better person, a more mature person.”

Image: Blue arrow indicating an audio file.

View audio transcript »

Joe: Everybody was saying the same sort of the same thing. We're all living in the same boat, so to speak. And uh, we had to accept the fact there was a war on. And uh, and we just had to face the fact that we don't let it worry you too much. Although we were afraid in the submarine infested waters, but we still were able to keep our level headedness about us and keep us our wellbeing about us because we had a job to do. Yeah. You resigned to the fact that you're in there in a war and you had a job to do. And, uh, that's, I think that sort of kept you in a fair, fairly good state and, and, uh, of course you weren't, uh, when you finished your, your sessions, you know, where if you were out to sea for a period of time, you'd come back in for, uh, vacations.
Alannah: And what would you do when you had some leave?
Joe: Oh, I visited during most of it. People went home, hadn't seen their folks.
Alannah: Were you allowed to talk about your work?
Joe: Well, I think loose lips sinks ships.
Alannah: Right.
Joe: It was a useful expression, used frequently.
Alannah: What about on board the boat? Did you guys have any way to let off steam? Would you play cards or what would you do?
Joe: Um, we had, uh, we had a PA system. We played records. Matter of fact, I remember I wrote to Bing Cosby, to tell him how much we enjoyed his music. And Bing answered.
Alannah: No.
Joe: With a record.
Alannah: Did he?
Joe: Yeah, he signed it. Bing. B-I-N-G.

Growing up in Charlottetown, the middle child of six, Joe enlisted in the Navy, inspired by an older brother and an uncle. By the time he was twenty-one, he was on the HMCS Nipigon – one of Canada’s minesweepers that saw action in the Battle of the Atlantic and the Battle of the St. Lawrence. Those battles brought the war to Canada’s doorstep, as German submarines tried to torpedo convoys
transporting supplies overseas. “I stood watch on the Nipigon. When we found a submarine, I’d track it on the depth charger. Say it was three hundred feet down, well, I’d set the depth charge and lock it with a pin. If you pulled the pin, that sub would be blown to kingdom come!” Joe says it was his shipmates who got him through the war. They often found solace in the music they played over the ship’s loudspeakers.

Joe ended his interview with a little advice. “The war taught me to have an appreciation for the life of every human being. You have to be grateful for what you have in life. You have to earn it, and contribute in your own way to the betterment of others.”

Slide 10: Norman Dunbar

Norman Dunbar
B. December 2, 1922
Toronto, Ontario
Royal Canadian Air Force Bomber Reconnaissance

Slide 11: Harold “Harry” Garthson with Nurse Analiza

Harold “Harry” Garthson with Nurse Analiza
B. August 31, 1918
Hamilton, Ontario
Royal Canadian Air Force Bomber Squad Paratrooper
“Somebody had to fight. Somebody had to win. If you were shot and killed, you were out. And women signed up too. That’s important. We didn’t have enough men. We worked together.”

Harry joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1941 and was sent to St. Thomas, Ontario to study sea and land rescue. A year later, he was in Brandon, Manitoba for air training. By 1943, he was posted to the RCAF Station in Uplands, Ontario with the 135 Fighter Squadron, to train to go overseas. But he was injured and spent six months in the hospital and six months in rehab, before being sent to British Columbia, where his squadron flew on air defence operations.

“I was part of the Birds of BC. We were there to keep an eye on the Japanese. I dressed the bombers for potential action. I got them ready and loaded. The Japanese came close at times. We had submarines and planes – and so did they! Sometimes the threats felt very close. I did lose friends in the war, and two of my cousins.”

Family and music are what keeps Harry happy today. “I have three good boys and they all have good jobs. And you know I never smoke or drank. But I’ve always loved to dance. I met my wife Mary in Brandon. She’d say, ‘Let’s dance Harry!’ and off we’d go!”

Slide 12: Bevers Gill

Bevers Gill
B. July 2, 1922
Toronto, Ontario
Royal Canadian Air Force Pilot

Bevers Gill signed up before he was of legal age, telling a ‘mistruth’ about his date of birth. He was determined to join the RCAF, and he was proud to train other pilots to fly. His daughter Karen believes her father’s one regret was that he was not able to serve overseas. For many years, she says, he believed his service was not as important as his comrades, who flew their planes where battles were won or lost. But she adds, “My father always was a proud Canadian and he served in the reserves for many years with the 411 Squadron.”

Slide 13: Ken Gooding with grandson Dean and son David Gooding

Ken Gooding with grandson Dean and son David Gooding
B. February 14, 1922
Toronto, Ontario
Royal Canadian Corps of Signals
“I was a Canadian signalman. I worked alongside the British Phantom, transmitting encrypted messages to the Allies for D-Day.”

Image: Blue arrow indicating an audio file.

View audio transcript »

Alannah: Tell me how you travelled overseas. What ship were you on and what was the story of that travel?
Ken: Well, uh, I went over on the, uh, Queen Mary and, uh, Churchill was on that ship. We didn't know it, of course. And, uh, it stopped at Quebec. Uh, so that, uh, president Franklin Roosevelt could come aboard and Churchill could talk to him and explain to him about the plan for the invasion of Normandy.
Alannah: Oh my goodness.
Ken: And, uh, when that was over, then we went on.
Alannah: When did you find out that that had taken place on your ship?
Ken: Well, I, I knew that afterwards. That was before we got on the ship.
Alannah: That ship had a, a nickname. Do you remember what it was? What they called the Queen Mary? I think she was called The Grey Ghost.
Ken: Grey Ghost. No, I never heard that. No.
Alannah: I think she used to be able to go at, at a good speed.
Alannah: Well, that was it, when we got aboard, it was at a good speed and because nobody saw us, and it was all camouflaged too.

Ken enlisted in August 1942 as a signalman in the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals. After a year of training, he was a qualified radio operator and was sent overseas on the RMS Queen Mary. What he didn’t know was that a couple of key players would be on his ship.

As soon as Ken arrived in England, he started his work at a wireless station, based in Surrey. There was a big black transmitter, which he had to assemble single-handedly. His house had three antennae, which let his team send messages across the Channel to France. Ken worked with very sensitive information, vital to the war effort. On May 25, 1944, his unit was assigned to a key British Signals establishment located at Selsey Bill, a headland jutting into the English Channel, with signal access to the beaches of Normandy. He worked alongside the British Army’s Liaison Regiment – also known as Phantom. Together, they transmitted important signals on D-Day. Most messages were encrypted, so the radio operators, including Ken, did not know what they were transmitting or receiving. “I remember the codes were five letters. Then a dash. Then another five letters. I knew so many cyphers and codes then. Now I can only remember Morse!”

Slide 14: Harry Gower

Harry Gower
B. November 18, 1922
Toronto, Ontario
Canadian Army Postal Corps
“I was so lucky. I sorted letters and parcels to deliver to Canadian soldiers.”

Image: Blue arrow indicating an audio file.

View audio transcript »

Harry: It totally surprised me that I could paint what I did. They were totally surprised that I could do that.
Alannah: Where do you think that came from?
Harry: I don't know. Nobody in my family did anything like that. I would just paint. Some of the portraits I did were photographic.
Alannah: And the landscapes, always of England?
Harry: They were landscapes and portraits. I was very proud of the ones I sold cause I sold them for hundreds of dollars and uh, they were very good paintings.
Alannah: I wonder if you would've done that had you not been sent off to war and been alone in England. It gave you the time and space.
Harry: Yeah. I never thought I would do it. I painted realistic portraits who were like photographs.
Alannah: And where would you find your portrait people? Who did you paint?
Harry: They came to the shows and I never saw them again, but I was very proud of what I did. They were very good paintings, accurate. It, it absolutely amazes me what I could do out of a clear blue sky.

Harry Gower grew up in Toronto, one of four children. He worked as soon as he could, to help his single mother support the family. “When war was declared, I didn’t enlist. I was conscripted. My uncle died in the First World War, so I didn’t believe in guns. But I went to basic training, took an intelligence test, and was assigned to the Canadian Postal Corps in England. It was a non-combative unit, which was perfect for me.” Harry was billeted with a British family in London. “The doodlebugs came, and the devastation was terrible, but I never got hit. I spent my days unloading boxes and sorting parcels and letters for Canadian soldiers. Sometimes I delivered them to the troops. There were always packs of cigarettes and tins of cookies and news from home.” When Harry had time off, he would head into the British countryside. He hadn’t trained as an artist, but he found he had an innate ability to paint landscapes and portraits.

After the war, Harry became an interior designer. It was his ticket to a world of art and travel. “I loved it. I picked the fabrics, the rugs, the furniture, even the paint colours for Canadian embassies in Africa. I saw the world and met wonderful people. I learned the love of art in the middle of a war and I’m grateful for that.”

Slide 15: Doug Hames

Doug Hames
B. February 15, 1922
Oxbow, Saskatchewan
Royal Canadian Air Force Radar Technician

After his initial training with the RCAF in Canada, Doug was sent to Scotland. After completing more courses in the UK, he set sail for Africa – where he serviced radar and electrical components on various aircraft.

Doug was the youngest of twelve children and he is the last surviving child. He grew up in rural Saskatchewan where his father was the postmaster and the town’s bandleader. His father insisted each child learn to play at least one instrument, and Doug chose the cornet. His children warmly remember marching around their house, while Doug played his cornet with enthusiasm. One of his brothers had a band in Toronto, The Les Hames Band. Uncle Les had three girls who loved to sing, and they formed “The Hames Sisters” trio. They played at county fairs and other social events, and they appeared on the Tommy Hunter Show and Country Hoedown.

Slide 16: Ken Hawthorn

Ken Hawthorn
B. July 24, 1922
Toronto, Ontario
Royal Canadian Air Force Pilot, Bomber Command
“It was called the Ghost Squadron because all that was left at the base were ghosts.”

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Alannah: You were with the Ghost Squadron. Ken: A long time ago.
Alannah: Why was it called that?
Ken: Well, it was called the Ghost Squadron because they, they, uh, when when we got to the, to the, uh, to the station, to Squadron Station, they, they had, they, all the people had had, had died pretty well. So there were just ghosts there. So that, that's all that was left was there were ghosts of all the people that had, had gone.
Alannah: Ah, I thought part of it was because you flew at nighttime so often so that you were invisible, like ghosts. Was that not true? Was that part of it, too?
Ken: Yeah.
Alannah: How old were you when you first started with the bombers? 20? 21?
Ken: Around there?
Alannah: Yeah. You had at least 40 missions over Germany.
Ken: Yeah. Yeah. But, uh, they weren't all over Germany. There was a lot of them in France because, uh, the, uh, the Resistance were involved.
Alannah: And then what was that like, Ken? What was it like to do this?
Ken: Well, all, all the people that were there, they were involved, were doing the same thing. It was all right. It was, it wasn't scary.
Alannah: No.
Ken: It wasn't scary, you know.
Alannah: Because you were with each other?
Ken: Yeah.
Alannah: What gets a young man through that though? I know you say you weren't scared and that's good, but what got you through it those years? Three years I think you were doing it?
Ken: Uh, I never thought about it. I never, never thought of it. Well, what was involved?
Alannah: What would you young men do to, to let off some steam, to give some balance to your life? Did you, did you have time away from it?
Ken: Yeah.
Alannah: And what would you do?
Ken: I had family over there. I went to see them quite a bit.

Ken flew Halifax and Lancaster bombers for the RCAF in Squadron 428. He flew forty missions, dropping bombs over Germany and France. He does not recall how many kills are recorded in his logbook. It’s something he does not want to remember.

After the war, Ken worked at Westinghouse, where one of his closest colleagues was Heinz Wassenberg. Both were engineers. Both were WW2 pilots. When they compared their flight records, they confirmed they’d been in the air at the same time – Heinz flying with the Luftwaffe; Ken for the RCAF. But they remained lifelong friends. As Ken’s daughter Anne explained, “A pilot is a pilot. Dad was highly critical of the Germans – but Heinz was his equal. They had seen war from the same sky. They knew things, shared things, things we cannot imagine.”

Slide 17: Ernest “Ernie” Hampton Hudson

Ernest “Ernie” Hampton Hudson
B. April 4, 1922
London, Ontario
Royal Canadian Corps of Signals
“I seen a buzz bomb come right out of the sky. His motor quit running but I seen it. It was something terrible.”

Ernie Hudson was an only child, and when he finished high school in Toronto, he walked alone into a recruiting office on Queen Street to join the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals.

“My father and grandfather both fought in World War One and Dad said not to choose the artillery. The guns were too heavy! A signal operator would have a lighter load. But when they tested me with them dots and dashes, I didn’t do very well. It’s like listening to words — and hearing maybe sixteen a minute. I couldn’t even hear six! So I ended up in Stores, getting equipment ready for the signal men.”
Ernie feels lucky to have made it home in one piece. He had three close calls.

“There was that first buzz bomb near Liverpool. The second close call came when I was visiting my grandfather in Yarmouth. I was walking and a German plane flew above. The pilot seen me there on the beach, took aim, and tried to kill me! But he wasn’t a very good shot! And the third close call was in Belgium. I was on nighttime patrol when the Germans bombed a hospital. I ran over to help. Walls splattered with blood. Glass all over the place.”

After the war, Ernie began his career at Bell Canada. “I married Esther and had two girls and a boy. My son died a few years ago and my advice to his three boys is simple: Treat everybody the same. And be a proud Canadian.”

Slide 18: William James “Jim” Hynds

William James “Jim” Hynds
B. April 19, 1922
Toronto, Ontario
Royal Canadian Air Force Navigator
“The toughest time was going into your hut after a flight, and you suddenly realized that someone who had a bed beside you hadn’t made it back.”

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Jim: They were unhappy. They were unhappy because I came from a very closely knit family. And, uh, the fact that that was maybe an adventure to me, to them, uh, it, it was a bit of a shock.
Alannah: And where were you in the birth order? You say you came from a big family?
Jim: Yeah. I had, uh, siblings. I was, uh, one boy and there was, uh, two older boys and, and a sister.
Alannah: And were you the oldest?
Jim: I was the youngest.
Alannah: Oh, so the baby was going off to war?
Jim: Yeah. This was a big shock to my mother, but, but to me it, it, it was just, uh, an adventure.
Alannah: And do you remember what she said to you or your dad as you went off to war?
Jim: Yea!
Alannah: Because they had a better idea what you were getting into.
Jim: Yeah, they had the realization. She, she, she, she just quite frankly said she wasn't happy with me doing it, you know? But once she, she knew that I, I I had committed, she was supportive in, in, in, in, in every way.
Alannah: And now you ended up being a navigator for the air force?
Jim: Yes.
Alannah: Why the Air Force? Why did you choose that rather than the navy or the army?
Jim: Because, it's, uh, uh, it, it did seem to have more adventure than the army. And also I, I, I had visions of, of the army in, in trench warfare and things like that. And quite frankly, it seemed the, the, the most, uh, easy one to, to, to become compatible with.
Alannah: Kind of a romantic thing surrounded the air force, didn't it?
Jim: That's right. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Alannah: And then once you started in the training, what was it like?
Jim: It, it was tough, but, but, but, but it was an adventure and it was something new. And as, as a, a young man there, it, it, it was something that I, I enjoyed.
Alannah: And what were the first, say the first year? Was that just a lot of training? Where were you to get, get your wings?
Jim: I wanted, of course, to be, to be a pilot. I, I, of course went to the recruiting unit and where they did the test and they found out that there was no openings for a pilot. So what, what else would I have to do? And then the lesser of any of the other two evils was a navigator rather than air gunners and things like that.
Alannah: What was that job when you were, when you say you were a navigator, what was your job?
Jim: Well, the job was as a navigator, as you became a member of a, a crew of, of uh, uh, seven people. And, and the navigator's job was, was to, when the target had been designed, the navigator's job was then to plot the, the course, the best course from the beginning to the end.
Alannah: So you needed a lot of math, a lot of logic. What, what did that entail?
Jim: A lot of math, of course, yeah. Things like that. But I was just out of high school, so it, it was something I could handle.
Alannah: But that was tough. That was tough to learn, I'm sure.
Jim: It is. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Alannah: And in those days, for the kids listening, the radar was not the same. I mean, it was very, it was almost like doing trigonometry, wasn't it? I mean, it was really hard crunching of numbers.
Jim: Yeah. It, it was right. There was, there was no easy answer. It, it was, there was no computers, uh, at the time and things like that. So it, it was, you had to do the own plotting yourself. So it wasn't easy, but, but of course at that age, you feel you can do anything, you know?
Alannah: Well, I think you were young and smart. I think you had both maybe.
Jim: Young anyway.
Alannah: And what kind of plane were you a navigator for? Or were there a number of types?
Jim: Well, there's a number of planes, two bomber command planes. One was a Lancaster, which you may have heard about, one other, not quite so well-known was the Halifax bombers, and it was the Halifax bombers that, that, that I did my tour of, uh, uh, 22 operations.
Alannah: 22 operations. You fought the Germans from 43 to 45?
Jim: Yeah.
Alannah: So those were your 22 flights that you spoke of?
Jim: Yeah, 22. But there weren't 22 operations. There was 22 practice flights. There was actually five operations.
Alannah: Where did you go? What, what part of Germany would you have been flying over and bombing?
Jim: Well, the, the, the first one, of course was to, uh, Cologne. And, at that time, Cologne was known as Happy Valley. This was just a designation. It was anything but Happy Valley because it was where most of the, the aircraft were being shot down at that time. So we made a joke about it, but it was no joke at all. But when you're young, at that age, you're invincible, of course.
Alannah: And did you have close calls? You're here today, so I know you made it, but did you have some close calls?
Jim: We, we had a couple of, of, of, of close calls, but no actionable contacts to be shot down at all. But that was just the luck of the draw because the calamity was, was, was apparent when, when, when so many planes never made it back.

Jim Hynds is a friendly fellow with an enthusiasm for conversation and stories – even stories that can stir up difficult memories. He loves to make the listener smile, but there is no artifice to Jim Hynds. He speaks the truth and answers all and any questions. He was still in high school when Canada entered the war. But he knew right away he wanted to be part of it. When he came home and told his parents he’d enlisted, they were not pleased.

Jim was on leave in London when the war ended and he witnessed the celebrations in the streets. He returned home and, two weeks later, he married his fiancée, Rosamunde. He’d proposed in a letter from overseas and she wore her engagement ring to the train station. “The whole family was there: Mum, Dad, my brothers, my sister. It was a poignant moment. I hugged Rosamunde first, but the biggest hug for me came from Mum. Thousands of Canadians had been killed, thousands more wounded. I was one of the lucky ones.”

Slide 19: Harry Katz

Harry Katz
B. May 12, 1921
Toronto, Ontario
Canadian Army Sergeant
“I saw bombs and battles. I saw people get killed. But that’s war. Sometimes it’s treacherous. Sometimes it’s not.”

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Harry: I went overseas. I was in England for a while, and then, uh, I went to the continent and, uh, I did what usual army soldiers do, the traditional, I got along with my superiors quite well, and they got along with me. And, uh, we, we just had a, you know, actually an enjoyable time.
Alannah: Did you see battle? Did you come under fire? Did you lose friends?
Harry: Yeah. Yeah. Well, there's, you know, the, uh, the bombs and, and, and, and uh, uh, machinery that they used. And, you know, we, we saw what was going on, but we, we, we just carried on as usual. And then what we had to do as, as an army person, when you're in the army, there's certain regulations and certain procedures, and there's certain things. And even if you wanna do something else, they, they want you to do what they tell you and certain areas and, and you try to follow their instructions and keep everybody happy.
Alannah: When you saw friends be killed, how, what got you through that?
Harry: Well, as in any army, I, I didn't have a lot of friends, but, uh, I see people killed, and that's part of the war. Uh, you know, I mean, uh, you felt badly about it, of course, but that's war. And, uh, you know, you, you don't know whether you're gonna live the next day or not. It’s, it's all the question of what they want you to do too, you see and, uh, sometimes it's treacherous, and sometimes it's not. And, uh, you had to proceed according to certain instructions. It was a, it was a, a game that, uh, we all had to win the war and not fight with each other. There were certain people in the army that were, uh, you know, painful because they, they were painful people, just generally. You didn't start going fighting or with them or anything. But, uh, it, it, it, it worked out quite well for me.

Harry Katz was one of six children, the only son of Romanian immigrants. They lived above the family’s tobacco store in downtown Toronto, and Harry loved to walk to Moss Park to play baseball with his pals. When war broke out, he decided to enlist before being conscripted. He offered to be a driver, but had a law degree, so he was made a sergeant right away.

Harry’s son Danny sat in on his father’s interview and he shared his thoughts. “Dad did things his way, even as a soldier. He loved to joke around – but he saw a lot of reality. He was close to the front lines, looking for landmines, but when time allowed, he taught young solders high school classes. He saw his superior officer killed by a land mine, and Dad himself was almost killed twice, by friendly fire. When he got home, he built a successful loan business, Victory Finance. Dad has always been his own man!”

Slide 20: Nancy Ann Keeping

Nancy Ann Keeping
B. August 26, 1922
Point Rosie, Fortune Bay, Newfoundland
Canadian Army Administrative Officer

Slide 21: John Henry Knipe

John Henry Knipe
B. December 3, 1921
Montreal, Quebec
Royal Canadian Corps of Signals Corporal

Slide 22: Phil Kommit

Phil Kommit
B. July 16, 1922
West Leesport, Pennsylvania
United States Marine Corps Private
“During the war, I only thought of what was going to happen tomorrow. Will I still be here?”

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Phil: I went to war as a young guy. I was looking for an adventure. I got it. I got it. It was an adventure. Each day was its own time to learn to live with it and something hard because you went through hell. And then we came out of it and then turned around and looked and I said, I was in that. That's crazy. I was in eight invasions and each one was a life by itself. You landed on an island that you never saw before in your life, and all of a sudden there you are right in the middle of it, cuz you're in the South Pacific. And I look at pictures of that and I can't believe that I went through it. That's the whole thing. I still can remember almost day by day where I was. My children know exactly where I was. But I told them and they used to say, dad, you were there and I’d say yeah. And they said, unbelievable. How could you stand it? You have to, if you want to exist, otherwise your whole life breaks up. Sleep at night? No, because you figure any minute Jeff was gonna walk in on you. I, I couldn't believe he said, you’re going home. Why? You're kidding me. But what we landed in San Francisco, I went home, say, even tonight it affects me.

Phil Kommit joined the Marines shortly after the invasion of Pearl Harbor. After a few months of training, he sailed to the South Pacific, where he stayed for three-and-a-half years, fighting under terrible and often terrifying circumstances at Guadalcanal, the Philippines and Guam. He was on his way to Iwo Jima when his ship was called back. Of the seven hundred Marines in Phil’s original unit, his family says fewer than ten made it home.

When the war was over, Phil sailed into San Francisco and boarded a train to New York, to meet a young woman called Belle. She’d written to Phil during his time in the South Pacific, despite having never met him. She was a neighbour of one of his shipmates, and she sent letters even when Phil begged her to stop. He said he wouldn’t make it home, but she kept the letters coming and he said they kept him alive. Belle met him at Central Station and they were married six weeks later. For a long time, Phil didn’t talk about the war to Belle or to their two children, Bob and Gale. “When I went to war, when I was in the war, and when I came out of the war, you learned to live with it. But now I remember it – every single day. I can’t stop remembering it.”

Slide 23: Orville Howard Marshall

Orville Howard Marshall
B. July 24, 1922
Woodstock, Ontario
Royal Canadian Air Force Radar Officer
“The RCAF recruiting officer said, ‘You have your amateur radio licence? Boy, we’ve got just the job for you!’ He wouldn’t tell me what it was — except that it was high-tech.”

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Orville: I went over in July of 44 and was the radar officer for the squadron until the war ended.
Alannah: And was it always the same squadron?
Orville: Yes. 614.
Alannah: 614 of the Pathfinders.
Orville: Yes.
Alannah: All of you were set to taking so much risk, weren't you in those days? Wasn't that sort of the height of the bombing and the danger?
Orville: Oh, the air crew. Oh, that's the saddest, sad part of it. When I, when I joined the squadron, they started a renewed tack on the oil fields of Ploesti.
Alannah: In Italy?
Orville: No, in Romania. There were two main forces in Italy, British 205 group, and a large group of American aircraft flying B17s and B24s.
Alannah: And what exactly was your job?
Orville: I was a squadron radar officer, reporting to the commanding officer who was a group captain. And I was responsible for all aspects of not only radar, but other high tech devices. I had a number of technicians working for me, about half of whom were Canadians who had gone through the same course. I was, in fact, the manager of the radar, uh.
Alannah: For that squadron?
Orville: Yeah.
Alannah: And you were 22, 23 at the time.
Orville: Yeah.
Alannah: That's a hell of a responsibility.
Orville: Incredible. If the radar didn't work, the airplane didn't fly. If the airplanes didn't fly, the whole group didn't fly. So, uh, when I look back on it, it’s absolutely incredible. But I gained management experiences as well as technical which put me in good standing in my later career.
Alannah: So did you tell that commanding officer where to mark?
Orville: Well, the operation people did that.
Alannah: Okay.
Orville: My job was to make sure that the radar worked.
Alannah: And those, those men could fly and drop their bombs?
Orville: Yes.
Alannah: And come back again?
Orville: Yes.

Orville loved planes and technology from an early age. He got his amateur radio licence as a teenager and soon was teaching army recruits Morse code. When he was old enough to enlist, the Royal Canadian Air Force was thrilled to have him. They sent him to McGill University to study radar and high-tech surveillance. After taking an oath of secrecy, he was seconded to Britain’s Royal Air Force to work with their elite bomber squadrons, the Pathfinders. He says the Brits were the leaders in war technology, but they needed extra help. Orville became the radar officer for the RAF’S 614 Squadron when he was twenty-one.

Orville says he didn’t have many comrades-in-arms. “We generally didn’t make friends, because of the pain of loss. Men did not come back. They just disappeared. Some were shot down. Some were POWs. Sad as it was, it was just part of war, and you were dedicated to it.” Once he made it home safely, Orville proposed to his girlfriend Bette, earned a degree in radio physics, and worked for Canadian General Electric for thirty-seven years. “Aircraft. Radar. Tech. Travel. And I built a cottage with my own hands. It offered me the beauty of nature and friendship with fellow cottagers. I’ve had an incredibly interesting life.”

Slide 24: Anthony “Tony” Joseph Mastromatteo

Anthony “Tony” Joseph Mastromatteo
B. May 16, 1921
Toronto, Ontario
Canadian Army Scout
“I’ll never forget arriving in France and seeing a village flattened by war. That was my baptism of fire. And I stayed five and a half years.”

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Tony: I was laying on a, on a grass out in front of our offices and all of a sudden I hear the noise, planes going over planes, planes, one after the other. Hundreds. Hundreds of planes going over, going over. And I knew darn well this is it. This is it. I was in England, laying on the grass and I knew right away then that that was a start. That was the start of something and it really started something, alright.
Alannah: And what kind of planes would those have been?
Tony: All kinds of planes. All kinds.
Alannah: Spitfires?
Tony: Fighter, fighter planes and, and, uh, bombers. Bombers, fighter planes, the whole works. They had hundreds of planes flying around all over the place. Oh, yeah.
Alannah: And did you, at that point, did you see any of the damage being done in England?
Tony: No, not at that time. No.
Alannah: So off you went across the channel?
Tony: Yeah.
Alannah: You went across the channel into France?
Tony: France. I saw damage at France. Oh, yes. Uh, what's the name of that place, Bean? Anyways, it was just across the border, across the channel. Got off the board. On the left, it was a town called, I think it was Bean. I'm not sure though. I'm not sure. But it was well bombed and so on.
Alannah: So what does that look like for someone who's never seen that?
Tony: Oh boy. Wow. It was really something. It was really something. It was flat and pretty well flattened out. Yeah. That was my baptism of fire, I guess. But, uh, the stories go on and on as we go along.

Tony Mastromatteo was one of twelve children, born to Italian immigrants in Toronto. His father was a fruit pedlar, and he had a happy childhood, with friends and family who loved him. Then the war came, and he happily joined up with his buddies. “I got my orders and we sailed overseas on the HMS Queen Elizabeth – playing cards, rolling dice, four days of the boys together. Ended up in England, as a scout of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada. In Uckfield, I remember hearing the sounds of war for the first time.”

After many close calls in France, Tony took a hit, while taking a wounded officer to safety at Bergen Op Zoom, Holland. When he arrived home a few months later, his entire family met him at the train station – including his small son, who was born while Tony was overseas. “I tell the kids to keep on doing what’s right, what’s supposed to be right, whatever you believe is right. But don’t do something that’s wrong – because if it’s wrong, it’s going to be wrong forever.”

Slide 25: Hugh McGeach

Hugh McGeach
B. May 8, 1921
London, Ontario
Royal Canadian Air Force Flight Engineer
“The German food rations were small – a few veggies, a little meat. The best part was the Red Cross sent us packages, with cookies and chocolate, clothing, stuff that made life bearable.”

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Hugh: Actually, I don't remember any of the crew because I was new, probably about 20, 21, somewhere in there. And I spent the next two years in a prisoner-of-war camp. Oh, I guess I was about two days wandering around before the Germans caught up with me.
Alannah: By yourself?
Hugh: Yeah.
Alannah: You must have been terribly frightened.
Hugh: Not really. But, uh, somewhat.
Alannah: Did other people flying with you in that Halifax also survive the crash?
Hugh: One or two did.
Alannah: Did you ever see them again?
Hugh: No.
Alannah: So they did not end up with you in the same camps?
Hugh: No. No.
Alannah: And arriving at a prisoner-of-war camp, what was the process like?
Hugh: Oh, you just put in there and, uh, other prisoners-of-war looked after the internal camp procedures and stuff, but the Germans supervised everything.
Alannah: Where were you? Do you know which camp?
Hugh: Luft six.
Alannah: Luft six.
Hugh: Actually it was out in, uh, Lithuania. I think it was just in the edge there.
Alannah: Do you have any idea how many were in the prisoner-of-war camp?
Hugh: A couple of thousand maybe.
Alannah: Where did you sleep?
Hugh: They had, uh, made bunks up for us and that's where we slept. Not very comfortable, but uh.
Alannah: And what was the day in your life like in the camps?
Hugh: Not too, not too much going on.
Alannah: Were you expected to work?
Hugh: No. The air crew were not allowed out for that kind of things. They kept us there and, uh, entertained ourselves as best we could. Talked, played games a lot of the time and card games.
Alannah: And deep friendships formed? Did you have very close friends?
Hugh: Uh, I wouldn't say real close, but, uh, you generally got into a group from the time I started in the camp till we were marched out of there finally.
Alannah: How did you do physically?
Hugh: I, I, I managed fairly well. No problem. But you were aircrew. You, you had to be in good condition to start with.
Alannah: You were pretty fit going in?
Hugh: Yes.
Alannah: What was the food and the meals like?
Hugh: The German rations were very small.
Alannah: Like, would you just get soup and bread from the German meals?
Hugh: There would be a few veggies and a little meat, but not too much. Actually, the, the best part of we, we got, uh, the Red Cross supplied us with packages every month or two. Gave us enough to supplement the, what, what we got.
Alannah: And what would be in those Red Cross boxes?
Hugh: Oh, it'd be probably cookies and chocolate. Also clothing and all kinds of stuff that.
Alannah: Made life bearable?
Hugh: Yes.
Alannah: Yeah. Were you able to get mail? Did you get letters?
Hugh: Yes
Alannah: From home?
Hugh: Once every couple months, you may get a letter, which had been well-censored and blacked out.
Alannah: And were your parents and your friends back in Canada able to get mail from you?
Hugh: The odd time? Very odd.

Hugh McGeach enlisted with the RCAF when he was eighteen. By his early twenties, he’d flown two missions as the flight engineer in a Halifax bomber. On his third flight, the plane was shot down, near the German border with Lithuania. Hugh spent the next two years in a German prisoner-of-war camp.

As Russian forces advanced in 1945, The Great March began. German guards forced thousands of POWS to march west — with little food and no medical supplies. Hugh walked all day, every day, for weeks, sleeping on the ground, until he and six others broke away, running into the forest. American soldiers picked them up and soon after, Hugh was on his way home. “The war gave us good training. I learned how to make tough decisions. I’ve got some medals somewhere, but they’re just something that came with the job. Today, I like to go into the garden, wander around a bit, and just sit with a cup of coffee and take it all in.”

Slide 26: Beverly John McGill

Beverly John McGill
B. October 5, 1918
Ice Lake, Manitoulin Island, Ontario
Canadian Army Captain
“I didn’t feel I had any right to stand aside and let others take all the risk. My message was to stand tall. Walk straight. Be as sensible as Big Brother Bev.”

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Beverly: Behaviour, stand tall, be the example of what you would consider the niceties, the frankness, um, to keep up with the young children and maintaining the pride priority that they would need to keep on a strong, true, honest track. Maybe a quiet wish in their own mind to try and be as sensible as, uh, big brother Bev. Play their hands well. Do things that restore order, goodness and, uh, joy of, uh, work of friendship and of employment when the time came and that, that they would turn out to be the kind of person that would be wanted to be on their team and to be able to make their contribution to those who had gone before.

Interviewed in his 104th year, Bev McGill speaks the language of a thoughtful philosophy professor. In truth, he was an executive with one of Canada’s largest banks. He started life on Manitoulin Island in 1918, the only son of Elizabeth and James McGill, a brother to three sisters. Bev enlisted in December 1941 and was appointed a captain of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. “I found training rugged, busy, tiring – with little desire for repetition!” He quickly surmised his best gift to the younger solders was to set an example. Bev speaks haltingly, but his words pack a punch.

Bev’s message for Canadians on Remembrance Day is concise but quietly fierce. “Respect the truth, with plenty of desire to be better contributors. Be better examples. Have a stronger grasp of what it means to be truly good. Contribute to your neighbourhoods. Take care of your families. Hang tough. Don’t say can’t. We must be optimists. We’ve got to try to do the job better. Longer. Faster.”

Slide 27: Bert McGinty

Bert McGinty
B. June 1, 1918
Belleville, Ontario
Royal Canadian Army Service Corps

Bert joined the army as soon as war broke out and he was proud to be part of the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps. The RCASC provided support to Canadian soldiers wherever they were – training in Canada and fighting overseas. Bert and his crew delivered rations, ammunition, fuel and all the other essentials. The Corps was often seen as the backbone of the army; its job it was to keep the soldiers fed and cared for, while keeping a cautious eye out for the enemy.

One day, Bert’s unit found themselves in the thick of battle, with bombs falling dangerously close. Bert dove for cover under the nearest vehicle. When it seemed like the worst was over, he emerged from his hiding place to hear his sergeant shouting,

“Do you know where you were hiding?” Bert turned around to see the word AMMUNITION written on the truck.

After the war, Bert worked at the post office until his retirement at the age of fifty-four. His next big adventure was when he joined a real estate business at the age of seventy-three, where he worked hard to map out the many houses that needed to be inspected. Bert fully retired at the age of ninety-six and now resides at the Veterans Centre.

Slide 28: Frances “Fran” McIlroy

Frances “Fran” McIlroy
B. June 16, 1917
Madoc, Ontario
Canadian Army Lieutenant and Nursing Sister
“To be a nurse is all I ever wanted to be …”

Growing up in the 1920s, Fran recalls listening to a clerk in her dad’s grocery store talk about the horrors of the First World War. So at seventeen, she set off to Kingston General Hospital to become a nurse. As soon as she graduated, she and two girlfriends signed up together. Fran enlisted on February 11, 1944 and by early June she was on a ship to England. “We learned over the ship’s radio that D-Day was underway. By the time I was posted to an army hospital in Cuckfield, England, soldiers began to arrive from Normandy. We tried our best to help those boys. Some had lost limbs, others had terrible burns.

“When we got a little time off, we’d sneak into London. And we’d hear the buzz bombs. We’d listen for the BANG, and say, ‘Well, we missed that one!’ But I never really was frightened. You just hoped for the best. Most of the time, you can’t anticipate what’s coming in a war. At the army hospital, we knew we had to work hard and the camaraderie was what got you through it.”

The hardest time for Fran wasn’t in England: “It was witnessing the starvation in Holland. I saw a woman sifting through ashes at an outdoor oven. She was searching for bits of food for her children to eat. But I also remember the tulips — fields of tulips — and the love the Dutch people had for the Canadian soldiers who’d helped liberate Holland.”

“I hope I’ll be remembered as a kind person. I learned that from my mum — and I truly believe kindness is contagious.”

Slide 29: Joyce Minister with son Joe Carter

Joyce Minister with son Joe Carter
B. July 16, 1922
Montreal, Quebec
Canadian Women’s Army Corps Corporal
“I was a teenager when I signed up. I thought I’m here. This is what I should do, so I’ll do it!”

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Joyce: I think most people, when they become a certain age, are glad to be, to get out on their own and do something for themselves. And, uh, when the war came along, it was just something to, to investigate about and go into it if you wanted. So I did.
Alannah: It sounds like maybe it helped give you confidence.
Joyce: Yes.
Alannah: And training.
Joyce: Yes.
Alannah: Were there times though when the war itself and news of the war seemed somewhat overwhelming?
Joyce: Oh, yes. It would be. There would be, you know, did that really happen, you know?
Alannah: And how did you get your news in those days about the war?
Joyce: Well, the radio. We would group together when we were at camp. Yes.
Alannah: When you were in camp? And, and what was that like? Where did you live and what, what were the living conditions like?
Joyce: We had bunk beds and, uh, the food was very acceptable and I like people and, and I really enjoyed it.
Alannah: And were you living in tents?
Joyce: Cabins, sort of, yeah.
Alannah: And how many girls to a cabin?
Joyce: Four.
Alannah: What was the best of it and what was the challenging part of it?
Joyce: The challenging part about it was like, you know, we're really at war, you know, and, and if we can help in any way, that made us feel a little bit better.

Joyce Minister was a corporal in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps by the time she was 21. She loved it, although many people in the 1940s felt a woman’s place was in the home – not in a uniform. But as more Canadian men were called overseas, women were needed to fill jobs here at home. Attitudes began to shift, and CWAC won official army status in March 1943. Women became army drivers, clerks, cooks, typists, messengers, and quartermasters. Joyce was posted to London, Ontario. She recalls working in an army office gave her independence and she was proud to serve with other young women.

After the war ended, Joyce met her husband Al. He had served overseas with the Canadian Army and they raised three sons, often counting their blessings. “We all want peace. A normal life. A good job. A nice home. Happiness. And helping others – that’s important. My mother was always helping people. It must have rubbed off on me! That’s a good legacy for our generation.”

Slide 30: Isobel Pearl Montgomery with daughter Janice

Isobel Pearl Montgomery with daughter Janice
B. September 26, 1921
East York, Ontario
Royal Canadian Air Force Office Worker
“What got me through the war? I think God got me through it. It wasn’t me.”

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Alannah: When you look back and think of your war years, what are you most proud of?
Isobel: I guess having been in the war, been involved in it. I appreciate those years.
Alannah: Did many of your friends sign up in the same way? Your, your girlfriends from East York?
Isobel: No.
Alannah: No. You were unusual for your time, I think.
Isobel: I don't know.
Alannah: And to go into the air force, that too was unusual.
Isobel: Yes. Well, I appreciate that time.
Alannah: In some ways it's a different time, but in, in other ways, you know, there's a war in Ukraine right now.
Isobel: Yeah.
Alannah: And young people are fighting again and losing homes and bombs overhead.
Isobel: Mm-hmm.
Alannah: You witnessed that and yet you went on to build a great life.
Isobel: Yeah.
Alannah: And live a long, long life. What has helped you do that?
Isobel: I was just, uh, just fortunate that I had good, good enough health to sustain me.
Alannah: Do you think that war experience gave you extra resilience, changed you in any way like that?
Isobel: Oh, yes, I think so. You just go with the flow.
Alannah: I think that's very true. A lot of the veterans have said to me, they came home and they just wanted to be peaceful and happy.
Isobel: Yeah.
Alannah: They didn't worry about things that perhaps now my children and my generation worry about. They just got on with life.
Isobel: Yes. You have to have a good attitude.
Alannah: What does that mean to you?
Isobel: Everything. Well, looking at things in the right way and appreciating things.
Alannah: In the middle of the war years. Is there one thing that got you through it?
Isobel: I think God got me through it. It wasn't me.
Alannah: I want to mention something your daughter just said to me. She said, the hallmark of your life, the theme of your life is gratitude.
Isobel: Yeah. I have so much to be thankful for every day.
Alannah: Do you think that attitude has been part of why you are now 101?
Isobel: Probably.
Alannah: I think so.
Isobel: Never thought I'd reach 101.

As a young woman, Isobel worked in a bomb factory in Scarborough, Ontario. But when the RCAF started to recruit women for office jobs, she signed up. She wanted to be closer to her fiancé, Andrew Montgomery, who was posted overseas with the Canadian Army. She was sent to England and lived in Sloane Square, close to Buckingham Palace. She recalls the sounds of doodlebugs flying overhead and running to seek shelter in bomb shelters. But she and Andrew both survived, returned to Canada, and made a very happy life together.

Isobel ended her interview with a few reflections. “It was a wonderful feeling when the war was over. Then Andrew and I were married and had our family. Five children! He was a wonderful father. I have so much to be grateful for, so much. If I had one wish for my children and grandchildren, it would be that God will keep them safe. I’m fortunate that good health has sustained me. I believe you must have a good attitude. That means everything.”

Slide 31: Ida Bell Morin and daughter Diane Hough

Ida Bell Morin and daughter Diane Hough
B. November 29, 1922
Yorkshire, England
Royal Canadian Air Force Hospital Assistant
“I say my life is all this and heaven too! I was one of the first ten students to graduate from basic training for women in the Royal Canadian Air Force.”

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Ida: The prisoners of war from Germany that were released, they let them come to my hospital. Some of them, when they, um, tried to parachute, they were, were burned or they managed to save them from dying, but they were so badly burned, they needed to have plastic surgery. One patient was so badly burned on his rear, his derrière, he had to lie on his stomach because he didn't want to be taking drugs that would make him have an addiction. It, it, uh, really intrigued me, that man, such that he didn't want to have an addiction and yet he wanted to get better. And he did. And I thought it was wonderful that I saw, and some of them, the faces were all full of scars. And they used to go around the hospital in gowns dressed for their meals. And do you know, some of the people wouldn't or they shunned them. They didn't like it and they felt, they felt terrible to think that people were treating them like that. But what the hospital did was let them wear their officer's uniforms because all of them who, where they were from sergeants right up to captains, everything in, uh, the military that was high. And when they did that, people had respect for them. What interested me was that I saw some of those get better, you know, and it was good that the best plastic surgeons they had, but I wasn't ever in the operating room for any of that.
Alannah: And who, who inspired you and who taught you to be good at this work, even though you?
Ida: Every doctor and nurse. They even let me go on their rounds with them , and I would, uh, listen and I learned much more than if I'd had been in a school, in nursing.
Alannah: Were there days where it was almost too much for you?
Ida: No. No. I never found it that way. I, I loved what I did.

Ida Bell, as she was called during the war, was born in Yorkshire to a British father and Bermudian mother. Her father taught her to swim, garden, and cook. Her mother taught her how to sew, knit, and help others. The family moved to Bermuda, but when war broke out, Ida wanted to serve in England. However, before she was accepted by the British, the RCAF arrived in Bermuda, looking for female recruits. She became a hospital assistant in Trenton, Ontario for the RCAF. Ida says she learned everything for her patients. “Many were burn victims. Some had been shot down. I saw terrible tragedies, but I never saw anyone die.”

After the war, Ida secured her nursing degree, married, and had six children. She says war taught her everything. She believes, “Life is here, now. We are here to help each other and do the best we can. That’s all that I live for – and I’m glad I do. Be happy. Avoid stress. Remember tomorrow is another day.”

Slide 32: Roderick “Rod” O’Reilly

Roderick “Rod” O’Reilly
B. July 24, 1922
Sydney, Nova Scotia
Royal Canadian Navy Seaman

Slide 33: John Peter Pearson

John Peter Pearson
B. May 23, 1922
Farsley, England
British Army Sergeant in the Royal Corps of Signals
“The war was a long time ago. After the war, you talk about it for a while, but then you forget about it.”

Peter Pearson grew up in England in the 1920s and ’30s, and for him, the clearest and dearest memories are about Morecombe, England.

“Morecombe is a seaside spot that was my home. There was a long promenade by the sea, where I could walk and swim with my dogs. It was a time of family with my sister, my aunt, and Mother and Father. I finished school, and began to train as a cabinetmaker.

“The war was on and before I knew it, I was conscripted. No surprise there. I was the right age, my name came up, and soon I was in the Forces.”

“I went to Italy and ran cables for signals. Communication lines. We saw battles — I can’t recall specifics. You’re just glad to be out of it! You’re alive — and you get a job. And I met my wife, Irene, during the war. She was from Farsley, and she was in the Royal Navy. We got married after the war and had one daughter, Gillian, and we all lived in Morecombe until we emigrated to Canada in 1957. Irene lived to be ninety-eight.”

As Peter leaves for tea, with Gillian by his side, he mutters happily, “Double away, chest out!” When I ask if I might call him Peter, rather than Mr. Pearson, he quips, “You may call me whatever you like — just don’t call me late for dinner!”

Slide 34: Joseph Russell “Russ Phillips

Joseph Russell “Russ Phillips
B. November 9, 1922
Toronto, Ontario
Canadian Army Radio Operator
“You couldn’t begin to think, ‘I might get killed or wounded!’ You’d go crazy if you did.”

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Russ: I was put on an ammunition truck to take gasoline and ammunition to, well, we were just outside of Ortona, just in the real suburbs really. They set up an initial on there and we moved into slit trenches. The fighting in Ortona was over Christmas, and we were supposed to be there for three days. We wound up, well, we lived in the slit trench pretty much. We serviced the vehicle in the morning. And, uh, daylight wasn't as bad as nighttime, but, uh, nighttime, uh, we relied on the infantry to pick up any Germans that might be coming in. But, uh, Christmas day they brought some food up to us. We had a kitchen set up. Alannah: In the trench?
Russ: Well, they were out in the open when they were cooking. But , yeah, we just, you you went and picked up your meal, went back to eat it in a hole in the ground, you know. And uh, Christmas day they brought extra food up from the rear echelons and, uh, ran out, got Christmas dinner and ran back and ate it. We were within mortar range of the Germans. In the morning, we would go down to service the truck. Beside the truck, we had a, a can that we used to boil water in and make a cup of tea cuz the shelling was going on, but it was overhead and it was farther away. We went down one morning and, uh, our tin that we used to heat water in was gone. And we thought somebody had stolen it. But then we discovered that the whole lot of holes in the tarpaulin and the truck was, uh, pieces of shrapnel. A mortar had landed right on the can, I guess. And so we, uh, didn't get tea that morning, but, uh.
Alannah: Could have been a lot, lot worse?
Russ: Could have been, if it had fallen closer to where we were, it would've hit somebody because we were all in a big group in our slit trenches. But, uh.
Alannah: How did you, how did you stay secure and keep your spirits intact with that going on around you?
Russ: Well, you never thought about any injury. You couldn't begin to think, I may get killed, or I may get wounded, or I may have this or that happen. You would go crazy if you started. We did have some that they had to send home because they were, uh, mentally afraid of anything happening to them. And, uh, the mental case, you know, the, it's, there's been more of that now than what we had, I guess. But there was still, well, if you looked at the whole army, there would be thousands probably. I used to ask my brother, he got wounded, uh, in Holland. And uh, when I asked him about it, he said, well, I was the same as you. I couldn't, I couldn't begin to worry about what might happen. He got badly burned around his face, lost his eyebrows, and part of one ear with a burn. But, uh, the other, the other brother was in the medical corps, and he was in a, he served in a hospital in England. You couldn't, you couldn't think about it or you would go crazy.
Alannah: Mm-hmm.
Russ: You know, you, you just hoped that nothing would happen. And thankfully, touch wood, I was lucky.
Alannah: And all three brothers came home?
Russ: Yeah. Yeah. We all got home.

Russ Phillips was one of three brothers who went off to war. He lied about his age, by a year, and was accepted into the Canadian Army, serving in six countries overseas, including Italy. One of his most vivid memories was the time he spent at the Battle of Ortona, in December 1943.

Russ ends his remembrances with a love story. “During the war, I visited a family in Glasgow. The mother sent me to pick up their daughter at the train station. She was hidden behind her scarf. But when she come down for dinner — well! She had long, blonde hair and was a very attractive young lady! She wrote to me in Sicily and Italy. And when the war ended, I went to Glasgow, we got reacquainted, and we got married in October of ‘45. Her name was Sarah, but everyone called her Sally. We had almost seventy years together. The war found me my wife!”

Slide 35: Seymour Pollack with wife Esther

Seymour Pollack with wife Esther
B. June 9, 1922
Montreal, Quebec
Royal Canadian Air Force Mechanic

Slide 36: Howard Garner Preston and daughter Cheryl

Howard Garner Preston and daughter Cheryl
B. November 4, 1921
Agincourt, Ontario
Canadian Army Infantry Corps Sergeant
“I’m a very intense family man. So, the first place I went to after the war was home. There it was. The same as when I left. My dad and my mother. I got right back into the swing of things.”

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Howard: And we're in Yorkshire. Yorkshire is , I can't tell you how good it is. It's just been so wonderful and I.
Alannah: Why do you say that? Why? What was it about Yorkshire?
Howard: Uh, just the people, climate, uh, they made everything very nice for us guys, and we were new.
Alannah: And what was, what was life like for them at that time? Were they under fire at all? Were there rations?
Howard: Uh oh, they all had rations. Yeah. They, the war didn't get up that, that far though. That's one good thing about it. And this town of, uh, Helmsley, this sounds like England, doesn't it?
Alannah: Yes, it does.
Howard: Hel Helmsley, uh, had two pubs. Uh, one was for the senior officers, and one, they didn't actually say, this is for us and this is for you. You go down on, uh, Friday night and, uh, feel right at home.
Alannah: And what else did you see during your wartime career? Did you go into London?
Howard: Uh, London was out of bounds because of the bombing. Uh, but I did get in.
Alannah: You snuck in?
Howard: Yeah.
Alannah: And what did you see there as a young man? What did.
Howard: Oh, they, uh, the bombing, I don't know how the British stood it. You know, the, you'd hear them, the, uh, planes coming over and the bombs would start dropping and they just carried on. You know, it made me realize why London was out of bounds.
Alannah: And what kept you going for the time that you were there? What kept your spirits up?
Howard: Well, I think maybe the people there and, uh, letters from home. I always had good letters from home. I didn't even have a girlfriend at that time.
Alannah: So who was writing you?
Howard: My mother and my sister. They knew that I relied on, on their letters.
Alannah: Were you away over Christmas? Do you remember a Christmas overseas?
Howard: Oh yeah. Yes, definitely. Um, they tried to make it as homey as they could. Uh, I spent one Christmas up in Scotland, uh, with a family that I got to know up there. Your first, uh, leave over there was a, a paid furlough. I thought, well, I'm gonna take a nice long trip. So I chose Aberdeen. Oh boy. It was the right choice. When you got to Aberdeen, you, there was a, a service there that could take you in and arrange for your accommodation. Well, this was not just another home. This was on a farm outside of Aberdeen.
Alannah: Aw.
Howard: Oh God. Fresh air, fresh eggs, fresh everything. I really lucked out there. It was, wasn't just that, that time. Every leave I had, after I, I went up to Aberdeen.
Alannah: And to the same family?
Howard: The same family, yeah. Stoddart was their name, Stoddart. Never forget them.
Alannah: Did you keep in touch after the war?
Howard: Yeah. Oh, just for a short time. Yeah. Things got, oh, I don't know. Things changed from when I got home and I got a girlfriend.
Alannah: Life moved on.
Howard: Life moved on, yeah.

Howard recalls his parents treated him and his siblings like angels. He graduated from high school at sixteen, enrolled in business school and was hired by Dominion Stores by the time he was twenty. In 1942 he enlisted and because he could type, he was told he’d be an army clerk. After seventeen months in Canada, he was sent overseas to Yorkshire, England. He felt he’d landed in a great spot.

After the war, Howard sailed home on the same ship that had taken him overseas. He went to see his sister at her new home and fell in love with a neighbour he’d known all his life. “Winnifred and I grew up on the same street in Agincourt. She found a photo of her mum holding me as a baby! She played the organ and we both enjoyed going to church. We got married, had three children, and built a good life together in Agincourt. Today I hope people see me as I am. True and sincere.”

Slide 37: Gladys Reeves with children Maryl, Richard and Holly

Gladys Reeves with children Maryl, Richard and Holly
B. December 13, 1921
Winnipeg, Manitoba
Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps Lieutenant
“I feel lucky to have born at the right time, to be qualified, and chosen to go overseas.”

Image: Blue arrow indicating an audio file.

Gladys Reeves wrote about her war experiences in February 2001 for the Canadian Fighter Pilots Association’s Newsletter. Her husband, Dick Reeves, was a Spitfire pilot.

“In 1943, I was working as a physiotherapist in London, Ontario. I enlisted in the RCAMC in early ’44. We left on the Mauretania, a troop ship with 6000 soldiers. Our uniform was the same as the Nursing Sisters – a white veil and blue dress. Six of us were assigned to a stateroom designed for two, but the food was excellent, and the accommodation was fine. The troops slept below, in hammocks, where it was hot and crowded and many were seasick.

“I was sent to #22 Canadian General Hospital in Bramshott, England. We saw infantry soldiers, tank corps troops, some Air Force – with gunshot wounds, fractures, burns, amputations. Our job was to get them mobile, rehabilitate them and return them to service if possible. But mainly it was to help them to recover sufficiently to be able to go home by the hospital ship. We often played music on the radio – there was a lot of “kidding” around – and it was a pleasant environment, except for the pain we had to inflict with treatment.

“On VE Day, May 8, 1945, we celebrated! I remember standing with the young men – many minus legs and arms, in their hospital garb, singing hymns. It was all very touching. The war experience for me was a good one. There were sad times, but my life was enriched in many ways. Most notable of course was meeting a great guy and ideal husband for me, RCAF Spitfire pilot, Dick Reeves.”

Slide 38: Donald Edward Taylor and daughter Barbara Taylor

Donald Edward Taylor and daughter Barbara Taylor
B. September 8, 1918
Montreal, Quebec
Royal Canadian Air Force Pilot
“I knew I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t enlist. I felt it was my duty. I learned to obey orders and follow directions – and I learned you can’t get your way all the time.”

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Don: Very disappointing that we didn't get overseas. Very disappointed, cause you, you figured, you enlisted to be part of the war, didn't get overseas. That was a big disappointment. Alannah: But what did that training and that chapter in your life, how did it influence your life later on?
Don: It brings you down to a level that you’re, you’re a number.
Alannah: Mm-hmm
Don: You can't be very cocky, you know. It brings you back to who you, who you are. You're just a, another human being and you are being taught discipline and, uh, to respect. So, uh, it was good in that respect, but it made, made you feel something, somebody. Or if you weren't sort of a, a good standing citizen, hopefully they made you turn out to be a good citizen. I figured that if I had stayed in Montreal, I would, uh, never have had the adventure had I stayed in Montreal. So I was pleased when I got into the air force and, uh, got transferred to different stations, met different people, and, uh, all in all, it was very good.

Don earned his wings with the RCAF and regrets not having had the opportunity to serve overseas. Two training missions in England were cancelled at the last minute. But he was proud to be a pilot – and credits the air force with instilling a deep sense of discipline and offering wonderful opportunities.

Don says it is discouraging to see the war in Ukraine, with so much bloodshed and devastation. “Because of man’s inhumanity to man, there will always be wars. It’s unfortunate that countries can’t get along. Nor can some individuals. I don’t expect to be breathing air for too much longer; 104 is quite an advanced age. But if I could go back in time and have a perfect day, I’d be in Otterburn Park near Montreal — climbing up to the top and looking out at the view!”

Slide 39: Jean Annie Vanwart

Jean Annie Vanwart
B. October 23, 1919
Huntingdon, Quebec
Canadian Women’s Army Corps Driver
“The heartbeat of the army will always be with us. We lived for today because tomorrow was an unwritten script.”

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Jean: The night that we boarded the ship in Halifax, there were some tears and we had the officers, they were on board that night, and, uh, I thought, well, I’ll just crawl underneath the desk and they won't know I'm there, but you know, that didn't work. I crawled out of the desk and I was asked to do some singing, but I sang like a quacking duck. Oh boy. And, uh.
Oh, Johnny, oh Johnny
please tell me dear,
what makes me love you so.

Jean grew up on a farm in the Eastern Townships in the 1920s and was afraid to tell her parents she’d enlisted. She loved her uniform, the marching, and meeting other recruits. But when she boarded the RMS Aquitania, to set sail for England, it suddenly seemed very real.

Jean was deployed to Farnborough, south of London, to be an army clerk. But she immediately requested to be transferred to the drivers’ unit. She longed to see the country and she enjoyed driving officers to their meetings, on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and often in the dark. The sounds of soldiers walking outside her apartment and the buzz of doodlebugs overhead stayed with her for many years.

While recovering in the army hospital from a bad case of the flu, Jean spotted a soldier who had been injured in Holland. His name was Elgin “Al” Vanwart. They dated whenever they could in England and married soon after the war ended. They were married for seventy-one years.

Slide 40: Janet Watt

Janet Watt
B. December 16, 1920
Onoway, Alberta
Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service Dental Assistant
“The Navy was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

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Janet: Well, for one thing I like to sing and I'm a good singer. And for a while I took singing lessons just for my own enjoyment. The, the symphony orchestra had a choral group and, uh, so then I, I was accepted into it.
Alannah: And what is it about singing that you love so much?
Janet: Oh, I've been able to sing for, uh, all my life, I think.
Alannah: And what kind of music gives you joy?
Janet: Classical, Scottish. . I think music, period, I like. Yeah, yeah.
Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I'm found
Was blind but now I see.
Alannah: What a voice you have!
Alannah: Oh my goodness. Do you sing when you're by yourself?
Janet: Yes, I do. When I go to bed at night, I usually sing to myself.
Alannah: Before you go to bed?
Janet: Yeah, before I go to sleep, I'll sometimes sing.
Happy days are here again
The skies above are clear again
Let us sing a song of cheer again
Happy days are here again.

Happy days are here again
Your cares and troubles are gone
There'll be no more from now on
From now on.

Happy days are here again.
Alannah: That was a post-war song, wasn't it?
Janet: Yeah. Yes. I sing that a lot after I go to bed at night. Yeah.

Janet was the baby of her family, the fifth of five children. She had a good job close to home, with Heinz, when she was in her twenties, but she craved adventure. She felt the Navy would offer her independence and freedom. She trained as a dental assistant in Toronto with the WRNS – affectionately called the WRENS. And then she was sent to different naval bases across Canada. The job could be stressful, but she developed a special way of keeping calm.

After the war, Janet worked as an executive assistant at Heinz – a job she loved and it eventually took her to Toronto, where she bought a condo overlooking the Humber River. She sang in her choral group with the Toronto Symphony and truly felt at home. “The Navy gave me confidence. I learned it feels good to contribute to something bigger than yourself. Now, when I go to bed, I wonder, will l wake up tomorrow? I hope I will, because I haven’t given up on Life, and I hope Life hasn’t given up on me!”

About Yuri Dojc

Photographer, Visual Artist and Witness

Photographer, visual artist and witness, Yuri Dojc’s expansive practice has long encompassed a multidisciplinary gaze. Dojc’s works have been exhibited in four National Galleries: Brazil, Canada, Slovakia, and Georgia and are also included in the Library of Congress. Both the United Nations and European Parliament have hosted his work.

Dojc’s signature oeuvre is his unique observational approach to the past, with its alloy of subjectivities, empathy, and intimacy. Since the late 1990s, he has been documenting Slovakia’s last living Holocaust survivors and the country’s abandoned synagogues, schools, and cemeteries for Last Folio. A runaway success, the show has travelled extensively, with major museum shows in Lisbon, Rome, Brussels, Berlin, Brasilia, New York, Sao Paulo and elsewhere.

His recent North is Freedom project focuses on exploring the legacies of the Underground Railroad, the clandestine network of conductors and stations that helped some 30,000 men, women, and children follow the north star to freedom.

Two years ago, Dojc approached Dr. Jocelyn Charles from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre with the idea for The Last Salute. It is a continuation of Dojc’s fascination with the fight for freedom. It is also not lost on Yuri that if Europe had not been liberated by the soldiers depicted in these photographs, his parents – who survived the war in hiding – would likely have been caught and killed. And he would never have been born.

About Alannah Campbell

Broadcast Journalist

Alannah is a respected broadcast journalist who worked at CBC Radio for fifteen years, creating award-winning radio documentaries and hosting CBC Radio’s nightly newscast The World at Six.

Over the past two decades, Alannah’s interviewing skills have continued to guide others in sharing their personal stories. She has recorded and produced Soundportraits — audio memoirs and autobiographies — for hundreds of Canadians.

Alannah and Yuri Dojc worked together on photo exhibits and books for PhotoSensitive, a gifted group of photojournalists who tried to change the world with their beautiful black-and-white portraits. The photographers travelled across Canada and across oceans to reveal the human faces of poverty, AIDS, hunger, homelessness, social injustice, cancer, and much more. Alannah wrote the stories to go with their powerful images.

This summer, Dr. Jocelyn Charles invited Yuri and Alannah to work together again — this time to celebrate veterans who served in the Second World War. All live at the Veterans Centre at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. All are centenarians born between 1917 and 1921.

“These are some of the finest men and women I have ever met. They are brave, kind, and generous of spirit. Their reminiscences of the war reveal how it shaped their lives — and ours. Their voices are filled with kindness, hope, and resilience. I cannot think of a more fitting way to commemorate Remembrance Day than to look into their eyes in Yuri’s portraits and to listen to their voices telling their stories.”

Credits & Acknowledgements

The Last Salute would not have been possible without Kathleen Nimigon, Recreation Therapist, and Katherine Baldwin, Manager of Recreation Therapy & Creative Arts Therapies at the Sunnybrook Veterans Centre. Their stewardship of The Last Salute, from inviting veterans to participate, liaising with their families, working with Yuri Dojc, Alannah Campbell and Elizabeth Kerr, and collaborating to create this wonderful Last Salute exhibit (live and now virtual) facilitated this beautiful tribute to our veteran centenarians.

Special thanks also go to Trish MacAulay, Music Therapist, and Doug Nicholson, Digital and Visual Communications, for their work on the Last Salute video; and the Recreation Therapy and the Creative Arts Team at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre for their assistance with logistics, planning and information gathering.

Finally, acknowledgments would be incomplete without thanking all of our wonderful Veterans Centre staff for their outstanding care and service to our war veterans. Their compassion and dedication in their work each and every day makes a difference in the lives of those who served Canada and our allies. Thank you!