by Wally Austman


A salt and pepper- haired man sat in a well-worn recliner with a book in his hand; he was listening with nostalgia, to a much worn tape of The Platters singing Harbour Lights. His reverie was interrupted by a small voice at the side of his chair saying, “Gran'pa, look what I found up in the back of your closet. It's a box full of pictures of real so'jers. Will you help me to look at them Gran'pa, please?”

Grandpa Wally looked fondly down at his four-year-old grandson, “I sure will Keenan,” he said. “You know I'd completely forgotten about that old box, but now that you've brought it down, maybe you can help me put them into an album. I wonder if I can even remember where they were taken, or even who any of them are.   Now, let's just see what we've got here.”

He picked up an old black and white photo of a smiling young man wearing a straw fedora hat, set at a jaunty devil-may-care angle on his head. He wore narrow cuffed “strides,” with wide knees and deep pleats at the waist, complete with a heavy chain running from the belt to the pocket. He was standing on a railroad platform with two other young men. It was obvious that they were about to board the train that could be seen in the background. All three had silly, slightly worried looking grins, almost as if they had just done something that they weren't sure was right, or perhaps, something they felt maybe they shouldn't have done at all.

“Who are they, Gran'pa” Keenan asked, “they sure are wearing funny looking pants, and is that a real train behind them?”

Grandpa Wally sighed, “Yes, that is a real train. And those boys were getting ready to go for a long ride on it. Does that boy with the hat on look like anyone you know, Keenan?”

Keenan looked closely at the picture, and with a puzzled frown he said, “Well, he does look a little like Uncle Daryl, but I don't think it's him, who is he Gran'pa?” 

Grandpa Wally chuckled, “Would you believe, Keenan, that the young fellow in the hat is your Grandpa, a long, long, time ago and he was just about to start out on the first great adventure of his life, he had just joined the army and was going to be a paratrooper. He would learn how to jump out of perfectly good airplanes, and then, go and fight a war in a far-off country.”

Keenan exclaimed, “Is that really you, Gran'pa?  Gran'pa, tell me all about those so'jers, and what you did in the army.”

Grandpa Wally fondly patted his grandson's head. “Let's see if I can remember any of those guys—there was this one I remember very well, I think I'll call him Lance,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye.  “I'll see if I can remember why he came to join up…”  His voice trailed off and he got a faraway look in his eye as he cast his mind back almost fifty years…

The Beginning

The sun was barely creeping over the eastern horizon when it lit up the skinny youth, trudging dejectedly down the dusty country road. His mind filled with memories of last night's harsh and bitter words that had passed between his mother, sister, and himself. He thought to himself, “All I wanted was to get a newer tractor, and some bigger equipment, so that we could farm a little more efficiently, get the work done a bit faster. They say that the old junk we have is good enough, even though it's mostly old horse drawn stuff, fixed up with a tractor hitch, so it can be pulled with that old steel wheeled tractor. They said that it was still working OK, and if it is good enough for them, it should be good enough for me! Well, they can damn well go ahead and farm in the dark ages if they want! I wonder how long the kid brother will put up with it!”

“I'll show them. I turned eighteen a few weeks ago. Now I can do whatever I want! I'll hitch a ride into Regina and I'll go to the recruiting depot in the armouries and join the Air Force!”

 A vision floated across his mind. He could see himself in the pilot's seat of a plane, as it dove and buzzed the old farmstead, scaring the livestock, making everyone look up. Boy, would he show them!  Such is the optimism of youth! If he could have had the ability to see two years into the future, he would probably have swallowed his pride, turned around and slunk back home.

After he was dropped off in the city, he walked (more nonchalantly than he felt)  towards the armoury doors, and the beginning of a new life!

When he entered the armouries, he looked for a sign to indicate where the recruiting offices might be, and as soon as he saw it, he headed down that corridor. A sign above a door said “RCAF Recruiting Office.”

He marched up to the desk and spoke to the two men standing behind it, “I'm here to join up,” he said rather abruptly, trying to hide his nervousness.

“Well, you've come to the right place,” said the man with the three chevrons on his sleeve, which Lance deduced must indicate a sergeant. “First off let's see some identification, and proof of age.”

Lance had come prepared for this eventuality, and promptly laid down his birth certificate and school diplomas.

The sergeant picked up the documents and looked them over. “Well these look in order. The corporal here will give you some forms to fill out, then we'll get you sworn in, and you will be all set up for the next draft to Trenton for your basic Air Force ground school training.”

Lance's heart gave a sudden lurch. He burst out with, “Oh, no, I don't want to go to ground school, I want to be a pilot, I want to fly in an airplane!”

“Sorry,” the sergeant said, “you don't have enough education. You have to pass all your high school and have a high school diploma to prove it, before you qualify for air crew.” Then a funny look crossed his face. He looked at the corporal, and said, “You know, we just may have the answer to your problem. If you go out this door, turn to your right, go down two doors, and tell the NCOs there that we sent you down because you want to fly, I'm sure they'll be happy to look after you!”

Lance took his documents back and thanked the two NCOs for the help. He thought nothing of it as he heard them laugh at some joke as he walked away.

He entered the new office just as the sergeant finished hanging up the phone. He was saying something to the corporal, who had a big grin on his face. Lance noticed that these NCOs were dressed in khaki uniforms, instead of blue, and they wore maroon berets on there heads, but they both wore bright gold wings on their chests, so he was pretty sure he was in the right place. (Oh, you dummy!)

“I was sent down here from the other office. They told me that you would be able to look after all my needs,” said Lance.

“We sure can,” said the sergeant. “They just let us know that you were on the way, let's have a look at your documentation.” He took the proffered paperwork, looked it over and passed it on to the corporal. “This all looks in order.  The corporal will give you some forms to fill in, and after we have a look at them, we should be able to carry on.”

Lance took the forms and went over to a desk. He filled them all in, then he returned to the front desk and passed over the completed forms. He was told to take a seat, with a couple of other young men.

Shortly after the boys had got to know one another, the sergeant came out of the back office with an officer wearing three gold buttons on his epaulettes. Lance was to learn that this signified a captain’s rank. The sergeant said to the young men “Well, all the papers appear to be in order and your aptitude tests seem to indicate that you are all ideal candidates for airborne soldiers. So, unless any of you are having cold feet, the captain will swear you in, and you will be on the next draft to our central Ontario All Seasons Resort, otherwise known as Camp Borden , for the basic infantryman's course.  You have each been given an envelope with your name and an alphanumeric number on the front. DO NOT EVER FORGET THIS NUMBER!  This is your personnel identification number, and will remain with you throughout your time in the military, and even beyond!”

Now, let’s just jump forward in time about a year and a half. . . .  

-continued on page two



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