"There was no way I would ever have got even a good high school, let alone my university. So actually, throughout, to me, it [military service] was a large benefit."
Well, I was always anxious growing up to join the service somewhere; also I was living on a farm in Cape Breton [Nova Scotia], a rather isolated farm. I then decided I wanted to be a pilot in the RCAF [Royal Canadian Air Force]. I was rather busy on the farm. I was 18 before I got a chance finally to get away and go to Halifax where I applied and was accepted into the RCAF as standard aircrew on the 8 February 1944.
We got word that they had ceased all aircrew training and we were asked to go the army. We had to get out of the air force. So 90 of us from that group around me, we volunteered to go straight into the army instead of being sent home and waiting for a call up, which I could have dodged, working on a farm, but I wanted to get on with it. We were sent from Toronto to [No. 23 Canadian Army (Basic) Training Centre] Newmarket, Ontario for basic training and started drill and stuff all over again.
The middle of December 1944, I was given leave. It was my first time home. I went back to Cape Breton to spend Christmas and New Year’s, back in early January to Newmarket and then on to [A29 Canadian Infantry Training Centre] Camp Ipperwash, an excellent basic training centre. By the way, nobody did any processing other than medical when we went in. We had lawyers and pharmacists, and a few others. They all found themselves in the infantry with a big pack, small pack, rifle, the whole works, the whole thing because the forces needed infantry desperately and that was why they made the air force cease training: they had a surplus. They were training people and sending them on leave without pay. So we found ourselves in the army, in the infantry.
At the time, it didn’t mean a great deal because it was obvious the war in Europe was drawing to a close in the fall of 1944. You could see that it wasn’t going to last too long; and, somebody said, I was young and foolish, but I wanted to get overseas and get into it. And it looked great from that point of view, as an adventure. I didn’t worry too much about not getting on with aircrew training at the time. I was just quite pleased that they’d kept me in and then back onto training for a few weeks.
I then was sent back to Ipperwash and volunteered for Pacific service. I took a train, went out to [No. 110 Canadian Army (Basic) Training Centre] Vernon, British Columbia. Quite exciting - I guess I was 19 by that time - to see the country, the Rockies, the Prairies. I was quite impressed and still remember it quite well. But I was pretty green, as I say. I came from a country house on a farm. We lived in what could be the centre, I suppose, of the community, but it was still strictly a farming community at that time, there was no electric power, running water. People were still using horses and that sort of thing… I read widely. My father was a quite wide reader, so was I. I read everything I got my hands on. I read so much about different places. For some reason, there were three cities I wanted to see. One was Halifax, one was Toronto and one was Edmonton [Alberta]. Don’t ask me why these were the three cities. And eventually, I got to see all of them, but I only went through Edmonton on my way to Vernon. But I lived in Toronto for nine months.
So yeah, the first thing, of course, was the change going into place, where it was much easier to keep clean because they had showers, flush toilets, power, dial telephones. There was so many things that were different in the city. Like very, very many people, I didn’t see the bad or nasty parts of the war at all; and certainly, I gained a lot just seeing the country and being able to complete my education, which I always wanted to do, but I just could never see my way to afford it. We were just making out in farming with the family, and all the rest of it. There was no way I would ever have got even a good high school, let alone my university. So actually, throughout, to me, it [military service] was a large benefit.