Letter thanking Romeo Bourgeois for his prompt action and courage in removing Sergeant Steele from a burning aircraft that had crashed, dated from April 27, 1943.Romeo Bourgeois
Romeo Bourgeois, first row on the left, standing in front of a Tiger Moth with crew at Elementary Flying Training School in Neepawa, Manitoba, 1943.Romeo Bourgeois
As a mechanic with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), Romeo Bourgeois tested planes, flying with the pilot. He took this photograph from within a Tiger Moth he was testing, 1943.Romeo Bourgeois
Romeo Bourgeois standing in front of his tent after he joined the army while stationed at Camp Utopia, New Brunswick, 1945.Romeo Bourgeois
Romeo Bourgeois (on left) on leave, standing with his brother, Delphis Bourgeois (on right) who was a cadet at the time, 1945.Romeo Bourgeois
"When you join the service, you can’t expect to be treated like a king or queen. That’s what war is like."
I decided [to join] because there wasn’t any work where we lived. I decided that I was going to join the Air Force. I was tested but they didn’t accept me. So I went to Chatham. I signed up with the Air Force there and then I was transferred to Neepawa, Manitoba. I worked there for three years. I was an aeroplane mechanic. That’s where I was in a plane crash. The controls malfunctioned and the plane crashed; I was sitting in the rear with Sergeant Steele in front. When we hit the ground, he was projected towards the motor and I was ejected from the plane. I ran towards him, got him out of the plane and he died in my arms [Editor’s note: the letter written by the Flying School manager appears to indicate that Sergeant Steele survived (see artefacts) – but this could not be confirmed]. I went to the hospital and stayed there for five months. I wanted to get back to the Air Force right away. When I got out of the hospital, a Jeep was waiting for me.
In 1944, I decided that I wanted to go overseas. I tried to get into the Army at Winnipeg but they didn’t want to take me. I came back here and I went to St-Jean to try to join the Navy, but they didn’t want me. In Fredericton, I didn’t have any difficulty, they took me. I did three months of basic training in Edmundston and then I did three months of advanced training at [Camp] Utopia [in New Brunswick]. It was during my last leave, two weeks before leaving that the war ended in Germany. When I returned to Utopia, they asked if anyone wanted to volunteer to go to Japan. We trained for two weeks. They dropped the bomb over Hiroshima.
They put me into the Military Police. I was with them until 1946. Sometimes you met guys who were tougher than you. Some of them were pretty tough. It wasn’t too bad, we went to dances. Sometimes there were fights. We were stationed at Utopia [an Army camp]. It was five minutes from Pennfield [Ridge]. The Army and the Air Force didn’t mix well. The Army didn’t like the Air Force and the Air Force didn’t like the Army. Often there were fights. Often when we accompanied them to the dances, it happened.
We also guarded the prisoners. They slept in wooden bunks without a mattress and just a pillow. They would wake up in the morning and while they shaved, they had to mark time. Afterwards we would throw coal on the ground. They would then have to get down on their knees and clean it all up. We did what we were told. Even if they didn’t like it, they were forced to obey. There would be about ten of them cleaning the floor and we would kick them in the rear. They really had to make their cells shine before we would serve them breakfast. They would always eat in their cells. It was the same drill at lunch. And in the afternoon, again; they would eat in their cells. In the evening after supper they would mark time before they went to bed, with just a pillow on the plank.
Sometimes it was 30 days; it depended on what they had done. It depended on the reasons. If they were late, we kept them for three days. If they had run away from the Army, they could be there for 30 to 60 days. Despite all the trouble we had with them, the ones who came to us never came back a second time. What happened in the Army stayed in the Army. I’ve been asked, "Why did you want to go to war?" I wanted to fight and defend my country. I wanted to go to Japan. I knew what was going on. I wanted to take my chances. Maybe my head wasn’t screwed on right, but I wanted to go. When you join the service, you can’t expect to be treated like a king or queen. That’s what war is like.