"the last two jumps were timber jumps at Fort Nelson. And then our final was somewhere off the Alaska Highway and I hung up in a tree, and just as I was preparing to undo my chin strap and my helmet, the treetop broke"
My posting from there was to Saskatoon, which is a nice little town, but, oh man, that weather was something else. I’ve got pictures I took when I was there. I always had a camera and all I could see was one hotel and a bridge. But the weather there was pretty wicked. I know it’s a lot warmer now than it was then.
We were busy with Harvard [AT-6 training] airplanes mostly, it was a training station. And early in the morning when they wanted to take them out, we would start them in the hangar, it was so cold, because they just wouldn’t start. And then once they were started, opened the doors and away they’d go. It was pretty stupid in a way, but, anyway, it was cold. When it got to 30 below, we thought it was getting warmer. And one morning, they said it was minus 68 Fahrenheit. That’s what the control tower told us. They told us, forget it, go back to your bunks.
Well, we had a pot belly stove or heater and we’d sit around that, and it was pretty darn cold. Even inside. You couldn’t work because you couldn’t work in mitts. So that went on for a while and then I got posted from there to Edmonton. And I was based in the city before they opened up the aero [landing field]. And I met a nice girl there; she went to the Anglican Church and she was in the choir. And she had a nice family; they’d invite me for dinner and things like that.
Then, of course, they posted me again to [RCAF Air Station] Jericho Beach Repair Depot and that was the job. You’d get a lot of aircraft repairs required there and maintenance. And then from there, I got interested in para-rescue. I think it must have been 1943 or late 1943, they asked for volunteers. And so I volunteered. Then I forgot it. And I met the lady I’m still married to and we were going to be married in July 1945. The war was still on. The war on the Pacific, that is.
Then I got called, it was in, I guess, April 1945. We had got engaged in January. So then I got called into the office and they said, well, you’re going to Edmonton; and I just about fell through the floor. This was in April. You’re going to a para-rescue course and I had forgotten all about this, so off to Edmonton I go. And that’s where I learned to attach parachutes and jump with them. The idea, it was something that started only the year before because the Alaska Highway [Alaska-Canadian Highway] had been opened and there was an awful lot of air traffic going through. So a wonderful bush pilot, Rob May, decided they should have a rescue squadron or something. So he sent some volunteers down to Montana to learn from the smoke jumpers [wildland firefighters] there. So they brought back the smoke jumper uniforms and that’s what we used. Oh man, they were awful stiff things to get into, so you could jump out of this little airplane, the [Noorduyn] Norseman [bush plane]. And I had some funny experiences there too.
The last jump, the last two jumps were timber jumps at Fort Nelson. And then our final was somewhere off the Alaska Highway and I hung up in a tree, and just as I was preparing to undo my chin strap and my helmet, the treetop broke and so I came down and landed on my neck and shoulders. That was, well, I’ll tell you, there was a lot of deep moss there; a lot of mosquitoes too. So [laughs] I just jumped up and yelled because there was no one around. I was so happy; I could move my hands and my feet. I couldn’t find anything wrong; except today, I’ve still got a bad neck.