Veteran Stories:
James Foch “Jim” McAvoy


  • Royal Canadian Engineers readying for overseas service, Petawawa, Ontario, May 1940. Sapper Jim McAvoy is third from the right in the second row.

    Jim McAvoy
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"So about ten minutes before the hawsers were going be lifted, my mother appeared on the wharf down there. And I got a call on the megaphone that I was wanted"


I joined the services in January of 1940. I was 21 years old at that time and my work at that time was mainly whatever I could find. I had to quit school in Grade 9 because my people couldn’t afford the books. And my shoes were so bad that I wouldn’t… I was ashamed to go to school. However, that was during the Great Depression. It was a bad time to be a teenager. So when the opportunity come to join the services, I was quite willing and happy to go, like many like me. And because the army offered pay, as they said, pay and free board and free care and clothing and a chance to see the world, so that’s what it looked like. They did a good selling job I must say. But I stayed with the Royal Canadian Engineers for the remainder of my five and a half years. Most of this time was spent away from Halifax, overseas actually; over five years, I was overseas more than five years. Going overseas… my mother managed to get down on Pier 23 [in Halifax] just before the ship took off. It had several thousand people on it, [the SS] Sobieski, and at that time security was very, very tight over here. But somehow or other, she had a relative who knew somebody who was in charge down here and she learned that that ship was going and she just took a chance that I would be on it. So about ten minutes before the hawsers were going to be lifted, my mother appeared on the wharf down there. And I got a call on the megaphone that I was wanted, they called that Sapper so-and-so was wanted down on the wharf. And I didn’t know what the hell this was, I’m about ready to go and there’s 10,000 people, so I yanked myself up, I was escorted down there and my mother was down there. And here’s all these guys hollering up, hey, hey. That was quite a thing. I went with the No. 3 Bridging Platoon it was called, of No. 1 Workshop and Park Company. My duties mainly, and especially during the main war, was to see that the field companies who actually put up the bridge were getting the right parts and the panels and girders and all the material necessary for bridging. Bridging was a very, very important part of the whole operation. There were some occasions where field companies were under fire by mortar fire. I was on part of that at one time. I come out of that alright except for one hole in a Jeep. That was about two feet away from me. But others had been killed there at the same bridgehead; hard on the morale. Bridging was heavy. And the problem with this kind of a group, if you weighed 125 pounds, you did the same work as a guy who weighed 160 pounds. And then I had some back troubles. The last bridging I was on, they were still, it was somewhere around, I think it was somewhere in the Maas River if I remember, but it was in Holland anyway.
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