Veteran Stories:
Jim Bester

Air Force

  • Document signed by the Canadian Minister of Defense Ralph Campney promoting Mr. Bester to the rank of Sub-Lieutenant with the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve in 1954.

    Jim Bester
  • Mr. Bester's discharge certificate dated December 20th, 1945.

    Jim Bester
  • Reverse side of Mr. Jim Bester's discharge certificate.

    Jim Bester
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"That’s when I learned I had to shave because I had not shaved before. And on inspection the officer came along and he says, ‘You didn’t shave this morning’. I said, ‘I haven’t started yet’. He said, ‘Well, start today’ - so that’s where I learned to shave."


[Enlistment in the Royal Canadian Air Force]

The Air Force came along probably when I was first year in London [Ontario], and they organised the Air Cadets, so I joined the Air Cadets. That was probably in about ’41 or ’42, 1941 or 1942, and I was a Flight Sergeant for some reason. Just lucky, I guess. I was very interested in the Air Force so as soon as I reached 18 I went down to the Air Force recruiting station - it was my birthday - and I was way underweight; I only weighed 104 pounds so they said, ‘No, I had to go and put on some weight’.

So I got actively putting on weight and on March 15th I went down again, and they accepted me but they gave me to... from March 15th to May 10th I think it was, I was shipped down to Toronto Manning Depot. That was an interesting experience too because I learned every swear word I ever heard in the first ten days, and we were confined to barracks for the ten days and we spent all our time shooting the breeze and getting uniforms and learning basic Air Force routines.

That’s when I learned I had to shave because I had not shaved before. And on inspection the officer came along and he says, ‘You didn’t shave this morning’. I said, ‘I haven’t started yet’. He said, ‘Well, start today’ - so that’s where I learned to shave.

I think... well, probably the last group, small group that went to the Manning Depot - I know the Air Force took anybody after May 10th [1945]. So we did our basic training and then they didn’t know quite what to do; they said pre-air crew training school and we went to... that was on Jarvis Street [Toronto], it was the old girl’s college, and they taught us aircraft recognition and Morse code and some of these basic things.

When that was finished they didn’t have any place to send us to so we were sent down to St. Thomas, which was a ground crew training place, and we were there for... until... we were there for six weeks or two months. Anyway, it was August when our... I guess he was a non commissioned officer, probably Flight Sergeant, came to us and said, ‘You guys are all going back to the Manning Depot, you’re going in the Army. So we were quite disappointed about that.

[The campaign in Europe and the conscription issue]

Anyhow, it took them forever; it took them to December [1945] to get us back to the Manning Depot and get us discharged - that was August to December. And the interesting thing going on at that time was MacKenzie King’s government [the Prime Minister of Canada]- he was determined to keep Canada together - and Quebec had a very large percentage of people in government who were opposed to conscription. MacKenzie King had this policy, and he had to work hard on this, all through the war there were people who were demanding we need more troops overseas. And MacKenzie King then acquired General McNaughton [Andrew McNaughton, former Chief of Staff and Defense Minister] from overseas; he came back and said, ‘I can handle this’. Well, it turned out he couldn’t.

So MacKenzie King, in 1944, late - he always had this policy, conscription if necessary but not necessarily conscription. And there’s a book about MacKenzie King - he’s highly praised as one of the best... probably the best Prime Minister we’ve ever had. And in any case, he finally did bring in compulsory service [in November, 1944], only for a small number - he had a number and some of these people who were in there as non volunteers; they were conscription and had to go overseas.

In any case, when it came to World War II and that conscription issue they were fighting a more sensible type of battle, and luckily we had it all while in the Air Force when they entered Normandy in 1944, and they just clobbered the Germans who were holding their ground with carpet bombing. In fact, they went from Normandy to Paris in a matter of two weeks after they finally broke out of Normandy.

[Discharge and post-war life]

But anyway, I was hearing all this and, of course, the war ended in [May] 1945 and we had not completed our training so I never got out to Camp Borden [Ontario]. But the Army was discharging people based on their years of service in the Army and I was at the bottom of the totem pole. And while I was sitting up in my bunk and the Camp Borden, one of the other soldiers said to me, ‘Have you decided what you’re going to do’? I said, ‘Oh, I guess I’ll go back to school’. And he said, ‘Well, why don’t you apply at the University of Toronto because they’ve set up a special camp in Ajax, Ontario’.

So I started out. I was discharged on 26th December [1945] and the first year of the course started on January 14th in Ajax, and that was almost like being in the Army because all of a sudden we’re going in the uniforms, the old uniforms. So I spent two years there in Ajax and then took us to the main campus in Toronto.

So that was my Air Force and Army experiences. The Army thought they had to train us all over again; they didn’t trust the Air Force training so we learned how to march all over again, and that kind of stuff. So after that we were just doing clean up jobs - I learned to drive a truck in the Army and we moved trucks from Camp Borden to a storage base down there in Aylmer, Ontario. That’s where I learned to drive a truck.

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