Veterans living at Carlton House in Oak Bay resonated with the reverence for those who served.
Charles Etcher explained that most of the boys who grew up with them were cadets or scouts and joined.
“Everyone is eager to serve and go to war. It’s just a different era,” he said.
Etchell graduated high school in 1943 and immediately joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he trained as a pilot in Manitoba and Calgary. “I was ready … they dropped the bomb and that was the end of my Air Force career. But I love flying,” he said.
He is part of a generation that grew up—many never return, others when they return physically, emotionally, or both.
Echelle remembers a special anniversary when his father lost a leg in World War I. That year, instead of commemorating the 11th hour of silence on November 11 in the tragic rain in downtown Vancouver, they stopped to reflect — dry — at the UBC tent service.
Doug Henderson remembers father-in-law who died in Sicily on Memorial Day.
In 2014, a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the surgery was attended by his young son and one of his granddaughters. During the ceremony, the relatives of each fallen soldier stood in front of their relatives’ graves to roll their names. “My granddaughter answered for him,” Henderson said. “That’s one of the reasons why Memorial Day is important to me.”
Henderson joined the Navy in 1955 and has served on the coast and around the world for more than 37 years.
“As the Korean War ended, ships started to return, and the Canadian Navy began to expand rapidly, I joined what seemed like a very exciting career, and it turned out to be the case for me.”
His best job is piloting a destroyer, and he describes it as a lot of fun – “like driving a racing car” – and a lot of responsibility.
“You are responsible for the ship and the shipping company and everything it does,” he explained.
James (Ray) Webb, who joined in 1955, said it was all new and exciting and the trip was incredible, but there was always work to do with potential threats.
“It was an accumulation of the Cold War, so things moved very quickly in those days,” he said. “We’re preparing planes, preparing squadrons to go to Europe, so it’s very exciting.”
Henderson agreed and recalled a specific time when they sailed the North Sea in a group of Canadian ships and were followed by a Russian vessel.
“It was horrible, in those days our ships had no armor to speak of,” he said.
Another Navy veteran, Jim Newby, joined the Navy in Edmonton in late 1943.
In particular, he recalled a trip to North America. When he boarded HMCS Charlottetown (1943), the war had just ended, and they were traveling down the east coast and back to Victoria through the Panama Canal. The frigate was scuttled off Victoria as an artificial reef. “It’s a good boat,” he said.
He served with HMCS in Ontario until his discharge in Naden in August 1947.
The only female Carlton House veteran, Marie Gill, joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1951. I’m very happy,” she said.
It was a valuable experience in a great new type of work. The world is pretty big when you grow up in a small town in Manitoba, she explained.
In a cozy meeting room raining outside, World War II veteran John Hillman sits beside his generations of veterans. Hillman, now 103, joined the RAF in 1937 at the age of 17.
“I joined the Air Force because young people who graduated from school in 1937 had no jobs,” he said. After failing to meet pilot requirements, they put him on the tail and he became a wireless operator.
He recalled being sent to France in August 1939.
“We lost half our squadron when the Germans broke through,” he said.With their plane unavailable, he and 60 others were told to do what they could to return to England
“We left close to the west coast of France, and a ship called the Lancaster was coming to pick us up.” They finally arrived nearly four weeks later, a day late because the ship was sunk.
They started looking for another way home. He remembers a young flying officer scouting out where the Germans were on a motorcycle, then charting a route out of France. They eventually reached Brittany, where a British destroyer picked them up.
Hillman served in the RAF until 1949 and was awarded four World War II medals, and served in France, England, Africa and Italy. He served in Burma from 1944 until Japan’s official surrender the following year.
“I have an angel on each shoulder looking after me,” Hillman said. “I was shot and bombed throughout my service, but I never got scratched. I finally succumbed to the terrible temperatures and conditions in Myanmar.”
Oak Bay residents can observe a moment of silence on November 11 at the community’s historic monument or via livestream from their homes.Remembrance Day ceremony at 10:55 a.m. in person at 2800 Beach Dr. and online
Memorial Day in Oak Bay
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