When I think back to the beginning of my life, I have to wonder why today I’m struggling with the Royal Canadian Legion over things I will probably never succeed in changing. Indeed, everything changes over time, this too will undoubtedly happen at the Legion with or without my help. While I’m not a World War 2 veteran, too young by far, I do consider myself a veteran of the Second World War. I remember the blitz of Belfast that began on the night of 15th April 1941 and continued until 4th May 1941. I remember a few days after the first raid being evacuated to the country for the rest of the summer, returning in September 1941. I remember moving first to Rosyth Scotland with my older sister, her navy husband was stationed there. I was adopted by my sister and husband in order to qualify for a ration book allowance. Later moving to Seven Kings in London where I spent more nights than I could count at the time, in a backyard Anderson shelter. We moved to Padstow a tiny fishing village in Cornwall in May 1944, Her husband was training with the newly organized Naval Commando unit known as Victor Commando. I remember splashing about in a roughly made pool designed for commando training purposes. I remember later the commandos taking me to the mess and feeding me a marvelous thick slice of freshly baked bread and marmalade. Washing it down with amazing sweet hot cocoa. These were delicacies I’d rarely if ever had tasted before. This was in late May early June, then suddenly commandos were gone, Padstow was a highly secret and restricted zone and the commandos were training for D Day. Just before we prepared to leave Padstow and return to Seven Kings my sister received a letter from our landlord. For the last year or so we had rented a flat in his house, it had worked out well because he worked night shift in a local factory. We rarely saw him and he rarely saw us. The letter contained devastating news, the house had received a direct hit from one of the first V1 flying bombs (Doodlebug). Everything was gone, the house the Anderson shelter and all our meager belongings. All we had left were the clothes we were wearing. Near the end of 1944 we were living in a tiny bedsitter in Lowestoff, my sisters husband was on his way to the Far East. One sunny afternoon we stood on the doorstep watching with fascination as a Doodlebug flew over head. It was a windy day as I stood with my fingers in the door jamb, slam, the wind blew the door shut. I was rushed off to the local hospital with a crushed middle finger of my right hand. In later years we call it my war wound!. Soon after this incident Lily discovered she was pregnant and we returned to Belfast for her to have the baby. I remember May 8th 1945, as a very strange day for a young boy, everyone was dancing and singing in the streets, lighting bonfires, hugging each other cheering as they ran up and down the streets waving flags. I was too young to realize the war was over. In 1946 we returned to England, I didn’t want to go, I though the war was still on there. I remember the bomb sites of London, huge gaping spaces where once buildings had stood. On a country road I saw an old double decker bus in a field with a family living in it. I remember seeing old men on the streets, terribly maimed, some with no legs sitting on cushions,a blind man standing at a corner with a tin cup begging for money from passerby’s. These sad and injured men were veterans from the 1st and 2nd world wars. Some had drawn coloured scenes with chalk on the paving stones. Beside each one lay a cloth cap turn upward with a few coins in it. Sad times indeed, the result of six years of war. I remember the emerging new fear of the A bomb, the USA had it and the Russian would soon also have it. I was older now and better understood the tension between the USA and the USSR and the fear of another war. The blockade of Berlin and the Allied Air lift supplying the civilian population. In 1950 we heard of a Police Action in Korea, call so because no one wanted to hear of another war. Boys my age talked constantly of the next war and if we should join the Navy Army or Air Force. I join the Sea Scouts as a prelude to joining the Royal Navy a few years later. I recall one morning at high school, the lessons had barely begun when the whole school was summoned to the school gym. The head master had an important announcement to make. The date was 6th February 1952, and we boys were sure war had been declared and we were about to be called up. The announcement was the King was dead, King Gorge v1 had passed during the night, God Save the Queen. On March 15th 1955 I entered the gates of HMS Ganges a boys Naval training school near Ipswich. I held the lowest rating in the Royal Navy, that of Boy Seaman 2nd class. In August 1956 I flew to Singapore to join HMS Cockade for a two year commission. During that time I acted as an armed guard convoying dockyard workers through Singapore. I was an armed guard aboard the old steam trains plying the rails between Singapore and Penang. This was during the times of the emergencies, communist terrorists roamed the jungles of Malaya and Indonesia. Some six years ago along with many others I was awarded the Pingat Jasa medal by the Malaysian Government (a general service medal). In 1958 whilst aboard HMS Eastbourne and the Cod Wars! we boarded and arrested an Icelandic boarding party trying to seize a British trawler. We held eight or nine prisoners aboard for the month then set them free in the ships whaler so they could row ashore. 1959 saw me begin submarine training before joining a variety of T and A class boats. During the Cuban missile crisis we stored for war and sailed to a designated area in the North Atlantic. Radio silence was maintained for about a week, when we finally surfaced no one knew if we would face a nuclear Holocaust or if the world still existed. In 1964 aboard the submarine Alcide we experienced a fearful few moments as the boat dived below maximum safe diving depth. Never sure how deep but some where near 800 feet, three hundred feet below the maximum safe depth. In the same year I had a serious accident on Alcide leaving the Dartmouth slips when a nylon rope parted and broke both my hands. I think I have earned the right to call myself a Veteran,I have no intentions of obeying the will of some associate member who believes he knows what is best for me.
I only relate this early part of my life to illustrate it has been long and varied, filled with adventures that most people never experience. To have surfaced under the Arctic ice near the North Pole. To walk and play football on that icy surface. To see a billion stars at night while cruising on the surface of the North Atlantic. No artificial light to mar the amazing night sky. To have sailed to the other side of the world and back. Wonderful times and a wonderful life.
I returned to civilian life in 1967 and promptly immigrated to Canada. On Prince Edward Island I met my wife. We operated a small cafe and an automotive business. I join the RCN reserve and did a further twelve years. I retired in the 1990`s and a few years later my wife did too. We have two beautiful grown daughters, we live in Abram Village a lovely Island village. I joined the Royal Canadian Legion in the mid eighties at the Summerside branch. I later transferred to branch 13 in Rustico. I held various positions within the branch, Poppy Chairman and such. Rustico was a great branch mostly run by WW2 veterans, nevertheless I was always treated as an equal. Sadly in the late 1990’s we had a associate member as manager, he defrauded the branch for over one hundred thousand dollars. By the time this was discovered it was already to late to save. The branch was forced to sell up and close. Many of the ww2 veterans were gone and I was glad for their sake. I drifted for a while as a member at Provincial Command and later joined branch one in Charlottetown. In 2013 we sold our home and moved to the western end of the island to Abram Village where I joined branch 17. It was at about this time I began my campaign to have the law on who may wear medals changed. Section 419 of the criminal code of Canada stated only the owner of the medal may wear it. I wanted to see the law amended to allow blood relatives to wear them on their right breast on Remembrance day and other suitable occasions. However, unknown to me at the time I was crossing swords with some very obstinate people at Provincial Command and later Dominion Command. I have to say this came rather as a shock, the Legions were in trouble, membership down and dropping. I assumed new ideas would be welcomed. Now in 2016 I’m seen somewhat as a Pariah in legion circles. Last Remembrance day at my home branch I was guest speaker at the evening dinner reception. This year another branch asked me to speak at there dinner and I was pleased to except. Later, I was told they did not want me, apparently word had got out from Provincial Command that I was a trouble maker. I have been a regular guest speaker at local island schools for over 16 years. So where does this leave me today? Well I’m not happy, I suppose disappointed and a bit frustrated with the way things have turned out. I no longer feel comfortable at my local branch and have not visited it for several months. I’m completely stunned by the arrogance of members at both Provincial and Dominion Commands, very unpleasant is the best way to describe it. I will soon be 78 years and have asked why I subject myself to this stress. Have I made a difference? doubtful, have I made new friends, via the internet yes, have I lost old friends? probably yes. So why should I go on? is it really not worth the effort, those who control the legion today are for the most part not veterans. However, they have the power and the control, people like me are considered obsolete and an annoyance. Their attitude is, like the older ww2 vets I too will soon be gone and they can just get on and do as they please. So folks to sum up, I think I’m through trying to change things. I do not believe the legion of today will survive for many more years. Membership is plummeting, new smaller veteran organizations are springing up and the new veterans are joining them. I have always considered myself to be a decent and trustworthy person, I have served my community well. A grateful immigrant and Canadian citizen of some some 50 years. However, I do not think those at Dominion and Provincial agree. I believe the time has come for me to move on, my legion membership expires at the end of this year and I will not likely be renewing it. Please understand this is not a case of me feeling sorry for myself, or of just quitting. The truth is I’m tired of fighting, I’ve just had enough!
Thanks to all of those great veterans who have supported me over the last months and I hope one of them will take up where I leave off.
God Bless and keep reading