Legacy Series Episode 6 - The Road Back

34 m
Categories

In this wrap-up episode, veterans describe coming home what their lives were like after the war. In addition, Cadet Andy and Captain Johnny C discuss the war’s consequences. Student participants also talk about what working on the Legacy Project has meant to them. Through their interviews with RCAF veterans, they describe gaining a greater understanding of the realities of war in the air, and its consequences on the ground — from the home front to Europe and Asia. As they filmed and assembled the footage into the six full-length episodes of the Legacy Project, the students gained a better understanding of what the men and women had both suffered and accomplished, and were proud to be able to connect with the Greatest Generation.

0:13

As a young fella, you’re twenty or twenty-one years old.

0:18

You’ve just left your mother, who told you what to do: wipe your nose or whatever else.

0:25

Then you got told where to go and to wipe your nose by these corporals, sergeants, and so on.

0:33

You’re in the Army: you’re told what to do, all the time, everywhere.

0:37

The war ended.

0:38

Now, you’re not going to be told what to do.

0:42

Now what?

0:43

What happens now?

2:02

I’m very upset—because I thought my number

2:06

was due—because somebody else’s number came up, and I had a lower number.

2:12

So I went to the sergeant, and I said, “They didn’t call my number.”

2:17

He says, “So what?” or whatever he said.

2:20

And I said, “Well, can you tell me?”

2:22

He said, “What’s your number?”

2:23

“R266054.”

2:26

He pulls the paper and says, “It’s not on here!”

2:31

I said “Well, when am I going?”

2:33

“Haven’t any idea.

2:34

We’ll call you.”

2:36

That was it: nobody knew when you were going.

2:40

So when I did hear, I was told that I would more than likely not go home till Spring.

2:48

So I spent the good part of a year on the Continent,

2:52

working at headquarters and waiting to go home.

2:56

Which was, you know . . . the war was over; I had no patience.

3:00

None of us had patience.

3:03

You know, the question was: well, what do we do now?

3:08

The station commander wanted to keep control over us (laughs), in case we didn’t go too

3:15

wild and so on from partying a bit.

3:18

So he organized sport days.

3:21

That kept us busy and occupied and so on—smart move.

3:27

After the war was over in Europe, they had thousands of us in England

3:35

that they didn’t know what to do with; so they had holding units.

3:40

I was there about two weeks or so.

3:43

I was told that I was now the new stage electrician for a RCAF show that was

3:53

travelling in Europe, and everything else.

3:56

I had the best six months of my Air Force career right there.

4:02

We felt important, you know.

4:06

Everybody knew there was a show in town, and they were going to play a performance—tonight.

4:14

It was a variety show.

4:16

We did sort of the opening number.

4:20

We did a tap routine: one where we dressed up like cowboys, cowgirls.

4:25

We did different types of dancing.

4:29

This was our opening number, and we had these jackets on that shone in the dark.

4:33

It was black—see, the first show was blackouts, but we were all-clear.

4:38

So we had this costume on, and this jacket.

4:41

And somebody yelled, “All-clear!”

4:43

And the curtain opens, and we were just in these teddies and black stockings.

4:47

Well, the whistles and the hoots and the hollers were so loud that we couldn’t hear the music.

4:56

So they changed the costumes.

5:01

I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

5:04

It was the best time there was, and we were treated so well, you know.

5:09

You hear of girls joining up into the Armed Forces: their parents wouldn’t let them go,

5:14

because they figured there was a lot of hanky-panky or whatever that was going on—

5:20

nothing like that at all.

5:26

Where are the props?

5:27

No propellers.

5:29

It’s a jet fighter.

5:30

Hmm.

5:32

I knew we were testing them at the end of the war…No propellers.

5:36

What will they think of next?

5:38

No pilots.

5:39

That will be the day.

5:41

Good to be back home, Johnny?

5:45

It's easy, I’ll tell ya that.

5:48

It took awhile.

5:49

Waiting and waiting.

5:50

And then more waiting.

5:51

A lot of blanket drills in between.

5:54

Blanket drills?

5:55

Naps, Andy.

5:56

Naps.

5:58

If they didn’t discharge me when they did, I was going to snatch up my old Lanc and fly

6:02

back to Canada on my own.

6:04

Couldn’t wait to get home, eh?

6:05

No!

6:06

Could you?!

6:07

I couldn’t wait to see my girl and my ma my pa, brothers, sisters… but…

6:14

But what?

6:18

But I think, I’m going to miss…

6:20

Miss your old crew, right?

6:22

Yeah, them for sure, but

6:27

there’s something about the fighting.

6:31

About cheating death.

6:35

The rush of it all.

6:38

I’m going to miss that.

6:40

But now you have your whole life ahead of you?

6:43

That’s what I’m scared of Andy.

6:46

That seems a lot scarier than what I’m leaving behind.

6:50

Wonder why that is?

7:09

We were glad to be home.

7:12

The next morning, we arrived at Central Station in Montreal, and my whole family was there:

7:18

my mother, my father, my sisters.

7:22

I was coming home.

7:25

My God, what a joy!

7:27

It was a moment that we’ll never forget!

7:32

It was nice to get home.

7:33

It was kind of a let-down, though, because the excitement was over.

7:37

The war is over (laughs).

7:39

When we landed in Canada, they had a big band playing and all that, and we all got off.

7:44

The people were all there at Nova Scotia.

7:49

and... ah... There was a train on the tracks right there, and so, one of the guys that looks after each

8:00

cabin—or whatever you want to call it— there’d be about

8:03

twenty guys on that one section.

8:07

We all had a single seat; when we went overseas, there would be three guys in that seat.

8:13

And we had no papers, here we got, “Where are you from?

8:16

Toronto?

8:16

Here’s the Toronto paper.”

8:18

And so they'd say

8:20

And when it came time for us to sleep at night, those things made into a bed

8:24

for us, so we could sleep.

8:28

He would say, “Go down to the end of the room and have a smoke, and you can get a beer

8:32

down there, and I’ll make up your beds.”

8:35

And I said, “Well, we can make our beds.”

8:37

“No, no, that’s my job.”

8:39

He was an elderly man.

8:41

So he made the beds.

8:42

He says, “I want you to leave your shoes out here, so I can shine them for you.”

8:46

I said, “Are you joking?

8:48

Nobody ever shines—” “I want you to do that.

8:51

He says, Look at me, I never went to the war.

8:54

I want to do something for you guys.”

8:57

I could cry when I hear things like that.

9:00

Anyways, we would go to a special cabin, or train, to eat.

9:08

That never happened before.

9:09

They’d say, “What do you want?

9:11

Three, four eggs? Six eggs?

9:13

How many do you want?

9:14

How do you want them cooked?”

9:15

You know, the cook would say, “He wants them this way: just slightly over.

9:20

OK.

9:21

How about the bacon?

9:22

How many bacon do you want?

9:23

Do you like it this way or that way?“

9:25

And toast!

9:26

Ohhh, he knows how to make— And you know, it’d be running down your cheeks.

9:32

You’d say, “My God!”

9:34

You know?

9:35

But that was “The war was over.”

9:38

We were home.

9:40

We were saying, “Geez, we never had milk, we never had butter;

9:45

never had jam or anything like that.”

9:48

So landing home was just— It was home, we knew it.

9:56

Getting home was kind of interesting, because I had phoned Mum from Ottawa.

10:04

I said, “I think I can probably make the Owen Sound, the Alfred train,” that goes

10:11

up from Toronto.

10:13

When it was due to arrive, the whole village was out to greet me.

10:21

And of course, somehow, I couldn’t make that train, and I didn’t phone.

10:29

But I hitchhiked up from Toronto.

10:32

It was the day after when I got up there.

10:36

And our place had a long lane—a country lane, you know.

10:44

He drove me up the lane, and stopped and I got out.

10:49

And Mom was there on the porch, ready for me.

10:53

It was great.

11:00

Settling into home life?

11:02

Getting back to the old routine?

11:04

Everyone’s been great.

11:06

When I first got home there were lots of pats on the back, you know.

11:10

A parade for all of us who fought.

11:12

Free drinks. That sort of thing.

11:15

But, life goes on.

11:18

Some of the vets I met, they have their whole life mapped out for them.

11:23

All types of government assistance to help them out.

11:29

But to tell you the truth Andy,

11:35

I’m kinda in the soup.

11:40

Like I’m flying through a dense fog all the time.

11:49

I’m jumpy when it comes to loud noises.

11:55

On edge all the time.

11:59

I don’t sleep well…

12:03

I wish I were over there.

12:05

So I wouldn't have to think about it all the time…

12:11

I just want to fly missions.

12:16

That’s what I’m good at.

12:18

Flying missions.

12:19

That’s what I do.

12:21

Did. Johnny

12:21

That’s what you did.

12:24

You know, you might have what they call PTSD.

12:28

PT what?!

12:29

Post-traumatic stress disorder.

12:31

Those are some fancy five-dollar words you’re spitting out there Andy.

12:35

In English?

12:36

PTSD is a mental disorder some veterans get from fighting in wars.

12:41

No.

12:42

(laughs)

12:46

No!

12:47

I’m not a nut case!

12:51

That's not what I'm saying.

12:52

It can be controlled.

12:52

Enough!

12:53

We’re done talking about it.

12:56

I’ll be…I’m fine.

13:02

And you don’t tell anyone.

13:03

You hear me!

13:24

I went to law school, I stayed for awhile, but I could see

13:27

after, I couldn’t settle down.

13:29

I guess my mind was someplace else.

13:31

So I left there, and I started to work.

13:34

Finally, I worked for Blue Cross.

13:36

That eventually became OHIP.

13:40

So I spent my working days with OHIP.

13:42

I went right back to university.

13:44

You know, the army supported my wife and me ‘til I graduated.

13:50

I walked into the Bell office in Montreal—a big recruiting office, right inside the door.

13:57

And I went over to the little girl and said, “I was thinking of applying for a position.”

14:03

She said “What are your qualifications?”

14:05

Well, I said just the right words: “I just got my diploma from McGill,

14:11

and before that I was in the Air Force, in radar.”

14:15

She said, Is that anything to do with wireless?”

14:17

I said, “It’s completely wireless!”

14:19

She says “Well. We’re looking for people

14:21

with a university degree who have experience in wireless!

14:26

Would you wait a minute?”

14:27

So she went and got her boss, and he took me up to the big boss of the department they

14:32

wanted me to go into.

14:33

He said, “Could you start tomorrow?”

14:36

“Well maybe. I could start next week!”

14:38

And so I started the following Monday.

14:40

And thirty-six years later: “Thank you, radar; you got me in the door.”

14:45

I taught Morse code to the Scouts, at a time when women were not allowed into the Scout

14:52

troops at all.

14:54

But, because of the necessity of the boys to learn Morse code,

15:01

I was permitted into the troop.

15:05

Got home, went into the university, and graduated as a civil engineer.

15:15

And then right straight into work.

15:18

I had been thinking of going to visit CIDA, and ask if they had something that I could do.

15:26

The very day that I was planning to see them, I got a call

15:31

from this general, saying, “How would you like to go to Burma?”

15:37

I thought about it a long time—one second—and I said, “Yes!”

15:42

I went to de Havilland—in 1953, I think it was.

15:50

And I was there until I went

15:57

to join Ken Molson, who was the curator in the National Aviation Museum.

16:04

It was a wonderful time that I first realized that this is what I wanted to do:

16:10

help to preserve airplanes and, in my own time, paint what I was to paint, which was aviation scenes

16:23

of historic events in particular.

16:27

Guess what?

16:28

I’m flying again.

16:29

That’s great.

16:30

Where? With who?

16:32

I’m flying a busher for a hunting and fishing lodge.

16:35

That’s sounds about right.

16:36

Yeah.

16:37

I’m taking rich muckety mucks up North so they can bag a bear, or a moose, and put its

16:43

stuffed head on their mantelpiece.

16:44

And then brag about it over whiskey and cigars.

16:47

Sounds gross.

16:49

Which part?

16:50

The stuffed animal heads part.

16:52

Who are we to judge.

16:54

I’m just glad I found something.

16:56

So many of them who were over there haven’t.

17:00

Some of them were real war heroes.

17:02

Chest full of medals.

17:06

Now forgotten.

17:27

When the war started, I was just a kid in

17:31

the ninth grade.

17:33

When the war ended, I was a lieutenant in the Air Force.

17:37

A full grown man, even if I was only twenty years old.

17:41

When I looked around me, I thought I was pretty smart—and pretty lucky.

17:49

I had seen London, and Paris, and Algiers and things like that,

17:55

I was pretty full of myself when came back.

17:59

It wasn’t hard to get me to talk about what I’d seen.

18:04

I don’t like talking about the war as such—the killing and so on, that went on.

18:11

That was our job: we did it, and there was no question.

18:18

We couldn’t argue about it; we just did it.

18:21

But the other part—the playing part—was great.

18:26

And I told everybody about that.

18:30

But I think, as time goes on, people will forget.

18:35

I think after the war was over—the First World War was over,

18:39

say in the twenties—people forgot that.

18:41

Like we have a tendency to forget our last war here.

18:47

The other thing is that things are moving much faster now than they were

18:50

twenty years ago, or forty years ago.

18:52

People are much busier doing other things.

18:59

Well, it’s been said, and it’s true: “History is thirty seconds ago!”

19:05

I want people to always remember the historical aspect of what they do,

19:14

and what other people do.

19:16

It’s important to preserve.

19:19

When you think of it, the German people are human, too.

19:25

And it wasn’t the German people who started the war.

19:31

It was their leaders, who felt they could

19:37

have more land or create a greater presence in the world.

19:47

But you meet German people now, and they’re just the same as you and I.them

19:55

I work with them at the senior’s centre.

19:58

They’re great.

20:03

Now that you’re back and working, what do you miss the most about the war?

20:10

I miss my crew.

20:13

The rest is fading.

20:15

But my crew, we had some good times!

20:20

Close shaves too.

20:23

We try to keep in touch, but I live up North and they’re all over the country…

20:29

it’s not the same.

20:31

Probably will never be?

20:33

No, probably won’t.

20:36

Best to put that road behind us now and move on.

20:41

It was something though.

20:42

Something worth repeating?

20:45

That’s not up to me Andy.

20:48

But who better to tell others why we shouldn’t have wars, than veterans.

20:52

You think anyone will listen?

21:13

War doesn’t really solve anything in the final analysis.

21:17

It’s just a lot of people have their lives ruined, and are killed and maimed. and I. . .

21:25

I think there should be more emphasis on peace.

21:28

The whole philosophy should be that war is bad.

21:33

There’s no doubt that our war had to be fought, because Hitler and Mussolini were

21:41

going to take over the world—and they nearly did.

21:45

But there is a point where you should be able to stop that ahead of time.

21:49

I don’t know what it is.

21:54

Well, love each other, I think love each other, I think I would say

21:59

because that solves everything.

22:01

Love saves everything.

22:05

But that’s practically impossible; so I don’t think that’s going to happen.

22:12

I realize that we have differences, but if we can only

22:22

look at the other person’s point of view,

22:26

maybe we would avoid a lot of conflict and heartache.

22:34

It’s very difficult to constantly feel you are the only one who knows what’s right.

22:48

Just realize: listen to them, and then judge whether you are right, or whether the other

23:01

person might have a tiny bit of knowledge, too.

23:08

It would be nice to see the world become peaceful, and everybody started getting along with one

23:16

another, instead of having to fight with one another.

23:20

Fight for peace.

23:22

I think that’s the only thing.

23:23

I think war is a terrible thing.

23:26

And, as I said, we lost thousands—well, we lost millions altogether during the war.

23:34

It’s terrible, and I would do everything to avoid it.

23:43

Somebody who wants to conquer somebody—you can try to negotiate it, and you can threaten.

23:52

But if they don’t stop, you’ve got to stop it.

23:57

And you should be prepared, and never be not prepared.

24:05

Keep up your Army, your Air Force, your Navy.

24:15

That’s as much as I think I can say.

24:19

You’ve got to be able to fight back.

24:23

You’ve got to be able to fight back.

24:27

I thought, “Well, let’s go back and live happily ever after!”

24:31

I really did.

24:32

When I got home:

24:35

that’s done. I’ve been to a war; it’s terrible.

24:39

Whatever, whatever, whatever, but it’s over!

24:42

But, we’ve had a war ever since.

24:48

I hate it.

24:55

You know Andy experience teaches you a lot of things in life.

25:00

My only hope is that future generations will see what we did in the war,

25:05

the sacrifices, the accomplishments,

25:08

and that they learn something from it.

25:11

Or else, it would be all for not.

25:14

And that would be a shame.

25:17

I believe they will Johnny.

25:19

I have a good feeling about it.

25:25

That’s good.

25:51

What I would say to the veterans that went through World War Two?

25:55

I would say, “You guys are awesome to be able to just drop everything.”

26:00

‘Cause most of these people were high-school students.

26:02

They were nineteen, they were seventeen, when they went off.

26:05

To be able to say goodbye to your family, to be able to pack up and go fight this war

26:10

for your country—I think that’s something that is really cool.

26:14

Because nowadays, a lot of people don’t really stand up for themselves, let alone

26:19

a whole country.

26:21

And for them to be able to do that—and either to survive or die in the battle—

26:27

that is amazing that they have this tale to tell.

26:33

These veterans make the Second World War more authentic, closer to people.

26:42

These pilots have seen a bomb bay door open above them, and risked having thirty bombs

26:46

drop on them, if they didn’t do something.

26:48

They’ve been shot at, and have had to parachute down to survive, when the rest of their crew died.

27:00

What happened during the Second World War is intense.

27:02

And I feel more connected to it now.

27:07

Listening to Mr. Gélineau’s interview, I feel like I know him now.

27:11

Like, I’ve never met the guy before, but I feel as if I know him.

27:16

It’s kind of amazing.

27:18

These guys and girls have some great stories behind them that need to be told,

27:25

need to be put on record.

27:27

And it would be a complete shame if they just got lost.

27:31

I don’t know . . . it’s just something I find fascinating

27:33

just hearing their stories, you know.

27:35

You watch a movie, or read a book, but when you actually hear it from someone who’s

27:40

experienced it, it’s totally different.

27:44

They are only veterans’ stories.

27:46

They’re not some guy who read about these things in a book.

27:49

These people have lived through it.

27:51

It’s real; it’s honest.

27:54

When they speak, you can feel the emotion in their voices, and in their eyes.

27:59

This is their actual lives.

28:02

It’s important for younger generations to never forget what older generations

28:07

did for us, because we wouldn’t be where we are.

28:10

And it’s just important to know that war is really not a good thing.

28:14

And a lot of people died, and I hope it doesn’t happen again.

28:18

Once hearing all the stories from the actual people that lived through it, it hits a lot

28:24

harder, and it makes you care a lot more about what happened.

28:28

As I remember in high school, it was kind of basic: learn the dates, learn the locations, study

28:33

for your exam, and that was pretty much it.

28:36

But to sit there and listen to everything they have to say, you know, you get attached

28:41

to these people—to these, you know, these fighters.

28:45

Even though some of them were just nurses, fighter pilots or just navigators,

28:54

each one of them has played an important role in our history.

28:57

To be able to make an emotional connection with the person, to tell future generations,

29:03

I think that is a really cool thing.

29:05

You know, I’m really thankful that they were there.

29:10

You have two generations facing each other.

29:13

On one side, a generation that lived through bombings and had to go to war.

29:18

On the other side, a generation that’s holding an iPhone and has everything at its fingertips.

29:26

I think we have a lot to learn from these men and women.

29:28

We need to take the time to give them a voice.

29:31

We need to remember them.

29:35

We need to pay attention to what they’re telling us.

29:38

A lot of veterans want to pass on what they know.

29:40

We’re losing more and more of them as time goes on.

29:44

It’s like our last chance to hear them tell their stories.

29:52

Young people need to understand the past

29:53

in order to better understand what’s going on today.

30:03

Just knowing about what these soldiers did— what the war was about, why it happened—

30:08

would help educate the younger generation against having it happen again.

30:15

History is something that should be remembered and never forgotten.

30:22

They were young, as we are young.

30:25

They served, giving freely of themselves.

30:30

To them we pledge, amid the winds of time, to carry their torch and never forget.

30:39

We will remember them.

30:41

We will remember them.

Author(s)
Profile picture for user Canada Aviation and Space Museum
Canada Aviation and Space Museum