December 6, 2023

Of the 507 Second World Warfare veterans he is interviewed thus far, 315 have since died

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Jessie Swail opened the door not too long ago to search out one among her daughters, Barbara, with a lovely bouquet and two large silver 9s crammed with helium bobbing behind her.

Different flower preparations and birthday playing cards sat on a close-by desk, together with a bouquet of one other kind: a bottle of Wayne Gretzky Estates 99 Brut.

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It was late afternoon, following a birthday lunch on the Sylvia Lodge with household.

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Swail was entertaining guests and well-wishers in her 18th-floor West Vancouver condominium close to Park Royal with its a number of Invoice Reid work — “Purchased once they value peanuts, his mom and uncle had been good pals” — and sweeping views that takes in the whole lot from Mount Baker to Nanaimo.

It was Oct. 19 and Swail was celebrating her 99th birthday, however she was recalling a day when she was simply 20, the day the Allies declared victory in Europe, VE-Day, on Might 8, 1945.

Swail was stationed in Sydney, N.S., at HMCS Protector, often known as the Level Edward Naval Base on Cape Breton Island, as one of many 7,000 Wrens (Ladies’s Royal Canadian Naval Service members) who served in the course of the Second World Warfare.

“There have been lots of of us within the mess corridor and on a shelf like that over there,” Swail pointed to a living-room wall — “was a radio and out of the blue the information came visiting that the conflict in Europe is over.

“That is how we reacted,” Swail mentioned, and her face and arms froze. “We had been awestruck. The room was fully and totally silent.”

Jessie Swail, now 99, is a veteran of the Second World War. This is a photo of her in uniform when she served as a Wren.
Jessie Swail, now 99, is a veteran of the Second World Warfare. It is a picture of her in uniform when she served as a Wren. Picture by Handout

Then one among Swail’s fellow feminine naval personnel stood and began singing.

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“Land of hope and glory, mom of the free,” Swail started, singing for guests a traditional Vera Lynn track in a powerful and emotional voice. “Then the entire room erupted into Land of Hope and Glory and we sang it with such enthusiasm after which all of us ran out of the mess corridor,” she mentioned.

A number of seamen commandeered the bottom’s fireplace vehicles and drove round making as a lot noise as they might, and Swail and different Wrens jumped on board.

“We rode across the base and by means of the officers’ quarters,” she mentioned with a twinkle. “We had been by no means allowed to step contained in the officers’ quarters.

“So, we had a wild time on VE-Day at HMCS Protector, I have to say.”

Preserving tales of vanishing veterans

Swail is one among lots of of individuals interviewed by Eric Brunt, a Victoria filmmaker who has criss-crossed Canada 4 instances, at first residing out of an outdated post-office van, recording the tales of the nation’s vanishing Second World Warfare veterans. The Canadian Warfare Museum then started backing his challenge and Melki Movies hopped on board as producer.

The tip consequence will probably be enshrined on the Warfare Museum in Ottawa as a part of the archives, the uncooked video will probably be obtainable to researchers, and Brunt is engaged on making a documentary.

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Filmmaker Eric Brunt at a park near his home in Montreal.
Filmmaker Eric Brunt at a park close to his dwelling in Montreal. Picture by John Mahoney /Montreal Gazette

Brunt, 30, took on the challenge in 2018, impressed by his grandfather Clifford Brunt, who died at 95 by no means having talked a lot about his wartime expertise.

Time is of the essence: Of the 507 Second World Warfare veterans he’s interviewed thus far — with 146 of them in B.C. — 315 have since died.

“It’s unhappy however there are only a few Metro Vancouver Second World Warfare veterans that I interviewed left,” Brunt mentioned. “Some wonderful women and men at the moment are gone.

“Taking a look at (a Veteran Affairs desk) these could be the Canadian veterans receiving advantages and it’s solely 5,880 as of March 2022.

“Canadian Second World Warfare veterans should be smaller nonetheless contemplating that Korean Warfare veterans are lumped into these figures, so the World Warfare II veterans are a share of that and I’m undecided what that share could be.”

Veterans Affairs lists the typical age of these 5,880 Second World Warfare and Korean Warfare veterans as 96, which means just about all surviving Second World Warfare veterans are older but, as soon as the Korean veterans are thought-about. Brunt mentioned even three years in the past, one in three Legions had a member who’d served within the Second World Warfare, however not.

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“There’s simply not that many left and those who’re, typically they’re not in a position to inform their story anymore,” Brunt mentioned. “And that’s a tragic reality, too.

“I’ve carried out interviews with veterans and have gone to comply with up or talked to their kids and realized that veteran is not in a position to share their story due to well being points or perhaps dementia has elevated.

“However the silver lining is that they’re nonetheless right here, so many women and men got here ahead with their story who had by no means been documented earlier than.

“Their tales will now stay on.”

In the intervening time, Brunt is transferring all his footage to the Canadian Warfare Museum, a course of that needs to be completed in Might if all goes nicely.

“We’re nonetheless engaged on making this challenge a feature-length movie,” Brunt mentioned.

U-boat hunter

Second World War sub hunter Ran Clerihue at his home in West Vancouver.
Second World Warfare sub hunter Ran Clerihue at his dwelling in West Vancouver. Picture by Jason Payne /PNG

Like Jessie Swail, Randolph (Ran) Clerihue has a lovely West Vancouver dwelling, atop one other constructing close to Park Royal. Artwork by his good friend John Little, principally of Montreal streets and outdoor-hockey scenes, in addition to small sculptures and vintage furnishings give the roomy, ethereal dwelling he shares along with his spouse Lorraine the texture of a gallery.

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There are about 140 work and the partitions are coated with them.

On the desk in his workplace sits a Canon MP11 DX, which is an including machine with a roll of paper for printing out sums as much as 12 digits lengthy.

Clerihue, 100, forsook his traditional Saturday golf sport, one among three every week he performs at Capilano Golf and Nation Membership, to speak about his wartime expertise as a sub-hunting pilot.

He was based mostly in Sydney, N.S., to start his wartime service and on the finish of the conflict the U.Okay., the place engine failure would imply ditching into the freezing-cold North Atlantic. In between, he was based mostly in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), the place the waters had been infested with sharks if a airplane went down.

Rising up in Vancouver’s Kerrisdale neighbourhood with a First World Warfare pilot for a dad, Clerihue wished to comply with in his father’s footsteps — towards the recommendation of mentioned father.

He enrolled at UBC at 16 however was solely ready to show 18 and be a part of the conflict effort.

After coaching in Alberta, the place he was prime of his class, he joined the Battle of the Atlantic, the place U-boats had been venturing so far as the St. Lawrence to assault Allied army and service provider boats.

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He joined 117 Squadron in Sydney as a sub-hunting pilot. He was shot at and he acquired credit score for a possible sinking of a German sub with a depth cost, earlier than being despatched to Ceylon in 1943 to hitch 413 Squadron attempting to find Japanese subs and dropping life rafts to any Allied survivors his airplane occurred to fly over.

“Sometimes, if the circumstances had been pretty predictable, we may land and choose up folks off the ocean,” he mentioned.

Lastly, he wound up in Devon, England, looking for subs at evening with spotlights hooked up to the airplane’s underbelly.

Over that stretch, Clerihue misplaced pals, most of the time from planes happening due to climate or mechanical failure, he mentioned.

Requested what stands out in his thoughts at present concerning the conflict, Clerihue paused for a number of seconds.

“The flights had been very lengthy,” he mentioned of the amphibious plane used for patrolling over the oceans. “The flying boat may keep within the air for 25 hours if it was correctly fitted out with overflow tanks, however I’d say the typical flights was 16 to 18 hours. … That’s a very long time.”

Randolph 'Ran' Clerihue, who turned 100 in June, was a sub-hunting pilot during the Second World War assigned to the War of the St. Lawrence, the Indian Ocean and North Atlantic.
Randolph ‘Ran’ Clerihue, who turned 100 in June, was a sub-hunting pilot in the course of the Second World Warfare assigned to the Warfare of the St. Lawrence, the Indian Ocean and North Atlantic. Handout

Clerihue’s wartime girlfriend, Gloria Stickney, labored in a airplane manufacturing unit in Vancouver and when he requested for her inspection quantity, he came upon she’d been the one to examine his airplane. She went on to turn into his first spouse earlier than dying from an inherited coronary heart situation.   

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He turned 100 on June 1 and celebrated with household and pals aboard his buddy Jimmy Pattison’s yacht as a Royal Canadian Air Pressure CP-140 Aurora patrol plane honoured him with a flyover (at 60 metres), piloted by members of 407 Demon Squadron from CFB Comox.

It meant lots to Clerihue: “I’m the final member of 407 Squadron who fought within the Second World Warfare.”

Setting solar

Filmmaker Brunt mentioned that when he started this challenge in 2018, folks informed him he was too late.

“They had been like, ‘It’s best to have carried out this 5 years in the past,’” Brunt mentioned. He was 25 then. “Effectively, I’m doing this now.”

About each couple of weeks he will get an e mail informing him somebody he’s interviewed has died.

“I consider it like after I’m driving throughout the nation and also you see these Prairie sunsets. It’s all the time at the back of my thoughts, it’s like I’m in my automotive making an attempt to catch these final rays of sunshine which might be nonetheless shining and capturing these tales.

“We’re getting nearer and nearer to the solar going beneath the Prairie horizon. In a number of years there will probably be none of those folks left.”

‘They by no means got here again’

Again at Jessie Swail’s dwelling, there’s a digital child grand in a single nook of the suite, a wraparound deck for a 180-degree view, and a shrine to her late husband Norman Valentine Swail, a fellow veteran who died in 2015 at age 90.

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Swail recalled one other occasion from her time at HMCS Protector, an evening in November 1944. There was a dance for all of the Wrens and all of the “boys” whose ships had been in dock, together with the sailors from HMCS Shawinigan, a Flower-class corvette whose job was to guard Atlantic convoys.

These boys had been about to board ship for a secret anti-submarine patrol within the Cabot Strait and nobody would hear from them once more. Days later, particles from the ship was found and, finally, six our bodies. A lot, a lot later it was realized the ship had been torpedoed by the German submarine U-1228.

All 91 arms had been misplaced within the final sinking of a ship within the battle of the St. Lawrence.

“We danced with these boys,” Swail mentioned. “Effectively, in every single place round had been indicators, ‘Free lips sink ships.’ They weren’t allowed to inform us however in some way gave us to grasp they had been transport out at midnight to escort a ferry (SS Burgeo) over to Port aux Basques.

“They by no means got here again. I knew anyone on board, from my hometown (Banff), and for a very long time we didn’t know what had occurred to them, it was a thriller and we weren’t allowed to discuss it.

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“Free lips sink ships.”

To her mom’s dismay, Swail spurned the chance for discharge and signed up for the Pacific Theatre instantly after VE-Day, however victory over Japan, VJ-Day, got here on Aug. 15, earlier than she may ship out.

She went on to write down for the Toronto Star, amongst different publications, touch upon CBC Radio and lift a household. However becoming a member of the Wrens was among the finest selections she ever made, Swail mentioned.

Aside from a slight limp from an outdated leg concern, she feels nice.

“I’m completely wholesome, fully and totally,” she mentioned with a broad smile and gleam in her eyes. “I’m pain-free, I’ve acquired all my marbles.

“I really feel so fortunate.”

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