As the weather gets cooler and poppies start emerging, a lot of us take time from our regular routines to think of the veterans we know, and the ones we don’t, who have served Canada in combat.
For Bill Stevenson, there are months he goes without thinking about the time he spent serving the navy in World War II as a 17 year old boy.
“Once poppy season starts, you start reflecting on it,” he said.
Bill grew up in Carman, Manitoba — close to Winnipeg. He and his three brothers all served, and his mother had a flag with four maple leaves in her window, for each of her sons off in war.
The opportunity to join the navy came knocking when his friends enlisted at just 17. Bill was working at hardware store at the time, and when his friends came to say goodbye, he naturally got curious.
“During the war, a lot of people don’t know this, but the army and the guys who joined the Air Force had to be 18 years old … but you could enlist in the navy at 17 years old,” he said. “With your parent’s consent, of course.”
During his time in the navy, Bill operated the submarine nets to open and close the gates for their ships in Shelburne Harbour, off the coast of Nova Scotia.
“One night, I was operating the ship-shore radio. I got a call from the base, saying that one of our fisherman had reported seeing a German ship 2 miles from us,” he recalled. “It was kind of spooky for a kid off the farm in Manitoba.”
Bill has lived in Fort St. John for over 20 years, and now settled into one of the North Peace Senior’s Housing suites.
He is heavily involved in the community spending time at the legion and is often seen speaking at events around town.
He even used to tour the schools here and speak to the children about his experiences in World War II, saying they were incredibly receptive to his stories.
“After the war, all the people around in those days, they lived the war, even though they weren’t in it. There wasn’t the excitement of it,” he said. “Now, it’s all remembrance. There’s no reality left, except for the few of us who have just left. the young people know nothing of it. The children … I’m just so amazed at their eagerness to know.”
And, judging from the amount of people who came to the Royal Canadian Legion yesterday, Bill says he’s not concerned about future generations forgetting the experience of Canadians in combat, either.