War veteran Bill Ford points to the handsome man in the middle of a photo from the Second World War.
“The good-looking one” is him, he says, laughing.
Before the guard room at Camp Borden, Ontario, he stands with four other uniformed men. It was 1940.
Ford had just enlisted in the war. His father, brothers and sister had already joined.
He also had a black-and-white photograph of his family, all in uniform.
“At that age, you just want to get in there too,” said Ford, who was 20 when he enlisted.
But he was discharged less than two years later with broken bones and hearing loss suffered during training.
Like Ford, many Whitehorse war veterans relived the Second World War on Friday.
“Sometimes the veterans will close their eyes and you can tell that they’re really reliving it,” said Jill Paterson, deputy project manager of The Memory Project. “They’re sort of seeing it flash in front of them. They’re really going back there.”
The project allows veterans to share their stories from the Second World War.
Veterans sit with interviewers and tell their tales from the war. Many also brought medals and artifacts, like shrapnel they found lodged in their fighter planes.
Their audio interviews, photographs and digitized memorabilia will be documented on thememoryproject.com as a way for Canadians to learn about Canada’s participation in the war.
“There really are some incredible stories and it’s amazing to think of these people as being 18 years old and sleeping in slit trenches in Europe, being under these incredible conditions. Now they’re part of the community and people don’t even know they did these incredible things,” said Paterson.
Although there are stories of loss, many veterans spoke of camaraderie.
Margaret Baker said she enlisted to meet new people.
As a clerk accountant for the air force, Baker stayed in Halifax barracks with 20 women in each room.
“It was fun,” she said with a laugh. “We got along.”
And her fondest memories, she said, were “friendships more than anything else.”
She also met her husband during the war, a member of the aircrew waiting to go overseas.
He came to work in the same office and she soon landed a date with the gentleman.
“Our first date was on New Year’s Eve 1944 and we went to the naval base to a dance. Then we started going steady after that, got engaged, married in ‘47.”
After the war, Baker’s women’s division was one of the last in Halifax to leave. She and her husband lived in Halifax while he completed his degree and he joined the army in his final year of university.
Baker lived with her in-laws and only saw her husband when he came back once a month to visit. She worked in the accounting department of Simpson’s department store.
“Then he got posted to Whitehorse and I’ve been here ever since.”
They had six children and were married for 52 years until he passed away 10 years ago.
“When my children were growing up, I belonged to minor hockey, home school and all the other things that moms belong to.”
Even with her children grown up with their own children, and some grandchildren, Baker still keeps busy.
“I think I belong to every seniors’ organization here in Whitehorse now,” said Baker.
Premier Dennis Fentie, the only Canadian premier to have attended one of The Memory Project sessions so far, said these stories will build awareness for generations of Yukoners and Canadians.
“To all veterans here today, thank you for all you’ve done. Your stories, and of course you, shall not be forgotten.”
Contact Larissa Robyn Johnston at email@example.com