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Vets are Navy strong

For many Canadians families, it has been generations since feeling the loss of war.

World War I and II, the Korean War and others are becoming a distant memories as our country slowly loses the veterans who fought for our freedoms all those years ago.

Here in Kelowna, there is still a group of sailors, Canadian veterans, who stand strong, shoulder to shoulder, remembering the past and supporting each others future.

The Royal Canadian Naval Association Kelowna is a group of former navy men and women who fought in some of the toughest wars Canada has ever seen and lived to tell their stories.

On Tuesday, this brave group of sailors got together for their monthly meeting. In full regalia they showed pride in their past, shared jokes and jabs at one another and made sure to remember those of their crew that could not attend the meeting for health reasons.

At this particular meeting, members of the group were recognized for their decades of dedication and service to the association.

Joyce Hardcastle, now in her nineties, is a WWII veteran who served with the Canadian Navy.

At the special meeting she received a certificate of appreciation for her unwavering years of service with the Kelowna naval vets, of which she has been a member since 1988.

“It was quite a surprise because I didn't know I was getting it,” said Hardcastle with a huge smile.

She was in the Navy for six years from 1939-1945 serving in the Commander in Chief’s office in England as a teletyper.

Hardcastle actually worked in tunnels deep beneath the ground transmitting crucial messages during war times and on D-Day itself.

“We received so many messages on D-day from people landing over there wanting us to tell their parents they were alive but we couldn't do that of course,” explained Hardcastle.

She said that despite the hardship of the war she wouldn't trade her experience in the Navy for anything.

“I wouldn't of missed it. It was quite an experience, it was quite something,” she smiled. 

“We didn't get much sleep some nights when we were being bombed so bad and then other nights we were on duty so we didn't sleep those nights either,” she laughed. “But there was a lot of camaraderie amongst the soldiers you know.”

Bob Maxwell is another member of the association and a strong witted veteran full of stories.

When asked if he served in WWII he was quick with a cheeky response.

“If I didn't I wouldn't be here,” joked Maxwell with a wink. “But there is also a good chance, because I did serve in WWII, I wouldn't be here either.”

He wanted to share the story after the war and how hard it was for most to come back to a 'normal life.'

“We are the winners, we managed to get back...but I have to say worse than the war was surviving after the war...now that was a tough job,” said Maxwell. “Trying to mentally and psychologically adjust to a whole new world, because all you had known prior to the war was the worst time in history which was The Great Depression. That was a soul sucking, mind numbing event, and you had to live through that, then survive the war and then get back and all of the sudden you were expected to be the model citizen.”

He remembers when they returned to Canada a counsellor telling them that they now had to be a 'god fearing, law abiding, amiable person' and that there was no other acceptable option.

“The transition was immediate, you had to come back, readjust, get a job and do it all with a smile. For a lot of people that transition was very hard and for others it was impossible,” said Maxwell.

When WWII ended veterans were sometimes treated for shell-shock, but conditions like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) were not treated or even recognized.

“If you acted that way you were just treated like you weren't too bright and you were a coward, you had a choice to get on with your life or complain and receive no help from the anyone,” added Maxwell.

As part of Tuesday's celebration several members of the association were also given appreciation medals and certificates for their over 30-years of service to the Kelowna Naval Association.

Michael Henderson Sr. was one of the veterans handing out those certificates. He served in the Korean War and is the current President of the Kelowna Naval Association.

He said that he is one of the youngest members at 76-years-old, with the oldest member being a WWII vet who is 94-years-old.

“This is a fellowship, we are all sailors, who get together twice a month,” explained Henderson. “Many of us went to school together, then went to sea cadets together and then joined the navy and sailed together.”

Currently the association has 44 members but when Henderson joined 20-years ago it was well over a hundred.

He says that Kelowna's veterans are passing away and many younger veterans returning from present day wars don't know about or choose not to utilize groups like this meant for them and he hopes that new vets will start to join their ranks.

If you want more information on the Kelowna Naval Association you can contact Michael Henderson at [email protected]

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