On November 11th, 2012 on Remembrance Day, Roy Foster reminisces about how it all began. “I was one of many young ‘kids’ who were either raised on a ranch or on a small mixed farm in the High Country. Ninety percent of my friends rode horseback to school, or some parents who had a large family sent their children to school in the winter time in a ‘cutter’ (name for a light weight sleigh with seating used for transportation of people) and a trusty team of horses.”
Roy shares his experiences that all began in the early 1940’s when a young lad living on a ranch in Southern Alberta with a grade VIII education wanted to join the armed forces. He applied to the army and was rejected. He applied to the navy and was rejected. But in 1942, Roy Foster was accepted into the Canadian Air Force to train as an aircraft mechanic.
“We went to a one room school. The teacher taught 10 to 15 children with grades ranging from grade one to grade nine. The grade eight and nine students were approaching their mid to late teens when Canada declared War against the German Regime, who had attacked Poland, France and Great Britain. Many of the men from the community had begun to enlist. Many of the ranch ‘kids’ that I went to school with were anxious to enlist, although many of us were under age and had only completed grade eight.
It is rather a mystery that many of the young people who had been raised in the High Country wanted to join the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve. Although many had never seen a canoe, they ended up being great sailors serving on Corvettes on Escort duty in the Western Atlantic and later throughout the Atlantic, and the Mediterranean. Others were interested in joining the Royal Canadian Army or the Merchant Navy.
Personally, I was interested in the Air Force and finally did enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force. I was called to duty several months after many of Alberta youngsters had been sworn in to the service of their choice.”
Roy reflects on his first day in serving his country
“Those of us who had enlisted in the R.C.A.F. received our orders in the mail. We were to report to the Recruiting Station where we had originally signed up. Although we had not received uniform or military instructions, we were all marched downtown, to the C.P.R. Station in Calgary.” Roy reflects on his first day in serving his country, “We didn't know how to march, but were all proud young kids who were thrilled to be in the service, and knowing that following a period of training, we would be heading for unknown parts of the world, with unknown circumstances”.
Roy points out the sad truth, “I don’t know exactly how many veterans there are exactly in the Wetaskiwin region but there are not too many left and we are losing them. In fact we have lost so many we had to decline the school visitations in recent years”. For many years veterans put on a presentation for students to inform them what Remembrance Day is about. But today too many have passed away or have difficulty getting around.
Roy’s life in the armed forces takes him all over the world.
“I volunteered to go overseas and serve on a heavy conversion unit (upgrading style of planes) in Yorkshire, England. In 1943/44 when the war wasn’t going too well they were asking for volunteers for flight engineers so I applied. I didn’t expect to get accepted with a Gr. VIII education but after a few days I was accepted and began my flying career.
When the war was over I came back to Nova Scotia and did a lot of flying but of course when the war ended we were all discharged. I went out to Turner Valley and worked for an oil company for a few years but returned to the Air Force ‘back on the ground’ once again, as an aircraft mechanic.
I went back to flying again, picking up aircrafts at factories across North America and delivering them to Canadian user bases throughout the world. I lost my hearing so I was transferred ‘back to ground’ as a mechanic in Cold Lake. I was finally discharged in 1963.” Roy proudly displays 4 shiny medals, The Defence of Britain, Canadian Volunteer Services Medal, The Victory Medal and Long Term Service Medal. “I was eligible for two more but I applied too late and now it doesn’t really matter.”
Roy Foster is an active member of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 86 serving as the Education and Publicity Chairman. “On behalf of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 86; the Executive Committee, the Members, the Citizens of Wetaskiwin, and the surrounding community, I say thank you Paul.” These were the words expressed by Roy explaining the Legion’s appreciation for the contributions made by Paul, his students and the Wetaskiwin Composite High School band. Roy specifically refers to them being, “a major contributor during the yearly Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Wetaskiwin Drill Hall.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, Canadians are asked to pause in memory of the thousands of men and women who sacrificed their lives in military service Perhaps in five, fifty or one hundred years from now when someone reads a copy of this first-hand description of how ‘Roy went to war’ it will help document how wars are life-altering experiences. Thank you Roy for sharing your life changing experience and reminding us, ‘Lest we Forget’