YARMOUTH, N.S. – Five months after a special Father’s Day, Yarmouth resident and war veteran Jim McRae is getting ready for a milestone birthday.
On Tuesday, Nov. 28, McRae will become a centenarian and, to mark the occasion, an open house will be held in his honour at the Yarmouth legion hall from 6 to 8 p.m.
That in itself would make this a big year for McRae, but 2017 already was memorable for him after a trip he made in June to his native province of Alberta, where he witnessed the flight of one of the same Canso aircraft he flew as a pilot during the Second World War.
Canso 11094 was the focus of a restoration project and McRae and a few other veterans were honorary guests in Fairview, Alberta, on June 18 to see the plane take off once more.
“It was quite an experience to see this airplane flying again,” McRae said.
McRae’s last three trips as a member of 162 Squadron during the war were in the same aircraft. More recently, the plane had been converted to a water bomber and, in 2001, it had crashed into a lake near Inuvik. It remained on the shore for seven years before six Fairview area farmers took on the task of restoring it.
Referring to this past spring’s takeoff of the restored plane and the related activities, McRae said, “they made us sort of honorary crewmembers. They weren’t allowed to take anybody up on the flight, but we were able to watch it. They highlighted us at various functions. They had a breakfast in the hangar and things like that.”
That this happened in Alberta was perhaps special too for McRae, who says he has “a deep feeling” for the province where he was born and raised.
McRae recalls joining the military in 1941. His younger brother, Earl, had joined before him. They did their basic training together and got their wings together. McRae remembers the two of them getting their officers’ uniforms in Montreal while en route to the East Coast for their posting. Earl would be killed in action.
“The last time I saw my brother, Earl, was at the railroad station in Saint John,” McRae recalled.
McRae himself wound up in Yarmouth and joined 162 Squadron, eventually serving overseas, and 162 Squadron became the most successful coastal command squadron in the RCAF.
On one mission McRae’s plane was shot down and he spent eight hours in the North Atlantic.
“One of our dinghies burst and the other got a hole in it, so we didn’t have enough support to keep us out of the water,” McRae said. “Three of our crewmen died.”
AFTER THE WAR
In the years after the war, McRae had various jobs. Among other things, he drove a bus, co-founded and operated a flying school in Yarmouth and served a few years as one of the town’s paid firefighters. He rejoined the military in 1951, this time as an air traffic controller, and had a number of postings, the last being Bagotville in Quebec.
He eventually got a job with customs and retired in the early 1980s.
A father of three children – all of whom live in Yarmouth – McRae said he feels pretty good.
“I feel better now than I did maybe a year ago or six months ago,” he said. “Age is showing, that’s for sure, but physically I feel good ... I curled until last year, played golf until last year.”
His thoughts about his big upcoming birthday? He may have summed it up best when he said, “A lot of water goes under the bridge in 100 years.”