NICHOLAS WELLS, CARLETON UNIVERSITY
FIRST POSTED: WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2010 10:19 AM EST | UPDATED: WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2010 10:43 AM EST
« We’re looking for men here son, not boys ».
That single sentence changed Francois Savard’s life. He was applying to the army, at the tender age of 18, so he could fight for his country in the Second World War.
And he was rejected.
His small stature, a feature he often griped about, was stopping him from joining the army and taking his place overseas with the thousands of other Canadians.
Upset and angry, he stormed out of the office – while his taller friend was welcomed – and marched his way down to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).
Sitting in an Ottawa cafe, Savard, who is now 85, tells of how he joined the air force at the age of 18 and trained as a flight navigator. The RCAF closely studied his grades, and his entrance exam and proceeded to open their doors wide open for him.
He had been brought up in a military family and it had been expected that he and his brother would join up once they were old enough.
An instructor of his was impressed by Savard’s work ethic and suggested he receive a commission. To receive your commission is to receive your rank as an officer, it gave you a boost in pay and made you stand out. On the crew he flew with, there was only one other officer.
His commission was granted when he was 18 years and nine months. To put that in perspective, he was receiving his commission when many children his age were working or training for war.
« I felt bad for all my chums who didn’t go to war. They missed out on the adventure. »
It had been a difficult road to get there, the navigation course was taught in English, and the French Canadian students struggled on the written exam.
« I could do the work in the air but it was the written exam that fooled me. It had trick questions and because my English wasn’t quite up to it, I struggled. »
He was immediately rushed off to England to participate in bomber training. After completing his initial training, he joined the 425 Alouette Squadron, a primarily French-Canadian bomber group, and started making bombing runs over Germany. On his first flight, he was sitting at the navigator’s desk when the plane shook and his parachute, stored neatly at his feet, exploded in a whirlwind of silk.
A shell had torn right through the hull of the plane and passed by him, blowing up his parachute on its way out the other end of the fuselage. He sat in shock for a few seconds, dusty and trembling before he went back to work.
« I couldn’t believe I had to make more of those. If that was my first run what would the next be like? » he asked himself.
Savard made four more runs before the end of the war. The only other close call came during his last raid. Bombs, from fellow RCAF bombers, flew in between his plane’s wing and tail, narrowly missing them.
His older brother was not as fortunate. He was shot down in his 30th, and final, mission.
Savard’s story is just one of many stories that veterans have to share.
His story, like those of many veterans, is nearing its end but they still remain important to Canadians of all ages.
Editor’s Note: Nicholas Wells is a Carleton University journalism student.
« We’re looking for men here son, not boys »