‘It did ev­ery­thing for me’

Valley Journal Advertiser - - COVER STORY - Colin.Chisholm@hantsjournal.ca

There were times, he said, when it felt like the war was right in his back­yard.

“On the North­west Com­mons, we’d have search­lights, point­ing up and shin­ing to the sky,” he said.

“Those search­lights were in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful. You could be walk­ing along the street and all of a sud­den the siren would go off and the whole city would go black. You were sup­posed to hide wher­ever you were.”

Martin re­calls watch­ing ships come into port with large holes in their hulls, pre­sum­ably from en­emy fire.

In­spired by fam­ily

Martin was part of the Sea Cadets be­fore join­ing the air force, say­ing he learned a lot from the sailors at Stada­cona, CFB Hal­i­fax.

But it was Martin’s un­cle, Pa­trick Wil­son, who in­flu­enced him into join­ing the RCAF in 1951 – at only 16 years old.

“He was my idol, he was an air gun­ner,” he said. “He re­tired as a flight sergeant in the air force and he was on the (Avro) Lan- cast­ers, and he did sur­vive the war, although his air­craft did get shot.”

Wil­son didn’t sur­vive the war com­pletely un­harmed, how­ever.

“The shrap­nel used to come out of his face, long after the war. If he was shav­ing or what­ever, a piece of metal would fly out of his face,” he said. “His pi­lot got his legs blown off dur­ing that par­tic­u­lar en­counter.”

While Wil­son didn’t talk about the war a lot, Martin was ex­tremely proud of him and chose to fol­low in his foot­steps.

“Sur­pris­ingly, as so many of those guys did, he had PTSD, which wasn’t rec­og­nized as it is to­day,” he said. “I’m sure he did, too, he even­tu­ally suc­cumbed to al­co­hol.”

Martin joined the RCAF in 1951, al­ter­ing his birth cer­tifi­cate so he could get in early, as many did at that time.

Power of sport

“The air force was the best thing that I ever did,” he said. “It just changed my life to­tally.”

Part of what made the RCAF so vi­tal to Martin was how in­te­gral sports teams be­came.

He par­tic­i­pated in hockey and base­ball teams through­out his time serv­ing, which he said be- came a high­light of his ca­reer.

“I re­mem­ber play­ing on the base­ball team, but we got knocked out, but the fast­ball team was still in the play­offs and they asked if I would play un­der another name,” he said. “And I said that I was get­ting ready to hop on a train to head home to Hal­i­fax, and they said to me ‘ if you play, we’ll fly you down in a cou­ple days.’ And they did.”

The sports teams, and the ca­ma­raderie sur­round­ing them, kept morale and co­he­sion high.

Air Force life

“After I joined, there were lots of guys who were there who had lots of medals, we were only kids, but they were very good to us,” he said. “They took us un­der their wing to help us, which was good.”

Martin only had a Grade 8 ed­u­ca­tion when he joined but ob­tained his Grade 12 while in the armed forces.

Dur­ing his time in the RCAF, Martin moved around a lot, go­ing from bases in Nova Sco­tia, New­found­land and Labrador, Que­bec and On­tario.

He was pri­mar­ily work­ing in sup­ply, mak­ing sure ev­ery­one and ev­ery­thing was well stocked dur­ing the Korean War, which ended in 1953.

“We had a long counter and dis­trib­uted sup­plies, first part of the line would be socks, next un­der­wear, next boots, and it went right along,” he said. “That was fun.”

Martin didn’t see any di­rect com­bat dur­ing the war but re­mained with the RCAF un­til he re­tired in the 1970s.

He rose in the ranks over the years, go­ing from an AC2, other­wise known as air­craft­man 2, to AC1, and then LAC (lead­ing air­crafts­man), be­fore be­ing pro­moted to cor­po­ral after 13 years. He be­came a sergeant and re­tired at that rank.

“I loved it there; I loved work­ing there,” he said. “There were friends of mine who stayed even longer than I did,” he said.

After he re­tired, Martin moved into the pri­vate sec­tor in pur­chas­ing and sales, in­clud­ing with the Ganong Choco­late Com­pany, be­fore even­tu­ally re­tir­ing for good.

But Martin, with books about the Sec­ond World War spread over his cof­fee ta­ble and coast­ers with the Royal Cana­dian Le­gion em­blem em­bla­zoned on them, con­tin­ues to think about the Cana­dian Armed Forces.

“It did ev­ery­thing for me and what I am to­day,” he said. “I’m not great, but I’m bet­ter than I would have been, I know. I just learned so much from so many peo­ple.”

Re­mem­brance Day

For Martin, Re­mem­brance Day and ev­ery­thing it rep­re­sents, is just as im­por­tant to­day as ever.

“I live in, I think, the best coun­try in the world,” he said. “Safety and peace, and be­cause of those guys who fought the Ger­mans, the Ja­panese and the Ital­ians, and de­feated them, we have that peace in this coun­try.”

Martin said he’s still in awe how coun­tries all over the world came to­gether to fight against fas­cism and what was ul­ti­mately the most fright­en­ing mil­i­tary power at that time - and espe­cially how Canada rose to the oc­ca­sion dur­ing the First World War.

“We were im­mi­grants, we were farm­ers, we were fish­er­men, and we were be­ing asked to go to war,” he said. “The sig­nif­i­cance of the poppy cam­paign is that it re­minds me ev­ery time of where we are and the kind of life we have now.”

COLIN CHISHOLM

Gordon Martin, who is bet­ter known as “Chick” got his nick­name in the Royal Cana­dian Air Force, and it has stuck with him ever since.

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