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Alexander Shand

The following story was written by Nadia Anderson, granddaughter of Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) veteran Alexander Shand.


"My Grandpa's War"

Grandpa was twenty 20 years old when he was stationed in London, England, on a balloon barrage squadron. The balloons went up to 4,500 feet and were used to prevent low flying bombing...

He was posted to No. 34 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) in Medicine Hat, which trained pilots under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). Crossing the Atlantic from Scotland to Halifax took nine days in convoy in stormy weather. It took another five days by rail before he reached Medicine Hat. The city's population was roughly 9,000, and the airmen were made very welcome. Instead of marching out to the camp on arrival at the CPR station, citizens provided private cars, taxis and buses, something that would never have happened in Britain.

The camp was comfortable, especially with the natural gas heating in winter, when the temperature could drop to 35° below zero. Canadian food was much better than that in Britain, and there was no fighting to worry about. Grandpa played in the station's dance orchestra and concert party, which sometimes travelled as far as Nelson, British Columbia to provide entertainment and help with victory loan drives... 

Grandpa worked for the Chief Flying Instructor who took him up in an Oxford twin-engine plane on a training flight and gave him a great view of the prairie from the air. This was Grandpa's first flight. 

During the three years Grandpa was at Medicine Hat, he joined the city tennis club, took piano lessons and sang in a church choir. He also paid his first visit to the United States, along with two other airmen who had relatives in Spokane, Washington.

Grandpa was engaged to my grandma, Marion, before he sailed back to Britain, unescorted, on the troopship "The Louis Pasteur." In Scotland, he was stationed about 30 miles from his home and was able to play in a professional dance orchestra and earn enough to pay his passage back to Medicine Hat in 1946, after he was de-mobilized. 

Prior to that, however, in July 1944, he was posted to India and sailed in a large convoy from Liverpool to Bombay via the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. He was then posted to New Delhi, India, and headquarters of the Southeast Asia Command... He was then posted to the new headquarters...at Kandy in Ceylon, where he worked in intelligence and then telecommunications, slept in a hut made of cane from bamboo trees, sang with the ACSEA singers, played in the station dance orchestra and shook hands with Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Supreme Allied Commander in Southeast Asia. He also met Sir Guy Garrod, head of Air Command, who was also a singer and invited Grandpa to come up and play his grand piano, the only one in Ceylon, whenever he wanted. Grandpa did just that. 

Grandpa was then posted to Burma, but this was cancelled because he was needed in the orchestra. The war with Japan ended in August, 1945, and he was repatriated to Britain, sailing on the "Queen of Bermuda," following the same route he had taken on his way to India. The postings in Britain were brief at Turnhouse, outside Edinburgh, and finally at Horsham St. Faith, near Norwich. Again, he played in the station dance orchestra until he was de-mobilized on March 7, 1946. 

Sadly, Grandpa lost his brother when his minesweeper was lost in the English Channel on his 24th birthday. Apart from that, however, Grandpa felt that he had been very fortunate in so many ways, especially in settling in Canada.

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