Remembering the war

Last surviving charter member of the Houston Legion reminisces his wartime service.

John Veenstra is the last surviving charter member of Houston’s Legion.

An eighty-nine year old war veteran, Veenstra says he spent most his military season on a motorbike, escorting convoys of military trucks and gun carriers through various towns.

“It was exciting,” said Veenstra, explaining how he and two other bikers would lead the convoys into town, stopping traffic at intersections so that the military convoy could keep moving.

Veenstra says he was in the military from 1943 to 1946, joining when he was 20 years old after the Canadian government imposed conscription.

“The government sent notice to report for military duty – no ‘if’s, no ‘and’s, no ‘but’s,” said Veenstra.

After signing up, he was moved around every few weeks, training in various places across B.C. including Vancouver, Chilliwack, Vernon, Nanaimo and Victoria, he said.

Veenstra trained mostly with the Rocky Mountain Rangers, but was swapped out of that regimen, along with about 40 other men, into the Brockville Rifles because he was not yet fully trained when the Rangers were sent out to the Aleutian Islands.

When asked why he became a military escort, Veenstra says that was what they wanted him to do, and though he could have chosen otherwise, his other choice may have wound him up marching instead of driving.

Once fully trained, Veentra says the Brockville Rifles were posted for short few-month periods in various places, including Vancouver Island; Cape Breton Island; Long Beach; Eldershot, Nova Scotia; and New Orleans.

But in July of 1944, Veenstra and the Brockville Rifles were sent overseas to Jamaica, a British colony at the time, to replace British troops who were returning to England.

There until April of 1946, Veenstra continued escorting convoys, and also ran training shows for the troops, training some Jamaican men in the basic Royal Airforce training, he said.

Veenstra also spent some time guarding a military base in Jamaica, where they had detained German civilians – considered a possible threat.

“It’s the same as how they moved all the Japanese people from Vancouver inland, away from the water front – that’s what they did to the German people as well,” said Veenstra.

The base had a double fence with a small no man’s land between, but it wasn’t too wide for the outside guards to talk to the German civilians inside, said Veenstra.

They also guarded in 16-foot towers that circled the base – scary during hurricanes when the towers would sway in the wind, Veenstra said.

He remembers a few hurricanes that hit when he was there, tearing up a lot of trees and sometimes blocking roads, forcing Veenstra to duck under trees to get his bike through.

 

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