It's not every day that you meet someone who served in the Battle of Britain in 1940. It's even less common to meet someone who served in the military that long ago, and have them recount it like it was yesterday.
Nonetheless, that's what you'll find with 101-year-old retired Flying Officer Ralph Wild. And now 79 years after the Battle of Britain, still considered to be one of the greatest air battles ever fought, Wild will be honoured at the Nov. 12 Winnipeg Jets Canadian Armed Forces game.
Though born in England, Wild now calls Winnipeg home. And he's no stranger to jets, as he served in the air force.
"I started on the ground crew, but I wanted to join the Air Force," recalled Wild of his start with the military.
He would get his wish before long and was trained as an Instrument Technician, and was assigned to a squadron of Hurricane fighter planes. That squadron that he was with fought in the Battle of Britain in the fall of 1940. He's one of the few people left from who participated in that battle, and he still has vivid memories of that time.
"At night, we would sleep with eight men in a tent, and we always slept with gas masks under our pillows," noted Wild about the constant threat of being in a time of war. "It was a hectic time."
Following the Battle of Britain, Wild was shipped off to Canada when he volunteered for overseas service to assist in the Commonwealth Air Training Plan, landing him at the Carberry, Manitoba base. The mandate at the time was for the air crew to be trained outside of Europe with so much going on in the war. It was in Canada that he met his wife, whom passed away in 2000, and he also fell in love with the country.
"Though we trained in Carberry, we would make weekend trips into Winnipeg," said Wild. "We would have people take us in and room us for those weekends. The Canadian people are marvelous people, and they were back then too. I felt so much at home, despite it being my second home."
Wild spent three years in Canada, and volunteered to train as part of the Air Crew, graduating as a Navigator. He received his commission as a Flying Officer, and placed at the top of his class, which led to his next call to duty back in England where he would fly in Bomber Command and navigate a Halifax bomber on several bombing runs over Germany. But once the war ended, Wild and his wife who had followed him back to England during his service decided to immigrate back to Canada, and more specifically to Winnipeg.
"I had such a wonderful three years here. Why wouldn't we want to move back?" remarked Wild.
Since returning to Winnipeg, Wild has continued to remember those whom he served with. For the last number of years in September, the RCAF has held a memorial service to recognize all the men and women who participated in the Battle of Britain, and he has been honoured to lay a wreath for them on behalf of the Wartime Pilots and Observers Association. And though much recognition is given to Wild and others who served our country, he remains humble.
"I just did my duties," Wild notes. "It was a round the clock effort in war times, and there was no time to think. We just had to get on with the job."
Help to honour Wild, and all those who have and currently are serving out country at the Nov. 12 Winnipeg Jets Canadian Armed Forces game. Tickets are available at WinnipegJets.com/TICKETS.