This year will be the first Remembrance Day in Ken Legge’s memory that hasn’t been spent in parades and at cenotaphs and memorials.
The 97-year-old Canadian Navy veteran was on a gunner ship off the coast of France on D-Day, helping the Allies lay the groundwork that led to victory in the Second World War.
Legge joined the Navy at the age of 19 and spent four years at war.
“I was an anti-aircraft gunner on a Canadian destroyer,” he said proudly from Berwick on the Park, where he lives.
“Our first job was taking 100-ship convoys across the North Atlantic with all the war goods on them. That was our main job. All year-round. A dirty job, a cold job.”
Legge said his ship was eventually given a new task — clearing out the waters in the Bay of Biscay along the west coast of France.
They didn’t know it at the time, but the young men on HMCS Kootenay were preparing for D-Day — Operation Overlord.
“The Germans were trying to get rid of us,” Legge said.
“They sent bombers out to drop bombs on our ship, with no luck.
“They tried to torpedo us and they had shore batteries all along the French coast with these huge guns. They tried to knock us off with those, too. We were just a lucky ship.”
After the war ended, Legge returned to Canada and trained to be an electrician.
“I was doing an electrical job in North Vancouver for this fellow and he said to me, ‘You ever think of being a firefighter?’” Legge said.
“I said, ‘Never crossed my mind.’ He said he was the fire chief and he was looking for four men. He thought I’d be good for the job.”
He was. Legge would become North Vancouver’s fire chief before retiring after a 25-year career.
Born in a small mining town in Alaska, Legge moved with his family to Vancouver at 12 years of age. On his 21st birthday, while aboard a Navy ship on the Atlantic Ocean, he chose Canadian citizenship.
“So I became a Canadian that way,” Legge said. “Many, many years later, I had a hell of a time getting a passport to go to Mexico with my kids.”
A father of five, grandfather of 10 and great-grandfather to 15, Legge and his wife lived in a cabin at Green Lake near 70 Mile House after his retirement.
Following her death, Legge moved to Brocklehurst and has been at Berwick on the Park in Sahali for about four years.
Legge said he enjoys life in the facility, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made days tedious — no outings and limited visits.
“It’s a nice place,” he said. “But it’s been so boring since the virus.”
That means Legge will spend Remembrance Day this year at home, where staff are planning to honour Berwick on the Park’s veterans with a special meal and encouraging residents to stand for a moment of silence in their doorways.
“They’re having a breakfast for us, but there’s only four of us here,” Legge said of Second World War Veterans. “There aren’t many of us around anymore.”
A gifted storyteller, Legge knows he had led an interesting life and he’s not shy about recounting it all.
But there’s one thing he won’t talk about.
“I try not to even think about D-Day,” he said.
“It was a terrible day as far as personnel was concerned. It was a tough day. We lost so many men.
“And there are still families everywhere that lost family on D-Day. That’s why I don’t like talking about it.”