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A northern Ont. veteran shares his story and perspective

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Veterans who served during the Second World War are steadily dwindling in numbers – one of the oldest in northern Ontario lives in Timmins.

Prior to Remembrance Day, CTV News sat down with 99-year-old Albert Vaillancourt. He was trained as an aircraft engineer in the early 40s and said he wanted to share some lessons from that time that he feels are especially relevant today.

He served in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a flight engineer, a fairly new role at the time that allowed for better operation of large aircraft.

He joined the military in 1943, at only 18 years old – having first studied aircrew mathematics at the University of Toronto, then gunnery training and finally his flight engineer training at the British Commonwealth’s only wartime training facility in Aylmer, Ont.

Vaillancourt was trained on the Lancaster along with American B-29 Bombers. His job was to make sure the craft was in order to allow the crew to focus on the enemy.

“We were also trained, roughly, to be able to take over, should any members of the crew be shot, be killed,” he said.

Vaillancourt explained that by the time he completed his training, it was becoming clear that the Germans were close to losing the war.

“January 1945, it was obvious that our squadron would not be seeing action,” he said.

Vaillancourt said there was fear over how the war would end.

“It was very touch and go, at one time. Hitler didn’t realize it, but had Hitler invaded England in 1940, we’d be under the German regime right now,” he said.

“Everybody was really, you know, pushing for the war effort. Things were rationed and we had to tighten our belts. It was a completely different lifestyle for everybody.”

Vailancourt said communications we limited – his only access to world news was through a battery-powered radio.

“We didn’t even have a newspaper out in the country, where I was,” he said.

Vaillancourt’s family had military ties as well – two of his uncles fought in the First World War and two cousins – one of whom died – served in Italy during WWII.

Looking back now, he said, while there have been scares of a third world war over the years, the current conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East have that possibility feeling closer than ever.

Vaillancourt told CTV News that he didn’t feel such a war was possible even three years ago.

“The Russians and the Hamas have proven us wrong. Even in this modern age, we talk about peace but it’s anything but peace around the world,” he said.

“During the 1930s, we didn’t think it was likely either, but Hitler was preparing and… that situation is repeating itself – we should learn from that experience. We can’t just sit back and take anything for granted.”

Vaillancourt said upon hearing of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine he felt like joining the fight himself and has since made financial donations to the cause.

As for Canada’s place in world conflicts, Vaillancourt said he feels our priorities are in the right place – but that our military power may be underprepared.

“We should build up our armed forces,” he said.

“I would strongly suggest people to join the armed forces. We have to have a certain measure of preparedness.”

Vaillancourt said he hopes people pay respect to those who’ve given their lives to protect Canada and countries around the world, not only on Remembrance Day but every day and offer support in any way they can.

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