Air force veteran George Brewster is bound for Dieppe. The 94-year-old Duncan resident and his wife depart Aug. 15 and will spend a week abroad.
“It was something out of the blue. I got a call from Ottawa and they asked if I’d let my name stand for nomination and I said ‘for what?’ They said ‘for a trip to Dieppe’” he explained.
Aug. 19 marks the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid. Commemorative ceremonies are planned for that weekend in the City of Dieppe, France.
“I want to go because I haven’t been to France since WWII when I was flying Spitfires for the RCAF,” he said. “And that’s why they asked me to go because my squadron was very active at Dieppe, and although I wasn’t with them at the time, most of the people that were are dead now, so they called me.”
The Brewsters will first fly to Ottawa and then take a military plane, with other delegates, to France.
“My wife and I will be celebrating our 20th anniversary on the fifth of September so I’m in 20 of the happiest years of my life. She’s a darlin’ lady and I’m just thrilled we’re going together to celebrate. They’re putting us up and looking after us,” he said. “I feel honoured and extremely humbled by it because, for one thing, I did not expect to live through the war. I had just become 23 as the war ended. I had four years in of flying and I didn’t know, I saw too many of my friends — most of them died during the war — and those that didn’t, some of them fell off for various reasons and I feel so amazed to find myself still alive and happily married.”
Brewster noted Dieppe was a “very, very debatable kind of adventure”.
The British did it for a number of reasons, he said, including a considerable amount of pressure by the Russians for the British to take a little attention away from other fronts.
“They wanted to divert the Germans so they thought this diversion would help quite a bit,” he remembered. “So they were willing to do it. So they got the best soldiers they can, which were the Canadians.”
Born into a family of aviators, his father and uncle both flew in the Great War. It was only natural for him to follow suit.
“I guess the greatest thing is to realize that I didn’t want to fight. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to, I really didn’t. But Britain was being bombed and…it just grieved me that people went in and bombed innocent men and women and children,” he explained. “Isn’t that strange that you have to go and do what you have to do or you can’t have that kind of peace? So that’s what I did. I ended up on a plane with bombs all by myself up there, and cannons, and machine guns, doing things that I didn’t want to do.”
Those experiences shaped his character and guide the simplicity and gratitude with which he’s carried on with the rest of his life.
After what he describes as a life in the fast lane, that included living with the Inuit, climbing mountains, writing books, and a lot of travel, he’s settled down somewhat. He’s not on Facebook and he’s not apologetic. He is more inclined to tend to his garden and do more personal things, like spending time with his beloved wife, writing letters, speaking to friends on the telephone and dancing.
For Brewster it’s about people and relationships and trying to do the right thing. For him it is, and always has been, about peace.
“There’s something sacred about the very air we breathe and the world we live in and that we would do well to honour that, to look after it, to nurture it, to nurture the people that inhabit it, and the creatures,” he said. “I would love it if people would live in peace with each other, with neighbours who would help each other in times of need, not just flock in when you win the lotto.”
And while he’s so incredibly pleased with his life at present, he’ll also never forget his past.
“I’m proud to be a Canadian,” Brewster said. “I’m very pleased to be going to Dieppe to represent those who didn’t come home, my friends, and to just be a part of it and to see that these lessons are not totally forgotten, that people remember.”