Walter Swanson was only 12 years old when the Second World War started and he watched enviously as his five older brothers all went overseas.
“I remember him telling me that he’d try to look like he had to shave so he would look older. He was militarily inclined and he wanted to be one of the boys. My grandfather said he could enlist as long as he stayed in Canada,” Swanson’s son, Wayne, said.
Walter Swanson managed to enlist in the Army in London, Ont., in March 1941, while he was still 13 and stayed in until September 1941 when it was discovered that he was underage and he was discharged. Not easily discouraged, he was back in the Army in Portage La Prairie, Man., by November 1941.
Wayne Swanson thinks his father, who died in 1988, must have been a remarkable man even as a teenager because he did a man’s work and stayed in the services almost a year that time, until October 1942.
Copies of his service history show he was discharged for being underage in Chilliwack, but by February 1943, he was back in the Army in London, Ont. The records also show he was 5-foot-seven and weighed 141 pounds and was in good health.
“He wanted to fight for Canada, to go overseas. Sometimes people are surprised when they hear about how young he was when he enlisted, but there were a lot of underage guys in the service,” Wayne Swanson said, who treasures a photograph of his father with the military issue Harley Davidson that he rode as a dispatch rider.
Walter Swanson almost made it overseas and was disappointed to be turned back the last moment and discharged again in Debert, N.S., in September 1943. He seems to have resigned himself to staying in Canada by then and married and started a family.
Still, he was drawn to the military life and enlisted again in Edmonton in 1954 and spent two years serving in Germany before he was discharged in Vancouver in 1958. His fifth enlistment was with the militia, the Irish Fusiliers in Prince Rupert, from 1960-64, where he was discharged as a Sgt.-major.
“He was always active with air cadets as a drill instructor and was a proud Legion member. November 11 was always a big day for him. If it wasn’t for the persistence and determination of men like him and so many others who did their duty, we wouldn’t be where we’re at now. The whole family is proud of him,” Wayne Swanson said.
“Remembrance Day means a lot to me and I always go to the services, it’s part of my life.”