Veteran Bill Duncan held medals awarded to him and his brother Stan during the Second World War. Bill, 92, lives in Fort Langley and plans to attend the Remembrance Day ceremony there. Stan’s plane was shot down over Myanmar (formerly Burma) in 1945 and he and his aircraft were never found. Troy Landreville Langley Times

Decorated Second World War veteran reflects on bloodiest conflict known to mankind

Fort Langley resident Bill Duncan served as a signalman in Europe late in the war

Nearly 75 years ago, two Canadian brothers went to war.

Only one came home.

The other is a casualty of the deadliest conflict known to mankind — the Second World War spanned from 1939 to 1945 and resulted in as many as 80 million war-related fatalities, including 44,090 Canadians who died in service.

One of those who died in the war was pilot Officer Stan Duncan of the Royal Canadian Air Force 435 Sqdn., who made the ultimate sacrifice when his plane was shot down over Myanmar (formerly Burma) on Feb. 12, 1945.

“We were pretty close, always fighting,” said Stan’s brother Bill, now 92 and a longtime resident of Fort Langley.

Bill was serving in Italy at the time his only brother went missing.

“We were halfway up the boot and I got a message in the mail from the government (saying) that he’d been missing,” Bill said. “I never heard anymore about it, I thought, this meant he’d be okay. But they never found the plane or his body. Seven guys in all gone down and were never heard from again.”

Bill was one of the fortunate survivors. He served as a signalman in the Canadian Artillery, passing messages down from the operation post to the guns.

“There’s a group of people who figure out the elevation and the distance of the guns they fire,” Bill explained.

Bill enlisted in Winnipeg in 1943 and did his basic training in Petawawa, Ont.

Once overseas, Bill went to Camp Borden in England. His tour of duty saw him traverse through Italy, Southern France, Belgium and finally, Holland.

“We fired a few shells,” Bill said. “It was a little bit worrisome at times. We got pretty close to the front but most of the time we were behind. We were what they call the nine-mile snipers.”

Bill escaped harm, but the same couldn’t be said for a driver three trucks ahead of the one Bill was travelling in one fateful day.

A piece of shrapnel flew through the windshield and sliced the soldier’s throat.

“It could have been more guys,” Bill said. “They were in the truck and he was the driver and it just got him. The rest of the guys were okay.”

Bill was in Nijkerk, Holland when the war came to an end. The indelible images of the celebration, after news broke that the world was finally at peace again are embedded in Bill’s memory.

“We had a parade through (Dutch city of) Rotterdam on May 8 (1945),” Bill said. “Actually, we knew the war was over on the seventh of May. The parade was quite exciting — all the trucks and all the guys.”

(Each year, Liberation Day is celebrated in the Netherlands on May 5,commemorating the end of the Nazi occupation during the Second World War).

After the war, Bill remained in Europe. “I didn’t have enough points to come home. We did the ‘demobbing’ of the German army in Nijkerk.”

Short for demobilization, Bill said ‘demobbing’ is a term for “kicking them out of the army and sending them back home.”

Once back on Canadian soil, Bill lived in Winnipeg where he worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway for 13 years.

“We did all the short lines out of Calgary to Thunder Bay,” Bill said. “That was my time with the railroad but I could see it going’ downhill. The trains were going to die.”

He exited the railway business and reacquainted himself with the military, working for the Department of National Defence for the next 20 years.

Shortly after he retired, Bill’s wife Florence died in 1992. The couple have two daughters and two sons and Bill followed his daughter Robin west settling in Fort Langley. He’s called the ‘Village’ home for 30 years.

Bill plans on attending this year’s Remembrance Day service at the Fort Cenotaph. As time marches on, the number of Second World War veterans still with us continue to dwindle with each passing year.

“Our ranks are getting thin,” Bill said.

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