Volunteering for the battle took him in a different direction – Prince Rupert Northern View

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His memories begin in the small fishing village of Spakshuut on the north coast of British Columbia.

The once prosperous town of Port Essington, founded in 1871, was a hub of fishing, logging and hunting with many European-Canadians, Japanese-Canadians and First Nations employed in local canneries. By the 1940s the canneries had closed and the community was inhabited by a few scattered families trying to keep their way of life and their community alive.

Joseph Albert Brooks was one of nine children from one of these families. Today he is 95 years old, as he relates The view from the north, her younger siblings attended the city’s Indian day school, her mother skinned and smoked the harvested meat while growing vegetables in the garden to preserve them. Joseph helped his father, a chief, with fishing, hunting, and hand-logging. They lived off the land, struggled to provide for the family and shared necessities with needy members of the village.

On September 1, 1939, the world heard the declaration of the start of World War II. No one has been spared the effects and influence of the inflicted international conflict. The lashes on global cities certainly did not take long to leave scars on communities. More than 8,000 km from the front lines, Port Essington was among the wounded.

Joseph said many boys from the villages on the north coast have enlisted and left their front lines to fight for freedom. It was in the middle of the fighting and late fall – the exact year he can’t remember when he first heard the news from his friends. It struck the village deeply that three boys from a family Joseph had grown up with were missing and classified as MIA.

“Some of my friends were missing. We didn’t know if they were alive or in POW camps. Germany was advancing very quickly, taking countries, ”he recalls.

Not only did he lose his friends enlisted on the front line, but the Japanese friends he grew up with, who had taught him to speak their language, were taken from the fishing village to internment camps.

“So my dad said you better go and volunteer for the army.” He told me to defend the country because it is our homeland. So I volunteered.

Albert said that at 19 he was scared but wanted to defend his country and, most importantly, help find his missing friends. He said he just knew he had to go.

The purpose and meaning of defending his country – doing one’s duty, was so deep for Joseph that more than 76 years later he can remember with precision and accuracy, almost to the hour of the day, every minute that he went to basic training. prepare to fight.

He remembers the name of the ferry belonging to the Union Steam Ship that brought him to Vancouver, The Venture. He recalls that the ship was so filled with Canadian and American soldiers that each meal had to be served in three different courses. He recalls that the trip took seven days from Prince Rupert because they stopped in each inlet to take more passengers.

Upon arrival, Joseph and many others were bused to Little Mountain Barracks. He remembers the rows and rows of beds in a long room and the sergeant teaching them the basic rules of following the rules, walking and picking up utensils and meal trays.

They underwent various medical examinations in the morning. During the afternoon, the troops marched to the classrooms where they had 300 to 500 responses to questionnaires to fill out. Albert said the questionnaires were aimed at seeing how smart they were. He remembers getting over 70% of the test, but he wanted a frontline soldier position on the battlefield.

He said he wasn’t trying to glorify an effort, but he felt his experience with handling a rifle was best suited for it. Joseph’s father had taught him from the age of nine how to shoot the correct way to hit the target. He was adept with a rifle in having to hunt for food in order to survive.

The new recruits saw films about events in Europe and the atrocities happening along the front lines.

“[The movies] made me feel like I had to do my best… and do my best not to get shot, ”he said, categorically adding that the idea of ​​taking a bullet scared him, but the thought of his missing friends moved him forward. The content of the four-hour films made them angry, he said.

One day, after more walking, Joseph’s name was called. He was told to report to the medical center. Once there, military personnel gave him a discharge slip explaining that he was unfit for active duty due to hearing loss. Joseph’s hearing was two percent below the required level. Thus, he was not allowed to serve or defend his country or search for his missing friends.

Disappointment ran deep in his heavy heart on the return trip to Port Essington, but he said his family had welcomed him home with open arms.

Joseph resumed a “normal” life in Spakshuut. Although he was unable to serve on the front lines in Europe, he focused his efforts and rifle skills on the front lines of Port Essington to find food to share.

“These years were marked by harsh winters. They would have been starving or frozen, ”he said, referring to the elderly and families left without the strength of young people to support them.

In 1944, as the fighting in Europe reached a crescendo and the front lines drew closer to England, military recruiters enlisted young men from Canadian communities to fight against the rapidly advancing German forces. Joseph said the day came when they knocked on the family’s door in Shakshuut.

The young man was always eager to go and fulfill his duty to his country. However, after being informed of his previous rejection and hearing about his commitment to providing elders and residents of his village with harvested meat and fish processed by his own hands, and the warmth provided by jack pine logs that he cut and carried to the mountainside, Joseph was told that he was fulfilling his duty to his country and to continue home.

Joseph said that after the war ended, his friends returned home. Some suffered a shell shock. One had lost an arm. One of them was released from a German POW camp. Some of his Japanese friends have also returned. But, everyone was different and had their own scars.

He recognizes that there are fewer veterans to tell each year, and the idea that another war is going on today scares him. Young people today need to hear about the sacrifices made for them or the understanding will be lost, he said, adding that he believes veterans should be highly respected. He respects them, he said, and over the past few years he has been proud to lay a wreath, wear a poppy and fly the flag in memory of those who served, those who did not. have not returned home and in memory of those who have served in different ways.


KJ Millar | Journalist
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Remembrance Day


Volunteering to serve, in an attempt to find his friends who disappeared from the front lines in 1939, Joseph Albert Brooks wears a poppy above his heart and has Canadian flags hanging in his kitchen and living room on November 3, 2021. (Photo: KJ Millar / The North View)



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