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‘They used to tell us that if we weren’t down here, they wouldn’t be up there’

Aldergrove resident Jack Airone served as a mechanic for the Air Force during the Second World War
Aldergrove resident and Second World War Veteran Jack Airone. (Courtesy Airone family)

Ninety-seven-year-old Aldergrove resident Jack Airone didn’t see any action during his six years with the Royal Air Force, but he knew his presence was appreciated by those who did.

“They used to tell us that if we weren’t down here, they wouldn’t be up there,” he recalled.

Airone served as a mechanic during the Second World War, spending most of his time overhauling aircraft engines.

Born in Hastings, England – Airone was just 16 when he decided to enlist in the Home Guard. During this time, he witnessed bombing of the southeast corner of Britain.

“I was working in a factory before enlisting with the RAF, making gearboxes, and this just seemed more exciting,” he said.

Airone hoped to take to the skies and actually fly the air crafts himself but was deemed ineligible – the Veteran is colourblind.

At 18 years of age he enlisted, trained and was shipped off to East Asia aboard the SS Argentina with several thousand other men.

“We couldn’t get through the Mediterranean – it was too dangerous, so we had to go all the way around the Cape,” Airone explained. “We were bombed on the way to South Africa, but they missed and have turned around and just gone right back to Germany.”

He said the journey took months before they reached Bombay, India. He served much of his time in Cawnpore and Comilla as part of the British Fourteenth Army – a multi-national force of Commonwealth countries, often referred to as the “Forgotten Army.”

Airone recalled the 110 Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius) heat and the many journeys he had while not repairing air crafts.

“The best things weren’t to do with the war,” he assured. “We would go out on leave and trek the Himalayas – we could see Everest in the distance.”

While the war came to an end in September of 1945, the Veteran said his demobilization took more than a year; he returned to England in May of 1946 and was demobbed in January, 1947.

“They learned from the First World War that if they let them all out at once, there’d be no employment back home,” Airone explained.

It was at that time he met Minnie, his first and last girlfriend; they have been together for 72 years and are still married to this day.

Airone came to Canada in 1948, noting his reasoning to move west was because “I wanted adventure and didn’t want to settle,” he said, ending up in Whitby, Ont. where he supported himself with farm work.

The couple had five children as they moved to Manitoba. He was employed with a civilian company overhauling engines for the Canadian Air Force in Winnipeg for another 11 years. Eventually he moved to Cloverdale.

He would retire in his sixties due to arthritis.

The Veteran told the Aldergrove Star that he still remembers wartime all very clearly.

“A German bomber came so low I can still see the face of the rear gunner,” he said, adding that he also recalls the more “shocking” times. “I lost my best school friend in that time – he was 20-years-old and served with the aircrew.”

He called the Second World War “frightening,” but said his youth and yearning for adventure served him well.

“I can say that because I didn’t see any action,” he noted, something Airone and his family are all thankful for.

Nearing 100, he attributed his longevity to strict discipline.

“I got that from school. If the headmaster saw that your shoes were only a little bit brushed, you’d get hit,” he remembered. “They wouldn’t do that nowadays.”

He playfully added that staying away from alcohol and cigarettes served him well too.

Airone still marches in Remembrance Day ceremonies, though this year he looks forward to taking it off and watching the Ottawa ceremony on television.

He has not been back to Southeast Asia but said he has gone to visit England on numerous occasions.


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