By Frank Bucholtz/Special to Aldergrove Star
The military has always been important to Lloyd Reynard. One could say it runs in his blood.
The 78-year-old Royal Canadian Navy veteran served in peacetime – but that didn’t mean that the soldiers, sailors and air crews of Canada’s forces weren’t alert to threats.
Reynard remembers that aboard ship in the mid-1960s, there were particular concerns about submarines. The Cold War was in full swing – he joined the navy not long after the U.S.-Soviet Union standoff over nuclear weapons in Cuba – and tensions were high.
The navy was a much larger and better-equipped force in those days. Canada’s navy had been the world’s fifth-largest by the end of the Second World War, and naval strength was still considerable.
He trained as a radar plotter, and served aboard two ships: The HMCS Terra Nova, a destroyer escort; and the HMCS Bonaventure, one of the most famous and best-loved ships in the navy. It was Canada’s only aircraft carrier at the time (it had been preceded by the HMCS Magnificent), and had a crew of 1,100.
“The Terra Nova was part of the 5th Squadron. It was one of five destroyer escorts in the squadron. In addition to my work as a radar plotter, I was the Jeep driver. We kept a Jeep on board and it was my job to drive it if needed when we were in port. I remember when we went to New York at the time of the World’s Fair and were berthed at the Brooklyn naval yard. I had to take the commander to a meeting and I got lost.
“A lot of our fellow sailors on the Terra Nova had been in the navy a long time. A couple of the chief petty officers had served in the Second World War. We really looked up to those guys. They taught us a lot,” he recounted, noting there were about 20 to 25 radar plotters aboard the ship at that time.
A native of Kenora, Ont., Reynard was strongly influenced by the military at an early age.
He had two uncles who served in the Second World War, and he remembers seeing them in full uniform when they returned home after the war. He was a young child at the time.
His older brother enlisted in the army and expected to be sent to Korea during the Korean War, but ended up on peacekeeping duties in Belgium.
His grandfather was drafted into the Swiss Guards as a young man, which virtually all Swiss men served in. His grandfather immigrated to Canada in 1893, arriving in Winnipeg, and was a longtime resident of Kenora.
His stepfather was a Second World War navy veteran, and Reynard peppered him with questions when growing up.
His father-in-law was also a veteran of the Second World War.
All of this interest and proximity led him to consider signing up when he graduated from high school. He first applied in 1962 and joined the navy in 1963.
“I was inspired by the (John F.) Kennedy speech during the missile crisis. I thought I could do some good. The world was a bit iffy then. There was the sighting of vessels in the St. Lawrence, lots of fake fishing vessels, and plenty of submarines. When you sign on that line (to join), you signed your life away.”
He did basic training at CFB Cornwallis in Nova Scotia and then took specific training as a radar plotter at Stadacona in Halifax.
After that was complete, he was assigned to the Terra Nova, based in Halifax.
Reynard’s work was important, as the navy was on regular patrol off the East Coast and often travelled to countries in Europe, the Caribbean, and South America. There were many NATO exercises with ships from other countries.
He also remembers his time in the navy as being an adventure, with plenty of travel, visits to other countries, and lots of fun with his fellow crew members.
After his service on the Terra Nova was complete, he was assigned to the Bonaventure.
Construction of the ship’s hull began before the end of the Second World War, and resumed when Canada agreed to buy it with angled flight deck and other improvements. The Royal Canadian Navy bought it in 1952 and it was commissioned as a Canadian ship in early 1957.
The airplanes that used the Bonaventure were tracker planes. The Sea King helicopters, which were then new, also used the ship. Their work was mainly monitoring buoys that were placed at sea to hopefully alert the navy to the presence of submarines.
“I loved that ship,” Reynard said. “Our job there as radar plotters was to look and listen for things that shouldn’t be there. It was such a great ship to be on. We were constantly at sea, as Canada’s only aircraft carrier. We were always in a flotilla with other ships.”
With such a large crew, there was always a lot of activity – both at sea and in port. Reynard remembers that there were about 80 tradesmen who were part of the crew, as there was so much to maintain.
One of his most memorable days on the Bonaventure was when the new Canadian maple leaf flag was raised for the first time, in 1965. In a formal shipboard ceremony, sailors dressed in their white uniforms watched as the naval white ensign, handed down from Great Britain, was lowered for the final time and the new flag was sent up the flagpole.
His three-year hitch was up in 1966 and he considered signing on again, but other things were taking place in his life. He had become engaged to Judith, whom he had met in high school in Kenora. By that time, she and her family had moved to New Westminster. The young couple wanted to get married, and the Bonaventure was about to embark on a voyage to South America.
Reynard did not want to go to the tropics again on the ship, which had an unpredictable heating and cooling system. So he reluctantly concluded his naval days were over.
As it turned out, that was one of the last voyages for the storied ship.
It came back to Canada and underwent a two-year refit in Quebec, and then not long after that, the federal government made the decision to scrap it. The decision was controversial all across Canada, as the ship was popular with sailors and the public.
It was one of a number of controversial decisions. Paul Hellyer, defence minister at the time, made the decision to unify the three branches of the military, which was also very unpopular.
Reynard remembers thinking that he did not want to be in the navy and potentially miss its unique traditions and camaraderie, if the forces were unified.
He made his decision to leave and did not look back.
He and Judith bought a house under construction in North Delta for $19,900, and later lived in Surrey. They have lived in Langley for 13 years now, but his time in the community goes back farther.
Reynard raced cars at Langley Speedway and exhibited collector vehicles at the early Langley Good Times Cruise-In events. Plus many members of his extended family have lived in Langley.
He first worked at Whalley Automotive and eventually ran Surrey Automotive, along with two partners. It was located near the Whalley legion branch, and that became a regular lunch stop, and a place where he could keep up with other veterans.
He is a strong believer in keeping memories of past military actions fresh, and was very impressed with the attendance at Remembrance Day events prior to COVID-19.
While most services were restricted to virtual events in the past two years, Reynard is hopeful that there will be good turnouts at local events this year, as in-person services resume.
“It was so good to see the large number of young people there.”
He is a member of the Aldergrove legion, and has been a legion member for 46 years. He was a member of the Langley branch until it closed, and before that, a member of branches in Kelowna and Whalley.
He is concerned about the future of the Royal Canadian Legion. As veterans are aging, and it is often a struggle to sign up younger people as members, Reynard said, noting younger veterans are not joining the legion in significant numbers, and many branches (such as Langley) are being forced to close.
He reminds people that, at this time of year, they don’t buy a poppy – they are offered to them for free, and all donations go to the Poppy Fund. Much of this money helps needy veterans, but funds also go to a wide variety of community organizations.
“We give people a poppy, and we are happy to take a donation.”
He reminds politicians and public, alike, that many veterans today have served in very difficult situations, such as Rwanda or Afghanistan. Many struggle with mental health issues, including a relative who is living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“People need to remember these veterans. They had very difficult assignments. What memories are they trying to bury?”
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