Abbotsford veteran: ‘No glory in war’

Donald Stevenson is humble about his role in the Second World War.

  • Nov. 11, 2011 4:00 p.m.
Donald Stevenson of Abbotsford is the master of ceremonies at this year’s Remembrance Day ceremonies

Donald Stevenson of Abbotsford is the master of ceremonies at this year’s Remembrance Day ceremonies

Donald Stevenson is humble about his role in the Second World War.

He shakes his head as he recalls the stories of other veterans, and sighs deeply.

A pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), Stevenson mentions how men had to escape burning aircraft, parachuting to supposed safety, only to be captured in enemy lands.

He modestly states he didn’t do that. Stevenson, like thousands of other trained pilots, never went overseas.

After receiving his certification in 1943, the Kingston, Ontario native was sent with two other men to a training station in Dauphin, Manitoba.

There, he flew planes while students learned how to drop bombs, navigate, or become “wireless air gunners” in the back of his aircraft.

Every six months Stevenson hoped that he would be sent to Europe.

“It was sort of incumbent on us, that this was our duty, that we have to go help Britain defeat the Germans as they did in the First World War,” Stevenson said.

“But we didn’t realize what getting overseas would lead to.”

Nine thousand Royal Canadian Air Force personnel were killed during World War II.

Nine hundred died during training in Canada.

Some of those tragedies are still vivid for Stevenson.

Sitting on the tarmac waiting to fly back to Dauphin from the MacDonald base, Stevenson and another man saw a plane crash. The aircraft streamed a heavy cloud of black smoke, taking a nosedive into the flatlands.

Nearly 15 months later, he saw the surname Stevenson on the daily routine orders posted in the morning. It had the initials A.T.

He made an effort to meet the pilot who coincidentally had his name.

Alan Stevenson had just returned from hospital. Thirty-two skin grafts covered his face.

On fire, his Fairey Battle bomber had gone down, and the burning fuel engulfed his body.

Alan had been in the crash his namesake had witnessed just months ago.

“Things happened on training stations. That could have been me,” he said.

The incident conjures up other memories for Stevenson.

During one landing, Stevenson could not get his wheels down. They jammed partway, enough for a safe landing. Looking under the plane later, Stevenson saw that bombs hanging under the aircraft had caused the jam. He would have cleared them over a lake, but he didn’t know they were there.

“If those wheels had collapsed, I wouldn’t be here today,” he says.

Another time, a landing in a muddy field flipped his aircraft, the tail coming over the nose of the plane.

“But I wasn’t hurt. The Lord was looking out for me.”

After two years in Dauphin, the war was over and Stevenson was sent home.

A painful expression comes over his face when he thinks about the men who didn’t come back.

Visiting his old high school in Kingston, Ontario, 20 years ago, Stevenson read the names of 60 men on bronze plaques hanging in the hallway.

They died in the army, navy and air force.

“I knew them all. It sort of gets to you. There is no glory in war.”

This Remembrance Day will be Stevenson’s fourth year as master of ceremonies for the cenotaph service in Abbotsford.

He will read the names of fallen military men. He will think of those who died for their country overseas.

And he will think of those who died for their country at home.

“I think of that sacrifice, that terrible loss and what contributions they could have made to this country.”