Often when we think about the Second World War, we start to picture war machines, on land, in the air, on the water and under the water, as well as the mass loss of human life and utter destruction.
Like any story, however, there are multiple sides to what one sees, such as the countless clerks keeping track of numbers and paperwork, or the men and women working in factories day and night to keep planes, tanks, trucks and other equipment rolling out.
Then, you have another group, whose duties, albeit not behind a rifle, were just as important back on the home field, such as making sure all the facilities were clean, and functional, or that food was always available, and that everyone’s belongings were kept safe while they were out in the European war theatre.
Such a fella is Peter Pidwerbeski, 92, one of Sooke’s last remaining Second World War veterans.
After being drafted into the infantry on Jan. 11, 1943, he became an lance corporal, training in B.C. until being shipped over the England for further training.
Before heading out, he spent a good part of it here in Sooke, and in Sidney, where they were just starting to build the airport. There, he met a couple of his friends from the Prairies who were part of the air force stationed there.
But despite being so close to the unfolding theatre of war in Europe, Pidwebeski spent the entirety of that year in England, training and helping out at various intervals, such as working the night shift at one of the hostels where soldiers came over for a vacation or two-week leave.
“We had to help them, there were only two of us and we had to look after the boys signing in and coming out. I was the a whole year there at YMCA in England.”
Pidwebeski also spent a significant amount of time in Aldershot, which had one of the biggest army camps in all of England. There, the Canadian-British training process was what he called “tough.”
“We had an English sergeant-major, in the morning he’d get up, and come and holler his head off, get everybody up in a jiffy, he was very sharp. Not a lot of people liked him,” he said, chuckling.
Just 21 years old, Pidwerbeski just felt good to be involved in the war effort.
“I was excited going in the army, a young fella, finally going on a new adventure, because really, there wasn’t much work anyway anywhere in those years,” he said, adding that he initially put in an application in to join the air force, did an exam and an eye test.
A week later though, he didn’t get a call from the air force, but from the army.
“I didn’t bother to ask why they never called me back, but it wouldn’t do me any good anyway.”
Once he found himself in England, being ever so close to Europe, he wanted to join the ranks on the battlefield, but recalls that was short-lived, as a knee injury kept him from being called in.
Mind you, being behind the lines still had its hardships.
“I lost two of my best friends. I wish I was down there fighting with them,” he said.
After the war was finished, the army wanted soldiers for auxiliary services to go to Europe and England, help the Salvation Army, Knights of Columbus and YMCA.
On Oct. 1, 1946, he was discharged, heading home shortly after that.
“My highlight, and indeed everybody’s highlight, was VE Day. A bunch of us went out from pub to pub, drinking beer and just having a great time,” Pidwerbeski said, smiling.
Born in the small town of Redfield, Sask. Pidwerbeski returned home after the war, but not much was waiting for him in terms of an occupation. And even though the military asked him to come back, he refused.
“I was there to do my time, but then when I came home and there was nothing there either, then I was thinking about joining up again, but then I got a job, and forgot all about it,” he said.
And the job surely came a-knockin, after moving to North Battleford, Sask., he worked for Canadian National in the roundhouse, servicing steam locomotives.
After that, he once again went where the bread was, working as a brakeman in Rainy River, Ont. Later after that, he worked in the mines in Red Lake.
Finally, he picked up a job back in B.C. with B.C. hydro as a blaster and machine operator until he retired.
Still, the question remains on his war past: would he do it again if he was 21?
“Yes. I would go back, because I would have a much better education. Living on the farm, all we had was a school house, and the nearest high school was 30 miles out of town,” he said.
Even though Pidwebeski says he never really thought about going back, the military did provide him with a life skill set which he uses to this very day.
“You learn a lot of things. You learn how to look after yourself and become self-sufficient,” he said.