I come from a big family, and a lot of them were in the P.P.C.L.I.
My mom is the youngest of nine with five older sisters and three older brothers, of whom only my mother and two of her sisters remain. Three of her sisters married Patricia’s, my father was a Patricia, and my mom’s oldest brother was also in the PPCLI.
Along the way, as I continue to roll this blog out, I’ll introduce you to all of them, and I’m going to start with my grandfather, my father, and my uncle, Jim Bodner.
I first remember seeing this picture for the first time when I was about 11 or 12 years old. It was on the front of Barry Broadfoot’s book Six War Years. Having an interest in things military even back then, I flipped through the pages looking at the black and white photographs, occasionally reading a page or two.
It was about a year or so after I first saw the book that I learned of my family’s connection to it. I found out that my grandfather, Joe Bodner, was in this picture. I found out that it had been on the cover of LIFE Magazine, and was use for fund-raising purposes during the war.
Central to the shot is the little boy, Warren “Whitey” Bernard, who is running to catch up with his father, Private Jack Bernard. The shot was taken on the first of October, 1940 in New Westminster, British Columbia, as the British Columbia Regiment marched down 8th street to the train station. From there they would depart for Vancouver Island for training before eventually heading for Europe.
My grandfather is the man directly behind Jack Bernard, and like several of the other men in the column that day, he would become a part of Canadian history. My grandfather would spend the war in England and returned home to his family in Mission, B.C. in 1946. He passed away in 1962.
My dad, Corporal Bev Earle (Ret. ’71). For now, I will only say that ours was a complicated relationship, and maybe someday I’ll write about it, but that day is not today. He passed away in 2015.
My Uncle Jim
Less than six years after my grandfather returned to the farm in B.C., my Uncle Jim decided that he wanted to have an adventure himself. In early 1951, at the age of 17, he joined the army and after completing depot training and would serve with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.
He never spoke much about his time in the service, but there was one experience from his time in uniform that would make him the subject of a story that made newspapers across the globe.
The Mobile Strike Force
By the early 1950’s the Cold War between East and West was seeing its beginnings, and with the formation of NATO in 1949, military planners would begin to plot out their strategies to counter the Eastern threat accordingly.
In Canada, an area of concern at the time was Arctic security. The area is vast, largely uninhabited, and on the doorstep of the Soviet Union. It would would make for a very easy entry point for a Soviet invasion of North America. Helping to counter this threat would behind the formation of a special army task force, whose job would be to literally jump to Canada’s defense.
The Mobile Strike Force would be the forerunner to the Airborne Regiment along with the other special operations units Canada has deployed over the years. It was to be Canada’s second group of shock troops, behind the famous Devil’s Brigade, and they were to be an elite force.
Among the men chosen for this task was my Uncle Jim, and it was there that he would earn the right to wear maroon. It would also provide him with an experience that very few have ever had, and fewer still have survived.
A Reporter Comes Calling
On the afternoon of Friday, February 20th, 1953, a man came to the gate of the farm my grandparents lived on in Mission, B.C.. As the story was told to me by my aunt who was there at the time, my grandfather spoke with the man for a while, every now and then looking back at the house. When they were finished talking, my grandfather went back to the house and told my grandmother to sit down.
As part of Canada’s effort to defend the north, it formed a plan to use Mobile Strike Force troops, who would be dropped into positions in Canada’s high Arctic. To test this plan, Exercise Bulldog would see members of the MSF parachuting out over Norman Well, N.W.T. in freezing sub-zero temperatures.
When these jumps are made, the men’s rifle’s were being carried in a valise for extra protection upon hitting the ground. The valise was opened and closed using a cord to cinch it tight, which hung loosely on the outside of the valise.
My uncle was part of the second wave of jumpers, and was to be the fifth man out the door. As he was jumping out, the cord from the valise got hung up a bench inside the plane, and Uncle Jim was now left hanging outside of it. Thankfully his parachute had not deployed, which could have then wrapped around the tail plane and brought the aircraft crashing to the ground.
Fortunately he resisted the urge to pull the cord on his reserve chute, and instead tried to drag himself back inside without success. As he flew over the target area temperatures were in the minus 40’s and the risk of exposure and hypothermia grew by the minute.
The men inside were also unsuccessful in trying to pull him back inside as well. As the plane continued to circle the drop zone, the need to find a solution grew by the minute. Landing the plan with a man hanging outside was not a viable option, and there was the possibility that he could strike that tail plane after being freed, which would bring it down killing all on board.
Finally, after 30 minutes, and as my uncle was on the verge of losing consciousness, a captain aboard the plane took put his knife and cut the valise cord. They were able to let my uncle know that they were going to cut him loose, and he gave them the signal to go ahead and do it. My uncle fell free, and both he and his parachute avoided hitting the tail plane. He was able to land without injury, and was promptly taken for medical treatment.
A Whiskey and A Commendation From G.G. Simmonds
Upon arriving at the hospital, my uncle noticed that a great deal was being made about his being there. He was relatively unharmed, suffering from exposure and some minor frostbite, though he was quite naturally shaken by the experience.
As he was lying there in a room he had to himself, he noticed that people were starting to run around with a sense of urgency. He was wondering what was going on when the Regimental Sergeant Major walked in to the room. He told my uncle that G.G. Simmonds was on the way to see him.
Lt.Gen. Guy Granville (G.G.) Simmonds was the Chief of the Army Staff, and had served with great distinction during the Second World War. He oversaw the buildup of the Canadian Army in the 1950’s, and was regarded as one of it’s best commanders, garnering him a great deal of respect. American general Omar Bradley would call him ” best of the Canadian generals”, and this sentiment was also felt by British staff officers as well.
Less than a minute after the RSM had entered my uncle’s hospital room, in would walk G.G. Simmonds himself. He asked how my uncle was, and told him that he was proud of him for keeping his head about him, and that he would be personally giving him a commendation.
He then asked my uncle if there was anything that he could do for him. “Well, sir, I could go for a stiff shot right about now.” was the reply my uncle gave. Almost at one, Simmonds turned to the nurse closest to him and told her to “Get this man a good stiff shot.”
About two minutes later, a shot glass filled with whiskey was given to my Uncle Jim which he promptly gulped down. After Simmonds had left, the RSM turned to my uncle and said “You don’t go asking G.G. Simmonds for a shot of whiskey. What the hell were you thinking?” to which my uncle replied “Well, he asked me if there was anything he could do for me.”
A great deal was made about the fact that my grandparents would hear about this first from the media and not the military, and I’m sure some heads rolled and asses were chewed of this. At the end of the day though, they were just glad that their oldest son had survived, and were looking forward to having him home again.
An article in the Winnipeg Free Press dated June 20th, 1953, tells of the commendation that my uncle received from Lt.Gen. G.G. Simmonds himself. It states that Private James Bodner “showed the mark of a real man and a soldier of the highest standard.”
My Uncle Jim was always larger than life, and he was well known for his sense of humour. He talk much about his days in the army, but every remembrance day he would put on his maroon beret and Legion jacket and attend the services. He would always follow it up with a couple of drinks with his friends at the Legion.
He lived a good life, raised two daughters, my cousins Michelle and Sherry, and he was loved dearly by his only grandchild, my second cousin Krista. We lost him on April 30th, 2016, to old age and a bad heart. But his spirit lives on in those of us who had the pleasure of knowing and loving him.