The Day My Uncle Got a Shot of Whiskey From the Commanding General of the Canadian Army

I’ve been going back and cleaning up some of my older posts, and I came across one from 2019 about my Uncle Jim, who was the oldest of the nine children that my grandma and grandpa had together, three boys and six girls. It was a story of legend in my family, and in 2015 I had the opportunity to hear it first-hand from some of the people who were best able to tell it, namely my Uncle Jim and one of his younger sisters. She was 10 years old at the time this story took place and still remembers the day that this all took place. My mom, the baby of the family, was only three and a half years old and as such has no memory of it. I had originally heard about this from my grandmother when I was about ten years old, and it would be years before I would finally get the whole story. I have also gathered information from newspaper archives and past issues of The Patrician magazine so that I could get the clearest account of this rather cool piece of my family’s history as possible.

Private James Bodner Svc No. SK13947 Feb. 1951-Nov. 1955

When World War Two broke out in 1939 my grandfather, Joe Bodner, joined the Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles (DCOR) at the age of 35 and was sent to England sometime in 1941. Because of his age, he wasn’t sent over to the continent and he would spend the entirety of his war in Britain. In 1940, a picture was taken of the regiment as they marched to the train station in New Westminster, a picture that would go down as one of the war’s iconic photographs. It was called “Wait for Me Daddy”, and featured a young boy running after his father, Jack Bernard, whose hand was reaching out to grab the hand of his son Warren, who was known better as “Whitey”. My grandpa was marching directly behind Bernard when this photograph was taken. I was about eleven or twelve years old when I found this out.

Grandpa had been home for about four years when Uncle Jim turned eighteen and decided that he wanted to have some adventures of his own. He joined the army and after finishing depot training he was posted to the 2nd Batallion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. He was made for it, a large farm boy standing over six feet tall and built like the proverbial brick shithouse, he towered over my grandparents who were frankly short people. Seeing them in a picture together it was obvious that either there were some recessive tall genes in our family, or Uncle Jim was the milkman’s kid.

My grandparents’ biggest fear at the time was that he would be sent to the fighting in Korea, so when they found out he wouldn’t be going they breathed a sigh of relief. I don’t think they could have imagined that their son would be in as much danger at home as he would be if he were facing Kim Il Sung and Mao Zedong on the Korean peninsula.

Warren Bernard reaches for his father’s hand in New Westminster, Canada, 1940. Photograph: Claude D Detloff/City of Vancouver Archives

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 make for a very easy entry point for a Soviet invasion of North America. Helping to counter this threat would be behind the formation of a special army task force, whose job would be to literally jump to Canada’s defence. The Mobile Strike Force (MSF) would be the forerunner to the Airborne Regiment and the other special operations units Canada has deployed over the years. Canada’s second unit of shock troops, behind the famous Devil’s Brigade, they were to be the premier elite soldiers in the Canadian Army.

Always up for an adventure, Uncle Jim volunteered and was accepted into the MSF.

Friday 20 February 1953.

On the afternoon of Friday, February 20th, 1953, my then 10-year-old aunt was looking out the kitchen window when she saw a man come to the gate of the farm my grandparents lived on. They lived in B.C.’s Fraser Valley near the town of Mission, British Columbia, which is about a 90-minute drive east of Vancouver. My grandpa approached the fence and began talking with the man. Soon, my aunt noticed that her father kept looking back toward the house as he was talking, something which raised some red flags with her. Something was wrong.

A short time later the man got back in his car and drove off, while my grandpa was walking back to the house with unusual haste to his step. He walked through the kitchen door, then told my grandmother to sit down.

Exercise Bulldog.

C-47A Skytrain with open hatch at the 2008 ‘Flying Legends’ air show in Duxford, UK. (Wikimedia Commons)

As part of Canada’s effort to defend the north, it formed a plan to use troops from the Mobile Strike Force, 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 Wells, N.W.T. in freezing sub-zero February temperatures. When these jumps were made, the men’s rifles were being carried in a valise for extra protection upon hitting the ground. It 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 of the C-47 “Skytrain” that Friday. As he was jumping out, the cord from the valise got hung up on the last seat nearest the door.

Ten of the longest seconds.

I have never jumped out of a moving plane before, let alone doing it with the equivalent of half my body weight strapped to me, so I can only imagine what the sensation of doing so must be. You would come to anticipate certain things, like the tug of the static line opening your parachute almost immediately upon jumping out. You fall a little bit, and then suddenly slow down as the canopy opens up above you, followed by a nice relatively gentle ride down until you meet the ground, hopefully at a reasonable speed.

Instead, his body would have been jerked forward in a manner that would have felt completely foreign to him at that moment. Instead of a tug, deceleration, and floating, he would have felt his body suddenly and unexpectedly being violently jerked forward, then slammed up against the fuselage of the plane. It probably would have taken him about ten seconds or so before he was able to grasp the situation at hand, and it would have been ten of the longest, most sheer and terrifying seconds of his life to that moment.

The static line that he was attached to hadn’t been pulled out enough to open the parachute, which was a very lucky thing for everyone. If it had, it would have likely been blown toward the tailplane, with the end result being the loss of the aircraft and all those aboard.

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 40s and the risk of exposure and hypothermia grew by the minute.

The men inside were also unsuccessful in trying to pull him back inside the C-47. As the plane continued to circle the drop zone, the need to find a solution grew by the minute. Landing the plane with a man hanging outside was not a viable option, and there was the possibility that he could still strike the tailplane after being freed, which would bring the aircraft down.

Finally, after 30 minutes, and as my uncle was on the verge of losing consciousness, a captain aboard the plane pulled out 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 from the Skytrain and both he and his parachute avoided hitting the horizontal stabilizer. He was able to land without injury and was promptly taken for medical treatment, suffering only from a mild case of hypothermia and some minor frostbite.

A visit from Lt.Gen. G.G. Simonds.

General Sir Bernard Montgomery shows Winston Churchill the battle situation on a map held by the Commander of the 2nd Canadian Division, General G G Symonds (sic), during the Prime Minister’s visit to Normandy, 22 July 1944. (Wikimedia Commons)

Not long after arriving at the hospital, my uncle noticed that everyone there seemed to be making a huge deal about him being there. He was relatively unharmed, suffering from exposure and some minor frostbite, though he was quite naturally shaken by the experience. He was beginning to wonder just what the hell was going on around him when the Regimental Sergeant Major walked into the room. He looked at my uncle and told him that GG Simonds was on his way to see him.

One of the two best Canadian Commanders ever (in my opinion).

I’m going to free my inner history nerd for a moment so please bear with me.

If someone were asked to name some well-known Generals of the recent era, you might expect to hear names like Eisenhower, Patton, DeGaulle, Sherman, or perhaps even Rommel or Hindenburg. Chances are more than likely that they wouldn’t be able to name a single Canadian General, yet there are two that are absolutely worth mentioning as being among the best in the world in their day.

The first is Arthur Currie, the brilliant Canadian Corps Commander from the War of 1914-18.

The second is Lt.Gen. Guy Granville (G.G.) Simonds, Chief of the Army Staff who had served with great distinction during the Second World War. He oversaw the buildup of the Canadian Army in the 1950s and was regarded as one of its 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. This exercise was of such importance to the army that he himself would be present to oversee things. “Ole Gee Gee” was how my Uncle would refer to him whenever he talked about him.

I digress.

Less than a minute after the RSM had entered my uncle’s hospital room, Simonds marched in. He asked my uncle how he was doing, and then proceeded to tell him that he (Simonds) was proud of him for keeping cool and calm. He didn’t panic and had managed to keep his head about him when it mattered, saving not only his own life but the lives of the men still aboard the Skytrain, and by God, Gee Gee was going going to be giving my Uncle a citation for it.

Simonds then proceeded to ask my uncle if there was anything that he could get for him, which was totally not the question he should have asked at that moment. “Well, sir, I could go for a stiff shot right about now.” was the reply my uncle gave. Almost at once, Simonds turned to look at the nurse closest to him and about two minutes of frenzied activity later, she returned with a shot glass filled to the brim with whiskey. As soon as the Commanding General had left the room, the RSM turned to my uncle and growled “You don’t go asking G.G. Simonds 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 get me.”

Meantime, back at the farm.

After telling his wife that their son had just been dangling outside of an airplane for a half hour my grandpa got in his truck and hauled ass for town heading straight to the Legion hall. It wasn’t a drink he was looking for however, it was some answers because you see, the man who my grandpa had been talking to by the gate wasn’t from the army. He was a reporter, though there is some confusion as to whether he was from The Province to the local Mission paper. That being said it didn’t really matter where he was from.

My grandparents didn’t receive “official” word about what had happened until about two hours after the reporter dropped by.

Ottawa Citizen, June 20, 1953

Getting back in the saddle.

Uncle Jim only spent a couple days in the hospital and as soon as he was cleared by the medical staff, he was put on the first available plane to jump out of. There wouldn’t be any ticker tape parade for him down Main Street in Mission, it was back to business right away, because the longer he would have waited to get on a plane again the more likely it would be that he would lose his nerve completely.


That June, Jim Bodner was awarded his commendation which read:

Private Bodner remained calm and collected throughout this trying ordeal. Had he panicked and pulled his reserve parachute it would in all probability have fouled the elevators on the tail plane, resulting in the loss of the aircraft and its crew.

His cheerfulness and calmness was an inspiration to all and his reactions under the circumstance showed the mark of a real man and a soldier of the highest standard.

No more mishaps.

The remainder of his jumps were without mishap, and he would have an otherwise uneventful career until he left the army in November of 1955.

He would later settle in Abbotsford, down the road and across the river from Mission.

He passed away on April 30, 2016, with his two daughters and his granddaughter at his side.

He never missed a Remembrance Day service no matter where he was. Proudly wearing a blazer and maroon beret with a PPCLI cap badge, he would always spend the day at the Legion with friends following the services.

The takeaways.

As I started working on this it occurred to me that it is now over seventy years since those events took place. This made me feel old.

On the plus side, I realized that anyone who knew Uncle Jim after this would have only two degrees of separation between themselves and Winston Churchill. It was pretty cool and made up for the old thing.

A message for the jumpers.

I would like to ask something of all the jumpers, current and past. When you next remember the Old Guard and reminisce of the exploits of those who came before you, please include Jim Bodner among them, and be sure to raise a glass in his honor.


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