Bill Maconachie kneels on the Uplands Park cenotaph where his dad’s name

Wartime memories of father remain for Oak Bay man

Remembrance Day ceremony Monday at Oak Bay cenotaph

William (Bill) Maconachie has two distinct memories of his dad, Roy.

One is from late 1943, when Bill was a toddler. He and his younger brother Ross, and their mom Margaret, were all living in an Edmonton motel, as Roy, a new Royal Canadian Air Force recruit, was being trained in navigation.

“I remember dad was with us when I was maybe three or four, but that’s it,” Bill said about the first memory. “I remember how bloody cold it was and living in very small accommodation. I remember my mother saying it was so cold this particular winter, the gas line broke.”

The second memory, when he was four, was from sometime in December 1944 or January 1945. Roy was on leave back home in Oak Bay with his young family after serving his first tour of duty.

“He had put us in a bungalow on Gurney Street,” Bill said. “I remember mom and dad were planning on what they were going to do once the war ended.”

About a month after making those post-war plans, Roy was back in war-torn Europe, flying over the English Channel to Germany every night in a Mosquito bomber. On one of those trips in late February 1945, Roy’s plane was shot at and had one engine rendered useless. While he and the pilot miraculously made it back to England after five hours of flying, their bullet-riddled plane crash-landed, killing them both. Roy was 35. A few months after, Germany surrendered.

“They were nicknamed widow makers, flying coffins,” Bill said about the Mosquitoes, which were made of wood. “If it was ever hit, they were toast.”

*     *     *

An estimated 43,000 Canadians died serving in the Second World War. Bill is one of many who grew up, not really knowing their father. His opinion and feelings about his dad have been shaped by stories from people who knew him.

Roy was born in Calgary in 1910 and grew up in Oak Bay, graduating from the local high school. He studied at Victoria College, which would become the University of Victoria, and graduated in 1935 with a geology degree from UBC. He married Margaret Elizabeth Watson, a fellow Oak Bay resident he met through friends, at St. Mary’s Church in March 1936. In 1939 Bill was born, followed by Ross in 1941.

In those three years before Bill was born, the young newlyweds lived in northwest B.C., Port Arthur, Ont. – now Thunder Bay – and Nelson in the Kootenays. Roy was a geologist and he and his wife moved wherever he found work.

“My mother, to her dying day, still talked about (those days) and said it was the happiest time in her life,” Bill said. “They were young, they had no kids and they loved the outdoors.”

In 1939 the couple came back to Oak Bay and Roy worked for the B.C. government. The Second World War broke out that same year and Roy joined the reserves.

His father, Dr. Charles Maconachie, was a veterinarian and a veteran of both the Boer War and the First World War. Roy grew up listening to his dad’s war stories – one had him leading a group of 1,000 cavalrymen on horseback – and those told by Charles’ friends. Bill thinks those childhood stories influenced his dad’s interest in the military.

“When the war did start, numerous young people volunteered because they couldn’t get work anywhere else,” Bill said. “For others it was a patriotic duty.”

Roy was actually discouraged from enlisting. Being in his late 20’s, he was considered “too old,” not to mention the fact he was employed public servant with young children. But he persevered, networking with military friends and was eventually accepted into the air force.

*         *         *

After receiving the tragic news about her husband, Margaret had another headache to deal with. Roy’s life insurance had a war clause, voiding the policy. She received a small pension and the kids were entitled to four years of paid post-secondary tuition, but there was no other government aid.

Margaret needed to get a job.

“My mom had no marketable skills,” Bill said, explaining that his mother, like most women in that era, was a housewife. “During the Depression, her father was a longtime manager at the Hudson Bay store in downtown, in the early ’30s to mid-’40s. He said ‘you must not go to work because too many others need the work more than you do.'”

Roy and Margaret’s parents both lived in Oak Bay and they provided a lot of support. The close-knit community was also supportive, as many knew the young couple. Margaret became a store clerk and later a secretary with the school board and Victoria College. She retired in the 1960s, remarried in 1969 and died in 2004.

In 1965 Bill visited his father’s grave, located outside of London, England. He also visited the airdrome where his father was stationed and met people and distant relatives who knew his dad. He learned that Roy flew out toward Germany at 11:30 p.m. every night, returning at five or six in the morning. Because of the darkness, Roy apparently wondered at times if he was flying upside down, as he couldn’t see the horizon.

Bill visited his dad’s grave again three years ago, around the time Ross passed away.

Bill, a retired teacher, annually attends the Oak Bay’s Remembrance Day service at Uplands Park with his wife, and his grown children join them when they are in town. His reasons for going have expanded over the years.

“To me it brings back a lot of memories,” he said, adding he had many war vets as co-workers when he started in his career and he listened to their stories.

“Gradually (my) kids decided they wanted to come too. I think as they got older, they began to realize it was a significant part, not just of history in general, but pretty significant in the country’s history and in our family.”

Oak Bay’s Remembrance Day ceremony happens at the Oak Bay Memorial Cenotaph, in the 2800-block of Beach Drive on Monday, Nov. 11. The service starts at 10:55 a.m.

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