By his own admission he should have been killed many times during the four-and-a-half years that Jim Jenkins, 96, served King and country as a member of the Canadian forces.
Now, well into the winter of his life, he is on a tour with his wife, Joan, and daughter, Jane Kent, from their home in Toronto. He wanted to once again see the Oakwood farmhouse that he was born in – and where he was based before volunteering to stand up against German fascism.
“You see that red door?” he asks, nodding to the barn behind him. “We had four horses behind there – no tractors back then. Those horses did everything,” he said, noting the farm was 220 acres when he lived there for the first 16 years of his life.
The farm, a solid, red brick, two-storey house, just west of Oakwood’s four corners, was where Jenkins and seven other siblings would get their start in life. He was the second oldest of the bunch. Two of Jenkins’ siblings still survive.
“We grew everything here,” he reminisced, his eyes scanning the landscape. “We had 100 head of cattle, too,” noting the original barn seemed to still be intact.
But Jenkins would soon trade the bucolic fields of then-Victoria County for foreign lands and the uncertainty of war. Even though his father had been a First World War veteran who had been badly wounded, Jenkins felt the urge to respond to Canada’s call to action.
He was only 16 when he signed up, but his official record would say 18, one of the eager young men who saw an opportunity to make a difference.
Jenkins served with the 99th Battery of Canada’s 19th Field Regiment.
As part of the assault troops Canada unleased onto Juno Beach on the infamous D-Day, Jenkins got a taste early on of what signing up for war meant, as the Germans tore mercilessly into the allied landing parties. But Canada pushed harder — and got father — than any other allied nation that day.
While victory eventually came it was not without cost. More than 42,000 Canadians lost their lives and more than 54,000 would be wounded. About 9,000 Canadians were taken prisoner.
While Jenkins and his fellow soldiers got through France, Belgium, and then later the Netherlands, he would spend a quiet winter with the Polish infantry in the winter of 1944-45, before they were ordered to cross the Rhine River in April, 1945.
After crossing they drove for about 30 miles in the eerily quiet countryside, wondering where the enemy had gone. The next day – April 12 — Jenkins and a few other soldiers were ordered to do some reconnaissance further down the road. On a narrow, cobblestone portion of the road, Jenkins’ half-track – an army vehicle with regular wheels at the front and tracks at the back to propel the vehicle and carry most of the load — was the only sound to be heard.
The half-track hit hidden explosives the Germans had laid and blew the heavily-armoured vehicle into the air. Injured, but glad to be alive, Jenkins would spend two months in the 10th Canadian General Hospital in Belgium – just three weeks before the war would end.
Jenkins would eventually return home and soon got married to Joan, a union now in its 67th year.
As Jenkins takes in the farmhouse memories in Oakwood, the splash of medals on his chest catches the sun. There’s too many to name but they include the Legion of Honour, France’s highest award.
He’s looking forward to driving further north to the Fenelon Falls area where he’ll take in more memories on Cameron and Sturgeon Lakes, places where he used to spend time.
A parting question for Jenkins – why did he enlist all those years ago?
“I joined because we all had a job to do, in my mind. We were all out to win. I’m just glad we did.”