You don’t know Jack!

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With kind permission by the author Will Chabun

You don’t know Jack!

What we learned about wartime RCAF veteran Jack Boan

Listening to the Living Skies Chorus on Dec. 15 were RCAF veteran Jack Boan (centre) and fans. Sitting next to Jack is Reginan Margaret McGill, who was a wartime RCAF wireless operator; her late husband trained at 2 Bombing & Gunnery School, Mossbank. (Photo: Jack Elkington)

The centre of attention at the CAMS-RCAF Association Christmas dinner Dec. 15 was Jack Boan — who the next day turned 100.

He was born on the family farm near Briercrest in 1917. He was working on highway construction when the war broke out in the summer of 1939. By the next summer, he’d been accepted in the RCMP when he heard of a program teaching wireless signalling. The RCAF was keen, naturally, to take its graduates. He spent only two weeks at manning depot in Brandon, and then was posted to 2 Wireless School in Calgary to as a wireless instructor.
An overseas posting was interrupted by a hernia and he returned to 2 WS. “With Training Command, it was almost impossible to get out, especially if you were doing a good job. The authorities must have liked my work because 1 got two rapid promotions — then I hit a dead end as a sergeant. I didn’t get any further,” wrote Jack in his memoir Spaces To Fill And a Century To Do It, released in November.

2 WS used the Norseman, the Tiger Moth (with one set of controls replaced by a wireless set for the student), the Fleet Fort (which turned out to have oil lines with a frustrating tendency to break in flight) and the Harvard. As the European war was winding down in the spring of 1945, Jack was posted to Western Air Command and a radio post at Coal Harbor, BC, from which Canso flying boats operated. Later, he spent a short period at Bella Bella, helping to close this station.

He was discharged in November 1945 and began university classes at Carson College, which he remembers as being on an abandoned air force facility several miles north of Saskatoon — presumably Osier, one of the relief landing fields for the wartime 4 SFTS at Saskatoon.

Jack ends his book with a section called “My Nine Lives”, which covers his brushes with death. Two are from his air force days. The first was early in the Second World War, when he was a wireless instructor at Calgary. Normally, aero-engine mechanics would he called to start the school’s Tiger Moths, but for 30-minute flights this was deemed too time-consuming. So the commanding officer authorized wireless instructors like Jack to train to do this themselves.

Jack got “a little careless” one day and forgot to shout “Switches off, throttle wide open!” He then swung the propeller — at which time the engine immediately started and he found himself mere inches from a whirling propeller, the plane held back only by the chocks at its wheels. “I inched my way backward until I got two or three feet away, then walked to the side, shaking like a leaf”

In the summer of 1942, he was sent to RCAF Station Patricia Bay near Victoria, to get a feeling for what wireless school graduates would face when they went through operational training. Thus did he find himself in a Beech 18 with a staff pilot, a student navigator and a student wireless operator, all heading out over the Pacific one evening.

The weather began closing in, so they were told to return to Pat Bay. The pilot asked the student for a navigational fix. The student replied he had stopped navigating when they’d turned around. The pilot then asked the trainee wireless operator to use his direction-finding equipment get a fix on Pat Bay. The student replied the equipment was unserviceable. “I began thinking about how cold the Pacific is, how one could survive for only 20 minutes,” Jack wrote. “If we had to ditch, we may have 25 or 30 minutes to live. But how would anyone find us? Flying aimlessly in the direction of base, we stood a good chance of colliding with a mountain.”

The pilot asked Jack, who had experience at the controls, to take over while he went to the tiny bathroom at the rear of the aircraft. When the pilot came back, he lowered the undercarriage and flaps in order to slow the aircraft. “This reduced the static so he could hear the navigational beam which commercial pilots used.”

In time, he picked up the beam and followed it home “The only problem left was the mountains. We flew along for quite some time in silence before he began descending. When we got down to about 500 feet, there was Pat Bay right below us. Talk about relief.”

by Will Chabun

Epilogue by Will Chabun

Jack Boan was quite a guy, who I came to know over the last 25 years. After his wartime service, he used his veteran’s benefits to study economics at the U of S and the U of A and eventually went to work for the federal Defence Research Board in some hush-hush capacity. After a few years back in academia, he joined Justice Emmett Hall’s royal commission studying whether Canada should adopt a universal single-payer health-care system. Jack was a senior researcher.

After that, he joined the academic staff of what’s now the University of Regina. I never took a class from him, sadly, but was able to come to know him after I’d graduated.

Jack did some fine writing on public policy and did some particularly good articles on learning from past errors in addressing the challenges of housing, such as the case for and against rent control. Balancing the need for reasonable rents against the effect of rent controls in squelching new construction and even maintenance, he proposed that new rental buildings be subjected to rent controls, with those over a certain age — say 20 years — exempt. The idea was that new buildings would find their level in a competitive market while older buildings owners’ would be able to get enough for renovations and repairs. Because extremists of the right and left disliked this plan, he probably got it right!

After his wife passed away, Jack opened his home to students from around the world, giving them a place to live near the U of R in return for a tiny rent payment and work around the house. He also wrote a remarkable article after he was hit and injured by a car sliding on ice — the kindness of people, his reflections on enforced idleness, etc. A remarkable man!


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