John Charles Hay was born in Dauphin, Manitoba in the year 1909. He moved to Clearwater as a child and eventually made Pilot Mound his home where he settled down and raised his family. He married Etheleen Barron a mere month and three days before being shipped off to Jamaica for seventeen months.
He had enlisted into the Army at the ripe old age of 30, somewhat unusual for those times as most enlistees were in their teens or early twenties. However it probably gave him the status of being one of the “grand old men” of the regiment I suspect. They returned to Winnipeg for a brief stint, to gather reinforcements and then were promptly shipped off to Hong Kong.
Shortly after arriving there he and the other men were captured and imprisoned for forty-four months!!
When Jack returned from the war he and Etheleen had two sons Bill and Ted. Tragically Ted was killed in a car accident in 1984 at the young age of 35. Bill married and raised a family of four children of his own and lives in Pilot Mound.
In spite of the hardships Jack endured surviving Hong Kong, arriving back home weighing only 87 pounds, tired and weak, he lived a comfortable and full life with few physical ailments except for a bum knee resulting from some pieces of shrapnel left in his leg. He had some health issues near the end of his life, however it was the emotional scars of that awful time that haunted him his whole life and would only surface after sharing a few drinks reminiscing with the guys or after being prodded a bit by his family. He was loathe to talk about his experiences in prison camp, but when he did share stories they were laced with powerful sentiment describing how they took care of each other, holding one another up when they got down and discouraged, foraging for any scrap of nourishment, no matter if it crawled or slithered, any way they could survive, proving to their captors they would not be broken.
Jack himself nursed a number of his comrades through dysentery and depression, sharing his rations. In spite of his own suffering it seemed he knew the right words to lift up his brothers...against all odds.
One story in particular stands out about the day the war was finally declared over and they were released from camp. No official announcement, no fanfare, no apologies. The Japanese soldiers simply laid down their guns and walked away leaving the men to their own devices. (The cowardly old guard leaving the younger ones to face the prisoners for fear of retaliation.) They walked for a distance and then boarded a train that took them through Nagasaki, one of the two cities targeted for the A-Bomb! After everything they had endured what a horrific sight that must have been for these war torn soldiers. They were put on an American carrier where Jack says they were treated royally, making a stopover in the Philippines to provide medical attention and finally finding their way home to the loving arms of their families and a country forever grateful for their service.
Jack lived the last years of his life enjoying a comfortable retirement with Etheleen on beautiful Vancouver Island. He died in May of 1999 at the amazing age of 90, leaving behind a legacy that demonstrated a very unique philosophy of life which included determination and courage caring for his brothers at arms, taking one day at a time and enjoying the simple things in life with his family.
God bless our Grenadiers !
Pamela Cavers, Susan Peterson