Coffee With...Wesley Oake

Terri Saunders
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There are certain things Wesley Oake doesn’t like to talk about. He’d prefer not to answer specific questions such as those which attempt to elicit from him the number of people he may have killed in his lifetime. He doesn’t want to talk much about the intimate details of war or the things he experienced in his younger years. But the Second World War veteran’s eyes light up slightly and he becomes animated when talking about the men with whom he fought battles in England and Italy. He recalls with appreciation and reverence the fact he made it back home to Canada when so many others did not. If you really want to get him going, ask him about the thing which matters to him the most. When he speaks about Myrtle, his wife of 65 years, you can see on his face and hear in his voice the young man in his 20s who, having returned from the war-torn battlefields of Europe, wanted to wait just one day before marrying his sweetheart. Mrs. Oake was a little less spontaneous and didn’t take her beloved as her husband for a year. The couple now live in Gander, have five children, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Q: How old were you when you decided to join the military?

A: It was in 1942 and I was 20. I was living out in Robert's Arm but working here in Gander. That's when they were staring to build Gander and the Americans were here building the airport. I worked there as an ordinary labourer. I left Gander by train and went to Grand Falls-Windsor and volunteered, and that's where I got my medical and everything. After I was accepted, I went into St. John's and did training. I was trained to march and to handle guns.

Q: Where did you land when you were first sent overseas?

A: I went with the 166 Royal Newfoundland Field Artillery Regiment to England and then after I arrived there, I took different training in artillery and that was vicious artillery. That was heavy artillery. I went on from there to action in Africa and Italy and that lasted two-and-a-half years.

Q: What were your first impressions upon arriving in England?

A: My first impression was, I wondered what had gone wrong with the world because at that time, when we arrived there, that's when the armies were bombing Great Britain and we had to stand guard during what they called The Blitz. That was an awful experience that I don't want to talk about, actually. But you know, how the British people stood up and put up with it and still kept in there - that amazes me because there were hundreds of thousands killed by the bombings. My other first impression, I suppose, was that we were all going to be destroyed but that we had to fight on. We had to fight.

“My first impression was, I wondered what had gone wrong with the world.” Wesley Oake, veteran

Q: Many veterans don't want to speak about the harsh realities of war. Why do you think that is?

A: It's just because they know what war is. War is to kill. That's what it is. When I was first going in and speaking to school classes as a veteran, first of all I would tell them, ‘You can ask me any question but you may ask questions that I will not answer.' For instance, the first question they'll usually ask a veteran when he goes in is, ‘How many did you kill?' You don't talk about that. That's not what it's about. But it's important for them to know war is killing and war is terrorism, really. It's got another name now - terrorism. That's what it is. We're at war now, really."

Organizations: Royal Newfoundland Field Artillery Regiment, Mount Allison University, Pine Hill Divinity Hall School of Theology Atlantic School of Theology Christian ministry Asbury Theological Seminary

Geographic location: Gander, Italy, St. John's England Africa Newfoundland Great Britain Corner Brook New Brunswick Kentucky Ontario

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  • Louise Cooke
    May 10, 2013 - 09:26

    Dear Rev. Oake: I was delighted to read this article about you in the Gander Beacon, and as already mentioned in several places, it is an honour to have you as the Patron of the Heritage Memorial Park. However, my biggest thrill was discovering that we are both alumni of Mt. Allison University. I studied music and am a member of the Class of 1970. I've just finished a 6 year term as Honourary President of the Alumni Board, and it was wonderful to return for meetings twice a year over the term. I wish you a wonderful day on your birthday, and look forward to meeting you in Gander next summer during a school reunion for Gander Collegiate. All the best for an exciting and safe parachute jump!! Good for you!! Kind regards, Louise Cooke (nee Oates)