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: Does it surprise you to realize that, even after two global conflicts, war continues to rage in different parts of the world?

A: No, it doesn't surprise me, because that's the way human beings are. World War One, when that was fought and ended, that was supposed to be the war to end all wars. And certainly World War Two, experiencing five years of the world at war - I thought after those there would be no more wars. But my opinion about that changed after I got older and got involved in the world more than being a military person.

Q: When did you come home?

A: I returned to Newfoundland after the war ended in 1945. I got out of the military when I came back. I went back to Robert's Arm because that's where my parents were living and I already knew Myrtle before I left. She was very young then, but she was my sweetheart and I never forgot about her. So when I came back, she was working in Corner Brook. I came back on Sept. 25, 1945 and I wanted to get married the next day, but she kept me waiting for a year, rightly so. She was still very young."

Q: You worked in the pulp and paper industry for a few years before deciding to go to school. Where did you study?

A: I went to Mount Allison University (in New Brunswick) in 1961 and I studied arts. I went from there to Pine Hill Divinity Hall School of Theology (in Halifax), which is now the Atlantic School of Theology, and I graduated from there and came back to Newfoundland and was ordained to the Christian ministry in St. John's. I then took a year's leave of absence from the conference, and went to Asbury Theological Seminary (located in Kentucky) and took another full year in theology and evangelism. I had ministries in Newfoundland and Ontario before I retired in 1987. That's when we came back home and we've been here ever since.

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

Q: Many veterans don't have a lot of pleasant memories of war, but you have one that's good.

A: I suppose the biggest thrill of my life when I was in the military was on my birthday, which is May 31, and I was in action then up in the mountains in Italy. I received a telegram from Myrtle wishing me a happy birthday. It was so wonderful, you can't imagine. I'm assuming it took her a full month's worth of her wages at that time to pay for that telegram to reach me in Italy. And I got it on my birthday. Isn't that beautiful?

Q: What made you decide to join the military in the first place?

A: When I am asked that question by young people today, I say it was for the simple reason that they might have the privileges that they have now - the freedom to do as they wish; the freedom to live. That's why. And, of course, in defence of my country. If we hadn't gone and fought and won a victory, we wouldn't be here today. We wouldn't have this freedom."

tsaunders@ganderbeacon.ca

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)