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Second World War veteran captures war on canvas

The Brandon Sun - 10/31/2018

HAMIOTA -- A Kenton Second World War veteran is capturing his memories of the war on a canvas.

Using a canvas, paint brush and acrylic water colour paint, Jack Houston, 95, is working to complete a painting that captures his experience of war as a fresh-faced farm boy.

"We are all made from boys to men overnight," Houston said, adding that most of the men he served with were around the ages of 20 or 21.

Houston who typically paints pictures of horses and landscapes was inspired to capture the raw memory of war after a blank canvas was given to him by a caretaker at Birch Lodge Personal Care Home.

Trying to explain what the war was like can be difficult, but 75 years later Houston remains steadfast in sharing his stories of the Second World War.

His newly-created canvas is in honour of Remembrance Day and features the first casualty of the war he encountered in Cannes, France, two days into his active war service in 1943.

Houston, an artist in his own right, has been painting for years and has also worked as a wood carver, but this is the first time he has set out to capture his wartime memories on canvas.

"They gave us rifles, and we went there just to guard that part of the river," Houston said.

He never wants to see the wars forgotten because he fears if these memories are lost to history, the lessons of war will disappear as well.

"The victory didn't come free, there were a lot of lives lost," Houston said, adding that remembering how freedom was won needs to be preserved.

Citing the lead-up to the Second World War, Houston explained that everyone was working to forget the horrors of the First World War, all the while ignoring the inevitable.

By continuing to have conversations about the war, Houston said we can learn from the mistakes of the past to hopefully prevent them from occurring again.

Houston was born in Winnipeg in 1923 and moved to Kenton in 1940.

Hearing radio broadcasts of the war in Europe, Houston was inspired to sign up for battle.

He soon enlisted in the army, joining the troops in 1942 at the age of 18.

"When I left home to sign up that was the last time I saw home for three and half years," Houston said.

He had four brothers and a sister sign up for the war effort as well. Like Houston, all of them made it home safely.

Spending his first three months at Fort Garry Barracks, followed by another three months of training in Winnipeg, Houston was soon deployed to Europe.

He and his fellow troops spent four days on the ship as they set off for Glasgow, Scotland, before heading south to Woking, England.

"We were all young men and it was quite an adventure to get on a big boat. We didn't really think too much on what was going to happen," Houston said.

It was his first time leaving Canada.

Within three months, the young soldier was drafted to the 12th Manitoba Dragoons in Brighton into a reconnaissance regiment.

"We were the ones right in the front ... we were searching out where the enemy was situated," Houston said.

Remaining jumpy to this day, Houston said, his training and experiences in Europe have never really left him, even as he has tried to forget.

The 12th Manitoba Dragoons were a rag-tag mix of soldiers that included a potter, post office employee, minister's son and a collection of farm boys.

They would end up leading troops into battle when they landed in France.

While in the war, Houston survived a mine blowing up his vehicle and multiple bombings.

"Every time you went out in the morning to the front line, you didn't know whether or not you were coming back," Houston said.

The group worked their way north, marching from France, through Belgium and Holland, to Germany.

The trek was difficult, with the soldiers exposed to the elements.

"We slept on the ground, with the stars for our ceiling and the earth for our bed," Houston said. "We never slept in a house for a long, long time."

Houston would have the stars as his roof for almost three years until he was stationed on the Moires River in Christmas 1944.

Houston's only "souvenir" from the war is clog he found in a burnt-out house in Holland that had been hit by a bomb.

Only two walls had been left standing.

"I picked it up, otherwise it would have gone down into the garbage and been burnt," Houston said.

The country had been devastated by the war, Houston said, and when the soldiers arrived, they found a starving nation happy to see the troops bringing liberation.

Finding out the war was over while in Germany, Houston was relieved to see it come to an end.

When he arrived back in Canada, he married his wife Gwent Marie Bucharest in 1947. The two had been set to be married before the war, but Houston wanted to wait because he did not know what future war would hold.

Aside from the clog, Houston's only other item preserved from the war is a picture of himself a young army member.

"We were just farm children back then ... we signed up to go wherever they wanted us to go."


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