Celebration of a century for Taberite Burns Wood

·7 min read

Living to see 100 years is a momentous occasion and a local senior in Taber, Burns Wood, has achieved such a milestone. Having the free time, he was able to come in and speak with us about his life and turning 100 years old.

“It’s inevitable you know, you don’t slow down those things, they just come around,” said Wood. “I’m getting to feel my age it’s mostly in my body, I have a pretty good memory still which is fortunate.”

Burns discussed his time living in Taber and what it has meant to him over the years.

“I live on a farm outside of Taber, but Taber has always been our town you know. The municipality of Taber, or the M.D. of Taber, has about as many people in it as the town, so it’s quite an important small town because we all consider Taber our town,” said Wood. “Originally, the farms were small, they’re larger now — there are not quite as many people on farms, but Taber still depends on that double population for their businesses. I was born here in Taber and lived here most of my life other than being in the service and going to university and things like that. I was born in Taber in 1922, and my folks came here in 1921 to Taber, so I’ve seen almost the complete growth of this town. When I was a kid, the town depended on coal and then irrigation came in. That boosted the outlook for the town, irrigation kind of brought high producing crops, mainly sugar beets. I think Taber depended on that a great deal.”

A big deal for the town, Woods explained, was the establishment of the sugar factory.

“After the sugar beet factory was built here in the early 50s, the town had a slogan: ‘The town with the insured feature.’ The insurance was that the sugar company was paying a lot of taxes every day and then other agricultural items started to be important, you know potatoes and, of course, corn. I’m sure most of the onions in western Canada are grown right here. Taber has been a good town — it’s just far enough away from Lethbridge so that people shop here rather than going to Lethbridge and so Lethbridge wasn’t a competition. It helped for some things but most of the businesses that Lethbridge had were here as well, especially the farm implement business and things like that. I’ve enjoyed living here, raised my family, and went to school here. I came here when I was in Grade 2 — we lived on a sheep ranch north of Retlaw for several years. My dad has a lease of a Township that’s 36 sections north of Retlaw for a sheep ranch, and we live there mainly during the summer, but we would move back to Taber in the winter. My first schooling here was in 1929 in Grade 2, I still have a picture of the kids. There’s 34 kids in that picture there’s only two of us left now out of that 34 — Beth Smith in Carson and myself.”

Finally, Wood discussed his service within the Arms Forces during WWII. When Wood graduated high school, he packed up and joined the army, eventually electing to join the Air Force.

“My generation was just the right age for the Armed Forces and when you turned 21, you got a letter saying ‘if you’re not in the services by your 21st birthday, please report to the army recruiting station’,” said Wood. “Myself and several of my friends decided we would join the Air Force. We went as a group of six from town here — young men all just out of high school, and we joined the Air Force. Two of them were deferred and the other four of us became pilots in the Air Force, and with various postings. One of them went over as a bomber pilot, and two of them became instructors in Canada because Canada was training all of the airmen for the Empire (The British Empire) then, and they set up their station training places all over the country. Especially in Alberta, I think, because the winters were a little softer than they were in Winnipeg, Manitoba and we got a little bit more open winters. There was training stations in Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Fort Macleod, Granum, and even one at Pierce — that’s a little town that is no longer there, west of Fort Macleod. Young men from Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies, England, Scotland, and anywhere in the Empire came to Canada to train for aircraft training.”

Wood continued to speak about graduating and being assigned within the Canadian Army.

“When I graduated I was as- signed to the Royal Air Force Transport Command, and they were required to deliver the planes from North America to anywhere in the world that they were needed. That was a very prestigious kind of position. They gave me a real feel of the world because we were flying — I counted it up one time — I think, I went into 34 different countries delivering planes. We would deliver the plane, leave it there, and be brought back to North America in a group. (We had) heavy, heavy, losses because Lindbergh just flew the North Atlantic solo in 1927, I think, and here’s 20-year-old boys flying the North Atlantic. He was made a great hero in all the world and still is a remarkable accomplishment. He flew from somewhere in New York, or eastern states, and ended up in Paris. At the start of the war, they were dismantling planes and putting them on merchant ships. There were so many merchant ships sunk by U-boats in the first couple of years of the war that they decided they better fly the planes over and that’s what we were doing. We flew planes that were unarmed, the armament was put on when they got to (the) destination if it was needed — whatever was needed. We had very poor mete- orological knowledge, there was a man that we called ‘Dr. McFog’ — he was a man that predicted the weather in the North Atlantic in the winter (and it) was always bad. There were a lot of planes lost — actually about one in seven of us lost our lives during those years.”

Overall, the transport eventually delivered several thousand planes over the years and Wood is proud of the accomplishments made during those years.

“The Transport Command even- tually delivered over 10,000 planes to European, African, Indian fronts, and even into China. There were two staging areas — one out of Montreal, where I spent a cou- ple of years, and then down at the British West Indies in the Baha- mas, which was kind of fancy for us. There were no tourists then in the Bahamas and we were billeted in the Royal Victoria Hotel, and we flew out of there down through South America, and across the South Atlantic where the weather was much better. Less planes have been lost there, I really like that part —it was kind of scary to fly to the North Atlantic. We flew Montreal to Gander or Goosebay then on to Greenland, and then onto Iceland, and then to Scotland. We flew B-25s, B-24s which were the early liberator bomber from the U.S. B-26s which was called the marauder — we called the widow-maker because it was fast, dangerous, and destructive. They were two-engine bombers and the liberator had four engines. Toward the end of the war, when most of the planes were in Europe, Africa, and India, we started flying Dakotas and we transported stuff. Dakotas were the C-47. I say it was the best plane ever built — they’re still being flown in the north of Canada and we nick- named it the Gooney Berg because it was just an ugly big tin box, but it was slow and carried a lot of weight and it was safe to fly.”

Ian Croft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Taber Times

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