Singer writes tune to honour grandfather, a WW II pilot who was stationed in Summerside

·3 min read

Roy Gates was a pilot stationed in Summerside, P.E.I., during the Second World War. This year, his grandson wrote a song about his service in the air force.

"My granddad, he was a World War Two pilot and he served for a couple of years overseas doing dive-bombing missions and laying smokescreen," songwriter James Gates, who is based out of Saskatchewan, told CBC's Island Morning.

Gates said his grandfather came back to Canada after the war and started farming in Saskatchewan and had four kids.

"He got his wings in Brandon, Man., and after he got his wings he was sent to coastal command, which meant he had to learn to navigate over water and that training was in Summerside."

Roy died in 2011. After his grandfather's death, James was given his pilot logbook.

Submitted by James Gates
Submitted by James Gates

"Just a couple years ago, I decided to get into it more and try to learn about it. And once I started to learn more about the details in the pilot logbook, it really drew me in," he said.

In the logbook, every flight is documented on a single row, whether it is a training exercise or a mission.

"There were times that he'd go out for a couple hours and the entry in it was underlined in red and numbered, so he has 62 of these in his years of service," James said.

Some of those entries talked about striking German boats and told the story in a few words, he said.

Roy didn't talk much about the time he served. The logbook helped fill in gaps of his grandfather's history, James said.

"It took 14 grandkids before he agreed to talk about it," James said.

Roy's youngest grandchild asked him to speak at a Remembrance Day ceremony.

"He did share that in 2003," he said. "But there were some gaps, some details you knew he really didn't want to talk about."

Submitted by James Gates
Submitted by James Gates

James said the song he wrote, Keep it in the Sky, was written from what he imagines Roy's point of view would have been.

"I was just trying to picture my grandfather in this situation," he said. "It is just written about heading out on one of these dive-bombing missions. And so that's reflected in the verses of the song and what it would have felt like for him."

James said his family has been happy with the final product and he's speaking with family members he hasn't had the chance to keep up with.

"It got picked up especially by first cousins sharing it on Facebook and commenting on it," he said.

"Talking to my parents too, they've shared it around a little bit. And that sharing is a little different, you know, it's not hitting share on Facebook in most cases. It's sometimes picking up the phone with a great aunt or uncle and telling them to get a grandkid to bring an iPad over."

Submitted by James Gates
Submitted by James Gates

Remembrance Day has always been special to James, but writing the song gave him a deeper understanding for what his grandfather and other soldiers went through.

"I think this year for Remembrance Day, it is just going to be a little bit different for me," he said, adding he hopes his song has an effect on people.

"I hope it inspires other folks that are still around that have a World War Two story to share. I hope that it starts a conversation."

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