If Central East York published a dictionary, it might not be surprising to find a picture of Jack Aldred next to the word ‘service.’
In addition to being a WWII veteran, the 86-year-old is also a 40-year veteran of the post office and a 22-year veteran of the Mortimer and Carlaw cross-guarding beat.
Neighbourhood children and parents alike know and love him.
Through rain, snow and sleet, he’s manned his neighbourhood post three times a day for the past two decades. Standing watchful on a bright, crisp November day, his attitude seems almost weather proof. He recalls once getting soaked carrying out his duties as a letter carrier.
“I got wet, but we just thought it was heavy rain,” he says.
Turns out it was Hurricane Hazel.
But Aldred has weathered still other storms over the years.
While a sailor in WWII, his ship was called out to help a convoy that was being attacked by the Germans off the Bay of Bisque in the Mediterranean. He had to operate the anti-aircraft guns.
“I could see up on deck, black specs in the sky, the German aircraft. Then the order was given to open fire so we fired the guns for two hours steady. And we could see the ships that were being attacked. A couple of them were in flames.”
That storm of black specs was the most exciting thing Aldred saw during a tour of active duty he disappointingly describes as ‘a Mediterranean cruise.’
“‘We went back to Plymouth and carried on and I thought, ‘that’s all we’ve done?’”
It wasn’t until years later he learned the true value of his handiwork at the guns.
“In 2005, I bought a book by Mark Milner and it states that (my ship) The Prince Robert was in this air-sea battle and we knocked down three aircraft and that finished the battle,” Aldred says. “So it took me 60 years to find out I’d actually contributed to the war.”
But if he doubted his contributions, no one in his neighbourhood ever did. Every Christmas they give him gifts, a gesture he reciprocates with bags of chocolate coins and crafts he makes himself. Last year he upped the ante by scoring ‘his kids’ tickets to places like the zoo, Science Centre and Medieval Times. This year, to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Royal Canadian Navy, he got 40 commemorative loonies and stuck those in with the chocolate coins. It’s a small reminder to his community that he’s not the only one he’s contributed.
“When I spoke at Westwood (Middle School) I tried to explain to the children the feeling in my days,” Aldred says. “At that time the feeling was very staunch. When England was at war we had to join up. My dad was in WWI and it was only natural.”
He also talks about the war as an educational experience for someone coming from a very homogeneous background.
“When I joined up I get in there with a bunch of guys from different religions, different nationalities. And you live with them, they’re the same as you are, you have the same life together.”
It was a shaping experience for Aldred, who now has Asian friends in the neighbourhood who know him as ‘Uncle Jack.’
It’s also an experience he honours on Remembrance Day by beating a drum, in navy uniform, in a marching band.
“When you’re marching to it, those pipes – they just carry you along.”
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