I had lunch with a couple of WW2 fighter pilots today at a BBQ marking the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. One was a redneck from the prairies. The other had come out of the backwoods of Quebec.
Both sought to serve their country and wanted to learn how to fly. And they both had struggled. The redneck because he'd only stayed in school to Grade Four and the lumberjack because he couldn't speak English.
But they both worked hard and also tried to get past the "Two Solitudes" that divided the country back then, where men in the mess hall still arranged themselves with English Canadians on one side and the French on the other.
This afternoon they still chuckled over how they finally met. As the Quebec pilot described the encounter…
"My friend Jacques and I were from the same little town. We'd never been around so many people. And because our English was not good, we didn't want to embarrass ourselves or say something the English would make fun of. But our Sergeant said we had to talk to them, so we practiced in the barracks every night and one day decided to try speaking to somebody at breakfast.
We flipped a coin and I lost, so I had to go first. I picked out this guy at the next table who looked kind of friendly. But I didn't know what to say. Jacques said, 'Ask him where he's from'. So I leaned over and said, 'Hey, where are you from?'
And he says, "Saskatoon, Saskatchewan" and I turn back to Jacques, who says, 'What did he say?'.
And I said, 'I don't know. I don't think he speaks English either.'…"