Civvy Street

The Canadians left for home on 17th March 1919. Back in their homeland there were parades and receptions for the homecoming heroes and John along with other VC holders was always in great demand. He was demobilised and struck off the Expeditionary Force Register on the 9th April 1919 in Vancouver and arrived back in Prince Rupert on 16th April 1919.

He now had to find work so with James Newall, an ex Sergeant who John had befriended on the way home, set off back up the Skeena River to collect his tools.  The door was off its hinges but the tools were still there. He had various jobs but was finding it hard to adapt to civilian life again. James was a fisherman and so he and John decided to buy their own boat. John would finance the project and James would supply the expertise. A boat was found, refitted and re equipped. On their first trip one of John’s crew was hauled overboard by a massive Halibut and sustained serious injuries. To save the man’s life John let all the expensive gear go by cutting the lines and raced back to port. The man had no savings and the hospital bills were piling up. John decided to re mortgage his boat, re equip it and gave the left over money to the family to pay the bills.

Sometime in 1923 John was walking along one of the timber docks when he heard an explosion from one of the docked ships. The boat was well alight when he reached it so he jumped on deck and with an axe cut the lines and pushed it away from the dock. He then leant over the side and hacked a hole in the side to sink the vessel. His prompt action saved the wooden dock from going up in flames, which would have been disastrous for the local fishing industry. He was very seriously burned and ended up in the local hospital where Nurse Ethel Flower who was later to become his wife treated him.

They were married in Vancouver in 1924 but Ethel did not want to return to Prince Rupert. She wanted to settle down in Powell River. The town had a large paper mill and always wanted carpenters. John would also be able to make a fresh anonymous start, as he hated the publicity of his awards. In July 1925, Ethel, with her new son, James moved into the house John had built. At that time there was a vicious racket called ’The Hiring Squeeze’. The hiring bosses would ask for a percentage of pay in exchange for job security. John refused and was subsequently sacked. If it was known he was a war hero it would never have happened but it was John’s decision to stay quiet. He then started working away from home building the trestle bridges for the railroads and the buildings on hydro electric schemes.

In 1929, the Prince of Wales decided to hold a dinner for all VC holders in London to mark the 11th anniversary of the end of the war. People all over Canada had been looking for John to attend. An old friend found him and told him of the dinner. He was persuaded to attend for the honour of the regiment even though he knew he would lose his anonymity. He was rushed right across Canada and put on a ship in New York, which took him back to the UK for the dinner.

While he had been working away, Ethel had taken up giving piano lessons and had been teaching the children of one of the mill directors. She and his wife had become friends and Ethel had told her how unhappy she was that John was always working away. On his return home he was asked by the director why this was and when John explained the circumstances he was re-instated and others were sacked. The depression was just starting and people were being laid off. Sometimes John was able to intercede when he knew it would be a disaster for the family and those whose jobs were saved never knew who their benefactor was. By March 1937 the economy was picking up. James was growing and their second son Donald got a new bedroom when John had to extend the house. In 1938 a small group of pipers asked John if he would be their manager and President. In return they would wear the MacGregor Tartan. He accepted.

On 10th September 1939 Canada declared war on Germany. For months nothing happened and John seemingly made little or no effort to rejoin the colours. As a Major in the North Coast British Columbia Regiment, he could hope to be called to active duty but that wasn’t happening. Senior Officers in reserve units were not wanted. Then in early June 1940, the phoney war ended with the Blitzkrieg of Belgium, Holland and France. For the allies the news was all bad and John told his family it was not going to be a short affair.

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