Herbert ‘Buck’ Rogers was 13 and a half pounds the day he was born in Nova Scotia, 100 years ago today.
“I was the biggest baby in Cape Breton,” laughed the veteran who served more than six years during the Second World War. “So big my father said, ‘we’ll have to buy him a wheelbarrow for Christmas!’”
Friends and family gathered at the Fraternal Order of Eagles Hall in Vernon to celebrate Rogers’ 100th birthday Saturday, Oct. 17, with Norm Crerar, Kalamalka Highlanders piper and Okanagan Military Tattoo founder, helping to mark the occasion.
Rogers has always been a fan of music and dancing and he’s still nimble for a centenarian, jigging his way around the hall as Crerar played Happy Birthday on the bagpipes.
Born in Cape Breton, N.S., the Vernon resident joined the army at the suggestion of his friend Ronald Jones (known affectionately as ‘Porky’) while the two were sitting and drinking wine on a train bridge in New Brunswick. They were 18 years old and fresh out of high school.
“I didn’t like algebra very much,” Rogers joked of his time in high school. “We drank the wine and Porky says, ‘let’s join the army, because everything’s free!’”
Rogers went along with Jones to Fredericton, N.B. to register. He was assigned to the Royal Canadian Artillery and became a signaller.
“In no time at all, we were overseas,” Rogers said.
Rogers landed in Scotland travelling up the River Clyde before hopping on a train to London, where he trained for a year and a half.
After his training, Rogers was sent to North Africa where Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery led British and Commonwealth forces in a three-year campaign against the Axis forces. He went on to fight in Italy, France, Belgium and Germany.
He assisted in the liberation of Holland, and recalls taking 800 prisoners back home to Germany on a barge pulled by a tug boat.
“They were all good singers, they played the piano and the accordion,” he said.
Rogers spent 22 months in Italy and Netherlands, in constant conflict.
“I was in action every night and day,” he says.
In Milan, he witnessed the hanging body of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini after his execution in 1945.
He still speaks with reverence about his friend Jones, who didn’t make it home from the war. Jones was killed by a mortar shell in Russi, Italy.
“I miss Porky awful,” Rogers said. “When you’re 18 years old and your buddy is 18 years old, you’re real buddies.”
Rogers moved to B.C. in 1947 and lived in Victoria for more than 35 years. He’d gone back to school and started work as a bricklayer after the war. He started a family and raised a son.
Rogers still has his driver’s licence and makes good use of it, having driven himself to his birthday party. He still misses the east from time to time, and on several occasions he’s hit the open road to Nova Scotia. In 2015 he went on a cross-country trip in honour of Porky, the friend with whom his adventures began.
At the Eagles Hall, Rogers thanked all his friends who came to mark the occasion, while looking forward to the next.
“I’m going to start another year – just imagine that!”