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Second World War veteran turns 102 in Kelowna on Remembrance Day

Paul Bray will celebrate his birthday at Orchard Gardens Seniors Community
Second World War veteran, and Orchard Gardens Community resident, Paul Bray will celebrate his 102 birthday on Remembrance Day Nov. 11, 2023. (Gary Barnes / Capital News)

When Paul Bray joined the Canadian Army in 1940 he knew he likely wouldn’t see combat, but he still felt the need to serve his country.

He was 18 when he signed up.

“Everybody else was,” Bray replied when asked why he joined. “We didn’t like what Hitler was doing.”

Bray will celebrate his 102 birthday on Remembrance Day at Orchard Gardens Seniors Community, where he recently moved.

He was born in 1921 on a homestead in Meadowbrook, Alberta, an unincorporated area about 130 kilometres north of Edmonton.

His brother and three sisters were born there as well.

The family moved to Burnaby in late 1939 where his father joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, and months later Bray signed up for the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

“I went to the school in Victoria and took up the trade of machinist.”

Bray was ineligible to serve in combat because he had lost his left thumb in an accident when he was 11 years old.

While in Victoria he remembered being called a ‘cripple’ by a major while holding his rifle on the parade square during inspection.

“I used that to my advantage,” he said.

Following his stint in Victoria Bray was sent to Kingston, Ont. where he took a correspondence course in electronics.

He was later shipped back to B.C. and stationed in Nanaimo.

It was there that perhaps the most memorable event during his time in the service occurred.

“I blanked out the whole U.S. Navy,” Bray laughed.

“They had a long-range radio transmitter. One wavelength was from Nanaimo to Winnipeg and I got it off course into the American network.”

Bray had received a call from Canadian command that the transmitter wasn’t working properly and he was asked to correct it.

He had been left alone at the post by the officer in charge.

“Nothing they could do to me, I wasn’t ranked high enough,” Bray said. “I only had a correspondence course and that was mostly electrical. I got away with that one.”

Nanaimo is where Bray would finish the war, discharged in 1945.

He wasted no time in returning home to Burnaby and his family.

“Then I got married and we bought a house, sold it and bought another one, sold it and bought another one.”

Bray and his wife built a life in Burnaby and he built a career with the skills he learned in the army, working for an electrical wholesale company for many years.

For the last 12 years before he retired, in 1985, Bray worked for CBC Television in their maintenance division.

The couple never had children.

“The only thing running around our house was a fence,” Bray joked.

His wife died in 1988.

On Saturday (Nov. 11) Orchard Gardens residents will gather and remember those who served, and those who gave their lives.

Bray will be recognized as well.

“To have somebody that’s 102 on Remembrance Day, it’s special,” said Farid Noussier, sales and marketing manager. “We feel fortunate and privileged to have Paul.”

Remembrance Day was first observed throughout the British Commonwealth in 1919, it was originally called Armistice Day.

From 1921 to 1930, Armistice Day was held on the Monday of the week in which Nov. 11 fell.

A year later the House of Commons voted to observe Armistice Day only on Nov. 11 and the name was changed to Remembrance Day.

The first Remembrance Day was observed on Nov. 11, 1931.

Bray was 10 years old.

“I honour the people that fought in the war,” he said quietly.

As for living to more than 100 years old, it seems that longevity runs in the Bray family genes.

His father lived to 92 and his older sister lived to 104.

She died in May.

His brother and other sisters are in their 80s and 90s.

Asked for the secret to a long life, Bray smiled and said “I don’t know.’

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Gary Barnes

About the Author: Gary Barnes

Journalist and broadcaster for three decades.
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