On paper, Dick Fletcher is 94 years old. But the light in his eyes says otherwise.
He’s lived many lives since his time in the military but is reminded each year of the toll that war takes on people.
Despite not feeling the sting of a bullet or discomfort of the trenches, the Kelowna veteran was not spared the slow torture of war. Each November, he thinks of his many brothers, cousins and friends who never came home.
According to Royal Canadian Legion Branch 26, Fletcher is one of the last remaining Second World War veterans in Kelowna.
For Fletcher, Nov. 11 is a quiet day. This year, with ceremonies cancelled due to COVID-19, he plans on simply laying a wreath at the Kelowna cenotaph, and spending the rest of the day in remembrance.
Fletcher was born in Alberta in 1926 with a sense of adventure. Barely old enough to drive, Fletcher took a leap of faith.
“I was 16 years old and I knew more than my father did, so I took off,” said Fletcher.
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It was May 1944, and Fletcher, barely 120 pounds, puffed out his chest in order to pass and be accepted into the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR). After enlisting, he took his training at CFB Cornwallis and was stationed as a Stoker in Eastern Canada.
After Japan surrendered in August 1945, Fletcher was sent, along with many other Canadians, out from Halifax to Ireland and Scotland aboard Canada’s first aircraft carrier, the HMS Warrior.
In the belly of the ship, Fletcher worked as a damage controlman, ensuring mechanics continued to work properly while cleaning up any debris which could interfere.
“It was a good go, and I didn’t have to worry about bombs and things like that because the war was over.”
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Despite only hearing gunshots in training, the war still taught Fletcher many things.
“What it taught me, was the fact that peace is the most important thing we have. And how do you get it? It’s not just a piece of paper (…) with a whole bunch of people sitting around it. It’s a number of people getting up and starting to think all on the same line,” he said, adding there must be a common goal, pursued with vigour.
There aren’t many things Fletcher hasn’t done. This could be because he’s never been one to stay put for very long.
Just two years after joining, Fletcher left the Navy.
He left the ranks and put on a different uniform, working around B.C. in the forestry and railway industries for the Pacific Great Eastern Railway. It wasn’t until many years later he regretted leaving the military and rejoined.
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Besides working as a logger, a faller, a “cat skinner” (CAT operator), and a cook, Fletcher has also worked as a peanut planter (plugged holes in the railway), a custodian, a business owner, and somehow also found time to raise a family. It wasn’t so much that Fletcher couldn’t keep a job, but rather used the opportunity of a new job as an excuse to travel.
In the latter half of Fletcher’s life, he left Edmonton bound for Chilliwack, and it was entirely by accident that he landed in Kelowna and never left. Here, he started a dry-cleaning business, and eventually returned to the military, training cadets from 1967 to the mid-70s.
Shortly afterwards he was ordained and became chaplain of the local Legion. In 2020, he retired from this, passing the reigns to Rev. David Ryttersgaard.
Despite his age, Fletcher has never been one to hide from the newest technology. In fact, he pursues it head-on.
Fletcher sits in the living room of his Kelowna home. On the table sits a smartphone. Behind him, another. In the distance, the ‘ding’ of a notification can be heard, but it’s hard to tell which of his four computers it came from.
As president of the Kelowna Naval Veterans Associations, he regularly designs, produces and prints a monthly publication which he sends to other local sailors. Nowadays, the majority of pages are filled with tributes and obituaries.
For years in this role, he has advocated for the rights of other veterans, volunteers or not. In this way, he has long since been a light for many throughout the years, both in hands-on skills and spiritual guidance.
Despite his love for modern technology, Fletcher admitted: modern warfare terrifies him.
“Every day, somebody comes up with a new way of how to kill you,” said Fletcher, adding that more focus should be put on how to preserve life, rather than take it away.
Far out at sea, Fletcher and his fellow crew knew there was danger in the water, but he said, it just wasn’t the same.
“We knew there were torpedo’s out there, we knew there were gunboats out there, we knew there were battleships. We knew that. But we knew where they were, and we knew how to protect ourselves. These kids (modern soldiers) have no protection whatsoever. My view today is, we could be wiped off [claps] just like that. With no warning.”
For years, the veteran has spoken to students at UBCO in Kelowna. There, many come from around the world to learn. He said even today, there are opportunities to nourish peace around the world, through education.
“They’re (students) all there for one purpose, to learn. And they have to learn how to coincide and live together. My advice to them, is when you go home, back to your home countries, take this back with you (…) this is how you should be treating the world.”
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