BY RYAN WELLICOME
Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) veteran Nick Melnechuk received a lifetime membership to the Royal Canadian Legion (RCL) in a recognition ceremony at the Legion Branch No. 79 last week, honouring the veteran’s longtime service to Canada and the Legion.
Melnechuk, 94, spent 24 years in the RCAF, spending his first four years in the service stationed in England during World War II.
He was more than happy to accept the award. “It’s an honour. It’s a real honour,” he said, following the ceremony.
The ceremony was provided with some contrast with new legion members being sworn in moments before Melnechuk received his recognition.
Born in 1922 in Sheho, Sask. Melnechuk began his military career at only 18 years old when he was called to service in 1941 where, at the time, he was working as a medical attendant in the Winnipeg General Hospital’s psychiatric ward.
“I got the call up to go and I said I’m not going in the army! And the recruitment office said, ‘No, we want you in the Air Force’,” he said.
Following his enlistment in the RCAF, Melnechuk was selected to be part of the service as a medical assistant and completed medical training in Trenton, Ont.
“It was hectic,” he said. “All the needles; you had to get all your shots.”
Following his time in Trenton, he spent a short time at RCAF Station Pearce where the RCAF was training pilots from other commonwealth countries like New Zealand and Australia.
From there he travelled to Greenock, Scotland upon the RMS Queen Mary where he then, by train, made the cross-country trip to Bournemouth on England’s southern shores.
It wasn’t long before he saw his first glimpse of action, narrowly escaping a bombing by Nazi warplanes.
“I walked across a clearing and the Germans were dropping bombs on us and this bomb went off. There were people running; I was behind them but I passed them all to the dugout,” he said.
“I tell that story so many times. I’ll never forget that as long as I live.”
As a medical assistant, Melnechuk served in the medical inspection unit where RCAF members were looked after before being sent to English hospitals. He would perform minor treatment, blood work, urine analysis and many other tasks.
Melnechuk was then transferred into the No. 6 Group RCAF that operated out of Yorkshire, England.
The No. 6 Group RCAF was part of RAF Bomber Command that ran strategic bombing missions into Nazi Germany from 1942-45.
“During the day I would be playing ball with (the pilots and other fighting personnel) and at night they would be shot up; You’d pick up the bodies after they landed back in England,” Melnechuk said in an interview with The Memory Project.
During this time, Melnechuk said he was plagued by visions of the bodies of those who had fallen in combat lying under his bed at night. Following this, he was transferred to London, where he spent the remainder of the war.
A lifelong hockey fan, Melnechuk has played and coached throughout his life, including stints during his time in the war.
He was one of many RCAF members to play overseas and won the RCAF Overseas Championship in 1944 with his then-teammate former Detroit Red Wings goaltender Johnny Mowers.
“The funny part is that he was a pro hockey player – we were playing Air Force hockey – and he’d throw up before every game,” Melnechuk said of his former teammate.
After the war ended, Melnechuk was discharged from the RCAF and he returned home to Canada in 1945.
He came to Lacombe to play for the Lacombe Buffaloes, a senior men’s hockey team that played in the region, winning a Central Alberta Championship.
In Lacombe, he met his wife Thelma and they were married in 1947. Melnechuk remained in Lacombe until 1951, when he returned to service in the RCAF.
During his second tenure in the RCAF, Melnechuk was stationed in Ottawa, Halifax and Senneterre, Que.
He said that the move to Senneterre was, “Best move we’ve ever, ever had.” Melnechuk was stationed