Nick Melnechuk was working as an orderly at the Winnipeg General Hospital in 1942 when he got the conscription call from the Canadian military.
Melnechuk, who had three brothers in the army, wanted to do something different with his service to his country.
“I went to the recruitment unit and said I want to go in the air force. They asked what I do and I said I work in the Winnipeg General Hospital as an orderly. They said, ‘Boy, we want you in the air force,’” he said.
From there, the 18-year-old Melnechuk was sent to Brandon, Manitoba where he received his uniform. He then had to say goodbye to his friends in Winnipeg because he was being shipped off to Trenton, Ontario for six-months of basic training. From there, Melnechuk travelled to New York where he would set sail to Britain in 1943.
The passage across the Atlantic was a treacherous one, as German U-boats patrolled the seas. Melnechuk, however was lucky enough to be on a boat the Nazis couldn’t figure out.
“We were too fast for them,” he said. “We never needed an escort because our boat was too fast would would zig and zag. The U-Boats couldn’t catch us.”
Melnechuk didn’t have to witness the German’s war machine on his voyage but he did witness one of the realities of war when a French-Canadian regiment threw their guns into the sea as an act of rebellion.
“They put them down in the brig and locked them up. The police were waiting for them when we got off the boat. I never did hear what happened to them,” he said.
Upon his arrival in Scotland, Melnechuk travelled to southern England where he stayed in a hotel overnight. It was here where he would first encounter what is historically know as ‘The Blitz’, which was the consistent shelling of England by the Nazi Luftwaffe bombers.
“All of the sudden you could here the German planes flying over and the guns were going off. A bombed dropped right near me and I’ll tell you, you never saw anyone run so fast in your life. I should have been in the Olympics,” he said.
Following this hallowing encounter, Melnechuk was transported to Yorkshire, England, where he began working as a male nurse for the air force. Melnechuk during this time was often sought out by injured pilots because of his skill and poise.
“They always picked me, because it didn’t bother me,” Melnechuk said.
His efforts would lead to him being promoted to corporal and being shipped to headquarters in London. Throughout his two years in London, Melnechuk helped fix up the crews that helped win the war.
“They would say, ‘Please help. My arm is dangling’. I would say I am going to fasten it up. Don’t worry about it. I would give them a shot. It was something you had to do,” he said.
Following the end of the war, Melnechuk would hop back onto a boat and journey back to the U.S.
“I took a boat out of New York and landed back in New York so I saw the Statue of Liberty both ways,” he said. “The American women were so wonderful. They would meet the boat and treated us fantastic.”
Following his return to Canada, Melnechuk would meet his wife of 69 years and settle in Lacombe where he has been an avid Legion member ever since.
He believes that it is important for Canadians to always remember the people who sacrificed their lives for our freedom, many of whom were his friends.
“We live in freedom now in a country that we love. We can walk down the streets,” he said. “We had a lot of heroes who died and they were doing exactly what they were supposed to. I lost a lot of my buddies over there and I am lucky to be alive today at 95.”