Dave Snyder has spent more than a decade gathering the stories from veterans, not just to remember them, but to highlight how these men and women returned home to focus on contributing to their communities.
“In 2008, I did Penticton Remembers, Vol. 1, as my centennial project,” said Snyder, adding that having worn a uniform and being familiar with the Canadian Armed Forces and local veterans, he decided it should feature their stories.
Now he’s up to Vol. 3, continuing to record veteran’s stories, about 130 so far.
“The Second World War generation, in particular, made such a contribution to our country, not only in conflict but post-war,” said Snyder. “The community involvement of veterans is just spectacular.
“What an amazing group of persons.”
“They are the guys that went away and came back and wanted to make a contribution.”
|The tribute at Selby Park pays homage to the veterans who settled the West Bench neighbourhood in the 1950s./Western News file photo|
“Take Jimmie Beasom, he was the sole survivor of a plane crash,” said Snyder.
“He arrived back in Penticton, took up his old job, married a local girl.
“But that’s not how people know Jimmie, they know him as the world’s greatest Santa Claus.”
Eric Selby, who Selby Park is named for, was a local butcher, who joined the regiment and served as a cook with the Dragoons. When the West Bench was opened as a settlement for returning vets, Snyder said, he was a jack-of-all-trades, making certain water lines were installed, and other work to bring the community together.
“The kids in West Bench loved him because he gave them rides to school in his truck sometimes,” said Snyder, these are typical veterans contributing.
Many veterans don’t like to talk about their time in conflict, Snyder said explaining how one would tell the tale of a family member who always told people he was an air force clerk in the war.
“He wasn’t an air force clerk, he was a Lancaster bomber pilot. But he didn’t talk about it,” said Snyder. “George lost two total crews, he was the only one living after landing his second Lancaster, all shot up.
“Once I won the confidence of these guys, they opened up. I had at least a half dozen that said they never told anybody this before.”
Harrowing tale from Penticton veteran
Excerpts from David Snyder’s Penticton Remembers Volume II — veterans stories from the South Okanagan
Jim Beasom grew up in Penticton when it was a railway town.
In 1942 Beasom and Ian Thompson, hitched to Vancouver and volunteered for the Royal Canadian Air Force.
After several postings in Canada he was trained as a Air Gunner in Portage La Prairie. Beasom then was sent to Halifax and shipped out to Britain — arriving April 1944 at the Personnel Reception Centre at Bournemouth to be posted to 24-OTU at RAF Long Marton in Warwickshire.
By February 1945, Flying Officer Stock and his crew had flown 138 hours of combat with 21 missions. Their Halifax Bomber, PT-X was called the Axe-Terminator with ‘Ally Oop’ painted on the nose of their aircraft. Their 22nd mission flight left Tholthorpe at 1126 hrs, February 17, 1945. Visibility was bad, at times the Penticton rear-gunner could not see his own wing tip from his turret, so bad that no other aircraft was sighted all the way to Germany.
About 20 minutes flying time from the target, Beasom’s crew received a message to-ABORT MISSION and PT-X, aka Ally Oop, turned about and headed for home.
|Sgt. Jim Beasom, from Penticton, survived a plane crash during the war in 1945.|
A day later Sgt. Jim Beasom was discovered staggering on the sheep grazed Cheviot Hills by a shepherd, Willy Hunter. Finding the bruised Canadian suffering from shock and hypothermia, the sole survivor of Halifax Bomber crash. Gopod shepherd Hunter walked the RCAF Sargeant slowly down to his home in the hamlet of Puncherton, Northumberland, sat him in front of fire and wrapped him in blankets. Then Willy Hunter set off to inform the local constable.
“As the area had no roads or no phone, Willy walked to Rooklands and told the one Bert Hindmarch, what had happened. Bert immediately set off to Clennel to pass on the message to Bob Tait, who in turn walked to Alwinton to tell Geoff Foreman, the landlord of the Rose and Thistle Inn, who he knew had a phone and informed the police. contacted by the police Dr. Smaile, a forthright man, stated he would go immediately. Taking one of his nurses with him, they walked to Punchcherton from they nearest point they could reach by car.
The following day a RAF medical orderly was sent to look after the Canadian; and there, the orderly remained until Beasom was considered fit to move. Dr. Smaile came to visit the injured survivor every day and became quite annoyed with the RAF as they had made no arrangements for the removal of the bodies from the crash site. Beasom asked Dr. Smaile to go to the crash site with the RAF medical orderly and collect the personal effects from the dead airmen. The following weekend Sgt. Beasom was taken from Puncherton in a horse and cart and met by a RAF Ambulance at the nearest point on the road. Beasom remembers that time as a bad dream, floating in and out of consciousness.
After being tested at various medical facilities to ascertain whether he had more extensive injuries Beasom learned that his combat days were finished.
In July 1945 Beasom sailed home, landed in New York, took a troop train to La Chine Quebec, where he received $100, 30 days leave, and a train ticket to Vancouver where he was demobbed. Upon returning to Penticton he got his old job back with Shell Oil.
On Sept. 2, 1947, Beasom married Shirley Tough; their wedding reception was in Gyro Hall. In 1953, the couple moved to 1.74 acres on Newton Drive with a south view of Okanagan Lake. In the mid 1950’s Beasom took over the bulk plant, delivering gasoline not only to local residences, but purple gas to farmers as well as gasoline to the Shell Stations in Oliver, Osoyoos, Keremeos, and Summerland. His most northerly station was the clear-vision pump at Antler’s Motel at Antler Beach.
In the 1960s in Peach City when Woolworths was next to the Elite Restaurant, when Hudson Bay Company was on Main Street, one of his Gyro-brothers asked Shell Oil-Jim a question.
“Yes,” he answered, with a twinkling smile. “I’ll be Santa for the Annual Gyro Children’s Christmas Party!”
When the Chamber of Commerce witnessed Beasom’s Santa success, Reg Webb suggested that a Santa centre in the 300-block of Main Street would be a great downtown Penticton attraction and Beasom must be ‘that jolly old elf.’ In the late 60s and early 70s Santa Jim sat in a couple of stores, including in The Bay.
At Woodward’s or holding court Cherry Lane, some years Beasom would dismount from a helicopter or glided to a stop from a cherry red fire truck. He would visit schools, churches and hold court inside Cherry Lane. December after December he posed for upwards of 10,000 happy Christmas photos with children.
“It was a real charge to look on the faces, into their eyes. From time to time children brought me presents,” said Beasom, as he smiles and his blue eyes twinkle.
He was the perfect Santa. What a wonderful Christmas present Beasom gave Penticton year after year after year.
On the 50th anniversary of the crash, February 1995, Beasom and his wife visited the graves of his crew at Harrogate and made their way to Northumberland. To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of VE 50 Day the RAF Bomber Command decided that a memorial should be erected in the Cheviot Hills, in honour of the allied airmen whose lives were lost. The dedication took place May 19 in the presence of His Royal Highness, two of the more notable guests were the Duke of Gloucester GCVO and Beasom from Penticton, once a Halifax Bomber Rear Gunner. Beasom died in 2011.
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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