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Military helps veteran celebrate 100th birthday

The Brandon Sun - 12/12/2020

Members of Canadian Forces Base Shilo, representing the 1st Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, dropped by the Brandon Regional Health Centre on Friday morning to wish Donald Thomson a happy 100th birthday.

Even though Thomson’s birthday officially falls on Dec. 19, the local military reps went out of their way to give the veteran a show anyway, driving their Jeeps and light-armoured vehicles right up to the Assiniboine Centre.

After arriving at the entrance to the building, two Shilo soldiers met with Thomson outside to congratulate him on achieving this milestone and for serving with the 4th Field Regiment Royal Canadian Artillery throughout the Second World War.

They capped off this brief ceremony by presenting Thomson with a series of gifts, including a Artillery-themed hat, jacket and letter of commendation from retired Brigadier-General J.J. Selbie.

Thomson’s nephew Neil told the Sun afterward that this drive-by really brightened up his uncle’s day, especially since he has been stuck in the hospital since Oct. 31 due to stomach problems.

“He’s a pretty private, quiet individual, but he was thrilled, especially (with them) being from Shilo and the gunner group,” he said. “That’s what he was in the war.”

Thomson later talked to the Sun directly over the phone, revealing that Friday’s parade brought back a flood of memories from his time in the military.

After enlisting in 1939 and training for years, Thomson officially entered the European theatre of war in July 1944, one month after the Allied forces had broken through the Axis powers on D-Day.

One of Thomson’s most vivid memories of the conflict took place early on during the Battle for Caen, where members of the Canadian Forces were tasked with crossing the Orne River in France under enemy fire.

“The enemy had dropped pamphlets, and the pamphlets said that ‘The only Canadian to cross the Orne would be a dead Canadian,’” he recalled. “For a 23-year-old, that was a pretty tough message.”

Thomson would stay in Europe for the remainder of the war, helping his regiment advance through France, Belgium, the Netherlands and eventually into Germany.

After the conflict came to an end in 1945, Thomson was discharged from the military a year later and married his wife Evelyn, although memories of the war continued to linger in his mind.

“I know, at the end of the war, that I had post-traumatic stress, but nobody knew what it was at the time,” he said. “I certainly gave my wife a bad time at the end of the war because she just didn’t understand the moods I was in.”

Luckily, Thomson said he was able to move past that trauma and lead a fulfilling life in Brandon, holding a variety of jobs at places like Kullberg’s Furniture and Fairview before it became a personal care home.

He spent a large chunk of his career working for city hall, and even helped set up their computer systems in 1968.

Thomson retired in 1986 and had been living at Riverheights Terrace before falling ill earlier this fall.

In terms of how he has managed to stay healthy this long, Thomson didn’t have a solid answer, chalking up a lot of his longevity to some kind of divine intervention.

“I came so close, about five times, to being killed,” he said. “So whoever is in charge said, ‘Let this guy live for a while.’”

While the COVID-19 pandemic has made the world a dangerous place for a man of his age, Thomson is trying to remain optimistic, holding out hope that he can spend some quality time with his family throughout the upcoming holiday season.

“We’ll just see what happens as time goes by,” he said. “I’ll talk to my girls at Christmas and just have a quiet time. I’m looking forward to it.”

A CFB Shilo representative later told the Sun that Friday’s military parade was the brainchild of Thomson’s friend Vic Falk.


» Twitter: @KyleDarbyson