History has resurfaced in Port Alberni from an unlikely place: a Second World War relic recovered from the trash.
RJ Wall was formerly a garbageman for the city of Port Alberni. During one of his rounds a few years ago, he found an object in a plastic bag. It was a flare parachute—a small fabric device with an illuminating flare connected to it that burns as it slowly drifts to the ground. These flares were used to illuminate areas at night or in low light.
A veteran himself, Wall recognized the scrap of fabric for what it was.
“I saw it and thought, ‘I’ve got to do something with this,’” he said.
He held onto the relic for a few years before he decided to take it to L7 Picture Framing to have it custom framed.
Carrie Furness, one of the owners of L7 Picture Framing, set up the object in a shadow box with a wartime background. She said the relic was so tangled that at first it resembled little more than a dirty kleenex.
“It was just a ball of nothing,” she said.
After ironing out the fabric and detangling the string, she noticed there was more to the object.
The parachute is inscribed with a date: May 8, 1945, also known as VE Day, or the celebration of Nazi Germany’s surrender at the end of the Second World War. The parachute also has signatures from 13 different soldiers from British Columbia and Alberta.
“This was literally the day the war ended,” said Furness. “Can you imagine the excitement of these fellas?”
One of the names belonged to Port Alberni’s Wing Hay Young. According to Jan Peterson’s Twin Cities: Alberni – Port Alberni, Wing Hay was the first Canadian-born Chinese man to volunteer in the Canadian Army.
Wing Hay, who drove a taxi for a living, joined the Canadian Scottish Vancouver Island Regiment and was shipped overseas in 1941.
He returned home a war hero in 1945, having distinguished himself by single-handedly capturing a dozen German prisoners when he rooted them out of a hideout where they were trying to sleep.
Wing Hay is also remembered for being an accomplished boxer. Before he travelled overseas, he won the divisional boxing title in Nova Scotia. He was also the lightweight boxing champion of the Third Division in the Canadian Army.
“He was as close as one could get to being a professional boxer without being classed as one,” Peterson noted in her book.
Wing Hay died on March 8, 1962 in an industrial accident at the pulp mill dock where he worked for the Vancouver Stevedoring Company Ltd.
Furness says it’s “incredible” that an object found in the trash holds so much history, but she would like to learn even more. Who are the other 12 soldiers on the parachute?
“It would be interesting to know what they were doing and why they did it,” said Furness. “Who would think to sign it? We don’t know the story. It’s a really neat little piece.”
Wall said his intent is to keep the framed parachute and hang it up, although he suggested he might temporarily display it at Royal Canadian Legion Br. 293 in Port Alberni.
“I’m glad people are going to be able to see this,” said Furness. “I hope they share their stories.”
The signatures on the flare have been deciphered as follows:
Wing Hay, Port Alberni, BC
Dane Connah, Alberta
Ivan Golos, Abbotsford, BC
John Starahuk, Grand Forks, BC
W.M. Radesm, Vermilion, Alberta
Clarence Fitzgerald, Courtenay, BC
Dan Cameron, Vancouver, BC
Charles V. Cochran, Rossland, BC
Alan Stewart, Hope, BC
Jack Menzies, Vancouver, BC
Donald McDonald, Pitt Meadows, BC
Th?? King, Vancouver, BC (this one was not legible)
F. John, Lillooet, BC