Submitted by Keith McNeill
My father, Clarence Grenfell McNeill, served with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corp during the Second World War.
As a medical doctor he was automatically promoted to captain soon after he enlisted. Before he enlisted he had worked as the doctor at a Japanese internment camp at Tashme, which is near Hope. When news got out that he had enlisted and was joining the army, the whole camp turned out to see him off.
While he was in the army he regularly sent home letters to his wife, Mary, that included humorous cartoons for his two young children, Marianne and John.
He spent most of his time in England and, when the war in Europe ended, volunteered to serve with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). In that capacity he served as a senior medical officer helping thousands of displaced persons, mostly Polish, regain their health and then return home from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
He never spoke much about his experiences in the army but he did tell at least one story. Before joining UNRRA he had the job of evaluating soldiers who were about to be demobilized for any injuries that might lead to pension benefits. He was surprised to meet one soldier who had been born with clubfeet but who had participated with the Canadian army through the fierce fighting all the length of Italy. My father asked how he had managed to keep up when he obviously could not march. The soldier said there always seemed to be a truck going in the right direction and, besides, the men in his unit liked to have him around. He was “pretty good with a machine gun,” he said.
My father gave the matter some thought. As a condition that the soldier had been born with, club feet was not something that should get him a pension. On the other hand, the medical evaluation the soldier got when he signed up should not have allowed him into the army in the first place. My father wrote in his report that the soldier had injured his feet during the fighting and should be given a lifelong pension. He often wondered afterwards if that actually happened or if some other doctor later overturned his assessment.