Manitoba

Almost 8 decades after he fought the Nazis, Battle of Britain veteran set to turn 100

Nearly 80 years after he fought to help to keep the world safe from a global threat in the Second World War, Ralph Wild is using his 100th birthday to bring attention to what he sees as a new global threat with just as dire consequences.

Ralph Wild sees the futility of war, thinks global warming is earth's biggest threat

Ralph Wild, who served with the RAF in the Battle of Britain, turns 100 on Sept. 27. (Renee Kelly)

Nearly 80 years after he fought to help to keep the world safe from a global threat in the Second World War, Ralph Wild is using his 100th birthday to bring attention to what he sees as a new global threat with just as dire consequences.

Climate change.

"You pick up the paper and almost every day there's floods somewhere in the world, there's forest fires beyond recognition somewhere in the world, there's tornados and hurricanes — there's everything going wrong," said Wild, who turns 100 on Thursday.

"My father always said if you live with nature and then nature will live with you, but if you defy nature she'll kick back at you with a vengeance — and my god — because of the global warming nature's kicking back."

Wild, who served with the Royal Air Force during the Second World War — including the Battle of Britain — will celebrate the milestone with friends, family and dignitaries at a party Thursday afternoon.

In an interview with CBC News, Wild stressed the important role governments should be playing in curbing the use of fossil fuels, something he doesn't see happening fast enough.

"I'm quite concerned about the welfare of people in the future," he said.

"Unless they do something about it, it's almost an Armageddon sort of thing.

"The coal industry and the oil industry have got to be changed."

Wild volunteered for the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1938 at the age of 21, just six months before war broke out in Britain.

He spent the first 3½ years as an instrument repairer before becoming an air crew member and serving as a navigation officer on bomber missions.

A twist of fate

Wild has lived in Winnipeg since he was discharged following the war.

He'd fallen in love with the country — and the Canadian woman he married — while stationed in Manitoba during the war. But it was a twist of fate that landed him in Canada at all.

After living in a tent with 10 other men while stationed at an airfield in North Weald, Essex, during the Battle of Britain for months, Wild volunteered to serve overseas instead.

"I'd had enough," he laughs now. "I thought anything is better than this."

Ralph Wild says he has come to agree with his pacifist father about the futility of war. (Renee Kelly)

He was posted to head to the Greek island of Crete, but a mix-up changed those plans.

"I got lost in the shuffle," remembered Wild, who was placed into the wrong relocation camp. 

"I waited for three days and when my name wasn't called on the third day I said 'Why haven't you called my name?' and they said 'Who the hell are you?'"

By the time everything was sorted out, Wild had missed the boat to Crete.

"So the officer said 'Well, the next boat that comes, you're on it, Wild.'"

That boat was coming to Canada.

"It's the story of my life," he said. "I just happened to be at the right place at the right time, so I can't complain that much.

"I end up at the worst of the worst and then something happens and it works out beautifully."

A better way than war  

After the war, while he finished his university in Britain before coming to Winnipeg, Wild gave lectures at museums and schools about his experiences in the war, and he's done some of the same work over the years here, as well.

He speaks about the need to put an end to conflict.

Wild says his father was a pacifist who opposed war, and after living through a war himself, he says his father was right.

"His argument was that after a war, you have to sit across a table and decide who gets what — he said that's utterly stupid — why don't you sit across a table before you have a war and decide what is what," he said.

"Every war decimates the youth of a country and that's the future of the country, all these kids 20 years of age just disappear off the face of the earth.

"He was dead set against wars and he's right too — we've got to find some ways to stop wars."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.