Tucked among polymer banknotes in the wallet belonging to William (Bill) Stevens is a black and white photograph of several young soldiers that holds special meaning to the Second World War veteran.
“I’m there,” he said, pointing to his much younger self.
“This guy in the middle is from Vernon, and those other two are from Edmonton.”
The 99-year-old veteran of Quesnel doesn’t hesitate to pull out the old photograph and show it to strangers curious about his time overseas.
He did just that on Thursday, Nov. 11, before heading outside his home on Winder Street with his wife Lois and family members near the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 2021.
“We’re here to honour my dad for his 99 years of being alive and for his service in the army,” said his step-daughter Maureen Boerboom.
“Way to go dad for making it ninety and a half years. I’m proud and honoured to say that you’re my father.”
Numerous community members also joined the small gathering, including youngsters Pearl and Titan Cross who presented Stevens with coloured drawings. Others drove by, honking and waving.
After the reading of “In Flanders Fields” and two minutes of silence, some stepped forward to share a brief hug with Stevens and grab a photo.
Stevens was the oldest of seven children and would call B.C. home for the rest of his life after their mother remarried, moving to Springhouse south of Williams Lake.
Jobs were hard to find in the 1930s when social and economic downturn gripped the world in the Great Depression.
After his work at a ranch near the Chilcotin River came to an end, Stevens said he packed up and headed up to Quesnel and then Wells, where it was suggested he try his luck.
He was nearly ready to give up before he went to the Wells Hotel for a coffee and the owner offered to hire him to feed the sawdust burner which warmed the hotel.
It was the small mining town where Stevens would sign up for Second World War service in 1943 and report two weeks later in Victoria’s Little Mountain for induction into the army.
After taking basic training in Vernon and Red Deer, the private in the Rocky Mountain Rangers would land in Scotland, assigned to a non-combat military base.
Eventually, he would be transferred to a combat posting with the Scottish Regiment in Holland, where he joined a six-man machine gun unit and went straight to the front lines.
“It was pretty grim,” Stevens was quoted in a 2003 article by the Quesnel Observer.
“The first battle we were in was called Little Tobruk, and then we went on to the battle of Hessler Field, commonly known as Slaughter Hill by the regiment.”
Stevens was the only one in his platoon to come out of that battle not wounded, and went on to fight in many more.
He would eventually lead the victory parade through the streets when the Allies rolled into Utrecht, and in 2003 was presented with a medal by the Dutch government.
Flashbacks of the Second World War still haunt Stevens, who now experiences vertigo and problems with mobility.
“I don’t worry about it too much anymore,” he said of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Boerboom said she was confident Stevens enjoyed the intimate ceremony, after which the family went inside to enjoy muffins and something warm to drink.
“When I was a kid, I used to go to that school,” said Abby Boerboom, pointing to the nearby École Red Bluff Lhtako Elementary School.
“He would always come on the day before Remembrance Day and told everybody stories, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever because that’s my grandpa.”
Stevens is still sharing those stories, one photograph at a time.
(With files from Lindsay Chung, Annie Gallant and Neil Horner)