Second World War veteran visits Alberta museum featuring him in exhibit

WATCH: An Alberta museum is featuring stories of men and women who trained in the province before heading overseas to fight in the Second World War. As Michael King reports, one special visitor was able to tell tales about what it was like to go from wide-open Alberta skies to the war-torn airfields of Europe.

A 103-year-old military veteran paid a visit to a museum in Claresholm, Alta., this week to look through an exhibit featuring him and two other pilots.

“It’s a very strong feeling for me (to be featured),” Jim Ashworth told Global News on Thursday.

The exhibit, named Wings Over Claresholm, features three former Air Force pilots who trained in Claresholm before going overseas to fight in Europe during the Second World War.

Ashworth joined the Air Force just after Christmas in 1939. He received his wings at the Claresholm base in July 1941 and continued his pilot training in England before joining the Fighter Operational Training Unit (No. 55 OTU) in Scotland.

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There, Ashworth learned to fly the Hurricane fighter aircraft, a British single-seater warplane designed in the early 1930s. When the unit ran short on pilots, Ashworth was pulled to provide military air support in campaigns in India and Southeast Asia against Japanese forces.

After being a squad leader in the Air Force for 26 years, Ashworth returned to Invermere, B.C., where he and his daughter Valerie continue to live to this day.

“I told Valerie when we came in (to the museum on Thursday) that I wanted her to have a look at that famous wall outside with the names of all the pilots and air crew that have died on both sides,” he said.

A photo of young Jim Ashworth receiving his wings in 1941.

A photo of young Jim Ashworth receiving his wings in 1941.

Courtesy of Claresholm Museum

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Ashworth said when he looks back at his time in Claresholm, he believes it was a very helpful and friendly community. He spent most of his time at the base where he learned airmanship and navigational skills.

“We were so busy at Claresholm here as students. We didn’t get much time to play around outside, but one thing I do remember is if you had time off and (were) standing out on the highway to try to get to Calgary, the people around here were the first to pick you up,” the veteran said, adding that sometimes he would forget that there was even a war.

“I’m flying around at night with the windows open and you would wonder why there’s a war going on because you could look around and just see the Prairies — it was wonderful.”

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Bill Kells, the Claresholm Museum’s executive director, said it’s important to tell stories of the town’s rich history.

He said it was an honour to have Ashworth visit the museum and provide his personal story to staff and archivists.

“Jim is 103 years old — probably one of the oldest veterans still with us,” Kells said. “It’s such an honour to have him come and… give us all the rich history that he has given us.

“To still be receiving artifacts from that time period is just incredible. And we appreciate it so much because we need to flesh out that collection and flesh out the story.”

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Ashworth said while he enjoyed his time in the Air Force, he was happy to retire and leave the military behind.

“I’m trying to live positively and I’m not into the military stuff anymore,” he said.

“I’m just grateful to be here.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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