It’s been more than 70 years since Jim Spenst returned to Canada following his service in the Second World War, but he still has enduring memories from his time in the service.
Spenst was a private in the Canadian Army in the war. He joined the North Battleford Light Infantry reserve unit while still living in his hometown of Meadow Lake. More than two years later, on Nov. 11, 1943, Spenst enlisted for active duty with the service corps, and he went to Red Deer, Alta., for his training.
“Just about all the young kids at Meadow Lake did,” said Spenst. “There were some older members, too, but it was mostly all young guys, and we spent two summers in Dundurn, training there on summer holidays,” said Spenst.
The next six months were spent in basic training. While he had experience from his time in the reserves, there was still a lot to learn, such as driving a vehicle with the steering wheel on the right hand side.
“I knew how to drive because I delivered milk at Meadow Lake with a 1941 Ford van,” said Spenst.
He was only 17 years of age when he joined the army, and like many in his generation, he lied about his age to serve his country.
“My brother Clarence had been there about a month or so before, and they asked ‘How come you’re 18 1/2, and your brother was just here (to enlist)? And the name Spenst is not common.’ I said my mother and dad were fast workers,” said Spenst, displaying a quick wit even at that young age.
Spenst told them he was going to serve actively, regardless of his age, or he was going back to Meadow Lake to be a mechanic.
After Red Deer, he was sent to Truro, N.S., and then Debert. They boarded a New Amsterdam ship and sailed to Scotland, and then they were transferred to northern England during the German invasion.
While in England, Spenst had an encounter with his brother, Arnold, who was part of the Regina Rifles and recovering in hospital after losing both of his legs in France.
“When I got to Farnborough, he … and a lance corporal came in, and they were looking for Jim Spenst, Arnold’s little brother,” recalled Spenst. “I was guarding my socks, and I looked up and I said ‘Arnie, I’m Jim.’ I hadn’t seen him for five or six years.”
Spenst was eventually deployed to France in July 1944, a few weeks after the Normandy invasion off the coast of France. He was involved with the liberation of the Netherlands.
“If we go there, they treat us like kings, because Canadians liberated Holland,” said Spenst, who never made it back to the Netherlands after the war.
He was with the Canadian Occupational Forces in Germany when he was discharged March 4, 1946.
“We had a choice of joining to go to Japan or staying in Germany with the occupational forces,” said Spenst. “Some of them signed up to go to Japan, and I stayed in Germany.”
He made a lot of friends through the army, and said he never had any problems with any of the people he served with.
Spenst noted that two other brothers, Clarence and Edward, also served during the Second World War.
After the war, he spent time with family near Stewart Valley in west-central Saskatchewan, and then he moved to Moose Jaw. He started working in a public works government garage in Regina.
He eventually met a young woman from Estevan, Elaine, and they were married in 1947. She was a Peterson, and still has lots of family in the area.
It was through a friend, Harry Moroz, that the couple first moved to Estevan.
“He came to Regina, him and Archie Holley, who had Holly Motors. And that was in … 1948.”
Spenst ran the body shop at Holley Motors. But he had a disagreement with the service manager the following year, and so Spenst went back to Moose Jaw, contacted a friend in public works in Regina, and went back to work there.
He returned to Estevan to his former job at Holley Motors’ body shop in 1951. Three years later, he started Estevan Auto Body, and then went to work for Dyer Ford. In 1971, he bought Peterson’s Redi-Mix plant and started Spenst Auto Body Ltd., which he owned until 1986.
Jim and Elaine Spenst had five children together, two of whom, Doug and Daryl, served in the forces.
Doug was with the South Saskatchewan Regiment reserve unit, while Daryl was part of the Logistics Transport Peacekeepers with two tours of Africa and one in Bosnia.
Spenst is proud of his kids, and the service of the two boys.
“Daryl’s got five war medals, and I’ve only got … the four here,” said Spenst.
Spenst has been active in the Royal Canadian Legion’s Estevan branch. He held several positions on the executive and was a mainstay in the kitchen, preparing meals for legion banquets and community events.
He received a Meritorious Service Medal from the legion for his contributions to the Estevan branch, and was also involved with coaching and umpiring baseball in the community.