Charley Goes to War is an account of the Second World War told through the experiences of an RCAF airman from Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Glen Hancock takes us from the streets of Wolfville on September 4, 1939, to Canada’s training camps, and from there to his first operation out of No. 408 Goose Squadron until the final defeat of Nazi Germany and his return to Canada in 1945.
Hancock’s memoir maintains a refreshing balance between the headline events of the war and daily life in training and on air force bases. The feel of the uniforms, the specifics of insignia, RCAF lingo and all the nuts and bolts of serving queen and country are made tangible in these pages. Hancock also details the less talked about highlights of volunteering: the perks of first class train travel, the guilty pleasure of being able to see the Canadian countryside and the sites of English and European history, and his opportunity to attend the University of Edinburgh.
On his often interrupted journey toward becoming an airman, Hancock trained at bases across Canada including Prince Rupert, Brandon, Ottawa and Torbay, before traveling by boat from New York to Scotland in 1944 and eventually operating out of No.408 Goose Squadron at Linton-on-Ouse in Yorkshire. Charley Goes to War combines a wizened retrospective on the highlights of the Second World War with a sharply individual sense of what it meant at the time. Hancock describes the formation of his bomber crew, operational procedure, his first “sortie,” the equipment and everyday life on the squadron in a style both humorous and elegant.
Despite the atmosphere and ideologies upon which the war was based, Hancock recognizes that many who fought were not entirely cognizant of the holocaust while it was going on. In a chapter entitled “The Horror of Belsen Death Camp” Hancock relives the trip he made to Belsen immediately after its liberation in 1945 and his witnessing of the Nazi’s extermination project at the heart of the struggle to which he and so many other men and women were devoted.