Charles Finch, and his wife Hildred, moved to the Keremeos-Cawston area in 1950. He soon became an active resident in the area. (Contributed)

Sharing local veteran’s stories

Dave Snyder has been gathering the stories of South Okanagan veterans and sharing them through his Penticton Remembers book series for the last 10 years.

During those years, Snyder gathered more than130 stories from veterans in the region. The project began as a way to celebrate and recognize the contributions and history of the South Okanagan’s veterans.

“Once upon a time, Penticton was 100 years old, and because I’m from Manitoba where people celebrate centennials, I did Penticton Remembers Volume I as my personal centennial project,” said Snyder. “I’ve done three volumes, the first had 42 veterans’ stories from the South Okanagan, volume two had 52, and the third one had 36.”

Snyder doesn’t consider himself a veteran, just “someone who wore the uniform for a long time.” It’s that relationship that helped get some veterans to open up about their stories.

“One of the things, Second World War veterans, in particular, many, many, never said boo about their experiences,” said Snyder. “Many veterans that I approached were reluctant. There was a grand old man who grew up in Kaleden, he said ‘Oh I didn’t do anything important in the war, and no I won’t give you my story.’ But his story is important. Because in a sense, each story is typical, some people joined up and never went overseas. Others joined up and before they knew it, a few months later, they were in Britain, then in Europe fighting. It’s amazing, the contrast.”

All of the proceeds from the sales of his books support a scholarship that Snyder established for local cadets. The first two volumes have completely sold out, and Snyder still has a few boxes left of Vol. 3. Snyder is happy to do what he can for the local kids in helping them with their education.

“All you have to do is apply and you’ll get it basically,” said Snyder. “Last high school graduation, I had five cadets apply, one army cadet and four air cadets. So I’ve been doing that to support the local cadet corps.”

The veterans that did open up to Snyder offered their memories and experiences for everyone to read and learn from. A number of the veterans Snyder interviewed are still alive today speak with him.

“There are amazing veteran stories. There’s one story I captured in book two. He’s 99 years old today. Another is in the West Wing of the hospital, he’s 102. I visited him just a month ago. His story is phenomenal,” said Snyder. “To survive a Russian gulag, the statistics were horrendous. I think it was 25 per cent survival. But to survive, and to live to be over 100, it’s amazing. If that doesn’t celebrate the tenacity and strength and toughness of a human being…”

Excerpt from David Snyder’s Penticton Remembers Volume II – Veterans stories from the South Okanagan.

Remembering: Charles Lincoln Finch (1924-2012)

Raised in Evans Loop Penticton area, Charles Finch enlisted with the RCAF in August 1942, completed basic training in Edmonton. At Currie Field in Calgary, he graduated with wings and a promotion. The day after his commissioning, he learned he was to be posted as a flying instructor.

“I’m not going to accept this posting,” Finch told his CO.

“It cost $25,000 to train you. You’ll lose your commission. You can’t do that,” the senior officer replied.

“Yes I can. I’ll quit and join the Army.” P.O. Finch replied.

As a reward the next day, Sgt. Finch, with four other bad boys, was posted to Sea Island on the “wet” coast (Richmond, B.C.) to fly the Hampton, a torpedo bomber. The Hampton cockpit was too small for Sgt. Finch and before long he was on his way to St. Agath, Quebec for commando training, another reward for not accepting an instructor’s posting. Eventually in the spring of 1944 Finch was in Britain.

All squadrons made practice missions, called Nichol Raids. On a memorable Nichol raid over London, at 18,000 feet he was ‘coned-cross fixed’ by a brilliant searchlight. The brilliance of the blue light led to night blindness. The Lancaster dropped 5,000 feet. The crew was startled, as they had no warning, and to complicate matters the oxygen-hook failed. The oxygen-starved crew became intoxicated and then groggy, some hallucinated, seeing dancing girls on the wing. Training prevailed, Charles brought his crew home.

PO Finch was a demanding, well-liked Lancaster pilot with RAF 170 Squadron 1 Group from Lincolnshire. After five missions, he was released from service on his mother’s request as his brother Gordon, a lieutenant with the South Saskatchewan Regiment, was killed at Nijmiin. Charlie’s last flight was April 7, 1945. An officer with a fierce call to duty, Charles was most unhappy; not only by his second brother’s death but caught between his duty to his crew and his mother’s request. Arriving in New York City at April’s end, he caught a train to Montreal, then to Edmonton to marry Hildred Thompson.

Charles and Hildred Finch moved to the Keremeos-Cawston area in 1950 to an acreage courtesy of VLA. He directed his energy making a living and soon became an active citizen in the Cawston-Keremeos area. His involvement ranged from being the organist for the Elks to the president of the Cawston Centennial Committee for the B.C. Centennial in 1962 and president again for Canada’s Centennial in 1967. Interested in history, Charles was the past president of the Keremeos Historical Society, OHS Keremeos Branch.

Finch commanded the 582nd Panda Squadron, Keremeos Air Cadets from 1952 to 1962. He was a life member of the Royal Canadian Legion, past Branch 192 president (1978-79 and 1984-1988), service officer and chaplain. A member of the Keremeos School District 16 for 12 years, (board chairman for 10); a 10-year member of the Okanagan College council (president from 1966 to 1972); president of the B.C. Association of Colleges from 1969 to 1972. Finch’s educational actives were taxing, exciting and unpaid. Charles was an executive member of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association, a director of the B.C. Federation of Agriculture, president of the B.C. Sheep Breeders Co-operative Association for ten years, from 1976 to 1986, chairman of the B.C. Sheep and Wool Commission from 1979-1989 along with being the director of the Canadian Co-operative Wool Growers from 1979-1989.

In retirement, Charles enjoyed fishing and camping with friends and family. His involvement with the Keremeos Ecumenical Parish and friendships in the Senior’s Singing Group.

His gift of service to the South Okanagan was extraordinary. Charles Finch died in November 2012.

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