Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A story of WWII valour at Nepean High School

Researching a different topic this evening, I stumbled across an incredible story too good not to share 74 years later. As you'll read in the article below, in the fall of 1942, with WWII in full swing, and affecting the lives of all Canadians at home and abroad, at the conclusion of their football season a group of 10 Nepean High School students decided to make the significant decision to enlist with the Canadian forces:

Ottawa Journal, November 9, 1942

As it is just a little over a week from Remembrance Day, discovering this story is timely. There are so many good things in this article, perhaps most of all is the school pride in the response when asked if their decision was made in response to Glebe and Tech high school students enlisting a short time earlier "Nuts, we'll be in Berlin long before these guys". Incredible.

The Journal mentions ten students, but left two names off the list. Fortunately the Citizen the same day ran a similar article, and listed all ten (I guess some of the details were difficult to piece together at the last minute, as their headline mentions "Nine", but later the article says "ten" and lists ten names):

Ottawa Citizen, November 9, 1942

Making the story all the more real (and hitting you in the face with just how young these kids were that were volunteering to go to war), the Journal published a photo of the NHS group that were joining the forces at Easter in 1943:

Ottawa Journal, April 24, 1943

What a commendable story this is, that a group of friends, all around 17-18 years of age banded together to go to the enlistment office. What incredible and inspirational patriotism, bravery and valour.

The ten NHS football players who enlisted that day were: Charles W. Steacy, Mel G. White, Stanley Dorrance, Norman Herridge, Gerald Bower Armstrong, Ken Schryer, Joseph Foster Morris, Bernard "Buster" Lucas, Ed Cordukes and Don McCooeye. R.S. MacLarty was on the football team and later enlisted separately, while future coverage also mentions that fellow Nepean students Henry "Harry" Rosewarne, Raymond Traversy, and William G. Humphreys who were not on the football team, also enlisted around this time as well, and were later photographed as part of the larger group (above).

Of course there were many other Nepean High School students who enlisted in the war at various times, but it is the uniqueness of this story that stands out.

Though they enlisted in the fall, all high school students were allowed to complete their final year of high school before beginning their training. The RCAF also made sure not to separate friends, and grouped them for training together, commencing in April of 1943.

So just to fill in more background on the boys, that Nepean boys senior football team lost out in the semi-finals of the Ottawa board playoffs in 1942, but they did have a significant victory late in the season, which I've crudely cropped the article for their big win, which occurred in front of 1,500 fans (!!!), which of course you would never see for a high school game nowadays.

Ottawa Journal, October 17, 1942, recounting
the Nepean High School upset victory over
St. Pat's.

Below is part of the article about the final game of the season, Nepean's semi-finals playoff loss to St. Pat's who got their revenge for the upset earlier in the year:

November 7, 1942

A civic sendoff was held on Wednesday April 28th, 1943, in front of the Supreme Court building, for the 116 high school students representing Nepean, Glebe, Lisgar and Tech who had all enlisted in the air force that winter. An official inspection was made by Air Vice-Marshal R. Leckie, assisted by Mayor Stanley Lewis, and farewell addresses were given. Afterwards, the students were led by the R.C.A.F. band down Wellington Street as a parade, to Union Station, where they caught the train to Lachine, Quebec to being their air training. This was called at the time the largest single group of air recruits to leave at one time in Canada's history, and likely this record still stands. The newspaper reported that the parade "was a stirring sight, and a wave of cheers rolled with the parade as it moved from the square before the new Supreme Court Building to Union Station...Star of the gridiron and ice, standouts in track and field, well-schooled and in perfect physical shape, they stood stiffly in column of three to hear Air Vice Marshal Leckie tell them to burnish the shining Air Force tradition...Jammed to suffocation was Union Station with mothers, sisters, girl-friends, and proud fathers. The goodbyes were cheering. No tears. All were of good heart." 

The local newspapers kept tabs on the players, with the occasional update or photo of them as they progressed through the ranks of the Royal Canadian Air Force. I included two such examples below, both of which included several of the ex-Nepean High group:

May 25, 1943

August 11, 1944

Happily, from my research, it appears all of these boys made it through the war, and went on to live successful lives here in Ottawa, most in the west end. Thankfully, by the time the boys had made it through their training, the war was nearing completion. From what I gather, many did not have to go overseas (though several did). Regardless, the act of nearly an entire high school football team enlisting in a world war is an amazing story, and well worth sharing 74 years later. Certainly one of the proudest moments in the history of Nepean High School.


  1. this is a heart filling text and it was informing me about everything and anything about these boys.
    Thank you.

  2. Great story! I'm loving this blog. I've been ripping through the stories. Can't wait for more! Stevie G