Joseph Young, a local poet and farmer who’s turning 100 years old on Saturday, is believed to be the Red Deer area’s oldest Second World War veteran.
Long before he enlisted to serve in France and Holland between 1941 and 1945, Young was writing poems that are now in the collection of the National War Museum in Ottawa.
Most were inspired by the natural wonders he observed while growing up near Carrot River, Sask.
When he was 16, he wrote about the Aurora Borealis “flickering across the northern sky after the sun has gone to rest.”
Young later described two hardy pine trees growing on his father’s farm. They “stood the strain in many storms that bent their branches low, but still their roots have firmly held while strong the wind did blow…”
Those lines can be seen as an allegory for his own life.
The central Alberta resident, whose experience spans from the horse and buggy days to the computer age, was born in 1919 to farming parents who lost their Moosomin-area farm to drought in 1933 and moved further north to homestead near Carrot River.
Young left school after Grade 8 to help his dad in the fields. It was a hard life, devoid of much excitement, he recalls. When the war started, Young decided to enlist.
“I’d never been anywhere, never seen anything,” Young says, so becoming a soldier promised an adventure.
He and his friends joined the 8th Reconnaissance Regiment of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division.
“They told us … it was the suicide outfit,” he recalled in a 2014 Advocate article about his return to France for the 70th anniversary of D-Day ceremonies.
“Well every one of us joined … We thought there wouldn’t be as much walking, you see.”
Young now mostly remembers the wartime fraternizing. But his 60-year-old son, Terry, brings up the serious back injury his father sustained from shrapnel that left him rehabilitating for six months.
Joseph recalls losing many comrades, including his best friend, Lance-Cpl. Clifford Cushing from Regina, whose grave he finally found when he returned for the D-Day memorial.
“I don’t think any country really wins a war,” the centenarian concludes.
Young was 29 when he met his wife Nettie, who was 19, at a post-war Saskatchewan dance. The couple have been married 70 years and have 11 children, 31 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren.
After moving to central Alberta in the mid 1960s to gain a longer growing season and more tolerable weather, Joseph farmed east of Red Deer until the late ‘80s or early ’90s. Computerization then caused a huge shift in agriculture and Terry took over the farm.
Joseph, whose main health complaint is failing eyesight, admits he never really thought about living to be 100. While there’s longevity in his family, he never smoked, only drank the occasional glass of wine and tried not to stress.
Nettie said she and Joseph stay active by dancing at Royal Canadian Legion functions. She adds that the secret to a long marriage is knowing “you’re not always right.”
They both look forward to a gathering of more than 100 family members when Joseph’s 100th birthday is celebrated Saturday at the Valley Centre Hall.