Meet Your Neighbours – William Murdoch

by Deborah Rogers | photo by Amanda Cribdon Photography

Our community consists of people with all sorts of stories. Some have lived here all their lives, some moved here for school or work, and many in our community moved here at retirement. I spent a charming morning at Sidney All Care Residence, meeting of one of those retirees, Bill Murdoch.

Despite hip and knee issues Bill looks very fit, in fact I met him just after he’d finished a fitness class. He has a wonderful memory, and a twinkle in his eye as he tells me that no one will want to hear his story! I was brought up never to ask someone’s age so I’ll leave it for you to do some math. Bill, whose official title is Brigadier-General (Retd), joined the military at age 18, in 1952.

It was a way for him to gain an education he otherwise couldn’t have afforded. He joined the Air Force and learned to fly the WW2 Lancaster Bombers, “really noisy old planes,” There’s a photo of a Lancaster on Bill’s table and it certainly looks like a piece of equipment from another era. As part of the 407 Maritime Patrol Squadron from the CFN base in Comox, Bill spent three years flying missions, down to San Diego and San Francisco and over the Pacific, and every summer in the years 1953-55 over the Arctic. Bill chuckles when he tells me about the difficulties of landing those huge Lancasters on the improvised air strip at Resolute Bay. If the intervening years have blurred the details, he has clearly never forgotten the experience of being up in that harsh northern environment. Their mission there was observation; this was at the height of the Cold War of course, and he told me they did spot Russian submarines.

It was while stationed at Comox that Bill met Audrey, who would become his wife, and ultimately the reason he ended up in Sidney when he retired in 1992. After those three years flying Bill moved into a teaching role, first to student navigators and then to young cadets. He and Audrey moved across the country from Winnipeg to Centralia, back to Winnipeg then to Toronto. His next posting was to Germany in 1968.

The years at the base in Lahr were happy ones. With his young family they were able to travel around Europe, and Bill learned German at the university. He had moved into Administration management by that point, and the next role on his return to Canada was with the Chief of the Defense Staff.

I asked if all the upheaval was worth it. “Oh yes! They made the mistake of keeping promoting me!” laughed Bill. Eventually he was working as the Chief Administrative Officer to the Chief of the Defense Staff, which meant lots of time in the Prime Minister’s Office and trips accompanying Trudeau across the globe. That’s Pierre Elliot Trudeau of course, though Bill says he did know Justin as a child too. To work in the Prime Minister’s Office, Bill tells me “you have to listen, don’t speak.”

Bill’s final military role was as the Commandant at the illustrious Canadian Forces college in Toronto. After retiring from the military he held a civilian position for five years, then it really was time to retire to Vancouver Island.

Before I wore out my welcome we talked a little about Remembrance Day. “I really do think we have to remember history and celebrate history.” Bill said, “I think it’s important to continue to celebrate Remembrance Day and to remember the people who gave their lives up for their country.”

Thank you Bill for all your years of service to Canada, and for sharing some details of your long service career with our readers. And to all the members of our armed forces, whether serving or retired, a thank you for your service: we see you, and we remember you.

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