36,500—that’s how many sunrises and sunsets Jack Lawrence has experienced during his lifetime, which has now spanned the course of a century.
And what a century it’s been.
Born March 1, 1919 in his parents’ Hope home, Lawrence never partook in post-secondary education “besides hard labour,” but lived an extraordinary life nonetheless.
With a calm, but slightly mischievous nature, Lawrence took off at 16-years-old and lying about his age, joined the Canadian Army four years before the Second World War broke out. “I served everywhere from Victoria, to England, to France, to the Netherlands,” recalled Lawrence from the living room of his downtown Hope apartment, a complex he’s lived in since the mid-80s.
However, it was somewhere in the northern tip of Holland where things took a drastic turn for Lawrence: “I was knocked out by a German with a gun and they put me into a large prison camp.”
During his time as a POW, Lawrence was shipped with dozens of other men by boxcar, where they were only allowed “out twice a day to be given a couple of slices of bread. And when we got to (some) border, that’s when things got pretty rough. We were lucky to live.”
Eventually, Lawrence was shipped to a prison camp for allied forces and was treated a bit better. “But we still had to get up at the crack of daylight and work until dark, and slept five or six to a room.”
But it was in that camp where Lawrence was finally able to make a break for it. “I rolled away into the trees and bumped into another fellow doing the same thing.” Lawrence and three other Canadian soldiers made their way into the European forests and began trying to make their way to safety.
Making their way from community to community, sleeping in haystacks and digging up potato crops that had recently been planted, the four POWs did what they could to survive.
“We learned cemeteries were the best places to sleep because Germans didn’t put security in them.”
They also made a deal amongst themselves: they’d take turns leading the group, so if the first was shot at, the other three would have enough warning to try and escape.
When it came around to Lawrence’s turn again, he recalled the day he thought he had walked upon a group of German soldiers.
“But I just kept walking while my mates screamed at me to turn into the bush. These (soldiers) didn’t have a German uniform, I noticed it was more of a Canadian type, so I kept walking slowly until they said, ‘Halt!’”
Noting the English, Lawrence told the men he and his comrades were trying to rejoin the Canadian Army.
And although it took time, Lawrence was finally sent home, where he spent time in hospital to recover from his ordeal.
He then put his energy into his future: he got married, adopted a daughter, and worked until he retired at 65.
“Part of the reason why I quit the railroad was so (my daughter) Juanita could get to school,” said Lawrence, who’s always been a devoted family man. Moving to work more locally, Lawrence worked at the Royal Canadian Legion, where he stayed for decades.
Having slowed down in his golden years, Lawrence still lives independently with his partner, and enjoys spending time with his 13 great-great grandchildren, five great grandchildren, and three grandchildren. But the secret to his long life has been, “drinking whiskey,” he joked.
To honour both the momentous occasion, and the years of service Lawrence gave, the local Legion is hosting a public party for his 100th birthday on Saturday, Mar. 2, from 3 til 7 p.m.