Though deeply entrenched, Major Jim Smith is the army officer in his family and works among the naval personnel at CFB Esquimalt.
“I come from a military family where my grandfather, father and two older brothers have, combined, served almost continuously over the last 90-plus years,” he said.
His grandfather, Gunner Daniel Smith, served in the British Army during the First World War as a gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was stationed in India although details are sketchy as his records were destroyed during the Blitz.
His dad, Sgt. Bert Smith joined the RCAF in 1940 and spent the majority of the war in Halifax at Eastern Air Command but then decided to make the air force a career. He proceeded to move around the country until retiring in 1970. Jim Smith’s two older brothers also made the RCAF a career, serving in places such as Trenton, Cold Lake, Moose Jaw, Germany, Egypt and Alert.
“Some of my earliest memories are from living in the base married quarters (PMQs) where everyone’s dad came and went in uniform,” said Smith, who was born in Summerside P.E.I. “Like other families, we went to church on base, shopped at the CANEX and when my dad retired he was employed in Cornwallis where I continued to experience growing up in a community with a strong military influence.”
The environment made an impression with Smith, displayed through an interest in military and military history.
“Making it my career seemed to be a natural choice although when I joined the army instead of the air force, I was made a bit of a target as I was not only the only soldier in the family but I was also the youngest. And if that wasn’t enough, I was also the only officer.”
As an army officer, Smith’s first posting was to Petawawa in 1992 as a Combat Service Support Officer. He spent three years with the U.S. Navy Military Sealift Command HQ in Washington, D.C. followed by four years in Ottawa.
“I ran strategic and operational movements planning with the majority of my time focussed on moving troops and equipment in and out of Afghanistan,” he said. “We packed up the family again and moved to Germany in 2008 where I worked in operations with HQ Allied Rapid Reaction Corps until the entire unit, including us, relocated to Innsworth U.K. in 2010.
Smith and his family are back in the naval fold, preparing for a second Remembrance Day with the CFB Esquimalt family.
“Remembrance Day was one of the few times my dad spoke about the war,” Smith said. “It wasn’t that his particular role was dangerous or traumatic for him, it was just that he felt that all he did was simply serve his country which was, at that time, expected and the right thing to do.”
He remembers listening, as a child, with fascination as veterans exchanged stories, some thrilling, some funny and the best ones usually left you with the thought “You actually got away with that?”
His mother would chime in with tales of being new bride in Halifax in 1943 and her role as a military wife; tried and true stories such as juggling multiple moves, children and a cat – often in one car and without the benefit of DVDs or iPads in the back seat.
“This tradition carried on long after I grew up and continued whenever possible until they passed away,” Smith said. “Now I try to continue this tradition with my children by retelling some of my parents tales and even introducing some of my own, which at one time were received with wondrous wide eyes but now, as they are getting older, still seem to be received with interest but also with a certain level of good natured scepticism – helps keeps me honest.”
The youngest Smith has completed four tours including Bosnia, Kosovo in the late ’90s, Kuwait in 2004 and Afghanistan working with ISAF Joint Command in Kabul.