Harry was born April 23, 1923, in Calgary, Alberta Canada, and was given the name Harry Ernest Hansell.

The first child and son of Rev. Ernest G. and Alice Hansell, Harry was a PK (preacher's kid), of whom his father was very proud.

A friend wrote to Harry's father describing him this way;
"He had a grand personality, and that doesn't develop without the proper background and bringing up. I was sure he had a good home and came of a good family...He was a grand boy and everyone who knew him loved him. His classmates adored him. I know because I met several of them and they told me themselves. He had a way of making friends, and, more important still, of keeping them....I'm sure you'll be proud to know, if you will take my word for it, that he was a man in every true sense of the word."

About the time he was to begin school, his parent's marriage failed and his mother returned to the USA. He keenly felt and long remembered the trauma of these unfortunate events, but it didn't seem to have a negative impact on his personality and character.

Harry was fortunate to inherit some of the his father's best qualities, not the least of which were a good sense of humour and an even temperament. When his father married again, Harry grew fond of his new step-mom Hilda, and later affectionately referred to her as "Ma" in his letters home.

He had a younger sister Ruth, and two step-brothers Howard and Robert (Butch), followed a few years later by a half-brother Bill (Billy), and half-sister Liz (Betty), whom he affectionately called the Bunkies.

Harry with brothers Howard and Butch The Bunkies

In the early 1930s, the family moved to a small prairie farming town, Vulcan, Alberta which was to be Harry's home until enlisting.

Vulcan today Where is Vulcan on the map?

On Harry's enlistment application, he noted as his interests, woodworking and several sports, stating that his favourite by far was hockey and ice skating - a typical rural-Canadian kid! His father was gifted in woodworking, an interest he must have passed on to Harry and later to the Bunkies.

Harry attended school from grades 5 to 12 in the Vulcan public school, but left in the middle of his twelfth grade, a choice he later regretted. As you will discover, he tried earnestly in his letters home to convince his sister Ruth not to follow his example and to 'stay in school'.

The old Vulcan school The Vulcan school today still in limited use.

After leaving school, he took a job as a clerk in the Anderson Dry Goods store.

Vulcan, Alberta was the location for one of many depots of the British Commonwealth Air Training Program, established to train air personnel for the war. It began operating in 1940, and had a significant impact on boys like Harry who began to see military equipment and personnel-in-uniform around the town.

The Vulan BCATP areodrome - yesterday and today The Vulan BCATP areodrome - yesterday and today

Although on his enlistment application for the RCAF, Harry applied for duty as an Observer or Pilot, he was eventually trained as an upper-mid gunner, probably because he had an aptitude for, and some limited experience with such hardware, as these photos suggest:

Harry returns from a successful duck shoot
Harry and his faithful hunting dog - 'no dogs were hurt in the making of this rather poor photo'

If Harry found the air force an attractive possibility, he also found a young woman named Mary quite appealing. In his letters home she is mentioned often, but unfortunately we have no information concerning what became of Mary or who she was. A possible candidate is the young woman on the right, blushing prettily in this photo:

Vulcan girls

 

 

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