By Andrea Arnold
The Balcaen family involvement with the military doesn’t start or end with McBride residents Bob and Hazel Balcaen. Both of their fathers, their daughter, plus Bob’s grandfather all served among many more distant family members.
Bob and Hazel Balcaen met during basic training in Ontario. Bob went on to work as a radar technician during the Cold War 1960-1969 and rise to the rank of Corporal 3Z.
“We were always watching from radar sites,” he said. “There were no satellites, only radio and telephone communication.” He went on to advanced training in Mississippi during his almost nine years of service.
Hazel served as a Fighter Control Operator during the Cold War as well. The pair got married, so her service time was cut short after one year due to strict military rules.
“She was from a large poorer family,” he said. “She came out of the experience a much wiser and well travelled individual.”
Her father’s involvement in the service may have played a small part in Hazel’s enlistment. However, it was more out of necessity.
“Jobs were slim,” she said. “Enlisting provided clothes, food and boarding.”
Bob’s father, Private Prosper “Buster” Balcaen came from a family of 13 children, six of whom enlisted. He was a military mechanic from 1940-1944, and worked on a ferry that ran from England to Holland. They would transport any decommissioned vehicles that could not be repaired on site away from action, and return with replacements.
After Buster returned to civilian life, Bob remembers him saying, “I will never work for anyone else again.” He never did and was self-employed for the rest of his life. He was a proud supporter of the Legion in McBride and Bob has stepped into many of the roles Buster held such as giving presentations at the schools and parade involvement.
Bob’s Auntie Irene also served as a driver for “the brass.” She was married to two of Bob’s uncles (at different times).
His grandfather, Private Octave Balcaen served in WWI. Bob does not have too many details about his service. He served about three years, and never truly recovered.
“He didn’t talk about his experiences much,” said Bob.
He was a tailor by trade and a very honest businessman, he said. He would bring suits into the shop and make repairs, but then sell them for the same price he purchased them.
Hazels’ father Private Gordon McMaster started his service in mechanics. However, after an altercation with a corporal, he quickly changed direction and became a cook. As a civilian, both before and after his service, he was a farmer, so he had a basic knowledge of produce and meat. However, that did not mean he was a good cook.
Bob and Hazel exchanged looks and hesitated with “um…he was ok” when asked about McMaster’s cooking skills.
“I came home to visit once, later on. I think dad was in his 70s. Mom was in bed still and he was cooking bacon and eggs. That is the only time I remember him cooking.”
Bob and Hazel’s daughter Corrine enlisted for Navy service in 1982 at the age of 19. Bob was thrilled with the decision and drove her to Kamloops when it came time for her to leave home. She had been working at the bank and was looking for a new career. She attended basic training in Halifax and served a four year term as a Naval Seaman.
“When you’re in the military, it isn’t a five-day-a-week job,” said Bob. “It’s 24-7. If you want to leave the base, you need to have permission. They own you.”
In Bob’s presentations he was always sure to thank everyone who supported them.
“It takes 100 people on the ground to keep one in the air,” he said. “It takes 40 people on the ground to support a foot soldier.”