Meet Corporal Reginald Wise
Story Written by Ashley Orzel
“When someone’s lost a buddy, there’s PTSD. When they don’t think they can get hurt anymore, there’s PTSD. We couldn’t put them back in until they overcame it, which they didn’t.”
At 90 years old, Corporal Reginald Wise was the oldest veteran to graduate from Veterans Transition Network’s programs. After valorous service, he continued to dedicate his life to leaving no soldier behind.
Joining the Fight in Europe
When the Second World War broke out in 1939, British-born Reginald Wise joined the Home Guard the following year. He was only 16. At 17, he became a sniper with the Royal Marines’ No. 40 Commando.
“I served in five countries during the war – Italy, Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece and a little of the UK…I saw some action there too. It was exciting. I was manning an anti-aircraft gun. At 19, I was in charge of 10 men. Sometimes I would have to give them a shot of morphine when they were critically injured, so they could die in peace. That’s what you did back then.”
On August 19, 1942, the Allies descended on the German-occupied port of Dieppe in Northern France. The battle is considered one of the most devastating chapters in Canadian military history. The Royal Marine No. 40 Commando was among the British troops fighting alongside the Canadians.
“My unit was in the Dieppe Raid. I joined the marines at 17 and Dieppe was right before I turned 18, so I couldn’t go into action with them. We had direct orders from Churchill. It took 70 years after the war that I could talk about it. I could tell you the true version of Dieppe.”
PTSD in Fellow Soldiers
Through his years in service, Reginald noticed how difficult it was for the men in his unit to be away from loved ones, and their need for more rest and connection to counteract the brutality and rigorous action they endured daily. He was in charge of 10 men and part of his role was watching for behaviour and dramatic change indicative of PTSD. “When someone’s lost a buddy, there’s PTSD. When they don’t think they can get hurt anymore, there’s PTSD. We couldn’t put them back in until they overcame it, which they didn’t.”
Reginald describes an emotional send off they had for these men. “They told us, ‘Gentlemen, they are going back to England to see what the doctors will do for them,’ and we sang Auld Lang Syne as they left. It still makes me tear up.”
“There’s no disgrace in having PTSD,” he adds.
When Reginald was stationed in Comacchio, Italy, he was struck in the arm by a German soldier. As he lay on the ground thinking this could be the end, he noticed his friend standing above him. His friend picked him up and he carried him away as a machine gun fired at them. “He saved my life. He didn’t hesitate.”
Reginald had been hit three times. He would spend the next five months in a field hospital as doctors worked to save his left arm. This would mark the end of his service in the war.
Reginald left the army in 1946 and married his wife, Phyllis, in 1947. They decided to move ‘across the pond’ and come to Canada in 1951, where they bought five acres of land and built a house.
Through all this, Reginald was feeling the effects of PTSD, particularly very difficult migraines. “One morning I woke up and I knew I was different. PTSD catches you after.” He was lucky to have his wife by his side, who he says, “understood it all.”
“The war was a very exciting time. When the war was over, I felt out of it. I went to my local doctor for help. That’s what you did back then. When I came to Canada, there was a missionary hospital in Vancouver, but they closed the door on me. So, I went to my local doctor here, and he sent me to his local psychiatrist. It didn’t exist, helping veterans.”
A longtime member of the Legion, Reginald met a fellow Legion member who volunteered with the Veterans Transition Network (VTN) and told him about the organization.
“I joined VTN to help my fellow veterans.”
Looking around the room of veterans, he said he saw the same loneliness he first witnessed in his unit many years ago. “The guys here have lost their families. They’re put on duty and worried about their wives and children, especially in Afghanistan. They got no rest and relaxation.”
Reginald Meets with VTN Again
At nearly 97 years old, VTN caught up with him again. He was living on his own in Surrey, BC, where he cooked his own meals, would tend to the plants in his greenhouse to keep busy and enjoyed visits from his extended family with photos of his great-grandchildren adorning the walls. He was also a prolific painter, recreating scenes from his time in the war and the men who served alongside him. He said it was his way of coping and processing his trauma.
Reginald sadly passed away in his home on October 29, 2021, shortly after the interview for this story. He was passionate about sharing his story and helping soldiers with PTSD through his experiences in WWII. We will miss him.
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