Earlier this year, retired United Church minister Rev. Ted Kersey was awarded the rank of the Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour for his involvement in the liberation of France during the Second World War. Journalist Nancy Fornasiero sat down with Kersey, just in time for Remembrance Day, as he shared some memories of that time in his life.
Q What made you decide to enlist back in 1943?
A I was working in Courtice, near my home in the village of Hampton, as a woodworker. I enjoyed it a lot but when I turned 18, I knew wanted to serve our country. My first choice was the Air Force, but I was turned down because of my poor eyesight. My friends told me the easiest medicals to pass were for the Ordnace Corps, so that’s what I tried next. Sure enough, I was accepted. My parents weren’t too happy about it, though. It was hard on them. The memories of the hardships of the First World War were still on their minds. My dad had fought, and he never liked to talk about what he’d seen there.
Q Tell me a bit about your experiences in France during the war.
A I was a DR [Dispatch Motorcycle Rider] so I never fought in combat, but I was in the thick of it in other ways. I saw the Battle of Caen take place, and after the breakthrough there my days were a blur. I would go night and day on my Norton. . . . I once went three weeks without undressing. I’d be sent out, come back, and report in. I’d snatch a few hours sleep, but didn’t undress because I’d be called at any moment and sent out again. I still remember what a gruesome sight it was to drive along that road from Caen to Falaise. The fighting was fierce, and the losses terrible, to both men and equipment.
Q Was it during your time in the service that you felt called to ministry?
Rev. Ted Kersey during the Second World War. Photo courtesy of Rev. Ted Kersey
A Not at all. After the war, I was happy to go back to
woodworking. I loved it. But when our minister in the Hampton church
called out for new candidates, I got an uncomfortable feeling, like
maybe he was speaking to me. But I wasn’t sure at all. I kept thinking
how unsuited I’d be — after all, for three years I had been taught to
hate and kill. And now I’m supposed to talk about love? I would ask God
about this, because I really wasn’t sure. Finally after praying on it, I
told God, “Okay, I’ll give it a try, but I’m going to need a lot of
help.” You know, doors just started opening after that. I’ve always been
amazed at what God accomplished using my limited talents.
Q If you could have a dialogue like that with God, your faith must have been strong even during your Second World War days.
Yes. I have to credit my grandmother for that foundation — she was a
real saint. She gave me her Bible when I shipped off to France, and I
carried it every day during the war. I still have that dog-eared Bible.
Q How does it feel being recognized as a hero by the French government?
I’m honoured, but I don’t think “hero” is the right word. We all felt
the same way back then. Our freedom was threatened. Somebody had to
stand up. Why not me? I was just doing my bit.