John William Grant

John’s plane was once sabotaged while he was transporting a Russian high-ranking officer to another location.

John William Grant had so many close encounters with death that he couldn’t help but laugh when he told his son Charles “Charlie” Grant the stories. “He figured he had a charmed life. He had no fear,” Charlie recalled.

John’s service began with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) in fall 1915. He fought in the Battle of Mount Sorrel and the Battle of the Somme and was hit with shrapnel while sitting on the side of a trench during the Battle of Courcelette. He was sent to a hospital in England until 1917 when he joined the Royal Flying Corps.

Charlie’s favourite story about his dad happened while John was training as a pilot. With his instructor aboard, John headed to the ground for a forced landing, only to find out that he landed on a golf course. “You would think the golfers would be upset but it was quite the contrary—they were excited,” said Charlie. John and his instructor stayed for tea and sandwiches. When they were ready to leave, they noticed telephone wires at the bottom of the hill, making it difficult to take off. “He should have had the plane towed on the road but he said, ‘I have an idea, will you help me?’ to all the golfers.” The golfers held the wings, wound the propeller and the plane ran down the course, took off, and clipped the treetops.

After training, John was sent to Russia to serve as a pilot during the Russian Civil War. John’s plane was once sabotaged while he was transporting a Russian high-ranking officer to another location. His control stick wouldn’t move when he took off because it had been tied down to cause a crash. “Dad used both hands and reefed back as hard as he could and at the last minute it broke free and they ascended just in time,” said Charlie.

While flying to Archangel, Russia in winter 1918, his stopped mid-air and he landed on the ice. He went to the nearest house and asked for help getting to the base he was station at, which was about a mile away. The peasant who answered the door didn’t want to help but John noticed he had horses and quickly thought of a plan. “He regretted it but he brought out his revolver and threatened to shoot the horse so the guy brought him to the base and they rewarded him with food,” said Charlie.

John’s Curtis JN 4 (“Flying Jennie”) plane was even nicknamed “the spotted leopard” because of the marks on the British bulls eye emblem from shellfire targeted at the previous pilot.

In 1910, John returned to Alberta and resumed teaching all over the province. He married Florence Millar, a previous student of his and they had three kids—George, Edward and Charlie. He rejoined the PPCLI as a weapon-training officer during the Second World War.

He was born in Fonthill, a village in Pelham, Ontario on January 18, 1890, but loved Britain. “He was a British patriot,” said Charlie. John often talked about the war and British and Canadian history. “He would be into a teaching mode or a fun mode where he would tell you funny little anecdotes about things that happened. I’m sure it was therapeutic.”

Do you have an ancestor who served in the Great War? Submit their story and it could be included on this Great War Album website.