River Boy at War


103 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-86492-068-7





Reviewed by Ellen Pilon

Ellen Pilon is a library assistant in the Patrick Power Library at Saint
Mary’s University in Halifax.


River Boy at War is the third of James Chapman’s reminiscences, following River Boy and River Boy Returns. Chapman, a native of Gagetown, New Brunswick, on the St. John River, served as a navigator with the Royal Canadian Air Force, 415 Squadron, from 1940 to 1946. Afterwards he

taught history at the University of New Brunswick. Chapman’s memories of World War II are told at a comfortable pace, neither slow nor laborious, and with a skilled blending of personal anecdote, Squadron events, and humourous overtones. Chapman tried to enlist with the air force after war was declared but was rejected as unfit. Later called into the army, he was given a month’s rigorous training, after which he was qualified for the air force. He was stationed in Toronto, Picton, Saint John, London (Ontario) for training as a navigator, and Pennfield Ridge (NB.), then overseas to England, where he was chiefly at Thorney Island. A selected history of 415 Squadron during the war forms the nucleus of the book as Chapman refers to his log book and elaborates on certain events. Camaraderie plays a large part: he emphasizes the closeness of 415 Squadron and especially of individual crews, who spent so much time together, sharing drinking sprees, and facing death with every flight. The book is a glowing tribute to his friends of 415: “We remain friends despite the passage of forty years and despite following widely differing careers and living in different parts of the country and even in different countries. We remain friends, although we may never see each other for many years at a stretch.... But when we do meet, the decades contract to weeks and it’s as though we are still comrades in arms.” A reunion of 415 Squadron in 1982 included “some twenty of its original members.” Chapman’s book portrays this deep friendship with insight. His own reminiscences are not too personal but portray many other friends and seem representative of their memories as a whole.


Chapman, J.K., “River Boy at War,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 23, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/35578.