John answers the door and instantly comments on the Spring temperature: “What weather we’re having!”—the mildest, he says he ever remembers here.
If you renamed Reved “John Augustyn’s Stories” it could last 100 years. His fighting in the Second World War and incredible tale of survival is well-known by almost every Revelstokian and well-documented in the Best of Reved book from author Sarah Newton’s many, many interviews. He is a sharp and abundantly experienced nonagenarian and his life experience is almost unfathomable by today’s standards. By war and destiny, he saw a great portion of the world—from Poland to Russia, Iran, Iraq, Palestine Egypt, North Africa, Italy, England, Holland, France and Germany until resettlement to work on a sugar beet farm in Lethbridge, Alberta and finally moving to Revy 60-odd years ago. “You went through so many countries and always something different. The first thing was survive,” he said. As a boy, he endured Poland’s brutal Great Depression. His experience is unlike most Canadians who didn’t face the same level of starvation, gulags nor the likes of the 1940 Katyn Massacre. At 20, he was put to work in a Russian coal mine. There he learned to drive trucks—a dangerous, and therefore, much sought-after skill in the wartime re-supply effort. He has had many close calls with bullets and shells that ended the lives of those next to him. Once, a transport ship he was on was struck and he couldn’t open his mouth from the explosion. “People don’t realize how powerful torpedoes are … When I made it off the ship I kissed the ground. But on the ground you can get killed just the same like on the sea.” Many times he thought he wasn’t going to make it. After a truck he was driving was destroyed, he lay in a road-side ditch for hours while being shelled by Germans and hearing men nearby suffering, crying—“I never forget them. Nobody help them.” If it wasn’t Germans, bullets or torpedoes, it was malaria, scorpions or cobras, like in Uzbekistan, that the men used as target-practice. Today, you will most likely see him in his garden, reaping the fruits of his life’s labour: “I get up in the morning and first thing I go there,” he said. >> WRITTEN BY PETER WORDEN
HAPPY 97th BIRTHDAY—John turns 97 on May 12. Be sure to say hello if you see him.