Jean Forbes-King’s To Climb a Mountain. Growing Up in the Canadian West: Adventure Amid Turmoil and History is a fast-paced, action-packed adventure story of her late husband, William Forbes-King, who endures the devastating drought and depression of the Dirty Thirties, becomes an orphan at age fourteen, and is drafted into the Canadian Army as a teenager.
Bill’s father, a British Army officer, survives the German gas attack at Ypres in the First World War but passes away before Bill is born in 1926. The next year, Bill’s mother leaves England with her two boys, moving to the small prairie community of Cadillac in southern Saskatchewan.
As a “freckle-faced kid with sun-bleached hair,” Billy Forbes-King is a prankster. He’s also bullied, often coming home with a black eye, bruises, or bloody nose. He later learns why his older brother, Jim, who also bullies him, was himself ridiculed and bullied.
After Jim joins the Royal Canadian Navy, Bill and his mother join him in Victoria, BC. Travelling by train through the Rocky Mountains, Bill is overwhelmed with their beauty and power, vowing to return some day.
When his mother dies, leaving Bill an orphan, he works at various odd jobs. Lying about his age to get an employment permit, he’s conscripted into the Canadian Army in 1944 at age seventeen. He almost doesn’t make it through training, stumbling backwards while throwing a hand grenade.
Physically fit and a crack shot, he’s trained as a signalman, a prime target for snipers. Despite the ever-present threat of German submarines, Bill’s ship sails without a destroyer escort, relying solely on its fast speed. During combat in Europe, he’s wounded by a shell burst but survives the war.
Upon his discharge, Bill marries and secures his dream job, becoming a forest ranger and game warden in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. Besides daily patrols, his job is to track down cougars or bears when they threaten humans or livestock.
His adventures continue with several near-death experiences. On one occasion as he’s crossing a river during spring thaw, an ice dam bursts upstream and the raging current carries him and his horse away. When his oldest son drowns in a fish pond, Bill is devastated and never recovers. The next year, he nearly bleeds to death from a hemorrhaging ulcer.
To Climb a Mountain. Growing Up in the Canadian West: Adventure Amid Turmoil and History is Jean Forbes-King’s first book. She writes her husband’s biography as autobiography, letting him tell his own story. Before his death in 2012, Bill recorded many of his anecdotes. Jean uses them, plus her own insights into his life, to weave her story. She seems to have penetrated his mind, revealing how he thinks.
All the events in Jean’s book are true, but they read like fiction, packing one shock after another. Readers may easily find themselves on the edge of their seats, wondering what will befall Bill next.
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