A Life's Story
January 19, 2019
War amputee dedicated himself to helping others
Charles Boulet was a husband, father, Second World War veteran and amputee, community volunteer, and a man cut from the cloth an older generation was made of.
For more than 40 years, he volunteered with the Manitoba branch of the War Amps on its sick and visiting committee, helping to ease the burden of suffering and bring hope to those experiencing the loss of a limb.
He knew the struggle intimately, having lost his left arm below the elbow in a bomb explosion in 1944, while stationed with the Canadian military in England.
“He was the type that accepted this. He didn’t feel sorry for himself. He didn’t want anybody to pity him and he was mostly doing what anyone else would do,” said Germaine Boulet, the love of his life and wife of 70 years.
“He did everything himself. He was very independent. It was his life, the War Amps. It was very important to him.”
Boulet was born in Dunrea (50 kilometres southeast of Brandon) on Aug. 27, 1922. He was one of 11 children born to Archelas and Clara Boulet.
In 1940, Boulet ran away from home at the age of 17 and enlisted in the military. Despite the fact he was underage, he felt the pull to do his part in the war, his family said.
“He lied about his age. A lot of them did back then. By the time his mother realized where he was, he was in England,” said Roger Boulet, his son.
Boulet did a number of labour-related jobs in the military, including bricklayer, truck driver and motorcycle courier. Eventually, he signed up to join a paratroop division and hoped to be in the action on the battlefields in France.
During a training exercise in 1944, a shell exploded and severed his left arm below the elbow.
“They thought he would die. They really did, but he didn’t. He survived,” said Germaine Boulet.
He stayed in hospital in England for several months, before being sent back to Canada. He joined the War Amps that year, eventually holding board positions within the national non-profit organization.
Boulet met Germaine, whom he’d known briefly before the war, and the two married in 1948, and built a life together in Winnipeg. From 1950 to 1960, they had four children: Diane Abraham, Louise Saurette, Roger and Richard.
He worked at Deer Lodge Centre, a health facility that specializes in the treatment of veterans, as a clerk in the pension department until his retirement in the late 1980s.
In his spare time, he volunteered with the War Amps, took an active role in his church, enjoyed watching hockey, and bowled with friends.
After his retirement, the couple travelled around the world, taking three trips a year and collecting stamps in their passports from places such as North Africa, Cambodia, Colombia, Israel, Egypt and Lebanon.
When he was 50, Roger lost a couple of fingers in an accident while working in his garage. In the aftermath, he said his father, and the way he had handled losing his arm at such a young age, was an inspiration.
“Instead of sulking, he just kept living. He was an amputee, but he still did everything around the house. I can remember him going up on the ladder at home and using his wooden arm as a hammer to pound in nails,” Roger said.
“You go through a series of emotions when something like that happens. You’re mad at yourself. You’re feeling sorry for yourself. But then I just thought about my dad.”
Two years ago, at the age of 94, Boulet began experiencing serious health issues, primarily with his lungs, and was hospitalized. During that time, his wife visited him every day.
“He kept asking me to go home, but he wasn’t able to take care of himself. Every day, I visited him. We used to take him out. He wanted to go for rides. He loved cars, so I had a lady with me who would drive and she would drive us,” she said.
“He was a good man. Everybody has faults. He was stubborn, his mother knew that when he joined the army, but he was a good man.”
Boulet died in his sleep on Nov. 7, 2018, at 96. He is survived by his wife, four children, 11 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.
“I miss him a lot, especially because I was still going to see him every day. I didn’t get used to him being away. Well, we been married 70 years. It’s a long time,” Germaine said.