Peter Godwin Chance has always been a navy man. He has spent a lifetime on the water, including 30 years in the Royal Canadian Navy, where he served on 13 ships and fended off German U-boats and aircraft during the Battle of the Atlantic and survived a sinking off Iceland
He remains one of the oldest surviving Canadian servicemen from the Second World War. But at age 102 and three months, the retired naval commander yearned to return to the sky.
As a junior naval officer in England during the war, he had trained as a pilot, taking basic flight training in a Tiger Moth biplane, and had handled the controls of a de Haviland Tracker in 1960 during a posting in Nova Scotia. Last week, with some help from friends and the Victoria Flying Club, Chance got the opportunity to sail into the blue yonder.
He boarded a Cessna 172 Skyhawk with friend Paul Seguna and Victoria Flying Club instructor Darren Rich and took off from Victoria International Airport, where Chance took the controls at 2,500 feet for a 45-minute flight up to Nanaimo and around the Gulf Islands.
Chance was given the opportunity to try out the Skyhawk, taking it on turns, descents and climbs. The smile on his face captured in photographs says it all. “He was literally on cloud nine,” said Seguna.
Chance concurred. “It was the most exciting thing I’ve ever experienced … in these late stages of my life,” Chance said with a wink. “I felt quite at home even though it had been a very long time. My heart was pumping so hard, I thought it was going to jump out of my chest, but it was a wonderful, wonderful experience.”
The flight in a clear sky and optimal flying conditions was a historic event, said Seguna, a retired navy lieutenant commander. Seguna believes Chance may be the oldest Second World War veteran to pilot an aircraft. “He is quite a character, and he’s certainly a remarkable man,” said Seguna.
Michael Schlievert, president of the Victoria Flying Club, said the club supplied the plane and fuel for the flight. “He’s an amazing man and we were happy to get this veteran into the air again,” said Schlievert.
The chance to fly happened “out of the blue,” according to Seguna. He and Chance were having lunch near Victoria airport, as they usually do. Chance mentioned how much he would love to fly again.
“He’s always up for an adventure, so the Victoria Flying Club was able to make it happen,” said Seguna. Chance, who lived independently until last year, has moved into an assisted care home in Sidney, where he maintains an active role in the community and in the navy. “I’m a scooter guy now,” he said.
In 2021, Chance cut the ribbon on the CFB Esquimalt Museum’s Battle of the Atlantic gallery, which now bears his name. Chance spent the war on Royal Canadian Navy ships, including HMCS Skeena, which in 1944 was lost along with 15 of its crew after running aground during a storm off Iceland.
Chance began his naval career with the Ottawa Naval Reserve Division, HMCS Carleton, in 1938. He joined his first ship, HMCS St. Laurent, in September 1939, days after the Second World War began. That launched a 30-year naval career on ships ranging from frigates and destroyers to cruisers, battleships and aircraft carriers in various theatres of conflict, including D-Day and Korea.
He went from midshipman to commander of a frigate and destroyer in Canada’s post-war navy. He also held senior staff positions ashore in Canada, the U.K. and U.S.
Chance has been married twice and has four children. He said the secret to longevity has “everything to do with luck, and the occasional belt of whiskey.”