Saturday, 24 October 2015

FOR US OLDIES, IT TAKES A DEDICATED TEAM

This episode took 13 key players.  It started as I was nearing the end of my 96th tour around the Sun on Spaceship Earth.  I was believing my failing stamina was insufficient for further travel on this planet when my nephew, David in Ottawa, knowing I had not seen my brother, Trevor, and his wife, Enid, in Port Hope for 10 years started to correct all this.  Trevor, now at age 94, was a WWII pilot who started an electrical wiring business in 1946 that grew into a large appliance and furniture store in which he still works every day.  His family consists of Paul, David, and Lisa.  Paul now runs the store with expansive show rooms and a warehouse of 1,000 items from mattresses to sofas, TVs, and appliances, somewhat ambitious for a town of 16,500 yet quite successful as they service what they sell.  His wife, Linda, and children, Nick and Sarah, also graced our gathering.  Lisa is a world traveller having worked in the UK, European countries, Israel, and visited many in the east before living in Australia.  Now, she and her husband, Rich,  have built homes in Prince Rupert, BC, and a half dozen large cabins on the north shore of Haida Gwaii with the motto “All the Beach You Can Eat”.  Lawyer David is a 100,000 mile-a-year traveller on Air Canada working with governments around the world but especially Washington and London where he maintains a bicycle.  In Ottawa he has cycled some 10,000 miles this year, often 160 km a time along country roads just to get a cup of coffee at favourite stops.
David conspired with my daughters, Valerie and Patricia (Trish) who could get a week off work at the same time to be my escorts for an Air Canada flight from Denver to Toronto where Lisa, all the way from the west coast and Valerie’s son, Braden, who is a computer expert in Wisconsin, arrived just before us to rent a car.       Lisa drove us to the Toronto home of daughter Diane, a retired registered nurse who ran an addiction ward and Mark, a lawyer and hockey coach, for dinner and a few hours with them and their grown family of Bryce, Jessica, and Derek.  It was then 120 km to Port Hope where Lisa and I stayed with Trevor and Enid while Valerie, Trish, and Braden had rooms in a nice hotel downtown on the banks of the Ganaraska River. 
  Saturday saw a reunion of 16 family members including David’s son, Adam, and girl friend, Katie, plus 3 from Oshawa & Scarborough.  Joan brought her mother, Ruth Garnett, now a widow.  We had not seen each other since  schoolmates in 1938, both remembering the time when one of the boys used his family car to pack in students to drive the 70 miles to the Toronto Royal Winter Fair.  Heaters did not exist in cars then so four of us were packed in the back seat under blankets.  I sat next to Ruth. 
     Unfortunately we boys were very shy of girls so failed to take advantage of the situation.  Fortunately we have all outgrown that handicap.
BOMBER COMMAND:  Sunday several carloads of us drove to the RCAF museum in Trenton that features the only Halifax in Canada, the aircraft most flown by Canadians in Bomber Command.  It had been retrieved in 1994 from 225 metres down in Lake Mjosa, Norway, where it had been shot down 23 April 1945. Karl Kjarsgaard, a Canadian Airlines pilot, found the location and sparked the flight of the wreckage to Trenton where 120 volunteers worked 16 years to rebuild it.  David made a substantial financial contribution.
I had visited it several times during this phase and knew many of the volunteers including Jeff Jefferies, head of the rebuilding team, now deceased, and Bill Tytula who, in a powered wheel chair, was on duty to escort my group around the displays.  
Being so precious and so cramped, visitors are not allowed inside the Halifax but installed cameras bring  inside images to screens on the balcony.  As I am one of the very few living survivors of those shot down in a Halifax, two old retired RCAF friends, Morris Gates, author of several books including the new 606-page  book on the Rockcliffe years of 408 Squadron during which it mapped much of Arctic Canada, and Tom Kupecz, still working on such tasks as NATO operations and who is the author of my Blog #084, published 09 January 2013 entitled “Conspiracies”, asked the current curator, Kevin Windsor, to make an exception for Valerie, Trish, and me, allowing us to crawl in through the rear small hatch that my crew had to chop open with an axe as it had been fused by cannon fire and frozen solid in a plunging, burning aircraft. 
In the Halifax I now had difficulty clambering over cross members and easing myself into narrow compartments wondering how I ever accomplished what I did back in 1942 and 43.  My eyes were moist as I recalled the 125 good young friends that WWII took from me, especially Pat Porter, after whom Trish (Patricia) is named.  He was the only one who had a chance to get out but sacrificed his young life to stay at the controls to fight the plunge and give the 6 of us the seconds required to cut our way out.
     After the inside tour we had a most interesting talk with the educational coordinator, Gina Heinbockel-Bolik, leaving a hard cover copy of my book with her for the museum library.
EMOTIONS:  Deep and mixed emotions drag me to this symbol of the best and worst of human activities.  It was part of Bomber Command that fought the longest, continuous battle of WWII, 2,074 days and nights.  After the Kriegsmarine U-boat rate of 75%, it suffered the highest casualties at 59%.  For almost 5 years it was the only weapon we had that could strike at Germany until joined by the USAAF 8th Air Force in 1943.
Effective navigational aids were too often jammed by Luftwaffe countermeasures so our inaccurate bombing, usually at night or over solid cloud, killed 600,000 German civilians and devastated vast areas.  It is a guilt I can never escape.   Hitler and his SS and Gestapo were also a curse on the German people and we must accept our blame for their rise, a story too long for this blog.
Of the 125,000 aircrew who flew in Bomber Command, 73,741 became casualties including 9,838 POWs.  Of the 6,176 Halifaxes built, 2,627 were shot down.  Aircraft flown by the 135 Bomber Command squadrons were: Blenheim, Whitley, Wellington, Hampden, Manchester, Halifax, Stirling, Lancaster, and Mosquito.  Survivors, after the war, were converted to needed pots and pans.
Squadrons were: UK 100, Canada15, Australia 8, Poland 4, Free French 3, New Zealand 2, Rhodesia 1, Czechoslovakia 1, Netherlands 1.  More Canadians flew with RAF and RAAF  than RCAF squadrons.  Life expectancy was five operations.  Survival rate of those shot down was 17%.  Mark's dad survived two tours on a Polish squadron flying Wellingtons.
OTHER IMPRESSIONS:   Both Denver and Toronto terminals are massive and confusing revealing the world’s over population. Greater Denver has 2.9 while Toronto 5.5 million humans.  Both offer wheel chairs to those of my age.  Arriving at Pearson Airport in Toronto, cultural diversity is immediately apparent.  Welcoming signs  are painted in a score of languages and costumes.  The women pushing my wheel chairs were mainly of Asian (India) origin.  Over 140 languages and dialects are spoken among 200 ethnic groupings.  Half of Toronto’s population was born outside of Canada. 
In spite of Ontario losing 300,000 manufacturing jobs to lower wage countries and the percentage of GDP for manufacturing dropping from 22 to12%, the hundreds of miles we drove looked clean, prosperous, and safe.  Highway 401 that extends from Windsor to Quebec City (Autoroute 20 in Quebec) has up to 18 lanes in the Toronto area packed with trucks and cars that can number 500,000 a day, the world’s busiest.
Canadians who put up with a record 78 days of political campaigning for the 19 October election would never endure the four years the unfortunate in the USA suffer.
What a pleasant surprise back at Pearson airport for the return flight!  After enjoying the free magazines and varied food in the Air Canada lounge we joined the throngs at the departure counters and there, in the adjacent counter, was good friend Donna Desroches from St, John’s, Newfoundland, en route to visit her sister, Betty Davis, and us in Colorado Springs.
Arriving back in Denver, Valerie’s husband, George, who had driven us to the Toronto-bound Air Canada flight, was waiting to drive us to Colorado Springs where Daughter, Barbara who, along with 3 horses, lives alone on a 44-acre ranch 27 miles away, was waiting in my house that she had cleaned and put in immaculate shape.
The family all got home safely and is once again widely dispersed, all thankful for these modern, and confusing to me, phones that provide instant e-mails, pictures, and even conversations.  
All in all I am being spoiled so much that I fear I will grow up to be a spoiled brat.

georgesweanor@comcast.net                         www.yeoldescribe.com




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