Lest we for­get

National Post (Latest Edition) - - LETTERS -

Ev­ery year on Re­mem­brance Day I lay a wreath in mem­ory of my fa­ther, Don­ald Evans. He was a nav­i­ga­tor on a Lan­caster bomber dur­ing the Sec­ond World War and was shot down, hid­den by the French re­sis­tance and lib­er­ated by the Bri­tish army in Septem­ber 1944.

On the night my fa­ther was shot down, his squadron, RAF 106 squadron, lost five of 16 air­craft; three of those ex­ploded as a re­sult of flak di­rect hits killing all on board. His air­craft, which was at­tacked over the tar­get by a night fighter, turned for Eng­land badly dam­aged with two en­gines on fire. They made it half way to the coast be­fore bail­ing out. My fa­ther bailed out when the plane was very low and he hit the ground hard as his para­chute had barely opened, in­jur­ing his back and leg. While he was picked up by the re­sis­tance, his fel­low crew mem­bers were all cap­tured and spent the rest of the war as POWs.

Re­cently I came upon the fol­low­ing state­ment in a book by English his­to­rian Max Hast­ings: “Among ev­ery hun­dred RAF Bomber Com­mand air­crew in the course of the war, 51 died on op­er­a­tions, nine were lost in crashes in Eng­land, three se­ri­ously in­jured, 12 taken pris­oner, one was shot down and es­caped cap­ture, and just 24 com­pleted a tour of op­er­a­tions (30 mis­sions).”

The odds my fa­ther faced were even worse, as he told me that when he joined 106 squadron early in April 1944, no crew had com­pleted a tour in more than a year. He used to tell me that he had been liv­ing on bor­rowed time since 1944, and I now re­al­ize he wasn’t ex­ag­ger­at­ing. His sur­vival (he lived to the age of 87) was truly mirac­u­lous. Garth M. Evans, Van­cou­ver

In 1970, I served in a Cana­dian tank reg­i­ment, part of the Cana­dian Con­tin­gent sta­tioned in Ger­many.

In April of that year I took my fam­ily on a hol­i­day to Italy. We stopped for a pic­nic by the seashore near Or­tona, and walked through a small Com­mon­wealth gravesite on a nearby hill.

I took a photo of the gravesite of Trooper Wil­liam Smith, Royal Cana­dian Dra­goons, who was 20 years of age. At the bot­tom was the in­scrip­tion “My Billy boy, a good baby, a fine young man, died a brave sol­dier.”

Some weeks later, I picked up the film of our hol­i­day that had just been de­vel­oped. Sit­ting in the Royal Cana­dian Dra­goons (RCD) Of­fi­cers Mess and go­ing through the pho­tos, I over­heard the Colonel com­ment on a let­ter he had re­ceived from a lady in Toronto, say­ing that her son was killed in Italy with the RCD in 1943.

I could not be­lieve it when the Colonel added that, “His name was Trooper Wil­liam Smith; how would we con­firm he was ac­tu­ally with the reg­i­ment?” It was a shock be­cause at that very mo­ment I was look­ing at the photo of the head­stone of Trooper Smith. I passed the pic­ture to the Colonel and said, “Is this the sol­dier you are speak­ing about?”

A let­ter was sent to the lady with a photo of her son’s head­stone along with an in­vi­ta­tion to visit us in Ger­many. She wrote back later, thank­ing us pro­fusely for the pic­ture and in­vi­ta­tion, but added that she was el­derly and could no longer travel. She then asked “Who put that won­der­ful in­scrip­tion on Billy’s grave­stone?” We were never able to give her a sat­is­fac­tory an­swer, and as­sumed that a fam­ily mem­ber may have done so.

Each Re­mem­brance Day, I think of Trooper Smith in Italy, and of a school friend of the same age, Lance Cor­po­ral Richard Nankervis, whose grave is in South Korea. Re­mem­brance has in­deed got mean­ing. Gary Del Vil­lano, Ma­jor (Re­tired), Vic­to­ria B.C.

CHRISTO­PHER FUR­LONG / GETTY IMAGES FILES

Lady­bower and Der­went reser­voirs were used by the RAF’s 617 Squadron in 1943 to test Sir Barnes Wal­lis’ bounc­ing bomb be­fore their mis­sion to de­stroy dams in Ger­many’s Ruhr Val­ley.

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