Step­ping back in time

Mem­o­ries come flood­ing back for bomber crew­men who rem­i­nisce about 30 mis­sions


Hav­ing a chance to step inside an old Avro Lan­caster bomber for the first time in 71 years was a treat two old veter­ans never thought would hap­pen.

And for Roy Mor­ri­son, 94, and his for­mer nav­i­ga­tor Henry (Chick) Hewett, who will be 96 on Nov. 13, the ex­pe­ri­ence rekin­dled old, long-for­got­ten mem­o­ries of the 30 bomb­ing mis­sions they com­pleted to­gether over Europe dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

“It was the first time I was in a Lanc in so many years. It brought back a lot of mem­o­ries and be­ing in­ducted into the lit­tle group of sort of rare peo­ple nowa­days, I feel very hon­oured and hum­bled re­ally,” Hewett said, of his re­cent in­duc­tion into the Lan­caster Liv­ing Le­gends project.

“But it brought back lots of mem­o­ries that’s for sure,” he said. “Sit and re­flect is about the best way to de­scribe it. It was just a fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity and I was so grate­ful for it.”

Al­though Hewett ap­pears in re­mark­able shape given his age, he has had prob­lems with his hips, which made it dif­fi­cult to ex­plore the nav­i­ga­tor’s po­si­tion he manned dur­ing the war.

“But just look­ing down the tun­nel as it were and re­mem­ber­ing all the times we had to climb over the main spar with all our gear on, of course. And then I had an ad­di­tional piece of bag­gage, I had a big bag with all my charts and equip­ment. It brought back mem­o­ries of sort of creep­ing up there in the dark, par­tic­u­larly on a night trip, get­ting into the air­craft to get set for take off.

“But it brought back lots of mem­o­ries that’s for sure, ” Hewett said. “And to my mind, great rem­i­nisces, even though some­times they weren’t the great­est of oc­cur­rences at the time.”

One such event was when the escape hatch blew off just af­ter take­off. Lo­cated just above the pi­lot and close to Hewett’s po­si­tion, the open hatch caused some im­me­di­ate havoc inside the bomber.

“Pa­pers started fly­ing all around in the air­craft and then the de­ci­sion, what to do?” he re­called.

Not want­ing to land a plane loaded with both bombs and fuel, the pi­lot pro­ceeded with their mis­sion while other crew mem­bers con­ducted a “crude re­pair job”.

“And we had a rather cool trip that day,” Hewett chuck­led.

Sit­ting at the glassed-in tur­ret at the back of the plane, rear gun­ner Mor­ri­son was rarely privy to what was go­ing on in the rest of the plane.

“We didn’t have much com­mu­ni­ca­tion when we were on a flight be­cause the en­emy could pick the con­ver­sa­tions up. So we weren’t al­lowed to do much talk­ing un­less it was a real emer­gency,” he said.

And step­ping inside a Lan­caster af­ter so many years “gave me a strange feel­ing,” he said. “I used to think it was very big when you crawled in there. But I found it very small when I got in this time. I was sur­prised how small it was. It gave me a funny feel­ing.”

But both men said they will al­ways cher­ish their re­union and the chance to look over the type of plane in which they once spent so many hours to­gether dur­ing 30 bomb­ing runs.

“It was a great visit. It was won­der­ful re­ally,” Mor­ri­son said.

The Vic­to­ria Cross is the United Kingdom’s high­est hon­our.

In­tro­duced in 1856, it is awarded for gal­lantry in com­bat, of­ten posthu­mously. When that hap­pens, in­stead of a medal proudly worn on a vet­eran’s chest, the ini­tials ‘V.C.’ are pre­scribed to the re­cip­i­ents on their com­mu­nity’s ceno­taph.

James Peter Robertson is one of those re­cip­i­ents.

Born in 1883 in Stel­lar­ton, N.S. – then known as Al­bion Mines – Robertson’s fam­ily moved to Springhill where he grew up with fa­mil­iar last names like Brown, White and Macdon­ald. In time, his fam­ily moved to Medicine Hat, Al­berta, and when the First World War broke out Robertson – then 32 years old – joined the Cana­dian Ex­pe­di­tionary Force.

Two years later he would be dead, but not be­fore dis­tin­guish­ing him­self in the heat of bat­tle and sav­ing the lives of his col­leagues.

On Novem­ber 6, 1917, dur­ing the fi­nal as­sault at Pass­chen­daele, Bel­gium, Robertson and his pla­toon were pinned be­tween a rock and a hard place. Be­hind them, barbed wire pre­vented re­treat. Ahead of them, a Ger­man ma­chine gun was do­ing it’s best to mow them down. Nonethe­less, Robertson found an open­ing in the en­emy’s flank and rushed the gun­ner. It wasn’t an easy sneak at­tack.

In a des­per­ate strug­gle, Robertson killed four mem­bers of the Ger­man gun crew be­fore wrestling away con­trol of the ma­chine gun and turn­ing it on the re­main­ing Ger­mans. With the en­emy in re­treat of Robertson’s fire, his pla­toon ad­vanced and joined his po­si­tion.

The Sec­ond Bat­tle of Pass­chen­daele was now mov­ing in the al­lies’ favour, and most of the units had reached their goals. As Robertson’s pla­toon ad­vanced to­wards theirs, two friendly snipers fell in­jured in front of his trench. Robertson went out and car­ried one of them back to safety un­der heavy fire, but when he tried to skirt en­emy fire a sec­ond time an en­emy shell ex­ploded, killing him.

Robertson re­mains rest in the Tyne Cot Ceme­tery, five miles north of the Bel­gian town Ypres. His marker was dubbed “Plot LVIII. Row D. Grave 26,” but his name is still re­mem­bered today by both his com­mu­nity and his na­tion.

The first Cana­dian hero-class ves­sel built for the Cana­dian Coast Guard and launched in May 2012 is named the CCGS Pri­vate Robertson V.C. It now pa­trols the Great Lake.

Here in Springhill, how­ever, it is the com­mu­nity ceno­taph which holds Robertson’s name for us to re­mem­ber and those of the Browns, the Whites, the Mac­don­alds and all the other fam­i­lies whose loved ones paid the ul­ti­mate price.

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The Cana­dian Coast Guard Ship Pri­vate Robertson V.C. on the St. Clair River at Sar­nia On­tario Au­gust 20 2017.


Henry (Chick) Hewett, left, and Roy Mor­ri­son found them­selves aboard an Avro Lan­caster again for the first time in about 70 years. The two flew 30 bomb­ing mis­sions to­gether in the Sec­ond World War.

Pvt. James Peter Robertson

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