Lest we forget
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.
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.