The poem's author... John Gillespie McGee Jr, was born in Shanghai to an American father and British mother. Moving to the US in 1939, he would travel to Canada, like thousands of others, to join the RCAF in 1940 and beyond. He got pilot trained, and was very soon sent off to England. It was here that he composed his famousl poem in September 1941.
On the 11th, 3 days from now, we should give thought to Pilot Officer McGee. On that day he was flying his spitfire in training exercises over England when something went horribly wrong and his plane collided with another, killing both pilots. He was only 19 years old at the time.
I was reminded of the story when invited, and attended a meeting a few days back by a very talented group of professionals. These men and one woman have considerable pride in Canada's air force and their heroes of days long since passed.
These folks have been planning, at least one for close to a decade, to see some local acknowledgement of the heroism of Lt. Robert Hampton Gray, VC, DSC, MID, RCNVR.
BC born "Hammy" was killed in action whilst leading an attack on five enemy warships. Having to take a very low approach to get his target he took on heavy fire from five war ships and ground installations and was shot down in to the sea. But not before sinking one of the destroyers.
Plans are well under foot for a suitable memorial at the Victoria Airport to commemorate this hero, and more will come in this space as they move closer to the day of dedication, probably in August of next year. In the months to come I will bring you a detailed blog on Lt. Gray's military service.
But moving on, still with the military and the airport, YYJ to most, but the Victoria Airport to the rest, got her start as a long grass strip. This is where the Royal Air Force trained many a pilot before being sent off to England during the 1939-1941 period. It was then taken over by the RCAF back about 1942. Within about six years the Airport was turned over to civilian authorities and renamed the Victoria International Airport. In 2018 it was declared the nation's 11th busiest airports, serving over 2 million traveling on more than 120,000 flights that year alone.
About a year ago I became aware of the fact that this airport played a significant role in Canada's military history.
For years dedicated civilians, some with military backgrounds, folks from the Victoria Airport Authority, families of deceased air force veterans and others worked together for a common cause. They wanted the public to know that some 10,000 troops were trained there. A further 179 were killed there either on training at the station or on flights originating in or out of the station.
Further, many may not realize that before the airport of today, a large air force headquarters building and a hospital were in full operation there as well.
The service men and women stood on the grounds, on a hill, called Hospital Hill, and in the very spot were the military hospital once stood. In the background is one of today's runways.
The monument, correctly know as the Lost Airmen of the Empire Monument, is located just north of the airport at 1331 Mills Road.
I highly suggest you take the time to go and visit this most interesting and respectful memorial. And while you are at it, travel further west on Mills Road for less than a few min utes and you will get to West Saanich Rd. At that very corner is the Holy Trinity Church. And therein is the little visited grave of a major war hero... General George Pearkes.
Please also pay your respects to him when in the area.
see you next Sunday,