Someone Special



(L) Daughter, Margaret Blender, son-in-law, Stephen Blender, John (Jack) Bower, grandson, Jonathon Gammon and Alma Blender (Stephen's mother) celebrate a family birthday

Sunderland made by Short

It's funny how things happen sometimes and the result is, you meet the most interesting people.

In a restaurant the other day, at the next table, there was obviously a family birthday going on. The birthday gift-bag was there, the card and a cupcake with a candle. Since the tables were very close together, I couldn't help but overhear the 'birthday gentleman' say that Vera Lynn had been his favourite singer and his favourite song was her rendition of 'Till We Meet Again'.

I leaned over and said, I couldn't help overhearing, and that Vera was one of my favourites too. He said it was impossible because that was another time and generation. After assuring him that she was and that I knew the words to all her songs, I asked him what birthday he was celebrating and if he had been in the war.

Born and raised in Ripley, John Bowers, had turned 88 that day and said that he had, indeed, been in the war. "I was a dashing young man of 19," he laughed, "and I couldn't wait to go."

He ended up being a pilot and flew both the  Sunderland manufactured by the famous Short Brothers and the B24, a difficult planes to fly at the best of times. As pilot of a Sunderland, he had flown over the North Atlantic, one of the most treacherous spots of the war. Then, as pilot of the B24, he had ferried special British, Canadian and Indian troops back and forth between England and India.

"The bomber doors of the B24 had been sealed shut," explained Bowers, "and plywood flooring had been put in along with seating for 26 troops. We flew out over the Atlantic and hop-skipped across Africa to India. Anyway, before we left, we always listened to Vera Lynn, the services' Sweetheart."

(next column)

06/05/2009 04:08 PM

B24 Liberator

Bowers later became a teacher in Stratford and eventually a professor. He then became Director of Education for Bruce County and moved to Chesley, where he remains today. "Once I started work there, my late wife and I decided to build our home in Chesley," said Bowers, "and, afterward, I just stayed. I retired in 1986 and just recently drove by what used to be the board of education building that was put up when I was director. Today, it's just a pile or rubble."

"Life goes on I guess ...", he sighed.

In addition to Vera Lynn, education and flying, John Bowers has an interest in photography and lighthouses. "I did a special series of photos that included the Kincardine light, Point Clark and Chantry Island. I think Chantry is without a doubt a remarkable commitment by volunteers." [He didn't know that I had been a volunteer with the Chantry restoration for several years.]

What a wonderful way to spend an hour or so. So, Mr. Bowers, once again, I wish you a happy birthday and many more to come.

And, for anyone who wants to hear the most interesting stories that life has to offer, take the time to listen to a veteran or, better yet ... take the time to start the conversation.

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