Recounting history – Lest We Forget

Once again it is Fall and November is just around the corner.  A time to remember those who fought for freedoms they believed in and, in which, we live today.

Banners of the fallen of Bruce County will soon line the main streets of Port Elgin and Southampton and, there are those descendants, who will stand in awe of the great sacrifice that their young men made in a time of turmoil.

Rev. Chuck Beaton, a war-time historian, tells of one of the most famous air raids of World War II, ‘The Dam Busters’, which became a 1955 British epic war film.

                               Below is Rev. Beaton’s recounting of the raid.

      Rev. Charles (Chuck)                           Beaton

One of the most famous air raids of the 2nd World War took place 75 years ago on May 16, 1943. Operation Chastise was executed by a specially chosen and trained squadron of Lancasters. Each aircraft carried one unique bomb that looked like a 45 gallon drum, and spun so that it would bounce like a skipping stone over the surface of the water. The targets were the Ruhr River dams, Mohne, Eder and Sorpe, located in the industrial heartland of    Germany.

The dams provided hydroelectric power for most of the factories producing much of the war materials for all branches of the axis forces. It was a military operation that became legendary. The attack marked the first time the allies took the war inside Nazi Germany.

The operation had been planned for a long time and many obstacles had to be overcome. For example, the plane had to fly at exactly 60 feet above the water and at a speed of 232 mph, so that the bomb would skip over the water the proper distance, before settling against the dam wall, detonating under water, triggered by a time fuse. It was dangerous work requiring precise low level flying, all the while facing heavy antiaircraft fire.

In May of this year. I attended a wonderful event at the Canadian Warplane Museum (CWM) in
Hamilton. Ted Barris, well known Canadian author of war stories, was the guest speaker. His new book, “The Dam Busters – Canadian Connection” was being published and about to be released. Nearly 600 people were seated on the hangar floor facing our Canadian Lancaster VRA as a backdrop. She had been painted in the Dam Busters colours for the occasion as a tribute.

Ted Barris’ presentation was masterful. As he spoke, pictures of the airmen, the planes and the dams came up on two large screens. In his research, he discovered that nearly one third of the 133 airmen on that raid were trained in Canada under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. About 40 Canadians were flying in that elite group. Of the 19 bombers outbound eight did not return and 53 lives were lost.

Barris acknowledged the 14 Canadians who were killed on that raid.

There was a section of reserved seating for the families of those lost airmen. They came from all parts of Canada, and as the talk unfolded each family was asked to stand. It was a powerful and emotional time for
all of us and one of the finest remembrance events I have ever attended. The relatives appreciated the fact that their loved ones were recognized and honoured for their sacrifice.

I want to get a copy of Ted’s book for our Legion Branch in the hope that our Air Force veterans
will read it.  Anyone interested in war history will appreciate it immensely.