29 November 2009

Pennfield Ridge War Memorial Project

"If by chance
I am the one
I pray my God
I will have reached
My finest hour
Before my limbs
Are severed
From my body warm."

P/O Bayden Bala Williams (1917-1943)

Since 27 January 2007 G Christian Larsen has conducted extensive research on the former Pennfield Ridge Air Station. From this research a "Roll of Honour" has been established which identifies seventy (70) service personnel and six (6) civilians who were killed during the history of the former Air Station.

With the "Roll of Honour" now complete the society has decided to continue forward the work of the "Charlotte County War Memorial Committee (2005)". Their remaining goal was erecting a memorial stone listing the names of those killed at the former Air Station along with a three-tier flag pole at the memorial site. The flags to be flown are the Canadian and New Brunswick flags along with the RCAF Roundel.

P/O Williams (author of the above noted poem) was the sixteenth airmen killed at Pennfield Ridge and was among the numerous young aircrew students killed in training crashes across Canada during World War II. They all died in the service of their country while preparing for war and yet they remain forgotten heroes. They remain so simply because they died before their finest hour. We need to remember these forgotten heroes.

So many unfilled dreams of a brighter tomorrow ended before they really had a chance to begin. Sometimes the youthful exuberance of the innocent and an uncertainty of a tomorrow often exacted a high toll on those who answered the call of duty.

We need to remember ALL those who served and/or worked at the Pennfield Ridge Air Station.

The society feels this is an important goal and have been working with Smet Monuments to design a memorial stone.

The purposed monument will be dark black granite (polished on two sides with rough edges) sitting on a grey base. The overall size of the monument is scaled at 48"x8"x72" sitting on a 10" high base.

Proposed Memorial Stone

A committee of two, G. Christian Larsen and Sheri L. Burhoe, has been formed to raise the $12,000 needed to cover the cost of the memorial stone and flag pole. Smet Monuments will include all laser lettering and images as shown above, the concrete foundation work and the installation

Income tax receipts will be issued for donations of $10.00 and over.

To make a donation to this project click here.

31 October 2009

Crash Hills Mountain, NB 23 January 1943

Today I set out to locate the crash site of Ventura AE872 that crashed at Hills Mountain, NB on 23 January 1943 claiming its entire crew. P/O B.B. Williams, RCAF (Pilot) and P/O G.A. Norriss, RNZAF (Observer) were eventually laid to rest on 27 January 1943 at St. George Rural Cemetery in St. George, NB. The third member of the crew, P/O P.W. McCarthy, RCAF (WOP/AG), was returned to Ottawa, ON for burial. My wife Sheri and I have visited the grave sites of all three of these airmen.

Taken from the accident report of the crash is the following:
"P/O Williams and a crew of two took off at 0910 hours in Ventura aircraft AE872, authorized to carry out formation flying for one hour and 30 minutes with Sgt. Tovell and crew in Ventura No.658. P/O Williams and Sgt. Tovell were to share the leadership time in the formation, normally splitting the flying time into four portions.

After flying for about one hour in formation and at a time when the aircraft were heading back towards the aerodrome at a height of 2,000 ft. P/O Williams was leading; he gave the visual break-away signal and then broke away in a steep dive turn to port and Sgt. Tovell broke off in a steep climbing turn to starboard. Sgt. Tovell lost sight of Ventura 872 but later saw a fire on the ground. Eye witnesses residing some 9 miles from St. Stephen, N.B. and 37 miles from Pennfield Ridge stated that they saw two Ventura aircraft flying in formation when one broke away to the left and made a large circle, going into a steep bank and crashed into Hills Mountain which is about 300 feet higher then the surrounding country. The aircraft, Ventura 872, burst into flames on impact, exploded and was totally destroyed. All the occupants were killed.

An examination of the wreckage and of the scene of the accident disclosed that the aircraft had flown into the top of the trees in a 45° starboard wing - down, 30° nose-down altitude with considerable speed. The impact was so severe that the aircraft made a hole some four feet deep in the ground, exploded and broke into many pieces."

After traveling for a little while we located the crash site which, even after sixty-six (66) years, was still quite evident from the carter created by the force of the crash. Small pieces of the wreckage could still be found throughout the debris field.

Small fragment of Ventura AE872

After taking some GPS readings, along with some photographs to document the crash site, we stopped back at the St. George Rural Cemetery to once again visit the graves of two of the crew of Ventura AE872, namely P/O B.B. Williams and P/O G.A. Norriss. We left poppies at the foot of each their respective military markers and paused for a moment of reflection.

I'll end this posting with the first verse of a poem P/O Williams' brother "...composed when I visited my brother's grave in 1944 when I had just returned from 4 years overseas with the RAF."

"Comrades lie around me all asleep are they
In dreams of home and loved ones
I know that they will stay
For here beneath this pine strewn ground
Our rest is deep our sleep in sound."

10 October 2009

Miramichi veteran honours soldiers who served at two bases

When our society took over hosting duties of the Fourth Annual Pennfield Ridge War Memorial Service on 26 February 2009, I wanted to put the focus back on what really mattered...the Veterans themselves. Therefore I began a search to find Veterans to represent the four Commonwealth Countries who lost airmen at Pennfield Ridge and for a Veteran who served at A-30 Canadian Infantry Training Centre (Camp Utopia).

For Camp Utopia I choose Colin Fleiger from Miramichi. I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Fleiger at his residence on September 28, 2008 about his time stationed at Camp Utopia so he was a natural choice. Therefore an invitation was sent on March 26th, 2009 asking if he would lay a wreath in memory of those who served at A-30 Canadian Infantry Training Centre (Camp Utopia) which he accepted. On September 3rd his daughter Colleen contacted me saying that her father had attended a meeting at The Royal Canadian Legion (Branch #3) in Miramichi the previous evening. During this meeting her father mentioned that he would be attending the Pennfield Ridge War Memorial Service at the end of the month. The Legion then asked him if he would inquire if it would be possible for him to lay an additional wreath, which they would supply, on their behalf. We accepted their invitation which how Mr. Fleiger came to lay two (2) wreaths at the service.

G Christian Larsen & Colin Fleiger, September 2008

Mr. Fleiger, his wife and family were all in attendance at the memorial service on Sunday, September 27th. Mr. Fleiger was quite honoured to have been invited to attend the service. Once our local paper ran the story about the service on Tuesday, September 29th, I contacted the Miramichi Leader asking if they'd be interested in doing a follow up story with Mr. Fleiger concerning his service to his country and his involvement with Camp Utopia. Not long after contacting the newspaper, Lucas McInnis contacted me saying he interviewed Mr. Fleiger and asked if it would be possible to obtain some photographs for the story. I sent him several photographs from the service, in particular two of Mr. Fleiger himself, and in the end these were the ones that were used for the story . These were the ones which were most fitting and one in particular, "Mr. Fleiger in a moment of reflection", captured the mood of the service. It was about honouring and remembering those who served.

Here is the story that was run in the Miramichi Leader on Friday, October 9th.

MIRAMICHI - When he was 16, Colin Fleiger tried to sign up to go to war.

His first try, he didn't get too far.

"He said to me, ‘you little son-of-a-bitch, I catch you back in here again I'll boot the arse right off ya.' I got scared. So I took off out the door," Fleiger reminisced about his first time trying to sign up.

It wasn't his last try.

He was told, "You got lots of time, the war's not going to be over tomorrow."

On Sept. 27, Fleiger laid down two wreaths at the Fourth Annual Memorial Service.

Colin Fleiger laying a wreath in memory of those who served at Camp Utopia

The service is held in honour of those who served at the former military bases at Charlotte County, the Pennfield Ridge Air Station and A-30 Canadian Infantry Training Centre, known as Camp Utopia.

The weather didn't cooperate that day and the memorial was moved from Pennfield Ridge war memorial to St. George Legion hall, but 150 people still managed to take in the event.

Fleiger laid the wreath on behalf of the six military personnel killed at Camp Utopia.

He laid another wreath for the Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 3 as well, which is in Chatham.

"What went on there, it was more of a memory affair there," the now 83-year-old Chatham resident said.

Fleiger seems to remember those days well. Sitting on his couch he recalls memories as if they just happened, demonstrating the length of their uniforms and the base he spent time in when he was just a teen.

"I would say there would be about, at one given time, probably 2,000 or more men there," he said, speaking of the A-30 training centre. "At that time it was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, one of the biggest in Canada."

Fleiger was embraced with the idea of laying the wreaths by those holding the event: "I don't know, must have been because I was up from this area. Maybe he was trying to get different people in different areas."

Thinking back to his former camp, Fleiger remembers how different it is today.

Colin Fleiger in a moment of reflection

"There's nothing there anymore. Trees are taking over, and grass, whatever. The building are all torn down. The only thing that's left there now is the magazines where they get the ammunition, things like that."

Camp Utopia was set up like a town, he explained, with streets and buildings set up to train the soldiers for what they were to endure in the battlefield.

"Put it this way, we're all kids. All young kids. Anywhere from probably 16 to probably 25. Now, there were senior people there as well. Officers wouldn't be much more than 25 themselves, possibly thirties," he said. "You could almost picture the fellas that were there ... They're not there anymore and I'm one of the lucky ones to get out of there."

Despite the years that should have been ahead of them, Fleiger said fighting for good was all that mattered to the young soldiers.

"We may survive it, maybe we wouldn't. And there was a lot of us that didn't," he said. "I don't know. War is not a playtoy, that's for sure. It may be a rich man's playtoy but it's not a poorman's. And it's the poor man that goes."

SOURCE: Miramichi Leader (Miramichi, NB) - October 9, 2009.

05 October 2009

100th Anniversary of Powered Flight Dinner

This past Sunday (October 4th) Sheri & I were invited by the 250 RCAF (Saint John) Wing, A.F.A.C. to attend the 100th Anniversary of Powered Flight Dinner. The keynote speaker was Saint John historian Harold Wright.

Here is a story that appeared in the newspaper about the upcoming event:

Aviation anniversary celebration set for Sunday

SUSSEX - A century of aviation achievement will be celebrated during a sold-out event in Sussex on Sunday with the 100th anniversary of powered flight dinner.

The event being held at the legion is being organized by the 250 RCAF (Saint John) Wing of the Air Force Association of Canada.

Wayne Vail, a retired major with the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Armed Forces, said just over 100 people from all walks of life with a connection to aviation will join in the celebration. He said those who attend will share stories and hear new ones of aviation milestones over the past 100 years from the first flight of the Silver Dart in 1909 to present day Canadian involvement in the NASA Space Program.

There will be a meet and greet before the dinner, at which time aviation artifacts and displays can be viewed.

The roast beef dinner will begin with the piping-in of the head table and introductions with the meal served by Air Cadets and light entertainment provided by members of 250 RCAF (Saint John) Wing.

Following the dinner author Harold Wright of Saint John will deliver his presentation The New Math - Add Another 70 years to this Centennial!

The remainder of the evening will be spent socializing.

"I am sure the contributions of individuals such as Alexander Graham Bell and Robert Wallace Turnbull of Rothesay, Canada's first aeronautical scientist/engineer and many others will be subjects of discussion," Vail said. "Great Canadian aircraft such as the Beaver and Otter of bush flying fame, the Avro jetliner, the CF-100 all weather fighter, the Avro Arrow, the CL-215 water bomber, and many others, and aviation companies such as deHavilland, Avro Canada, Victory Aircraft, Canadair and others will be the focus of discussions."

SOURCE: New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal (Saint John, NB) - October 2, 2009.

Pennfield Parish Military Historical Society President G. Christian Larsen and Saint John historian Harold E. Wright

29 September 2009

Pennfield Ridge War Memorial Service (2009)

On September 27th our society, Pennfield Parish Military Historical Society, hosted the fourth annual Pennfield Ridge War Memorial Service. The motto used for this service was: “This coming September 27th we will honour the seventy-six (76) service personnel killed at the two former Charlotte County military bases; remember those who have since gone on to join their comrades in the sky and listen to the stories from those we still have with us."

After seven months of planning we discovered, two hours before the service was to kick off, that the only thing we had no control over was Mother Nature herself. So due to the uncertainty of the weather it was decided to move the entire service into The Royal Canadian Legion (Branch #40), St. George. This monumental task would have not been accomplished without the assistance of Legion Past President Rolland T. Chater. Mr. Chater sat in his truck at the Pennfield Ridge Memorial Site and re-directed as many people as he could into the St. George Legion. Before too long people began to pour in and soon the 2:00pm. start time had to be delayed. This was due chiefly to the size of the crowd rolling in from “the Ridge”, which was well over one hundred and fifty people by the start of the service.

Looking back on things now it was a good thing that we moved things into the Legion, even with the headaches associated with moving things last minute, because the Memorial Site at Pennfield Ridge would not have easily accommodated such a large crowd. Although as Maj. B.J. Harrison, CD, MLA (Master of Ceremonies) remarked to me at the conclusion of the service “
It would have been nice to have held the service outdoors, it adds more ambiance.”

Canadian Aviation Historical Society, Turnbull Chapter
President Jim Sulis laying a wreath at Memorial Service

Wreaths were laid on behalf on the Commonwealth Countries who sustained causalities at the Air Station as follows: RAF - F/L James Stewart, DFC; RCAF - F/O John Crammond; RAAF - Pvt. Terry Hurst and RNZAF - Lila McMillan (a civilian born in NZ). ABST Robert Anderson, RCNVR laid a wreath on behalf of the Royal Navy that lost a seaman (passenger aboard a Ventura aircraft when it crashed). Camp Utopia's six causalities were represented by Cpl. Colin Fleiger. who was stationed there in 1945. Cpl. Jessie Nason, a former Pennfield Ridge Veteran, laid a wreath on behalf of the RCAF (Woman's Division). In total twenty-four (24) wreaths and one bouquet of flowers were laid. The flowers were sent by Paddy Hogan, brother of Pennfield Ridge causality Sgt. John Edward ("Jacky") Hogan, RNZAF.

All in all everyone seemed quite pleased with the service.

A newspaper article, entitled "Veterans who served in Pennfield remembered at memorial service", from "The Saint Croix Courier" is here.

Additional photographs from the service.

13 September 2009

69th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain - King's Square, Saint John, NB

During the summer of 1940, a few hundred fighter pilots stood in the way of Hitler's massive air attack on England. One hundred Canadians were among them and seven of those killed were from New Brunswick.

Dubbed the Battle of Britain, it was the first decisive clash of Second World War and the first battle in history to be fought exclusively in the air. The name derives from a famous speech delivered by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the House of Commons;
"The Battle of France is over. I expect the Battle of Britain is about to begin..."

The 69th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain cenotaph service took place at King's Square in Saint John, NB on 13 September 2009 at 1030 hours. Sheri and I were invited to attend the service by Charles Gabriel, President of 250 RCAF (Saint John) Wing, A.F.A.C.

Maj. Bev J. Harrison, CD, MLA and Rev. Canon E. Lloyd Lake, CD

Maj. Harrison acted as Master of Ceremonies and gave an overview of the Battle of Britain. Rev. Lake gave the Invocation and Benediction. His devotion and service to his country was self evident in the singing of the Royal Anthem. He was a true delight to hear speak at the cenotaph service and later at Trinity Church as well.

Marching around King's Square

Capt. Thomas White, CD leads the parade through King's Square

3rd Field Artillery Regiment Band (The Loyal Company)

The parade contingents were: 3rd Field Artillery Regiment Band (The Loyal Company); 250 RCAF (Saint John) Wing, A.F.A.C.; 403 Helicopter Squadron, CFB Gagetown; H.C.M. Brunswicker; Royal United Services Institute of New Brunswick; Royal Canadian Legion; Korean Veterans and 161 C.K. Beveridge Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Cadets.

Capt. Doug Boyd, CD lays a wreath on behalf of Canadian Air Force

At the conclusion of the service the parade continued to Trinity Church for a service at the New Brunswick Air Force Memorial. After this service a reception service in the Lounge of the Rotary Admiral Beatty Complex.

Among those in attendance at the service was Pennfield Ridge Veteran Jessie G. Nason, RCAF (WD).

It was a very nice service...even the weather was not too bad!

06 September 2009

Camp Utopia (Today's Remnants)

On 6 September Sheri and I explored the remnants of A-30 Canadian Infantry Training Centre, CA (Camp Utopia) once again. I'm continually amazed at how much things have changed over the thirty plus years I've been going out there. The pine trees that were planted in and around the former camp many years ago still stand tall. However time has stripped them of their former glory and other types of trees are starting to spring up here and there. Still the pines remain ever present, almost like a sentry standing post waiting for those who will never return. Even the wind whistling through the trees sounds somehow different to me. It's almost like it carries the forgotten voices from long ago when this was once a thriving training centre.

Hallway Through The Pine Trees

As we walk the former roads of the camp, 4-wheelers and other vehicles pass by us every now and then. I reflect quietly to myself if they know the importance of this hallow piece of ground. Between 1942 and 1946 it was one of the best-equipped and most effective Army training centers in all of Canada. This was borne out by the gallant actions of the Carleton & York Regiment in Sicily and Italy and the North Shore Regiment and N.B. Rangers in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, all of whom were principally made up of personnel receiving their advanced training at Utopia. At the memorial service coming up on September 27th, a WWII Veteran from the 2nd Battalion of the North Shore Regiment will join us to remember all those who served.

Remnants of a telephone pole

As we were heading back to the car Sheri, with her ever present artistic eye, spotted a red maple leaf on the ground. To me, personally, it was a sign that all the work putting the memorial service together over the past seven months has been worth it. The maple leaf is emblematic of our country and always reminds me of those Canadians who gave so much for the cause of peace and freedom we all enjoy today.

Lest we forget!

24 August 2009

Meeting with 250 RCAF (Saint John) Wing

On May 1st I meet with four (4) members of the 250 RCAF (Saint John) Wing to discuss upcoming plans for the memorial service in September. The 250 Wing have provided the colour party (flag bearers) for the service since its inception back in September of 2006. Therefore I see no reason to change this aspect. I again meet with three (3) members of the 250 Wing on August 23rd to go over the final details, etc. for the service and answer any additional questions they may have.

Terry Robertson, G Christian Larsen and Rob MacAndrew
standing in front of the Mollison monument, Pennfield Ridge, August 23rd

Today (August 24th) marks the sixth month anniversary of when I began preparations for this year's service. It's been a long and winding road but it's been a very rewarding journey none the less. To date I've been able to locate family for sixteen (16) of the sixty-nine (69) airmen killed at "the Ridge" (along with family for all six (6) civilians who died there as well) and family for one (1) of the six (6) military personal killed at Camp Utopia. Also it appears, on paper any ways, that this year's service is going to be the biggest one yet.

Both Pennfield Ridge Air Station and Camp Utopia will have former Veterans in attendance along with many family members. Also representatives from the local, provincial and federal governments have been invited to attend and several have confirmed their attendance. For the most part now everything is over with but the counting down of the days until the Memorial Service arrives on September 27th.

Also I want to thank my wife Sheri for her love and support over the past six (6) months. Putting together an event as large as this would not have been possible without her help.

09 August 2009

Pennfield Ridge War Memorial Service Planned For September 27th

PENNFIELD – The Pennfield Parish Military Historical Society will host a memorial service in September to remember all those who served and/or worked at two major military bases in the area during the Second World War - the Pennfield Ridge Air Station and A-30 Canadian Infantry Training Center (Camp Utopia).

The two bases were an important part of the Canadian war effort. Aircrews from Canada, Britain, New Zealand and Australia trained at Pennfield Ridge as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). Sixty-nine airmen died while training at the base along with one British seaman who was aboard a Ventura aircraft when it crashed. Also during the initial stages of construction three civilian workers were killed and, during the history of the base, an additional three civilian workers died.

Assault troops trained at nearby Camp Utopia that, at the time, was one of the best-equipped and most effective Army training centers in all of Canada. This was borne out by the gallant actions of the Carleton & York Regiment in Sicily and Italy and the North Shore Battalion and N.B. Rangers in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, all of whom were principally made up of personnel receiving their advanced training at Utopia. The base official closed in April of 1946, but continued to operate mainly as a summer camp until 1957. Six army personnel died at the base between 1943 and 1952.

The memorial service will take place Sunday, September 27th at the Provincial Park, Pennfield Ridge (across Route 1 from the Pennfield Ridge Post Office) at 2 pm. A reception service will follow at The Royal Canadian Legion (Branch #40), St. George afterwards from 3:00 until 5 p.m.

Past and current members of the military have been invited to attend the ceremony as well as representatives from the local, provincial and federal governments. Also family members of those killed at these two Charlotte County bases have been invited to attend the service as well.

Registration, although not necessary, is strongly recommended due to seating limitations at the reception service. To reserve your seat to the reception services please call (506) 456-3494.

TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES: The original article appeared in "The Saint Croix Courier" - August 7, 2009.

21 July 2009

CFB Gagetown Military Museum

On July 11th Sheri and I had the pleasure of visiting the CFB Gagetown Military Museum in Ormocto, NB.

A-30 Canadian Infantry Training Centre (Camp Utopia) was the predecessor for CFB Gagetown. However it's surprising at how little information can be found at the museum on Camp Utopia. This material basically amounts to a handful of photographs that are almost hidden from view.

Here is a brief overview of Camp Utopia: Army construction crews arrived in July of 1942 to begin construction of Camp Utopia, the largest military facility in New Brunswick at the time. Ground assault troops began training there in 1943, preparing for the invasions of Italy and northwest Europe. There was a supply depot, commissary (including bake shop), two cook houses of 500 men capacity, drill hall, canteen, auxiliary service hut, barber shop, modern dental clinic, fire station, and a new modern hospital. In the outside training area: 2 rifle ranges, a model village (Ortona), a field firing range, a battle inoculation range, 2 Sten gun ranges (one for classification and one for woods fighting), P.I.A.T. ranges (both for inert and H.E. bombs), a modern grenade range equipped with Hobbe glass, a six pounder range, skeet range, 2 and 3 inch mortar ranges, a cross-country obstacle course, bayonet assault course, mine fields and mines and bobby trap hut with moascar stalks. Over 300 officers and 12,000 rank and file had passed through the unit by its official closing on April 30, 1946.

Our research continues to make sure this important base is not forgotten to the ravages of time. We recently acquired the service personnel files for those military personnel killed at Camp Utopia, and Sheri and I have, over the past year, visited their graves scattered throughout Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario.

S/Sgt. Claude L. Nicholson's grave in Halifax, NS

Lest we forget.

22 June 2009

Remembering Those Who Served

"If by chance
I am the one
I pray my God
I will have reached
My finest hour
Before my limbs
Are severed
From my body warm."
P/O Bayden Bala Williams (1917-1943)

"He (Bayden) never did reach his finest hour but seemed to realize that he was but one of many and that there will always be other young men rising from the earth to bring new life to mankind." (G.P. Williams, 1963)

P/O Williams was the sixteenth airmen killed at Pennfield Ridge and was among the numerous young aircrew students killed in training crashes across Canada during World War II. They all died in the service of their country while preparing for war and yet they remain forgotten heroes. They remain so simply because they died before their finest hour.

Since 8 July 2008 I have been traveling across Canada photographing the various military markers of the seventy-six (76) service personnel killed at the Pennfield Ridge Air Station and Camp Utopia. This is being done to simply honour these forgotten heroes and to continue the message of remembrance.

P/O Williams' military marker

This coming September 27th we will honour these seventy-six (76) service personnel; remember those who have since gone on to join their comrades in the sky and listen to the stories from those we still have with us.

Lest we forget.

11 June 2009

Another Milestone Achieved

Pennfield Parish Military Historical Society is celebrating another milestone in its relative short existence of only 18 months. As of 5 May 2009 our society has now been registered as “Charitable Organization” under paragraph 149(1)(f) of the Income Tax Act.

Our first official event under this new designation will be the Pennfield Ridge War Memorial Service this coming 27 September 2009. The memorial service will be held at the Provincial Park in Pennfield Ridge from 2:00 to 3:00 pm. On-site service will be provided by the Royal Canadian Legion (Branch #40), St. George, with the 250 RCAF (Saint John) Wing providing the colour party. A reception service will held afterward at the Royal Canadian Legion (Branch #40), St. George from 3:00 to 5:00 pm.

The service is coming together quite well and overall feedback has been positive. We have located close to a dozen family members of the seventy airmen killed at Pennfield Ridge. One family member has confirmed their attendance – a first for the service. Others unable to attend have sent material on their loved ones that can be included in the memorial service. A handful of Veterans, including four with connections to Pennfield Ridge and/or Camp Utopia, have been invited to take part – another first for the service.

This coming 1 July 2009 our society will be taking part in the Hampton Canada Day Art Festival in Hampton, NB. We will be selling tickets on an original piece of artwork by Sheri L (Burhoe) Larsen. Money raised will be used towards the upcoming memorial service in September.

Anyone with comments and/or suggestions please feel to contact us. Anyone willing to assist us in our endeavors in ensuring this worthwhile event continues also please feel free to contact us.


22 April 2009

Pennfield Ridge Air Station (Today's Remnants)

A lot of changes have occurred at the former Air Station since it closed towards the end of 1945. So much unwritten history is located on this hallowed piece of ground and yet the cold hand of death has silenced many of those unrecorded voices. Priceless memories continually slip through the hour glass of time to be forever lost in the continuum of life. It's now a race against father time and he, as always, has the advantage on his side. Also so many unfilled dreams of a brighter tomorrow ended before they really had a chance to begin. The youthful exuberance of the innocent and an uncertainty of a tomorrow often exacted a high toll on those who answered the call of duty. So with that said the photographs speak for themselves and help to tell their own personal story.

For more photographs please click here.

06 March 2009

Pennfield Ridge War Memorial Service

The Charlotte Fundy Kin Club has decided not to host this September's memorial service at Pennfield Ridge. Therefore Pennfield Parish Military Historical Society has offered to host this year’s event.

The memorial stone, dedicated to those who served at Pennfield Ridge Air Station and Camp Utopia, was brought to fruition by the hard work and dedication of The Charlotte County War Memorial Committee. The committee members were J. David Stuart, Mark Pedersen, 250 RCAF (Saint John) Wing and Charlotte Fundy Kin Club. Smet Monuments of St. Stephen donated the stone itself with Charlotte Fundy Kin Club covering the cost of the sale taxes.

Phil Connell and J. David StuartPhil Connell, DFM and J. David Stuart

The dedication service took place on 24 September 2006 with approximately fifty (50) people in attendance. The Charlotte Fundy Kin Club hosted this service with participation from the 250 RCAF (Saint John) Wing Air Force Association of Canada. The Charlotte Fundy Kin Club also hosted the subsequent memorial services held in 2007 and 2008.

Dedication Service (2006)

On behalf of Pennfield Parish Military Historical Society I would personally like to extend a heart-felt thank you to the Charlotte Fundy Kin Club, especially Morris Harris and Wayne MacQuarrie, for hosting the events over the past three years. It has gone a long way in making sure our veterans are remembered.

The red ink of our freedom on the ledger’s bottom line is written indelibly in blood. Every November 11th we, as Canadians, gather across this land to honor the debt owed to our veterans. However, the debt is so large, that in reality it will never be repaid in its entirety. Still, remembrance of those who served is something we can achieve. That is why I feel strongly that this memorial service should continue to honor those who served at “the Ridge” and Camp Utopia.

Anyone with comments and/or suggestions please feel to contact us. Anyone willing to assist us in our endeavors in ensuring this worthwhile event continues also please feel free to contact us.

G. Christian Larsen
President, Pennfield Parish Military Historical Society
309 Mealey Road
Pennfield, NB
E5H 1T5
(506) 456-3494

20 January 2009

Celebrating Two Years of Military Research

This coming Monday (January 26th) will mark the second anniversary of my first posting of material about the Pennfield Air Station and Camp Utopia on the Pennfield Parish website. At the time I started my research into the history of these two bases, there was no one else doing any actual research, and those that were, were simply taking credit for other people’s work. As one family member said: “...my father...had the idea that there should be something in place to recognize the Air base as he thought it played an important part in the war. He somehow or other got in contact with a couple of other gentleman in the area. For three years, they worked toward the creation of memorial that was unveiled in recognition of Pennfield Ridge. The whole affair in the end was quite upsetting for my dad, recognition for the project seemed to be focused elsewhere. It is my opinion, the chain of events is not accurately told.” My goal then and now remains the same: To pay tribute to those ordinary and yet an extraordinary human beings - people who offered some of their life's most vital years in the service of their country, and who sacrificed their ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs. I’ve come a long ways in those two years and have the support of many veterans from the two bases. Here are some of the many testimonies:

"From a passionate conversation about my father evolved the passion we both share on this journey. My father, as so many others, lives because of your tireless efforts."
Brenda McNevan Ferguson, d/o Cpl. A. Malcolm McNevan (Ret.), bomb instructor at No.34 OTU & RCAF Station Pennfield Ridge.

“I have been looking for information and pictures on Camp Utopia, and was very happy to find what you have done here.”
Charrie Worden, d/o Skiffington A. Gibson - ambulance and fire-truck driver at Camp Utopia

“It's good to see that someone is making a strong effort to remember our veterans.”
Tom Tucker, s/o LAC Sylvester G. Tucker (Ret.) - an instrument mechanic at No.34 OTU

“Dad really enjoyed telling his stories and my parents were very happy to have you visit with them.”
Colleen Stewart, d/o Cpl. Colin Flieger (Ret.) - Camp Utopia veteran

“Your concern about veterans dying off is correct. Those of us who are left are running out of energy and time. So take full advantage of those, such as I, who are left before it is too late.”
W/O2 J. David Stuart (Ret.), N.C.O. in charge of the orderly room (office) at No.2 ANS & No.2 OTU

“I'm glad you are doing this because these people deserve all the honors they can get.”
Allene Goforth, d/o Pte. John A. MacPherson (Ret.) - Camp Utopia

“Dave Poissant has sent me a copy of the newspaper article you wrote about the history of the Pennfield Airbase. I thought it was extremely well done, and a credit to the tremendous effort you have out on the subject. Many congratulations!”
F/Lt. S.W. Shapton (Ret.), Course No.10 (Pilots) at No.34 OTU

“Thanks for all your efforts on this; I hope all the locals appreciate your efforts.”
Angus Cross, s/o F/L Fergus Cross (Ret.) - head of the Navigation Department at No.34 OTU

"Chris Larsen's name should go down in History for his recording of 'History', toward the end of all war!"
F/S Cy Poissant (Ret.), Course No.23 (Pilots) at No.34 OTU

09 January 2009

Bernice Connors' Murder

On 26 January 2007 I began researching the history of the Pennfield Ridge Air Station. In those two short years Iʼve made tremendous strides in recording its rich and colorful history. In that time Iʼve been blessed enough to have interview fourteen (14) veterans from the Air Station and even luckier to have personally known over a dozen others who were stationed there and/or worked there as civilians. The latter ones whose stories have been silenced by the cold hand of death remind me (us) to never forget. The living veterans continue to inspire me to push ever forward to make sure the stories are not lost forever to the ravages of time.

Shortly after No.34 Operational Training Unit established itself at Pennfield Ridge, a murder of a young Blackʼs Harbour girl occurred on 5 June 1942. An R.A.F. sergeant from "the Ridge" was arrested for the crime, tried by a jury of his peers and subsequently convicted for the crime. The conviction for the crime brought with it a death sentence, and on 16 December 1942 the R.A.F. sergeant went on to meet his maker. This was to be the last hanging in Charlotte County and the first one in 65 years.

For the past two years now I have chosen not to include any reference to the murder on the Pennfield Parish website. This was simply done because, it seems to most people, that the Air Station and the murder go within the same sentence. While the murder was tragic and senseless, I wanted to separate the two things because they are after all just that...two separate things.

I knew several of Bernice Connorsʼ siblings and her great niece (the grand daughter of her sister Patricia) is a good friend of mine. In fact many of Patʼs children are friends of mine...some of those friendships going back 30+ yrs. Mildred Justason, probably the last person to see Bernice alive that night, I also knew along with her late husband (another Airmen from Pennfield Ridge). Foster Eldridge and Gib Eldridge who "were standing on the same road beyond the range of the streetlight enjoying a ʽbrightenrʼ ", I had many memorable conversations with over the years. Also in the course of my research other Airmen have also spoken about their memories of the murder. One of these Airmen was also an armourer-fitter at the Station at the same time. So now that a complete picture of the Air Station as its own entity has been painted, I am including material on the murder.

G. Christian Larsen
President "Pennfield Parish Military Historical Society

To read more on this story please click here.

08 January 2009

Pennfield Parish Military Historical Society Formed

In memory of Blanchard Justason, Malcolm McNevan, Floyd Hawkins and the many other Veterans I’ve known over the past 18 years.

I was introduced to Camp Utopia by my late father-in-law, Blanchard Justason, who received all of his advanced training there, and to Pennfield Ridge Air Station by the late Malcolm McNevan who served as a Bombing Instructor. Mac McNevan, as he was commonly known, was born in the tiny central Ontario farming community of Cameron, Ontario and had enlisted in the Air Force to learn how to fly an airplane and eventually go overseas. The Air Force later said “No – in your qualification examinations, you displayed a natural, intuitive ability with mathematics. We are going to train you to be a Bombing Instructor.” It was while stationed in Pennfield that Mac would fall in love with my father-in-law’s cousin, eventually marry and for a period of time, make his home here after the war ended. My father-in-law was in the process of going for his overseas training when VE Day was declared.

Both Blanchard and Mac were very proud of their service to their country. My father-in-law would often take his only child to Camp Utopia during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s before all the buildings were removed. He often explained to her what the various buildings and structures were used for. It was during one of their many visits there that they recovered a few relics she now displays in a shadow box along with her father’s other vestiges from his military service. Mac would eventually move to Lachine, Quebec to pursue work, but would often return to Pennfield to visit family. During these visits he never missed an opportunity, while driving across the ridge, to pause and gaze at the over-grown fields and decaying tarmac strips…just to stare and stare.

Since September of 1989 I have been researching many of the older family lines from in and around Pennfield and during this time I would often run across mentions of the two former military bases. Although my father-in-law and Mac never articulated the words, both would love to have seen more done to preserve the history of these military bases and to make sure the sacrifices of those who served would not be forgotten. It always seemed like a very daunting task to say the least, especially in regards to the Air Station, since it fell under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. This meant pilots and aircrew from across Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand were trained here. I also knew from visits to the St. George Rural Cemetery, during my many years of family research, that there were training causalities from the 10 airmen buried there. I had also heard other stories as well over the years, and knew that some of the airmen, like Mac, had married into the community. Still where was one to begin such research?

Mac would eventually pass away in 1994 and my father-in-law in 1999 and with their passing many of the memories they held left us as well. Mac’s daughter Brenda Ferguson picked up where her father left off and has, over the years, discussed many things with me in regards to her father’s military service. She too believed that more should be done to preserve the history of the Air Station.

In November of 2006 I started hearing and seeing news reports about how we were approaching a "watershed moment for Canada" when the last known Canadian Veteran from World War I would eventually pass away. I started thinking more and more about researching the history of Camp Utopia and Pennfield Ridge Air Station during this time. On 26 January 2007 I formally started researching the history of both Camp Utopia and the Air Station, and quickly realized that there was so much history unrecorded, undocumented and widely scattered. I would continue my conversations with Brenda and soon Greg McDowell was added into the fold as well. Greg’s paternal grandparent’s grew up in the shadow of the Air Station, and were twice expropriated from their land – once when the Air Station was first built on the North side of the road and then for the second time from the South side of the road further expansion of the Air Station occurred.

Conversations with some of the older residents of Pennfield Ridge showed us just how much history this one particular section held and the project soon took on a life of its own.

This past August Ottawa’s standing committee on veterans affairs noted that Canada’s 250,000 remaining Second World War and Korean War veterans are dying at a rate of 2,000 a month. By now the average age of a Second World War veteran is 84 and a Korean veteran is his mid-70s. Something more needed to be done, as time was not on our side.

It was during this time I decided to form the "not-for-profit" society, "Pennfield Parish Military Historical Society Ltd." to help further preserve the rich military history of this area. I asked Brenda, Greg and a third person, Susan Hill, if they would be interested in joining and all agreed. Susan, whose father served as a Peacekeeper for 25 years, recently embarked on her own business venture, "Susan Hill Photography", which is located in her home on Pennfield Ridge. She has been assisting with scanning of the many photographs we have been receiving, photo restoration and overall design and creation for the society’s new website. She also admits, like the rest of us involved in this project, to be a "firm believer that history should be preserved" and has displayed both dedication and devotion to preserving her own family history.

The purpose of this society is to discover, procure, collect, preserve, display and interpret material of historical value associated with the area and to work with other organizations that have similar goals. The Beaver Harbour Community Venture Ltd., located at 18 Quaker Lane in Beaver Harbour, has agreed to provide space in their archives so a display of artifacts, material, etc. can be made available to the public and further raise awareness of the sacrifices of our servicemen and women. We are well on our way to achieving our goal and anyone with any information on local servicemen and women from Pennfield Parish, information on the former Air Station and Camp Utopia, photographs, artifacts or memories to share please feel free to contact G Christian Larsen at 309 Mealey Road/ Pennfield, NB/ E5H 1T5; (506) 456-3494; e-mail pennfieldparish@yahoo.com.

06 January 2009

Introduction to the Pennfield Parish Military Historical Society

Pennfield Parish Military Historical Society (Incorporated: 28 November 2007) is gathering and compiling a detailed history on the Pennfield Ridge Air Station; Camp Utopia and Pennfield Parish veterans. Our archival holdings, which includes artifacts (Air Station, Camp Utopia, WWI and WWII), microfilms, photographs, etc., is continuing to grow. Our "Roll of Honor", based on our own research, lists seventy-six (76) names from Pennfield Ridge Air Station (70 service personal and 6 civilians) and six (6) names from A-30 Canadian Infantry Training Centre (Camp Utopia). The majority of these were killed in various training accidents.

Pennfield Parish Military Historical Society

Anyone willing to share stories, photographs, etc. are asked to please contact me at: pennfieldmilitary@yahoo.com

~Specializing in research since September of 1989~