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~