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