14 November 2010

70th Anniversary Pennfield Ridge Air Station Anniversary Celebration

"The Historica-Dominion Institute says the average age of Canada's 125,000 remaining Second World War veterans is 88 years. They are passing away at a rate of 400 to 500 a week, meaning that in another five years or so, all but the hardiest of Canada's 1.1 million Second World War vets will be gone."
SOURCE: The Canadian Press - November 11, 2010.

Pennfield Parish Military Historical Society has been acting as a steward for the "Pennfield Parish War Memorial Service" for two years now. After another successful service our society has decided to step into the role of permanent host. This will allow us the freedom and control to tailor the event to a true memorial service.

Pennfield Ridge Air Station and A-30 Canadian Infantry Training Centre (Camp Utopia) will celebrate their 70th anniversaries on Thursday, 21 July 2011 and Wednesday, 1 August 2012 respectively. To tie into these historical events, we have decided to move the "Pennfield Ridge War Memorial Service" from its usual fourth Sunday in September event to Sunday, 24 July 2011 and Sunday, 5 August 2012. At the conclusion of each respective memorial service a formal banquet will be held at The Royal Canadian Legion (Branch No.40), St. George. This dinner will provide a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and to make new ones.

05 October 2010

Pennfield Ridge War Memorial Service (2010)

PENNFIELD - A memorial service for those who served and/or worked at the two military bases in the area during the Second World War was held Sunday at the Pennfield Ridge war memorial.

More than 100 people attended the service, which has hosted by the Pennfield Parish Military Historical Society, to remember those who served at the Pennfield Ridge Air Station and A-30 Canadian Infantry Training Centre (Camp Utopia).

The service was dedicated to the veterans who have died since last year's service - Elmer Bulman (RCAF), John Crammond (RCAF), Nevin Filby (RAAF), Raymond Kelly (RAAF), John Norton (RCAF), Cyrille Poissant (RCAF), Samuel Shapton (RCAF), Arthur Stainforth (RAFVR), John Spear (RCA), Herbert Swazey (RCA), Clifton Thorne (RCA) and Clifford Warner (RCA) and all the others who lost their lives.

Master of ceremonies was Lt. Bernard Cormier, the invocation was read by Rev. Grant Alcorn and Cpl. Colin Fleiger read the additional names to add to the roll of honour.

Cpl. Colin Fleiger reading the additional names into the "Roll of Honour"

The memorial was dedicated Sept 24, 2006 and a service has been held there each September since. Among those in attendance were George Richardson and Jessie Nason who served at the Pennfield Ridge Air Station, and Fleiger and Alfred Barker who served at Camp Utopia.

Air crews from Canada, Britain, New Zealand and Australia trained at Pennfield as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and 69 airmen, one British seaman (a passenger on board a Ventura aircraft which crashed) and six civilian workers died during the history of the base.

Following the service there was a reception held at the Legion hall in St. George where Blacks Harbour Mayor Terry James brought greetings from the village.

Lt. General Louis Cuppens (Ret.) said he was born in the Netherlands during the Second World War and people there will never forget what the Canadians and the Allies did for them.

"Canada stands out in their minds as the country that gave them back their freedom," he said but the cost was more than 7,000 lives and about 3,000 of them are interred just outside Nijmegen where he was born.

He said there are no weeds in this cemetery and the stones are erect and clean. School children, said Cuppens, are given custody of a Canadian grave and they maintain it for three years - washing the stone, trimming the edges and bringing flowers.

"The children over there cannot help but remember what was accomplished in the many wars that have taken place there. They have to walk by these cemeteries. They know what wars are all about."

"It is our job to make sure the next generation after this continues to understand the great sacrifices the Allies have made so that people can live free."

He spoke about the war in Afghanistan which has been going on now for 10 years with more than 150 Canadian casualties and those who have been injured numbering in the thousands.

Cuppens said the people there have so little it reminded him of post-war Europe but much rebuilding has taken place, hospitals have opened, girls are now allowed to go to school and they are taught by female teachers. The Taliban, he said, have almost been driven out of the country but they have found a safe haven in Pakistan.

"We Canadians have so much and they have so little. I urge all of you - pass the torch, pass the message of remembrance on."

SOURCE: The Saint Croix Courier (St. Stephen, NB) - September 28, 2010.

07 August 2010

Pennfield Ridge War Memorial Service planned for Sept. 26

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, one British seaman (passenger aboard a Ventura aircraft when it crashed) and six civilian workers died during the history of the base.

Numerous young aircrew students, like those at Pennfield Ridge, were 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. However as G/C A. Leach, Officer Commanding Pennfield Ridge, once remarked to a mother of one of the airmen killed: “He has died…in the course of duty and on active service, and has given his life for his country, just as much as if he had been killed in actual combat against the enemy; and, as I hope you will do, you are undoubtedly entitled to treasure and take pride in his memory accordingly.”

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 30 April 1946, but continued to operate mainly as a summer camp until 1957. Six army personnel died at the base between 1943 and 1952. A seventh name of an army personnel killed in 1954 will be read into the “Roll of Honour” at this year’s service.

It is said over 300 officers and 12,000 rank and file had passed through Camp Utopia by its official closing on April 30, 1946. W Garnett Eldridge, resident of Caithness, was one of the six known army personnel trained at Camp Utopia who later was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for bravery. Some of the Charlotte County natives who received training at Camp Utopia but were subsequently killed in over-seas action were: Cpl. Thomas A. Beckerton (St. Andrews), Pte. Philip G. Corning (Milltown), Gunner Rufus M Hooper (Back Bay), Pte. Lawson H Searles (Campobello) and Pte. Maurice Thorne (St. George).

The service is being dedicated to those Veterans we've lost since last year's service, namely Elmer Bulman, MiD (RCAF), John C. Crammond (RCAF), Nevin Fliby (RAAF), Albert Norton, MiD (RCAF), Cyrille Poissant (RCAF), Arthur Stainforth (RAFVR), John Spear (RCA), Herbert Swazey (RCA), Clifton Thorne (RCA) and Clifford Warner (RCA), and to all the others who have put their lives on the line to keep our country free.

Please join with us in honouring the seventy-seven (77) service personnel and six (6) civilians killed at these two Charlotte County 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.

The memorial service will take place Sunday, 26 September 2010 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 after-wards from 3 until 5 p.m. In case of inclement weather, the entire service will be moved to The Royal Canadian Legion (Branch #40), St. George.

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, due to seating limitations at the reception service and to assist with food preparation , is being asked. To reserve your seat to the reception service please call (506) 456-3494.

20 May 2010

SORENSEN, Colin Frank (1922-2010) - Great Escape Survivor

SORENSEN, Colin Frank - (DDS) - World War II Veteran, RCAF - June 15, 1922 - February 5, 2010 - It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our father Frank Sorensen in his 87th year. Frank was born in Hjorring, Denmark and immigrated to Canada with his family when he was 17. He enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force at age 18 and was eventually sent to Wales where he was trained on Spitfires to become a fighter pilot. He was wounded over Dieppe, but was able to ferry his Spitfire to home base where he survived the crash landing. Frank's Squadron was sent to North Africa to fight against Hitler's top General, Rommel, the Desert Fox. During a mission in April 1943, Frank failed to return to base. He had been shot down in Tunisia and crash landed behind enemy lines where he was taken prisoner and shipped off to a German POW camp called Stalag Luft III. He spent two years in the camp and took part in the Great Escape in March 1944. He was number 81, however number 76 was in the tunnel when the German guards discovered the escape. Of the 76 who escaped, only 3 reached freedom. Of the 73 captured, 50 were shot by the direct order of Hitler. In January 1945, the 10,000 Allied Officers of Stalag Luft III, being used as human shields against the advancing Russian Army were ordered to evacuate camp. The long march started in Sagan Germany, now part of Poland and ended with a much diminished company of prisoners eventually reaching an area east of Hamburg where they were intercepted by Allied Forces in May 1945. During the forced march, the men suffered through the coldest winter Europe had experienced in decades. They had only the clothes on their backs and had to forage for food once their supplies were exhausted. The German guards shot any who fell by the wayside, and had the POWs carry German flags to elicit friendly fire from the Allied forces. Once the prisoners were met by Allied tanks, the German guards readily surrendered. One guard gave Frank his Luger as his sign of surrender. Frank spent weeks recuperating in a hospital in Bouremouth, England and was repatriated to Canada in July 1945 at the age of 23. Frank met Betty Bodley on the tennis courts at Queen's University, Kingston and they were married in December 1946. Frank entered Dental College at the University of Toronto and graduated in 1951. He practiced dentistry for 38 years, starting his first practice in Leamington, Ontario, eventually settling in Kingston in 1954. Frank was an active member of the Kingston Barbershop Chorus for many years. He retired to Duncan, British Columbia in 1989 with his wife Betty, both returning to Kingston in 2007. Frank is survived by his wife, Betty and their three children Glenn, Stephen and Vicki. He will also be missed by his grandchildren Larissa, Erik, Nikita and Erika, and his brothers Ben and Wilfred and sister Eileen. A celebration of Frank's life will be held with friends and family at a later date.

TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES, Part 1: F/L Gordon Arthur KIDDER (1914-1944) from St. Catherines, Ontario was one of the 50 shot and killed. F/L Kidder was part of Air Observers Course No.33 at No.2 Air Navigation School (ANS), Pennfield Ridge, New Brunswick. It's nice to know more about one of the survivors, such as Mr. Sorensen.

TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES, Part 2: Jack Harrison, a Scottish Great Escape survivor, died shortly after Mr. Sorensen. Mr Harrison, who was number 98 on the escape list, was in hut 104 waiting to go down the tunnel when the escape was noticed. He quickly burned his forged documentation in the stove and changed his clothing from a Siemens engineer back to a POW. Mr Harrison spent his last years at Erskine veterans' home in Renfrewshire along with his friend and fellow former Stalag Luft III prisoner Alex Lees, who died last year aged 97. Mr. Lees was a gardener at the camp who was responsible for getting rid of the soil from the tunnels.

19 February 2010

John Babcock, Canada's last First World War vet dies at 109 years old

OTTAWA - He was an unlikely and reluctant figurehead for a generation of heroes, a self-described "tin soldier" whose teenaged zeal for combat conspired to keep him out of the very war that would one day cast him as its sole Canadian survivor.

John Babcock was destined to play a starring role in the First World War. It just came nearly a century later than he might have expected.

Babcock, the last known veteran of Canada's First World War army, died Thursday at the age of 109.

John Babcock (July 10, 2007)

He went in search of military glory at the age of 16, when he tried to sneak his way on to the front lines in France. His ruse was discovered, however, and he never made it to the battlefield.

"I wanted to go to France because I was just a tin soldier," Babcock said in an interview with The Canadian Press in July 2007 at his home in Spokane, Wash.

He was born July 23, 1900 on a farm in Ontario and emigrated to the U.S. in the 1920s.

"I volunteered (for the front lines), but they found out I was underage. If the war had lasted another year I would have fought."

Still, more than 80 years of hindsight had helped to temper that young man's regret over not having faced enemy fire in the trenches of France unlike many of his friends, who never returned.

"I might have got killed," he said matter-of-factly.

Babcock died at his home in his own bed on Thursday afternoon, said his wife Dorothy.

"He wished for this and not (to) go back to the hospital or nursing home," she said in an email to The Canadian Press. "He was a great man with a great sense of humor and loved life. We will all miss him very much. "

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in a statement Thursday announcing Babcock's death, said: "As a nation, we honour his service and mourn his passing."

"The passing of Mr. Babcock marks the end of an era. His family mourns the passing of a great man. Canada mourns the passing of the generation that asserted our independence on the world stage and established our international reputation as an unwavering champion of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law."

Gov. Gen Michaelle Jean said Babcock always gave the best of himself.

"You know how dear the members of the Canadian Forces and our veterans are to my heart. And while I am deeply moved and saddened, I am also very honoured to be the Commander-in-Chief and Governor General to pay final tribute to Mr. Babcock."

"On behalf of all Canadians, we extend our deepest sympathies to his family and many friends who mourn his passing. May his accomplishments and his example inspire many future generations to serve their nation."

Ten per cent of the roughly 600,000 Canadians who enlisted to fight in the First World War died on the battlefields of Europe 170,000 more were wounded.

The war would ultimately claim 15 million civilian and military lives on both sides of the conflict.

"(Babcock) was both an individual and a symbol," said Rudyard Griffiths, of the Historica-Dominion Institute, an organization dedicated to promoting Canadian history. "We should honour his contribution to Canada."

In the days to come, there will no doubt be tributes and ceremonies to mark Babcock's passing. It's hard to say how he would react to the fanfare. Because he never saw action in the war, he was always a little uncomfortable being known as the last surviving First World War veteran.

"I really didn't accomplish very much," Babcock said. "I went there and I did what the people above told me to do."

He said he had heard rumours about the government holding a state funeral for him, but wasn't sure that's an honour he deserves.

"I think it should be for the fellows who spent time in the front lines and were actually in the fighting."

Babcock wanted badly to be right there with them. "I wasn't smart enough to be scared," he explained.

"While he didn't serve, he was emblematic of that generation and of a certain kind of fiestiness," said Griffiths. "I know he felt quite proud of the Canadian period of his life."

Duncan Graham, a Korean War veteran whose father served in the First World War, said Babcock was the last living member of a generation that he and other veterans looked up to.

"I've got great respect for them. The war they fought was completely different from the war I fought, where we had the luxury of tanks and armoured vehicles," he said. "What they went through during the war in the trenches... we didn't have to see what they had to see."

As an underage volunteer, Babcock was stuck digging ditches and doing endless military drills rather than fighting enemy soldiers. But he said he had vivid memories of the war, and the day an army sergeant inspired him to enlist.

"He came and told us about the charge of the light brigade," he said, referring to the recklessly brave British cavalry attack of the Crimean War, immortalized in a famous poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson. "I was really impressed by that."

Frustrated that he had been relegated to loading freight onto army trucks in Halifax, Babcock lied about his age when he answered the call for volunteers to join a "peacetime regiment."

"When they asked me how old I was, I said 18. Well, when we got to England you had to be 19 to go to France," recalled Babcock.

"I was waiting to be 19 and my service record came through, and they found out I was 16, so they put me in the young soldiers' battalion."

Babcock joined 1,300 other underaged soldiers and was drilled eight hours a day, always with an eye on reaching the front. By October 1918, the then 18-year-old Babcock was awaiting training that would send him to the battlefields of France.

That same month, some Canadian soldiers were kicked out of a dance hall in Wales by British Army veterans. Babcock and other members of his battalion decided "to go up there and clean them."

The ensuing brawl, in which one Canadian soldier was bayoneted in the thigh by a British cadet, saw Babcock handed 14 days of house arrest. Before those two weeks were up, the Armistice had been signed and he was on his way home.

Babcock has said that he worried that Canadians today, children especially, aren't learning enough about the First World War.

"They don't know a lot about it. People are always thinking about what they're doing right now," he said, adding that Canadians should take the time to learn from veterans of the World Wars while they still can.

Griffiths shares that concern. Without "living reminders" like Babcock around anymore, he said, he worries that the history of the First World War will fade into obscurity, much like the War of 1812 has.

"The duty not to forget now falls on a generation who has never known war, who's been separated from the history of the Great War by a period of going on 90 years. I think there is a danger (that people will forget)," he said.

Houchang Hassan-Yari, a professor of international relations at the Royal Military College, said that Canadians need to know about the Great War to understand how the country was born.

"Babcock's generation was important because they witnessed a transition for Canada from a member of the British Dominion to an independent state," he said, explaining that Canada's new-found military presence on the international stage helped the country find its own identity.

Babcock himself, however, emigrated to the United States in the 1920s and served a brief stint in the U.S. military.

"When he came back to Canada he really didn't have a home to come back to; his father was killed when he was six years old," said his wife.

"He had heard that in the United States the (military) was going to train people in a trade, so he and a couple of other buddies decided to come."

Babcock met his first wife, Elsie, while working as an oil burner service man in San Francisco. The couple moved to Spokane in 1932, raised a son and a daughter, and spent every weekend golfing.

Babcock married his second wife, Dorothy, after Elsie died in the late 1970s.

In September 2006, at the age of 106, he managed to get out for a game of golf. While he lacked the balance to putt, he was still able to drive.

When asked what lessons this generation should take from the First World War, Babcock had a simple reply.

"I think it would be nice if all the different people in the world could get along together so we weren't having wars. I don't suppose that'll ever happen, though."

SOURCE: The Canadian Press (Ottawa, ON) - February 19, 2010.

08 January 2010

Celebrating Three Years of Military Research

P/O D.S.Cormack, P/O S.J. James and Sgt. T.M. Hunter disappeared off Point Escuminac into the Gulf of St. Lawrence 26 January 1943. Sixty-four years after the disappearance of their aircraft I began posting material online about the Pennfield Ridge Air Station. These airmen, along with the other 67 service personnel and 6 civilians killed at Pennfield Ridge Air Station, continue to inspire me to push forward with my research. So this coming Tuesday (January 26th) will mark the third anniversary of my first posting of material, not only on air station but Camp Utopia as well.

Besides continuing with our research in the past year alone we've also taken over hosting the Pennfield Ridge War Memorial Service and have recently launched the "Pennfield Ridge War Memorial Project" as well.

Here are some of the new testimonies:

"Thanks for the wonderful work you have done with your site."
Glenn Carson, s/o Cpl. R.M. Pearce, RAF, No.34 OTU, Pennfield Ridge

"I have enjoyed your site. It is interesting to find links to my father's past in the internet."
Alex Norton, s/o Sgt. A.J. Norton, Class No.39 at No.2 ANS, Pennfield Ridge

"May I on behalf of myself & extended family, thank you & congratulate you and your Society on the wonderful, laborious efforts you have achieved in keeping alive the memories of not only 'brother Jacky' but the many others that gave up their young lives to try and stop these power hungry maniacs who just seem to keep appearing at regular intervals, wanting to take over countries and the world."
Patrick (Paddy) Hogan, brother of Sgt. John E. Hogan (1920-1943), causality at No.34 OTU Detachment, Yarmouth, NS

"Once again I would like to express my sincere thanks and appreciation for what you have done in recognizing David's efforts in establishing the "Pennfield Memorial". I'm quite sure it would not have happened had it not been for you."
Joyce C. Stuart, widow of J. David Stuart. Mr. Stuart was the founding member of "Charlotte County War Memorial Committee (2005) and N.C.O. in charge of The Orderly Room (office) at No.2 ANS and No.2 OTU at Pennfield Ridge Air Station (1941-1942).

"I saw your excellent website on Pennfield Ridge."
Wayne Sturgeon, s/o Cpl. Clifford W. Sturgeon, No.2 ANS, Pennfield Ridge