26 July 2011

Brother says farewell to long-lost airman

Pilot Sgt. Hubert Burnham was one of two RAAF and one RNZAF airmen killed in a plane crash near Richibucto on Feb. 8, 1943.

Frank Burnham visits the grave of his brother for the first time yesterday at Elmwood Cemetery.

Frank Burnham knelt before the grave of his long-lost brother last night, whispering a final prayer and saying farewell 68 years after a plane crash near Moncton that killed his brother and two other members, a Royal Australian Air Force airmen and a Royal New Zealand Air Force airmen.

"I feel mixed feelings," Frank Burnham, 86, said after a private visit to his brother's grave in Moncton's Elmwood Cemetery last night. "There is a sense that I could weep. But there's another sense that I feel very proud that he gave his life like so many others. You see the stupidity of war and can't understand how politicians can talk and talk and say we're going to settle it."

Frank's brother, Pilot Sgt. Hubert Burnham, was only 19 years old when he died. He was the pilot of a Ventura bomber flying on a training mission on the morning of Feb. 8, 1943. They were flying out of Yarmouth, N.S., when the plane went down in an explosive crash in a boggy area approximately four miles northeast of Richibucto.

Also killed were navigator Sgt. Philip Llewellyn Edmond, 27, of Adamstown, New South Wales, Australia; and wireless air gunner Sgt. John E. Hogan, 22, of
Ruatoria, Gisborne, New Zealand. Burnham and Hogan were buried at Moncton's Elmwood Cemetery. Edmond was buried at St. Bernard's Roman Catholic Cemetery on Pleasant Street.

Frank said his family lived in Sussex, England, and his big brother decided for some reason that he wanted to go to Australia to work on a sheep farm. He hadn't been there very long when war broke out. And as soon as he was old enough, Hubert went to Sydney and signed up with the RAAF. He had completed his pilot training in Australia and came to Canada for advanced bomber training. He was only a few days shy of graduation when he was killed in the crash.

Frank says he was 17 in 1943, working as an air raid patrolman, and vividly remembers the night the knock came on the door with the delivery of the bad news. He was in bed, his father went to the door and then upstairs. Then he heard his mother scream in anguish.

But in Sussex, England in 1943, the news of war was all around. England had been pounded by air raids and ships were being sunk by submarines.

"The neighbours were getting similar news from the army, the navy, the air force, so it was all around us," he said.

"War is a different kettle of fish. As civilians, you are just as vulnerable as a soldier or a sailor and you have to accept it, put up with it. Everyone was under pressure."

Frank says he thought about his brother for a long time and felt he should make a trip to Canada to say goodbye. But it wasn't until his cousin Michael came to Moncton, saw the grave and urged him to make the trip that he relented. He was met at the Greater Moncton Airport last night by Moncton Mayor George LeBlanc and G. Christian Larsen, president of the Pennfield Parish Military Historical Society. Hubert Burnham was actually stationed with the Pennfield Ridge Air Station, but was detached to No.34 Detachment in Yarmouth shortly before his fateful flight.

This weekend, Frank Burnham will be the guest of honour at a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Pennfield Ridge Air Station near Saint John.

Larsen says the ceremony will honour the 70 airmen and six civilians killed at the base during training operations during the Second World War.

Moncton was also home to training bases of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan, and at least 11 fatal crashes occurred around the Moncton region.

SOURCE: Times & Transcript (Moncton, NB) - July 23rd, 2011.

Brenda Ferguson, Mayor George LeBlanc, Frank Burnham, Christian Larsen & Everett McQuinn

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