04 November 2011

Remembering Sgt. Hubert John Burnham

Column: Third of a four-part series of columns remembering those who served at Pennfield Ridge Air Station.

As mentioned in Tuesday's column, one of the 1943 crashes was that of Ventura AJ211 near Richibucto on 8 February 1943 claiming Sgt. Hubert John (Hugh) Burnham (RAAF) (Pilot) and two others.

Hugh was born 5 September 1923 in Worthing, Sussex, England to Albert George and Doris May Burnham. At the age of 15 he traveled to Australia under the Big Brother Movement that was organized by the Boy Scouts. The idea of the program was to provide young men an opportunity to start a new life in an exciting developing country. It was here that Hugh worked as a Farm and Station Hand at “Innesfail” in Gurley, NSW, Australia.

On 1 March 1941 Hugh submitted an “Application for Air Crew” but being only 17 years of age he was not accepted. With his ultimate goal of returning back to England he was not put off and 9 September 1941 he enrolled himself in the reserves. On 11 October 1941 he enlisted himself in the permanent forces of the Royal Australian Air Forces.

At once he was sent to No.2 Initial Training School in Lindfield to begin his training, and by December was to begin his pilot training. On 22 May 1942 he was attached to the Royal Canadian Air Force and embarked Melborne the following day aboard the Argentina to continue his training in Canada. He arrived in San Francisco harbour 20 June 1942.

Upon his arrival he began a journey across Canada, via train, with his first stop three days later at No.33 Service Flying Training School in Carberry, Manitoba. It was here, upon graduation, that he was awarded his Flying Badge and promoted to the rank of Sergeant 23 October 1942. He was then granted a 14-day leave and, upon completion of the leave, was to report to No.34 Operational Training Unit at Pennfield Ridge.

Hugh arrived at No.34 OTU 7 November 1943 to be part of Course No.6 (Pilots) that began 9 November 1943. The cold winter weather of the Maritimes was not kind to Hugh and he spent, in total, 11 days in the station hospital in December during two separate visits.

On 16 January 1943 Course No.6 was detached to No.34 OTU Detachment in Yarmouth, NS for their armament-training portion of the course. As the Station ORB recounts: “A shuttle service of aircraft was arranged, but the weather closed in at Yarmouth with the result that only two Ansons and one Ventura were able to land there, the remaining aircraft being recalled to Base.”

The Ventura that landed was Ventura AE926 containing five airmen from Course No.6 as passengers, one of them being Burnham. Upon landing the starboard undercarriage collapsed but none of those aboard where injured.

Two days short of returning back to Pennfield Ridge for graduation, Sgt. H.J. Burnham and crew of two climbed into Ventura AJ211 and took off from Yarmouth at 5:50am. on a cross-country navigation exercise.

From Yarmouth they flew to Bridgewater and then onto West Point, PEI where they turned West and began to head towards Blissville (near Fredericton). The last contact from the aircraft was received at 6:27am and what transpired over the next 48 minutes remains unknown. What is known is that at 7:15am. Ventura AJ211 crashed 4 miles from Richibucto, and exploded on impact killing the entire crew.

The crew were brought back to Moncton and laid to rest with full military honour at Elmwood Cemetery 11 February 1943. The mourning, bearer and firing parties were made up of airmen from No.31 RAF Depot and No.8 SFTS, both from Moncton.

There would be two crashes in 1944 that claimed, in total, four airmen and another two crashes in 1945 that claimed 8 airmen.

Since January 2007 Pennfield Parish Military Historical Society (PPMHS) has been working hard to record the history of the Pennfield Ridge Air Station and A-30 Canadian Infantry Training Centre, CA (Camp Utopia). Our primary focus is honouring and remembering the 78 service personnel, along with the 7 civilians, killed at the Air Station and Camp Utopia.

On Tuesday: Services remember history, fallen

SOURCE: The Saint Croix Courier (St. Stephen, NB) - November 4, 2011.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The above noted story as originally written vs the shortened one that appeared in the newspaper.

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