07 November 2011

Services remember history, fallen

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

Since 2009, the Pennfield Parish Military Historical Society has been hosting the Pennfield Ridge War Memorial Service. The overall purpose of the service is to "Honour the seventy-eight (78) service personnel 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."

To aid us in hosting these services, we have spent countless hours pouring through microfilms, acquiring aircraft accident reports, scouring old newspapers looking for news accounts, etc. Recording the numerous “prangs” however was just the first step and once completed we began the arduous task to seek out the families of those killed at the base.

This past July we hosted our third memorial service and held a banquet dinner at the St. George Legion to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Pennfield Ridge Air Station. Next year we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of A-30 Canadian Infantry Training Centre (Camp Utopia) and the 80th anniversary of the landing of Capt. James Mollison.

On 2 December 2010, as we continued our on-going research for locating families members and preparations for the pending memorial service, we received a phone call from Frank V Burnham from Sidmouth, England. We had previously contacted Frank’s cousin Michael Burnham who had visited here in September 2008. With the encouragement of his cousin Michael and with an invitation from our society to attend the upcoming memorial service, Frank made plans to make his first trip to Canada.

On Friday 22 July Frank flew into the Greater Moncton International Airport where a welcoming committee of four met him. Shortly before his arrival Everett McQuinn, a Second World War Veteran and a member of the Turnbull Chapter (CAHS), turned to me and asked me if I knew what Mr. Burnham looked like. I told him I did not and with the words still lingering in the air I said: “Here he comes now” which received a puzzled look from McQuinn. Although I did not know what he looked like, I had seen 2 photographs of his brother Hugh, and coming down the ramp was an older gentleman who bore a strong striking resemblance to Hugh.
Brenda Ferguson, Mayor George LeBlanc, Frank Burnham,
Christian Larsen & Everett McQuinn
Moncton Mayor George LeBlanc, who officially welcomed Mr. Burnham to the city, soon joined us and presented Mr. Burnham with a gift from Mayor and council. From the airport we ventured off to Elmwood Cemetery where Mr. Burnham knelt before the grave of his long-lost brother, whispered a final prayer and said farewell 68 years later. He also paid his final respects to P/O P.L. Edmond (RAAF) who is buried next to Hugh. The third crewmember, Sgt. J.E. Hogan, lies buried at St. Bernard’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, our last stop before leaving Moncton.

Frank Burnham visits the grave of his brother for the first time.

We then headed off to St. Andrews where he spent the weekend at a lovely bed and breakfast within the historic seaside resort community. F/L James A. (Jim) Stewart, DFC, ONB (Ret.) was gracious enough to provide Mr. Burnham a tour of the area on Saturday and brought him to the memorial service on Sunday.

Jim Stewart has been accommodating enough to lay the RAF wreath every year since we began hosting these services. Although never stationed at Pennfield Ridge. he did receive a portion of his training in Canada at No. 39 Flying Service Training School, Swift Current, SK in 1942. The closest he came to Pennfield Ridge, during the Second World War, was when the train he was aboard rolled through Moncton on the way to No.1 “Y” Depot in Halifax, NS.

At the conclusion of the banquet dinner, where both Frank and Jim were guest of honour, we took Frank on a brief tour of the base to see where Hugh spent some of his final days and then back to St. Andrews for the night.

The following day we returned Frank to Moncton so he could begin the journey back to England. Upon his return home Frank wrote, in part, “I did appreciate the memorial service and all that you are doing to keep alive the need to remember those who gave their lives in the doing of their duty to the security of our country.”

We look forward to the next memorial service and hopefully being joined by yet more family members. The memories of long ago are still very much present in all those who remember the base – Veterans, family members who have heard the stories or the older members of our community who were a part of the greatest generation.

The purpose of these columns is to awaken the general public interest and in addition, to bring forth more of the unrecorded history of this “Forgotten Base”.

The base had a major economic impact on the communities surrounding it from St. Stephen to Saint John and all points in between. However, 70 years later, there is nothing to suggest the significant role those blueberry fields played in the allies winning the war. Recording this history (still on-going) makes us realize that one should not be able to drive by this base without knowing its existence. Provincial Historic Designation is currently being sought so this location can be properly marked and perhaps a place created where people can read some of the stories and see photographs of what took place here. We need to remember all those who served and make sure the forgotten heroes, those who died in the preparation of war before their finest hour such as Sgt. H.J. (Hugh) Burnham, are honoured.

Per Ardua Ad Astra.

SOURCE: The Saint Croix Courier (St. Stephen, NB) - November 8, 2011.

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