November Remembrance

By John Chalmers,
CAHS Membership Secretary

All across Canada, in small towns and large cities, there are monuments honouring and remembering Canadians who have lost their lives in wars. Each name on every memorial has a story attached. Especially at this time of year we remember those who have made the greatest sacrifice while serving Canada in times of conflict.

When I was a kid in school from grades 4 to 9, I lived in the small Alberta town of Sedgewick, population 500 at the time. At the end of Main Street stands the fieldstone cenotaph, on which a bronze plaque names the 26 men from the district who fell in the First World War and 13 who were lost in the Second World War.

01 Sedgewick cenotaph

The Sedgewick monument, above, is flanked by two machine guns, which intrigued me when I was a schoolboy. Most meaningful to me were the names of men on the plaque, as some of their descendants were among my schoolmates. From time to time I visit that small town which holds so many special memories for me. I stop again to read the names on the cenotaph. (Chalmers photo)

More often, I visit the small city of Fernie, British Columbia, population 5,000. It is home to my older daughter, a son-in-law and three grandsons. I have come to know the place well, including the war memorial in front of the court house.

02 Fernie Memorial and Court House

The Fernie war memorial, with a statue of a First World War soldier atop, stands in front of the court house. The base of the monument bears the names of all the young men from Fernie who gave their lives in service to Canada during three wars – 93 in the First World War, 20 who fell in the Second World War, and one lost in the Korean War. (Chalmers photo)

03 They Shall Grow Not Old

I wondered how many Fernie men who died in the Second World War served in the RCAF. My research began in a book of 892 pages called They Grew Not Old, published by the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum at Brandon, Manitoba. Along with 128 more pages in two later supplements, all RCAF personnel are listed who fell during the Second World War. The internet and other sources helped provide information about six Fernie airmen who served with the RCAF. (Chalmers photo)

Those six served in aircrew and would have trained in Canada at stations of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Not all six were killed in battle. Three lost their lives in accidents. Four are buried with military headstones marking their graves. Two have no known graves, but are remembered in other ways. Their names are commemorated on the Fernie war memorial, on the internet, in some cases on the names of mountains in British Columbia and on street names in Fernie. They are also remembered on military monuments in Canada and England, and at cemeteries in England and Europe.

04 Airspeed Oxford

Richard Paul Frayn was born in Gettysburg, South Dakota. A pilot with the rank of Flying Officer, he was killed in a night cross-country flying exercise on January 8, 1943, when the crew’s Airspeed Oxford (type shown above) crashed in England. Two other crew members, not Canadians, were also killed in the crash. F/O Frayn is buried in the Cirencester (Chesterton) Cemetery, Gloucestershire, England. He died at the age of 30 and left behind a wife and three young children in Fernie. Mount Frayn near Fernie is named for him. (Internet photo)

05 Halifax

James Howell, son of Charles and Sarah Howell of Vancouver, British Columbia, was killed in action on February 20, 1944, at age 23 while serving with the RCAF’s 431 Squadron on a Halifax bomber operation to Leipzig, Germany. Photo above is the restored Halifax bomber at the National Air Force Museum of Canada. (Internet photo) A pilot with the rank of Pilot Officer, Howell is buried in the Berlin War Cemetery at Charlottenburg, Germany. His squadron first flew Wellington, then Halifax and Lancaster bombers. Reformed as a fighter squadron in 1954, it is known today as 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, based in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and is known as Canada’s famous aerobatic team, the Snowbirds.

06 Stratford on Avon Cemetery

Flight Sergeant Aloysius William “Bill” Klauer from Fernie, son of Adam and Sarah Klauer of Fernie, was an air gunner, killed at the age of 29 on May 4, 1943. He was serving with No. 22 Operational Training Unit, preparing for combat service, flying in a Wellington bomber that stalled and crashed while making a turn. The entire crew of six perished. Flight sergeant Klauer left behind his wife, Catherine, and is buried in the Stratford-on-Avon Cemetery in Warwickshire, England, shown above, where 97 of 179 Second World War graves are of Canadian airmen. F/S Klauer is commemorated by Mount Klauer north of Fernie and on Mount Klauer Street in the city. (Internet photo)

07 Ottawa Memorial

Another Fernie son, Pilot Officer James Robert McLean, was a navigator, killed at the age of 21 while serving with No. 111 Operational Training Unit at Nassau, Bahamas, on April 21, 1943. He and his pilot were lost when their B-25 Mitchell bomber crashed, and they have no known grave. P/O McLean is commemorated on the Ottawa Memorial in Ottawa, seen above. Mount McLean and Mount McLean Street in Fernie bear his name. The Ottawa Memorial names almost 800 men and women of the Commonwealth air forces who lost their lives while serving from Canada, the British West Indies and the U.S.A., or while training in Canada and the U.S.A., who have no known grave. (Chalmers photo)

08 mount swiderski

Flight Sergeant Alexander Swiderski, also a Fernie native, was a wireless operator/air gunner. He was killed in action at the age of 20 on June 12, 1942. He and all crew were lost when their Wellington bomber of the Royal Air Force No. 9 Squadron failed to return after night operations. F/S Swiderski has no known grave, but is commemorated on the Runnymede War Memorial in Surrey, England and on the Ottawa Memorial. Mount Swiderski, north of Fernie, seen above, bears his name. (Photo © Jack Brauer

09 Dean Washburn 10 Typhoon


Dean Jerome “Butch” Washburn was the son of Lenox and Teresa Washburn of Fernie. A pilot, he held the rank of Flying Officer and flew with RCAF 438 Squadron. He was killed on December 24, 1944, at the age of 21. F/O Washburn was diving and firing at an enemy vehicle from under 1,000 feet when his Typhoon fighter-bomber (type shown above) was hit by flak. It went into a spin and crashed near Schmidtheim, Germany. He is buried in the War Cemetery, Hotton, Luxembourg, Belgium. Washburn Street in Fernie was named for him, as was Mount Washburn, north of Fernie. (Photos: Library and Archives Canada; Internet)

11 Bomber Command Memorial

As P/O Howell, F/S Klauer and F/S Swiderski served with Bomber Command, their names are among the more than 10,600 listed on the Bomber Command Memorial at the Bomber Command Museum of Canada at Nanton, Alberta. (Chalmers photo)

12 Fernie statue

The statue of a soldier on Fernie’s war memorial honours the 114 men of Fernie who are named on the monument. In communities across Canada, stories can be found similar to the stories of Fernie’s men who were lost in wars defending our country. Canada’s men and women served on the sea, on the land and in the air – remembered in perpetuity. We must never forget. (Chalmers photo)