My Mom would often talk about her older brother, Eric. Although she had several other brothers and sisters, she was closest in age to Eric. My Uncle Eric was a typical Winnipeg teenager, playing baseball and hockey, hanging out with friends and working at a part time job. In 1942, at the age of 16, Eric lied about his true age, had a friend forge his birth certificate and Erics Mom's signature, and signed up with the RCAF to head overseas and fight in World War 2. My Mom would often show me his medals and his log book. The log book would fascinate me with the details of the bombing missions, his shooting down of a JU88, a German combat aircraft, how they took heavy flak, encountered many enemy fighters and the day and night hours spent on missions.To this day I still get chills when I read the last 2 entries which were not in my Uncle's hand writing, but the handwriting of somebody else. The last entry indicates Eric's plane went missing on a bombing operation over Munich, and the plane and crew were eventually declared lost without a trace. My Uncle Eric was just 17 years old when he was killed in action.
Uncle Eric was an Air Gunner, flying with the RAF, 77th Squadron. Eric was the only Canadian flying with an all British crew. Their plane was a Halifax MKII Bomber, serial number DT 793, Code KN-E. On Tuesday, September 6, 1943, at 19:18 Hours, the crew departed from Elvington Air Force Base located in the North East of England. This would be Eric's 21st mission. 21st! He had only just arrived in England in December,1942, a few months before his 17th birthday.
Halifax MKII Bomber, similar to the one Eric had flown in.
In the summer of 1943, Eric was in London and by chance, Eric ran into his older brother, Ken. My Uncle Ken, who had been fighting in Italy with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, had no idea that Eric had enlisted and that he was in England. My Uncle Ken immediately threatened to reveal Eric's true age to Erics Superior's. Eric swore he would never speak to Ken ever again if he did such a thing. That chance meeting would be the last time they would ever see and speak to each other as only a couple of months later Eric would be MIA. My Uncle Ken would safely return home to Canada, but he kept his war experiences to himself and he never discussed the chance meeting wtih Eric.
Runnymede Memorial, just West of London, is dedicated to 20,456 men and women from air forces of the British Empire who were lost in air operations and have no known grave. My Uncle Eric is one of those who's name is engraved. I have discovered that Eric was one of the youngest Canadians, flying with the RAF, to be declared MIA. I have visited Runnymede Memorial many times and would usually do so on Remembrance Day.
I was incredibly lucky to have lived in England for over 17 years. My first couple of years I lived on the South Coast in Bournemouth. I've recently discovered that there's a good chance that Eric would have spent some time in Bournemouth during his induction before being posted to Elvington. I can only imagine that I walked the same streets, boardwalk and beach he did. I was also very lucky to have been able to visit The D Day Beaches several times and most of the Normandy Coast in France and Belgium including places like Dunkirk, Dieppe and Vimy Ridge. On one of those trips in 1996, my Brother, his Wife and I visited the town of Arromanches near Gold and Juno D Day Beaches. I can still remember sitting in a small cafe with a glass of Chablis and toasting our freedom and the sacrifices of so many to allow us such comforts.
My Brother and I beside a Canadian Tank that is still on display at Juno Beach.
On many of my trips to Northern France, I would visit several War Cemeteries like the one near Le Touquet, Etaples Military Cemetery. Over 11,500 headstones from World War One and Two stretch out across the hills over looking the English Channel. It truly is numbing, humbling and sad to see such a site. I would walk around the headstones and see all of the different names, nationalities and ages. So many, so young. I would always grab a spot on the grass, open a bottle of wine, enjoy a baguette and some cheese and toast to all of those in that cemetery. And to all of those who fought hard for our freedom. A freedom that allowed me to live and work in England for so many years. A freedom that allowed me to travel without borders. A freedom that allows us to live in our great country, Canada. My last sip of wine I would always dedicate to my Uncle Eric and my Mom, who, until the day she died, always hoped that Eric would have one day walked in the door. Lest We Forget.
Etaples War Cemetery
Written by Tank Montana