Airfield Kindles Memories

Airfield Kindles Memories
by John Gardnet/ Transcribed by G. Christian Larsen

PENNFIELD - They came from across the continent, and across the seas to see a place that will forever have a role in their lives.

In the early 1940's, Pennfield Ridge was home to a bustling air force base, over the weekend a number of veterans and family members returned to the base for a weekend of remembering.

Maureen Bearpark made her first trip to Canada to see where her father Frank Ablett spent two years working as an accounting clerk between 1942 and 1944.

Ablett was with the RAF and had been stationed in Pennfield from Hull, England.

On Saturday evening she paused to look into a stand of alders at the place where the administrative building once stood.

Bearpark was accompanied on her journey from Withernsea, England by her husband Terry, and daughter Janet to see this spot that her father talked so much about.

The family brought a number of photos of Ablett, and Janet brought her grandfather's engagement ring, which she wore to the memorial service on Sunday.

Ablett always told his wife, Lilly, that when he retired he was going to take her to Canada. Sadly they never made the trip.

"Because of ill health they never made it, and now I have lost them both," said Bearpark.

The family spent time touring the area and seeking to meet some of the people that her father may have met.

Among those people were Doris Noddin and Lydia Hanselpacker who danced with the young RAF pilot in training.1

For Peter Manning, the trip to Pennfield was coming home.

Manning's father, George Edward (Jim) Manning came from England to train at the base and met Randi Silvertsen from Blacks Harbour.

The Silvertsen family had come from Norway to work at Connors Bros. On April 8, 1944 Silvertsen and Manning were married at St. Mark's church rectory in St. George.

This was not Manning's first trip to the airfield. He had flown out of Pennfield with his father as pilot.2

"It was my beginning here," said Manning.

Two years ago he returned to the area to bury his mother.

Manning made the trip with his daughter Charlotte, who was in Charlotte County for her first time.

After her husband died in England, Randi came to live with her son and his family in B.C. so Charlotte grew up listening to stories from her grandmother.

"My Norwegian grandma was a very big part of my life," said Charlotte.

Charlotte related that her grandmother always talked fondly of the area and her early life in Blacks Harbour.

John Charters has personal memories of the airbase.

It was here in 1945 that he was on a Ventura bomber that crashed on the highway by the airfield. Although all three crew walked away, the plane was a total loss.3`

The next day Charters found the plane on the base where it had been taken. He climbed up on the wing, and removed a section of one of the Plexiglas windows.

From that, he fashioned a heart approximately seven centimetres high. He mailed the heart to his girlfriend, Barbara, back in Quebec, to remember him by.

In 1947, the couple married and over the years they continued on with life. They had a son and two daughters. Along came four grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

A few years ago he found the heart, and had it set into a gold frame and hung from a gold chain. Barbara wore the pendant to the dinner on Sunday.

Dave Poissant came to the event from Mississauga, Ont. Poissant serves as the chair of the second Tactical Air Force Medium Bombers Association. He was at the memorial because his father Cyrille (Cy) Poissant trained at the base.

"I was here last year for the ceremony, and this year I am laying a wreath," said Poissant.

Poissant has always had a fascination with all things military because of his father's service.

Another visitor from away was Frank Burnham.

Burnham flew into Moncton from England and went in search of his brother's grave.

Pilot Sgt. Hubert Burnham was one of the three Royal Australian Air Force airmen4 who were killed when the Ventura bomber they were in went down near Richibucto on Feb. 8, 1943.

Frank was met at the airport by the mayor of Moncton and was taken to the Elmwood Cemetery where his brother was buried alongside wireless air gunner Sgt. John E. Hogan5. Navigator Sgt. Phillip Llewellyn Edmond6 was buried at St. Bernard's Roman Catholic Cemetery7 - also in Moncton.

Frank is a quiet soft spoken man who said he was touched by the kindness shown to him as he visited the area.

As he looked out over the assembled crowd of veterans, and those who felt an attachment to them, at a dinner held Sunday there was a hint of mischief in his voice.

"I wonder how many tall tales are being told right now?", he mused.

And at every table there were stories being told.

SOURCE: The Saint Croix Courier (St. Stephen, NB) - July 26, 2011.

Transcriber's Notes:

1 It should read "...who danced with the young accounts clerk."

2 Peter's first airplane trip was aboard a Trans-Canada Airlines' Dakota  7 March 1947 from Pennfield Ridge to Montreal (2 hrs. and 25 mins.). However his father Jim was not the pilot.

3 Ventura 2235 that crashed has a crew of five aboard.

4Two of the crew members were Australian and the third crew member was New Zealand.

5 Sgt. H.J. Burnham and Sgt. P.L. Edmond are buried at Elmwood Cemetery.

6 Should be Sgt. Philip Llewellyn Edmond.

7 Sgt. J.E. Hogan is buried at St. Bernard's Roman Catholic Cemetery.

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