Fallen Airmen Honoured

Fallen Airmen Honoured
Pennfield monument a tribute to men killed in wartime training

by Kathy Bockus/ Transcribed by G. Christian Larsen

PENNFIELD - A plaque bearing the names of the 69 men who died during the training exercises at the Pennfield Air Base and the Camp Utopia Army Base was unveiled Sunday afternoon in a place of honour on the portion of the wall at the Charlotte Fundy Kin Club dedicated to veterans.

    Club president Morris Harris said the club eventually hopes to have the names engraved in bronze and placed on the large granite monument the Kin Club erected and dedicated last year to the memory of those who served at the two bases during the Second World War. That monument is located near Highway#1 next to the Pennfield Ridge monument in Pennfield Park near the business sector.

    "We don't have the finances right now to put the bronze plaque out there," said Harris, "It's something we're looking at for down the road."

    Harris said he and the other Kin Club members hope to turn the memorial service into an annual tribute. He said the club feels the Charlotte County community should be aware of the supreme sacrifice these men made "right in our back yard" during the war years.

    "While they didn't die on enemy soil their commitment to what they were doing was just as real as if they had," Harris said.

    Kin Club member Larry Cook explained how the club was founded by Harold Rogers in Ontario who gathered together a small group of businessmen his age to provide him with the camaraderie he missed from amongst the men he served with overseas during the First World War.

    One of their goals was to enhance the quality of life in their community with a hands-on-approach.

    Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson, MP for New Brunswick Southwest, attended both the ceremony at the memorial site where the names of the 69 dead were read, as well as the unveiling ceremony at the Kin Club clubhouse in Utopia.

    Thompson told the small group attending that it was not often that an MP got a standing ovation in the House of Commons, but he received one when he told his fellow parliamentarians that Canada has the best soldiers in the world.

    "They are the most professional, most well-trained, most disciplined men and women and they commit to their missions 100 per cent," said Thompson.

    "They did it then," he said, referring to those who fought in both previous world conflicts," and they do it now.

    "Canada is always there to answer the call," Thompson said, adding that Canadians live in the best country in the world and that Canadians had the veterans to thank for that.

    Thompson said it was important to remember and appreciate the history around us and that it meant a lot for is and that is meant a lot for him to be in attendance. He said he appreciated the opportunity to learn more about local history from information presented by Jason Gaudet who has been compiling information on the two bases. Thompson teased that that it was like being back in university history classes, something that brought back fond memories for him.

    Thompson told the Kin Club members to keep up the good work and that their efforts in creating the memorial was "a job well done".

    "The greatest gift you can give veterans in a gift of remembrance," Thompson told them.

    Pastor Robert Miester, another of the guest speakers, told that it was important to record the memories of all seniors, not just veterans, and to learn from their experiences.

    "The past gives us priceless understanding of the present," he said.

   He said the erection of a monument site and the placement of the names of the dead on a plaque not only reminds people of the details and facts, but also that those who died were people, men willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of others.

    Pastor Miester said Canada and the world would not be what it was today if the men and women of that generation had not been willing to give themselves to a greater cause.

    He praised the Kin Club's efforts saying he was thankful there are still those who are willing to keep communities focused on those who were willing to and did make the ultimate sacrifice.

    The pastor told those attending that Pennfield became a British Air Base in 19421 after officially opening three large runways built upon flat blueberry fields in July 1941.

    Construction of the army base began in 1942 and the huge camp, compared in size to a small town, was ready for operation in 1943. It gained a reputation, said Miester, of turning out ("thoroughly trained and fighting fit assault troops"), two of the most famous being the Carleton & York and the New Brunswick Rangers.

    Blacks Harbour Mayor Terry James said she was glad that the community would continue the remembrance of those who served during the war and thanked the Kin Club for its, "aggressive action in making this remembrance a reality."

    Bruce Jackson, deputy mayor of St. George, voiced his concerns that the younger generation doesn't know much if anything about the First and Second World Wars and that people needed to provide support and encouragement to all groups who worked to keep the past alive for future generations.

    Referring to the former air base at Pennfield, Jackson said he passed the area recently and noticed a small plane landing there, a testament to the skill of those that built the airfield.

    "Sixty years later, that runway is still in better shape than some of the streets I drove across to get here today," he said.

    Rev. Keith Osbourne told those at the Kin Club reception that while Church and State are often separated, when troops go to war, the Church stands behind them with moral support and prayers.

    He said the Anglican Church swears allegiance not only to the queen but also to uphold the government of the land, regardless of which party is in power.

    Osbourne said it was a "good thing to support our vets, our troops and to pray for peace".

   "We all pray for the day when there is no need for war and weapons can be forged into instruments of peace," said Osbourne.

    Eight years ago, Jason Gaudet was working on some genealogy in Fredericton and kept coming across references to the two bases in Charlotte County.

    Encouraged by the late Phil Connell2, a veteran who became his mentor for the project, Gaudet kept researching and established a list of names of those who died in training exercises at the two bases.

    "It's very important that we remember these men," said Gaudet He added that while he hopes his list3 is complete, if it is not, he certainly wants to know because he doesn't want any of those who were killed to be forgotten.

    There were 37 Canadians4 who died, along with 12 Britons, 12 from New Zealand and eight Australians.

    Gaudet said the bodies of 22 of the men were never found, because of crashes either into the bay or deep into wooded areas5. Twenty-two of the men who died had families with wives and children6, families who had no tombstone to visit, no place to go to remember their loved ones.7

    While these men didn't go down in a ball of flame during the Battle of Britain, their sacrifice was equally important as those who had, said Gaudet.

    "We need to remember them. We can't forget them," Gaudet stated.

    Gaudet said many of those killed died in crashes of the Lockheed Ventura8, a twin-engine bomber plane built by the Americans. It was faster aircraft designed for coastal patrol.

    Gaudet said he wanted to thank the local Kin Club for taking this project on and for "getting the memorial done."

SOURCE: The Saint Croix Courier (St. Stephen, NB) - 25 September 2007).

Transcriber's Notes:

1 Pennfield Ridge actually opened 21 July 1942 as No.2 Air Navigation School which was a Royal Canadian Air Force Base. It was only after the closure of No.2 ANS and the opening of No.34 Operational Training Unit on 1 June 1942 that it became a Royal Air Force Base. 

2 Phil Connell is Phillip F. Connell, DFM. Mr. Connell was a veteran of World War II who was stationed at RCAF Station, Pennfield Ridge from 1944-1945.

3 The "list", which was the bases for the memorial plaque, was contrived from work of "The Pennfield Ridge Research Project" (Jason Gaudet). This is further explained in an e-mail from Mr. Gaudet dated 30 January 2009 in which he states: "My participation in the project was in terms of the historic data, in particular the names of the training causalities." 

The following errors and/or omissions occurred in the listing:

  1. BARTS, Sgt. Roy Joseph and BATES, Sgt. Donald Stuart's names were reversed in the alphabetical listing;

  2. BURNHAM, Sgt. Pilot Hubert John Burnham was listed as BURHAM, Hubert John;

  3. BURLEY, W/O1 Herbert Thomas Campbell and BURNHAM, Sgt. Hubert John (due to his surname being misspelled) were reversed in the alphabetical listing;

  4. CHRISTENSEN, P/O Carlyle George was listed as CHRISTENSEN, Caryle George;

  5. DAVIDSON, F/S William Gordon and DYASON, LAC William Henry's names were reversed in the alphabetical listing;

  6. FAULKNER, O/S Ronald Herbert's name was placed between WOODHAMS, Sgt. G.T.J. and YURKOWSKI, Sgt. J.S.' names almost like an afterthought. However O/S Faulkner's name should have been included in the first "Honour Roll" listing.

  7. LOUCKS, P/O John Clarke's name was listed as LOUCKS, John Clark.

  8. MALE, P/O Harold Otho was listed as MALE, Harold Otto;

  9. REYNOLDS, F/O Harold Charles Beresford and ROGERS, Sgt. Albert Ernest Edward's names were reversed in the alphabetical listing;

  10. SELF, Sgt. Keith Robert and SENCIALL, AC1 Frank Leslie's names were reversed in the alphabetical listing; and

  11. WHITE, F/L Albert Stanford, DFC was listed as listed as WHITE, Albert Stanford.

    "The Pennfield Ridge Research Project" (Jason Gaudet) ceased research 01 January 2011.

4. There are actually thirty-eight (38) Canadian causalities. There are also six (6) civilian causalities from the Pennfield Ridge Air Station as well.

5 Of the seven (7) aircraft not recovered - five (5) crashed into the water (Atlantic Ocean, Bay of Fundy and Gulf of St. Lawrence) and only two (2) are uncertain as to where they crashed. Although in regards to the latter two, one is believed to have crashed into the sea near Fish Head Island and the other one is said to have "... apparently finished up in the sea."

6 All of the training causalities left behind family members who mourned their sudden and often tragic passing. However twenty-six (26) of the training causalities were married and only some had children.

7 Although it is true that twenty-two (22) of the training casualties have no known grave, the names of twenty-one (21) of them are inscribed on the "Ottawa Memorial" and one (1) is inscribed on the "Plymouth Naval Memorial". Also only the Canadians, with one exception, were returned to their native provinces for burial. The other Commonwealth dead were generally buried near where they crashed. Therefore many their families do not have any "tombstone to visit, no place to go to remember their loved ones." A case in point is that of Sgt. J.E. Hogan who is buried in Moncton, NB far from his home in Ruatoria, New Zealand. Sgt. Hogan has two siblings living who have never had the opportunity to visit their brother's final resting place. Another case in point is that of Sgt. H.J. Burnham who is also buried in Moncton, NB far from his home in Worthing, England. Sgt. Burnham's cousin Michael Burnham recently remarked: "This September (2008) Jill and I went to New Brunswick to see Hubertís grave at Muncton <Moncton> Cemetery, which for the past 60 years no member of the family had visited."

8 Fifty-nine (59) of the seventy (70) training causalities were killed in Ventura aircraft crashes. The first four (4) training causalities were killed in an Avro Anson crash and the remaining seven (7) casualties were due to other causes. For example: 1) LAC R.E. Levesque was killed when the truck he was a passenger in left the road and struck a tree; 2) LAC W.H. Dyason died from meningitis; 3) F/L K.A. Walker died in his sleep due to a coronary thrombosis; etc.

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