Sunday, November 15, 2020

Robert Burns (Bob) Charters DFM, Croix de Guerre (France) - Co. 36 Observers

(Tom Hawthorn - Special to the Globe and Mail Published Sept. 5, 2014) The bomber dropped supplies for Resistance fighters in occupied France before being attacked from above. A Messerschmitt fighter raked the starboard wing and engine, setting both afire. The pilot ordered the crew to bail out into the night sky. Bob Charters, the navigator aboard the Stirling bomber, followed the bomb aimer out the front escape hatch. The aircraft had been flying low to make the drop, so his parachute had barely opened before the navigator was crashing through tree branches. He knew his first task was to hide his parachute, but he was unable to extricate it from the tree that broke his fall. Any Germans seeking the air crew would undoubtedly spot the chute. "I ran as fast as my nervous legs would carry me for the first hour and certainly did not stop for any length of time until daylight," he later wrote in an unpublished memoir. Mr. Charters, who has died at the age of 91, would be on the run from the enemy for more than a month, part of which was spent in full view of the German occupiers, including drinking alongside soldiers at a café. His hair-raising escape from capture depended on the bravery and cunning of the same French Resistance fighters for whom his crew had dropped supplies. The navigator, a pilot officer by rank at the time his plane was shot down, would be awarded the Croix de Guerre by France after the war. A year before being shot out of the sky, he had been been awarded a Distinguished Flying Medal for valour by the king at Buckingham Palace. That ceremony seemed remote as morning dawned on March 4, 1944. The airman followed his training – travel by night, hide away by day. He spent his first full day in France secretly observing a promising residence. "I had watched a railway crossing guard's home for an entire day and after dark I got up enough courage to knock on the door and ask for help," he wrote. "My poor schoolboy French was of limited assistance, but as I was still in uniform, he asked me into the house at once." The railwayman explained he could not hide him for fear discovery would lead to calamity for his family. He asked his wife to prepare a meal. Mr. Charters was sent into the cool night with a beret atop his head, a heavy overcoat over his battle dress, and a full belly after feasting on eggs, dark bread with salt pork and a steaming cup of ersatz coffee. After he begged for food from Burgundy peasants for a few days, word got out to the local Resistance about an airman in their midst. A couple in the village of Is-sur-Tille fed him and provided hot water for a bath, as well as a warm bed. He slept for 12 hours. After a week spent hidden in an upstairs bedroom, or in the root cellar, Mr. Charters was moved to Dijon, where he was hidden in a furniture store warehouse that also served as a depot for supplies dropped by the Royal Air Force, as well as armaments stolen from the Germans. Meals arrived in packages, or in a briefcase. He spent three weeks in a third-floor attic, the tedium broken by a rare visit to a café to sip wine, where he and his handler were once surrounded by Germans, who one presumes were accustomed to the locals not speaking in their vicinity. Forged documents – including a work permit, a travel pass and an identification card – were prepared for Mr. Charters in the name of Robert Jean Duchesne, a deaf-mute watchmaker. He travelled to Paris by train without incident, a contact at the station taking him to an apartment, where several men interrogated him to ensure he was not an enemy plant. "After a few hours of what seemed to be close arrest, I was officially welcomed by three or four men in the usual French fashion with kisses on both cheeks," he wrote. "This seemed strange to me but in the circumstances was most reassuring." He moved daily in Paris, a "bag of potatoes" to be delivered from one safe spot to another. At last, he was once again placed aboard a train, this time to Toulouse, where he was taken to a farmhouse with five other evaders on the outskirts of the city. A Basque guide led them on a winding trek through the Pyrenees to the Spanish frontier, about 150 kilometres to the southwest. After three nights and four days of hiking, the guide directed the six men to a road below them, which was in Spanish territory. After taking their French currency, as well as compasses and silk escape maps, the guide left them. Spanish police arrested them soon after they reached the road. They spent two days in a village jail before being released to a British air attaché. Mr. Charters spent several days in Pamplona in a compound with other non-commissioned officers, the only restriction being a nighttime curfew. He took in a bullfight and attended a concert in a park by a German military band. A bus trip to Madrid was followed by a journey to Gibraltar, then a flight to England, where he discovered his bank account had been frozen in the belief he was dead. At last, he also learned the fate of his crew mates aboard the bomber. Mr. Charters was the only one of the survivors to evade capture; the flight engineer, the wireless operator and a gunner were all captured. The bomb aimer, Edward George Brown, 21, of North Harrow, Middlesex, who had preceded him out the escape hatch, did not survive the jump from the plane. A gunner, Lawrence Eric Crick, 21, of Pirbright, Surrey, and pilot Kevin Bernard O'Connor, 29, of Waipawa, New Zealand, both died in the crash of the bomber. The war in Europe ended on May 8, 1945, the day before his 22nd birthday. He volunteered for duty in the Pacific, but the conflict ended before he had a chance to serve in that theatre. In 1974, Mr. Charters made a pilgrimage to the cemetery at Is-sur-Tille, where two of his crew mates are buried. On a later visit to France, he was reunited with a dozen of his rescuers from the Resistance, none of whose real names he knew during the war, a security measure lest he be captured and tortured for information. Robert Burns Charters was born on May 9, 1923, in Brampton, Ont., to Ida Mary (née Harcourt), a nurse, and Clarence Victor Charters, whose family was prominent as local publishers and members of the Conservative Party. The boy's grandfather, Samuel Charters, served as mayor of Brampton before spending 18 years as a member of Parliament. His father and grandfather played in lacrosse's Minto and Mann Cup championships. Bob Charters played tennis and was a member of his high school's basketball and football teams. After school, he worked as a grocery-store butcher. He worked on a farm briefly before enlisting in the Royal Canadian Air Force shortly after his 18th birthday.
(RCAF Station Fingal March 14, 1942: It was a great day for Sgt. Observer R.B. Charters of Brampton, Ont., when he received his observer's wing upon graduation. His mother, Mrs. C.V. Charters, father and sister Miss Marion, attended the wing parade.) He trained at the Eglinton Hunt Club in Toronto, the air observer school in London, Ont., and the bombing and gunnery school in Fingal, Ont., before taking navigation courses in Pennfield Ridge, N.B. He flew aboard Avro Ansons and Fairey Battles in training in Canada before being sailing overseas. Mr. Charters was aboard a Whitley on a training flight in a thunderstorm when the engines failed. All five crew members survived the jump, though Mr. Charters had the right boot ripped from his foot when his parachute deployed. He scratched the foot badly as he trudged through gorse after landing. Assigned to the RAF's No. 199 Squadron, Mr. Charters was navigator on a Wellington assigned on a bombing raid of the Krupp factory in Essen in the Ruhr Valley when the bomber was attacked from below by a fighter. Cannon and machine-gun fire holed the aircraft, knocking out the intercom and damaging the hydraulic system. The instrument panel was smashed and pilot Sergeant A.J.W.R. Coupar was cut by flying glass. Shrapnel and gunshots tore into Mr. Charters's arm and chest. Despite the injuries, he guided the aircraft to an emergency field in England, where the pilot managed a successful crash landing. The pilot and the navigator were awarded Distinguished Flying Medals immediately for bringing the wounded aircraft and crew home. After the war, Mr. Charters returned to Brampton and took a job as a flagman on a construction crew. He worked his way up through the company's ranks as a timekeeper, office clerk and instrument man before becoming a contract manager in 1954 and a vice-president in 1966. In 1971, he was named president of Armbro Holdings, which included a construction company and related businesses, as well as two transportation companies and a concrete business. He was named chairman of the board in 1978, a position he held for five years before retiring.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Isaac 'Ike' Hewitt - Co. 5 Air Gunners

Obituary: Hewitt, 99, kept diary close to the heart (By Daniel Pearce - Simcoe Reformer November 10, 2015) As the end neared for Ike Hewitt — who was shot down over Europe in the Second World War and survived three-and-a-half years as a POW — a horrifying image re-emerged that he couldn't shake. It was the sight of the rear gunner of his bomber trapped in flames as the plane went down. “He couldn't get to him to save him. He couldn't get it out of his mind,” said Bob Castles, a lifelong friend of Hewitt's who regularly visited him in the Delhi retirement home where he lived at the end of his life. Unlike the gunner, Hewitt did survive. He bailed out but cut away his parachute too soon as he floated to the Atlantic Ocean below, crash landing into the freezing water. Unconscious, he was pulled to safety by Germans and spent the rest of the war behind barbed wire. After the war, Hewitt, who died Sept. 15 age 99, returned to the Norfolk County area. He lived a quiet life, raising a family and working as a buyer for Imperial Tobacco. It wasn't until he was in his 90s that he came to prominence following the release of his wartime diary: an amazing compendium of photos, drawings, and paintings that captured life in a German POW camp. Hewitt had used cigarettes he got in Red Cross packages to get other prisoners to give him their artwork and photographs. The diary became so valued he kept it with him, hiding it from the Germans as he was moved from camp to camp. One time, he risked his life by stuffing it under his shirt during a forced march from Poland to Berlin, a winter ordeal many of the prisoners didn't survive. The prisoners were told to discard everything they were carrying in order to make the trip go easier or face execution. In 2012, local residents realized the value of the diary and turned it into a book and a DVD video. Hewitt was feted at an official opening at the Simcoe Legion for the book and was the special guest at the Warriors Day parade at the Norfolk County Fair in 2011. In an interview in 2012, Hewitt said he hadn't purposely kept the diary a secret all those years. “I wanted to show people what we went through when I came home, and then nobody was interested,” he told the Simcoe Reformer. Hewitt's images from the camps painted a positive picture of life as a POW. There were photos of hockey games on a frozen pond, theatrical productions with sets and costumes (men played the women's roles) as well as humorous paintings and drawings. But life in the camps was also “inhumane,” local resident Harry B. Barrett, himself a Second World veteran and the author of the book on Hewitt's diary, said in 2013 interview. In his post-war years, Hewitt never talked about his war experiences either good or bad, said his daughter Pat Tarcza of Midhurst, Ont. “He kept it to himself,” she said. It wasn't until 17 years ago after his wife Kay died that “he changed and talked about things,” said Tarcza. After that, local residents decided to do something with Hewitt's vivid and historic record – and the man got the recognition he deserved. December 18, 1941 Op Brest Manchester R5795 shot down (60345) P/O Neville George Stokes Aussie with RAFVR (P) missing (AUS400298) Sgt Gwynne Pryce Thomas (P/FE) PoW (AUS402283) Sgt Thomas Michael Wade (N) PoW (R/64413) F/S Isaac 'Ike' Hewitt R/64413 RCAF (BA) PoW +(989237) Sgt. John Robert Conn RAFVR (WOP/AG) missing +(R/76013) Sgt. Morton Ralph Heinish RCAF (MUG) missing +(641560) Sgt. George Gardiner Fell 641560 RAF (Rear AG) missing

Monday, October 15, 2012

April 1941 - "Anzacs" at Fingal Tune Up A Fairey Battle - While a groundman pours in the high octane gasoline, the Canadian-NewZealand foursome pose beside A Fairey Battle at Fingal. Top: John Jasper of Auckland, N.Z., Below L to R: Alan Baird of Foxton, N.Z., P. Patrick of Alberta and L.C. Nelson of London, Ontario. John Whiteside Jasper was killed in action April 23, 1942.
Jim Robinson of Wanganul, N.Z. pulled the trigger and riddled a drogue target being pulled by a Fairey Battle.

December 20, 1941

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Flier at Fingal Threw Drogue, Went Right Out of Plane With It

November 4, 1943: Life as a drogue pilot at the Fingal Bombing and Gunnery School may seem drab and monotonous to the casual observer, but the boys who pull, the targets have a different slant about it, according to FO. C. A. Magee, whose story titled - "Drogue Driver," appears in this month's edition of Wings the R.C.A.F . magazine. F.O. Magee writes : "One morning a red-head who hails from Texas and answers to the name of Wheat took off as usual to tow the over grown wind sock around the sky. On reaching his position over the 'drome he told his operator to stream the drogue. The operator opened the hatch, threw -out the drogue-and went right out with it, minus his parachute . Luckily he had fastened a small cable known as the G-string to his chute harness. Nevertheless he was hanging head down under the fuselage trying to contact the operator by "inter-com," Pilot Wheat received no reply. Looking into the operator's compartment he found no operator. When he failed to see a parachute drifting earthward he decided to land and report the strange disappearance of one, drogue operator. "Taxiing to a stop the pilot found the operator bruised and lacerated, in his compartment . The only reason he was still alive was that, after the plane had decreased speed to land he had been able to grasp the hatch door and pull himself back in the plane.”

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Cpl. J.C. Murray June 1942 in front of Lysander