Veterans, squad history honoured
© Bill Hearld
Snowbirds Chief Warrant Officer Alan Blakney and Commanding Officer Lt.-Col. Maryse Carmichael visited the village of Burn for the unveiling of the new Snowbirds memorial in October.
Members of 431 Squadron — the Snowbirds — were treated to a special dinner at 15 Wing Friday to celebrate the history of the squadron and the unveiling of a memorial to the squadron in England.
The memorial, erected in the small village of Burn, United Kingdom, recognizes the village as the birthplace of the original 431 Squadron. It was unveiled in a ceremony late October that featured two of the Snowbirds’s command staff.
“We really wish we could have had the entire squadron over there (in England) to witness what we witnessed,” said Lt.-Col. Maryse Carmichael, the Snowbirds’s commanding officer.
“I think (the memorial) speaks for what the squadron has done over the years and especially the sacrifices of the men that were part of it at the time,” she said.
431 Squadron was founded in Burn during the Second World War and was one of many Canadian bomber squadrons that was actively involved in bombing flights over Germany. The squadron operated out of Burn for eight months before being relocated. It has been disbanded twice, once in 1945 and again in 1954, before reforming in 1978 as an air demonstration squadron.
“I think with every military organization, it’s important to understand the history,” said Chief Warrant Officer Alan Blakney, who attended the unveiling with Lt.-Col. Carmichael. “We can’t be blind to everything that the people have done before us and be able to forge our own future as we go.”
At the dinner Friday, the Snowbirds hosted two veterans of the original 431 Squadron, Sgt. (retired) Les Anderson and Lt. (retired) Reg Harrison.
Harrison said he was one of the lucky few that completed his tour.
“The losses in Bomber command were well over 50 per cent,” he said. “Out of every 100 air crew... only 25 finished the tour. 51 were killed in operations, 13 became prisoners of war, nine were killed in training accidents and then another three from other causes.”
Harrison said he crashed four planes during his tour in England, including a crash on his first and final missions.
“I started my tour with a crash, and it ended with a crash,” he said.
Harrison said he was happy to attend the Snowbirds’s special dinner.
“It’s an honour and a privelege for me to be here, because I just turned 90 in August. Before, when I was 22 and flying over England, I often wondered if I’d ever see my 23rd birthday,” said Harrison. “This, to me, is going to be a memorable experience.”
Blakney emphasized the significance of the connection with past incarnations of 431 Squadron to the members of the Snowbirds team.
“The bond over 70 years, and with us being fortunate to have the two veterans here, will inspire everybody in the squadron and make them think about the reality of their job,” Blakney said. “And the reality of their job is that they’re writing history every day in 431.”