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WW2 Air Force Vet Passes Away


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I wasn't sure if this should be posted in "The Mess" or under Air Force, so mods if you want to move it, please do so. But since there is a specific Air Force connection to this story, I've posted it here.

My Dad, WO Eric Black, passed away on August 16. He was 92 and had lived a full and, up until very recently, healthy life. His passing was quick and painless and went as well as could be expected. Dad joined the Canadian Army in 1942, serving with the 2nd Battalion North Nova Scotia Highlanders. He lied outrageously about his age, adding two years to the truth and as soon as he could qualify to go overseas, joined the RCAF in 1943. After basic training he was posted to Linton-on-Ouse with a Canadian bomber wing. Right at the end of the war he was posted to mainland Europe where he served with a Canadian Spitfire wing. Dad's service was pretty innocuous, he wasn't air crew and most of the work he did on the ground was un-glamourous in the extreme. In fact, he told me the most dangerous thing that happened to him during the war involved a motorcycle, bottle of Canadian Club and a dare. Dad was never shy to talk about the war years, but it is interesting that there are two stories that only surfaced recently and that I think he had repressed for all these years. I want to share them with you.

Working as ground crew in Linton, one of Dad's jobs was to collect the personal effects from the bomber crew before they headed off. He would collect wallets, photos, etc and store them until they returned. If they returned. Only in the last few weeks of his life did he share with me one of the more poignant aspects of his job. He told me the ground crew would stand on a small hill on the base and wave good bye to the bombers, then later count them back. It was at this stage he would break into tears and say "So many of the boys didn't come back. And they were all just boys". He was only 18 himself. 65 years later this memory still affected him.

The second story he had repressed involves the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Dad's fighter wing was located somewhere in northern Germany at the end of the war. He never told me this story until about a year ago when we were watching a documentary on the TV concerning the concentration camps. It was like a shadow fell over him and he just muttered "I was there. I remember that". When I pressed him for the story, this is what he told me. When the Canadians were getting their pay there was an issue of chocolate and candy as part of their rations. There was a box on the table that said "for the camp victims" or something similar. Of course neither Dad, nor any of the others really understood what this meant. So Dad, always being of a curious nature, asked one of the drivers who was taking the chocolate and candy away if he could go with him. The driver said sure, but to be ready for a shock. So they drove to Belsen and unloaded the goods. This was shortly after it had been liberated and Dad said there were still piles of dead bodies lying around and the survivors were in terrible condition. He said it struck him speechless, and he never discussed this for over 60 years. When he saw the documentary all he said is "it was a hell of a lot worse that it shows on TV". And said no more.

Dad went on to serve with the RCAF until 1968. He couldn't stomach unification and refused to wear a green uniform. He retired to Victoria but remained a proud RCAF veteran and paraded every Remembrance Dad proudly wearing his medals, always brightly shone. He will be buried in the Esquimalt Veterans' Cemetery on September 4, and I have made sure there will be a military padre in attendance (thank you Capt Ken Nettleton of the Canadian Scottish Regiment) to send him off appropriately, and that his grave marker will proudly display the RCAF crest.

Dad loved the RCAF. Per Ardua Ad Astra. I will miss him.