Sunday, October 24, 2010

Some 1944 Flight Log Book Pages - June 8 to September 14

I was asked recently if there were flight log entries around D-Day. It's quite time consuming scanning the logs. They don't quite fit the scanner so each image has to be rotated and cropped.

I will take some time do some more scanning but in the meantime, here are pages from Dad's third log book starting at June 8 through to mid-September of 1944.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Y-32 Ophoven Airfield - Then and Now

Our friend Karel Baetan sent a couple of fascinating photos the other day which I thought might be of interest. First, you will see an old photo of the airfield as it was in 1945. Karel was able recently to fly over the airfield and take photos as it id today. And last, you will see my photo taken from the ground when Bill and I were there in January this year.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Elizabeth's Diary 1944

Mom used an RAF diary for 1944. It is a wonderful little book with all kinds of RAF information in the front. I've scanned the pages which include those planes which Dad flew or trained on throughout the war. I've also scanned a couple of pages of the diary itself. The "Bill" mentioned in the diary was my Uncle Bill - her brother. Bill was in the Army. More as I go along.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Few More Interesting Bits & Pieces

It's been a while. I've spent the day scanning a few documents I have here as part of the "collection". In oder, they are Dad's Pilot's Log Book starting in 1938; his Private Pilot's Certificate and Licence and his ID Card.

The log book is from his training at the Ottawa Flying Club. His ID card is somewhat of a mystery to me - maybe someone can help me out. As far as I know, he transferred to the RCAF in December 1944. But the card says 22 July 1944. His first name is spelled incorrectly and his eyes were hazel.

Yesterday would have been Dad's 92nd birthday.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Nijmegen Bridge

Here I am again. I was at my brother Rob's in St. Catherines recently. He said he had come across one of those acordion file folders which Mom had filled with different categories. One was WWII pictures. As I went through them, I realized that these were new to my eyes. We all divided up the ones we wanted to keep and since I seem to the "keeper" of the items pertaining to Dad, I have those items to add to the collection.

Here is the one that caught my eye - the bridge at Nijmegen. Having checked out various websites with pictures of this bridge, I am convinced that this photo is the bridge at Nijmegen and was taken perhaps around 1954 - not sure of the year, but certainly between 1954-56. That's Dad with a tour bus in the background and the bridge behind that. I can't believe it would be somewhere else.

Dad's logs show what he was doing during the time when the Allied tropps were trying to take those bridges. Here are the pages from Dad's log listing September 16, 1944 and onwards including a rather odd insert of a couple of November entries in a Harvard.

I've also copied the next pages from October 2 to November 8, 1944.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Story of Isidoor Mardaga and His Cousin

It’s been a while since I posted anything so I have a bit of catching up to do. Since I last wrote, there have been a couple of most interesting developments. I am going to let our good friend Karel Baeten tell the story by quoting his emails recently.

February 10, 2010
Hello Anne

I went to see Isidoor Mardaga, although he didn’t know much about the plane [Dad’s Spitfire], he could confirm the crash site and was able to tell me that most of the plane was removed from the site just after the crash. However, the plane was broken in to a lot of smaller pieces and some of them made rather large holes in the ground. These parts were not removed and probably will still be there. The spot I took you to [up behind the Hotel Mardaga], was the correct one. Frans Van Horenbeek’s diary talks about a lot of pieces from the cockpit which he already found back in the 80s. He is still negotiating with the present owner to get these pieces back - parts of the instruments, etc. Yesterday one of my contacts pointed out a possible new witness of the crash. I will contact this person to get more details or at least a confirmation of the facts told by Isidoor and Frans.


Allan Hillman and I asked Karel about Isidoor Mardaga and if he was related in some way to the hotel. Here’s his answer:

Isidoor Mardaga was a cousin of the owner of Hotel Mardaga. Isidoor also told me his cousin was part of the cometeline and travelled 28 times to England during the war to help pilots and airmen back to the free world. According to some stories told by elderly people in As, Isidoor’s cousin also burned down his own ballroom in 1943 just after the Germans had confiscated the place and had redecorated the interior. Isidoor remembers his cousin saying: “These damned Germans will not have a lot of fun in their new ballroom” just before he burned the place down. He seems to have been quite a guy.


I asked Karel for clarification on the “cometeline” and I wanted to make sure I understood about Isidoor’s cousin, the owner of the Hotel Mardaga. Here’s his reply:

The cometeline was indeed the underground railroad. And yes, the cousin, owner of the hotel annex ballroom, did burn down his own hotel. The Germans didn’t know and allowed him to rebuild the place as it is now.


So the story continues.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

More on the Gold Wings

Here is another email from Andy in England about the parachute wings.

Hi again Anne,

With regards to the parachute pin…. whether it be the Gold Wings or the Caterpillar badge, the recipient or his superior would apply for them direct to the company. We would have then required verification (and still do) from his superior or an independent source (for example during the war, German POW camps documentation sent the corroborative information we required… this is to prevent badge collectors who make up stories to get these valuable mementos. Some of the WW2 correspondence we still retain to this day on the Caterpillar side and they make very interesting reading – unfortunately now not available to the public due to data protection laws …. We correspond only with the originator or family members as a side line to our day job).

With regard to what the pins are made from… the answer is ‘it depends’… during the war money was scarce and the pins used to be of a base metal covered in ‘gilt’. However, some pilots were sufficiently endowed that they requested gold metal pins and paid for those themselves….

Trust that this helps.


Andrew Cowley
Engineering Manager, Airborne Systems Limited

For what it's worth, I suspect Dad's wings are base metal gilded. I will, however, take the pin to my local friendly jeweller to confirm this. It really doesn't matter but it is good to know.

And here are those two wonderful parachute ads - thanks again Andy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Those "Gold" Parachute Wings

I think I have mentioned that I have a lapel pin which is in the shape of a person with a parachute and wings one either side. It has Dad's name on it and says something to the effect that GQ saved my life and the date. I wondered if there was any more information on this. It's not a Caterpillar Club pin - that seems to be different. So last year, I dug around and sent off an email. Not much happened so I thought I'd give it another whirl and look what came back today!

27 January, 2010
Hello Anne,

As you can see your email has gone through various staff members before it came to myself here in UK. I am the Engineering Manager at Airborne Systems and for my sins oversee the Gold Wings Club and the Caterpillar Club together with our MD’s PA. I have looked through our records and can indeed confirm that your father is on our database. Unfortunately, unlike our Irvin Caterpillar Club database, when the GQ company relocated to Wales all the old records were lost including the original application letters.

I can confirm from our database that your father’s Gold Wing number is indeed 392 and his descent is recorded as occurring on the 16th Jan 1945. His Service Number was 42279 (I am not sure, but I believe from this you may be able to get his service records from UK Military archives.) His descent was made ‘into’ Belgium and the parachute he used was a Pilot C2 Serial Number 166033. This would have been a ‘seat’ type parachute with a 24 foot diameter canopy – probably made of nylon and sewn with silk thread. Unfortunately, we do not retain any old parachute photos here specific to that model. What I have attached though for you perusal is a couple of GQ advertisements from the ‘Aeroplane’ magazine in Dec 1944 that pictorially shows the type of parachute he would have used…. I hope that these may be of interest to you.

I can only think that such a treasured memento, whilst relatively valuable from a collector’s perspective, must have great sentimental value to you… I apologise that I have no more information that I can provide.

Kind regards,
Andy C

Andrew Cowley
Engineering Manager Airborne Systems Limited

Isn't that interesting. I've asked a couple more questions which I hope Andy will be able to answer and I'll post that when it arrives.

And as soon as I can, I'll post those GQ ads Andy mentioned.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Thoughts and Feelings

I have had some “chats” with various family members over the past couple of days since our return from England and Belgium and think it might be a good idea to have a look at what this whole journey has meant to me.

My first thoughts have been about Dad and those thoughts are tinged with sadness, of course. I wish he was still here along with Mom. I think he would have been embarrassed by all the attention but I also think he would have thought the dedication of our new trans-Atlantic friends was amazing – as do I. I’d really like to thank those who have given so freely of their time and knowledge to help me find out about those last few weeks of my Dad’s time in WWII.

The first inquiry went from Cousin David Hall to Serge Bonge in Belgium in December 2008 who then put us onto Allan Hillman in Truro, England who then put us onto Guido van Roy in Belgium and Karel Baeten in Opglabbeek who put us onto William Engelen and the rest is history. All these people helped in different ways which allowed me to go with confidence to a place I’d never been. When I saw Karel at the Mardaga on the Friday evening, it was like greeting a close family member. And then there were all the other people I met in As and Opglabbeek who were so willing to share their stories and their family’s stories – especially all the folks at the wonderful display. Mayor Benny Spreeuwers and his council and staff were so welcoming and made it so special that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to say anything meaningful at all.

When we were at the Mardaga and I looked out our room’s window at the back garden with the community woods beyond, I had a bit of a picture in my mind of Dad’s Spitfire coming down with the wing coming off, Dad getting out of the cockpit with one hand, Dad’s plane hitting the top of that little hill, and Dad landing and unhooking his G.Q. parachute number 392 and walking down the hill and around to the Mardaga’s front door on January 16, 1945 - right where we walked in for the first time on Friday, January 15, 2010. It was quite the feeling of relief that he made it, of sorrow that I didn’t know about it when he was still alive, sorrow that I didn’t talk to Mom about all this when she was still alive and elation that other people thought this event was important enough to bring memories forward from all those years ago in those Belgian communities.

Here is an excerpt of an email Karel sent which touches my heart – “Your visit also made a lot happen here. Almost every day I receive questions, stories, people give us tips, they are asking for help in searching missing elements in their own memories….

“Tonight we had a small gathering in our street, just to give best wishes for 2010 to all our neighbours. Almost everyone wanted to know the story of that Spitfire in the backyard of Hotel Mardaga.

“For me, the memories of the past weekend are still very strong also. I’m still a little bit overwhelmed by the thought of my meeting with the daughter of one of the fine men who came to our country to fight for freedom and I’m very grateful to have met you and your fine husband.”

When it comes right down to it, I think Dad was a young man who loved to fly. As soon as he could afford it, he took flying lessons in Ottawa. In 1938, people knew there was a possibility of war. Being a pilot in the air force was the most glamorous of the services then. With his parents still tied very firmly to England – they went back as often as they could afford it – it was not strange for him to go to London in early 1939 to try to join up there. We also have to remember the times – it was the right thing to do for a young man to go off and fight “for King and Country.” Like many, many other Commonwealth young people, Dad felt it was important to defend England. And, to be honest, it was also probably somewhat of an adventure as it was for so many at the beginning. While by the end of the war, I expect the feelings were much different. I don’t think he thought of himself as a hero. I think he loved to fly and believed he had a job to do in helping to win the war.

He was a very straight forward type of person – honest, loyal, conscientious, patriotic and probably pretty focussed. All those attributes would have made him an excellent pilot and eventually a good leader. He continued flying after the war off and on and I remember when we were in St. Hubert in the late 50s, he was studying books in the living room and it had to do with flying. I think he didn’t want to give it up. But the only non-jets being flown then were kind of like ferrying cargo around and I doubt that would have held much for him after flying those Spitfires. Years and years later, he and his friend Pete Bonnell in North Bay built and sold Lazair Ultralights – those little one-man planes that (at that time) didn’t require a pilot’s license. He got to fly those. And his iceboat was a really fast little number, I’m told. It seems to me, he also had a sports car at one time. I’m sure I’ll hear from one of the family about it.

So now, after this remarkable trip back in time, I am so pleased Bill and I were able to make this happen. My fondest wish is that people in Opglabbeek and As and surrounding communities continue to bring forward their stories from those to the historical society. They are part of the fabric of their world and it will be so important to keep the stories for generations to come.

My love goes out to all who went with me on this journey – it has brought me closer to my family history and to a whole new group of friends.

And this is Y.32 Ophoven today - a peaceful green field with a hard history that we won't forget.

More Pictures from the Mardaga

I'm still going through all the pictures taken by Bill, me on the iPhone (those are the fuzzy ones, sorry), Guido van Roy, Roger Dreesen, the folks at I hope I haven't forgotten anyone, if so, let me know.

Here are a few taken around the Mardaga that I really like. Some have nothing to do with the ceremony of the cognac but just because I think they are fun.

This was the view out our window to the back of the inn about where Dad would have walked down the hill. As I mentioned before, there were no trees on that little rise in 1945.

I'm not sure how well you can see this but it's a two-person elevator that goes to the second and third floors of the inn. It was terrific for someone who hates stairs and it was great for getting luggage up and down.

And how cool is this! You put your foot under the right colour of shoe shine polish, hit the button, hang on and you get your shoes shined. I remember that you used to be able to leave your shoes outside the door in the evening in hotels and the next morning, they would be all cleaned and spiffy.

And here's me in the back of the Mardaga near the patio blogging away.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Saturday, January 16 at the Society's Exhibition

We left the town hall and went across the street to the Troempeelke community hall which had been set up to show some of the history of the Allies coming to liberate the area in 1944. I'm not sure what I was expecting but the display was amazing. The effort that had gone into gathering the artifacts and the documentation was huge.

This is what greeted us outside - four vehicles all decked out by the Old Military Vehicle Association of Opglabbeek.

A group photo outside the hall.

And here is one of the panels dedicated to Dad.

Here is William speaking to some of the crowd gathered. Note the picture just to his right on the panel - that's an old aerial photo of the airfield which Dad was trying to reach after being hit. And please note the Canadian flag which hung over the two display panels with information about Dad.

Here's me speaking to the people at the exhibit.

And then to open the exhibit, I copied William and rattled the PSP - pierced steel planking - with my foot that was used for the runway at Y.32 Ophoven airfield. Dad would have landed on that at least three times - January 1, 2 and 13 and taken off on it four times before he didn't land on it on January 16, 1945.

Saturday, January 16, 2010 - The Big Day

I have spoken earlier about some of the events of the Saturday, so if I am repeating myself - mea culpa.

Karel picked us up after lunch and took us to the Opglabbeek Town Hall where a welcoming ceremony had been laid on.

There was a special page done up just for our visit - here I am signing it with Mayor Benny Spreeuwers looking on. Bill took this one.

And here is Mayor Spreeuwers welcoming us and saying how important it is to remember the history of the area. This picture was taken by Paul Van Caesbroeck of

Here we all are listening to the mayor. L-R - Lambert Eygemans, Councillor Peter Schreurs, Karel Baeten, Anne Crossman, William Engelen and Bill Crossman. - Paul Van Caesbroeck of

And then I was presented with this lovely gift by Peter Schreurs - Belgian chocolates and a strawberry liqueur. - Paul Van Caesbroeck of