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

Pictures and Cutlines from the Eurostar

Here are a couple of photos taken on the Eurostar on our way to Brussels.

The two of us in the window – a bit cute, I know, but it was a two-hour trip in and out of tunnels both under the English Channel and under roads and such.

And this is what the countryside looked like – definitely winter.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Pictures and Cutlines from London - II

Here are the last pictures from London that haven't appeared elsewhere.

You might remember seeing Trafalgar Square elsewhere on this blog - this lion has snow on his nose.

This piece of ancient Roman wall is right across from the Tower of London. Imagine - about 2,000 years old.

And here is The Tower of London itself.

There are more London pictures but I think I'd better get us to Belgium on the remarkable Eurostar. It took 20 minutes to go under the English Channel! It was fast without feeling like we were flying. It was a bit cramped, kind of like being in today's planes with not too much leg room but you could get up and walk to the what could be called the Tuck Shop where you could buy sandwiches and snacks and drinks.

Here are a couple of shots -

St. Pancras Station where the Chunnel trains leave London.

Inside the wonderful station.

You-know-who trucking along to get in Car 2 to Brussels.

Pictures and Cutlines from London - I

I have a lot of pictures that I'd like to get posted so that's what this one is all about - snapshots of our trip. I'm going to start with London this morning.

Our "basic" room at the Royal National - that's Bill resting after a long trip.

That is the back of Churchill with the Parliament buildings in the background.

Big Ben and friend.

This model of a V-2 rocket is on the side of a museum of London at War.

And this was The Slug and Lettuce where we had such a lovely lunch. It was just off Leicester Square.

More later.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Media Coverage in Belgium

Here is some of the media coverage our events got in As. Karel and I did an interview with the local radio station and he tells me that it went national – how about that! Here is an interesting website which has lots of pictures and long cutlines - Try using Google Translate to get the gist of what’s being said.

This article was in the Sunday paper.

And the next one was in the Monday edition. Between the rather silly expression on my face and the babe on the right hand side, this is quite the front page!

And then this is the article inside.

I think I may be getting a file of the radio interview and I’ll post that when it arrives.

More later as I think of it.

Wednesday, January 20/10 - Back in Nova Scotia

Here we are back home in Nova Scotia after our whirlwind trip full of adventure, new friends and many emotions. I’ll pick up where I left off before we went to Karel and Hilde’s for coffee. William joined us and we had a great talk about the historical society’s work, the memories that are still around 65 years later and how strong the feelings still, how the Saturday events went and how time just flew by.

We had some lovely pastries and very good coffee and great conversation. I learned that the display was thought up and mounted in about three weeks – amazing. I know what it takes to get something of that magnitude up and running and it was terrific. The general thinking is that there were about 200 people there. I wish I had been able to go back and talk to more of them.

Karel says that we will definitely hear more about the plane as soon as weather permits. The thinking is that there was only one Spitfire crash near Y.32 and that was Dad’s. He gave me a present from one of the visitors to the exhibit – an oxygen nozzle from a Spitfire - see above. Frans Van Horenbeek is a collector of WWII memorabilia and this item is from another Spitfire.

We had dinner at a lovely restaurant in Opglabbeek recommended by Karel, back to the Mardaga, early to bed and early to rise.

Thank all the gods one more time for the Garmin GPS. She got us to the Brussels Midi station in good time in spite of the traffic. It took a while to find the Parking sign (around back) and then the very small “Rental Car” sign. Once in the Parkade, we zigged when we should have zagged and ended up having to go out and then back in again. Gave the car back to the Europcar folks and we headed for the train. We were doing just fine for time when we were asked for our passports. I got out our tickets and my passport and then… Bill spent the next 10 or 15 minutes going through his briefcase, my big purse, my suitcase and his until finally, he found it in his suit jacket. By this time, things were a bit tense. Thanks to the lovely young lady at Customs who probably sees panic-stricken old folks fumbling around looking for things so they can get into her country – total patience and kindness!

Then on to the train and off to London’s St. Pancras station where we got a taxi (expensive, I know but worth every penny) to Heathrow Terminal 5 to stay at the Sofitel. It is a new hotel and is very, very nice. We had a lovely dinner in a posh restaurant – there are pix – and then off to our swanky room.

This is my lobster bisque. I love the bowl! Those are Bill's hands working on the curried mussels.

Breakfast came with the room and we had a good one downstairs. Another taxi to Terminal 3 – thank goodness – and then hanging around Heathrow for the flight which was on time and actually arrived half an hour early into Halifax. And then the two hour drive home to pick up Sally the dog who apparently had a great time with the other dogs at the kennel.

I’ve gone back and inserted some of the pictures which I was unable to post because of time. So check out some of the earlier post. The next post will include the media coverage we received.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday, January 17/10 at the Mardaga

We just got back from a tour around the area with Karel. Again, it was very special. We saw the building where Dad would have lived for those two and a half weeks in early 1945 about 1 km from the airfield. There is a beautiful church beside it now.

We drove to both ends of Y.32 Ophoven airfield – where it was - and looked down the area where the runway was. It is a grassy field right now. We saw how the runway was built by the US Corps of Engineers yesterday at the display. They put down straw, then reinforced steel mesh and then PSP – perforated steel plate (?) – there is a picture which I will post later which has my foot on one piece which the local farmer still uses and who lent it to the display. We also saw the three big coal slag heaps which the pilots would have used as orientation for the airfield. The weather was really bad at that time – rainy, snowy, windy, low ceiling - so they needed all the help they could get.

We saw a huge depression in a corn field not far from the airfield buildings where a V-2 rocket hit and exploded. Karel said the Americans called this “Bomb Alley” because the rockets went right over here on their way west to destruction.

And we saw where the Russian POWs were kept to work for the Germans in the coal mines during their four year occupation here.

All the sand and gravel used for the roads into the airstrip and the strip itself was excavated from quarries in As. Karel said it took a week of steady trucks on the road to haul it all there.

Karel also showed us a beautiful building which used to be the headquarters for the coal mines here – there were three, I think. The building is being renovated and there is some talk of it going to be part of the Belgian Aviation Museum – how wonderful for Karel and his colleagues here if that happens. This was a very important coal mining area up until about 1980.

And then we came back to the community forest behind the Mardaga where it is believed Dad’s Spitfire went down. Bill and Karel walked a short way into the woods, took a picture (see above) and then we drove around the corner to the Mardaga. It wasn’t very far at all and it was downhill. There were no trees there at the time so it was at the top of that small rise. The plane probably hit the ground first and then Dad would have landed, possibly a bit closer to the hotel with his parachute. We can see out our window into the woods and I can imagine Dad walking this way, then around the corner of the building to the front and into the café.

Karel talked yesterday to someone who drove behind the truck that took Dad to the hospital from the Mardaga and he will send us more information as he gets it.

We are having coffee with Karel and Hilde this afternoon and then we will venture out on our own for an early supper. It will be early to bed and then early to rise tomorrow to head to Brussels for the train.

Once again, I will post more pictures as they come in from various sources later in the week and I am more in control of the technology.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Saturday Evening, January 16/10 at the Mardaga

We are back here at the Mardaga after an amazing day. I must say I am running out of adjectives. Karel and his son Jan picked us up and took us to Opglabbeek (beek meaning brook) City Hall where we were met by the mayor and some of the council and some members of the local historical association including William Engelen who was another major driver of the events today. There were a few reporters as well. A lovely reception with some wine and juice and canapés followed in the council office. The mayor took me on a bit of a tour showing off the local art which is everywhere in the building – paintings and sculptures. They had a special page for me in the guest book which everyone signed with me at the top. The mayor gave a speech welcoming us and thanked us for coming. Everyone was so welcoming. I gave a small response thanking them for coming and making me feel so welcome. And especially honouring my father. I was presented with a lovely gift of chocolates and a strawberry drink which I will try when we get home. We have lots of bubble wrap from the poster now.

We then went over to a hall next to a grand church – a very old grand church. There was an amazing display of US Army vehicles outside the hall and there were people in US Army uniforms. There was an air raid siren which ushered us into the hall! The place was jammed! Bill and I figure there were about 150 people there – many of them elderly who still remembered the war and what happened. They brought their pictures and their books as well and wanted to tell people about it. I went around the room shaking hands and thanking everyone. I had my hand kissed twice! The display was marvellous. William spoke and the mayor spoke and I spoke and I said (according to Bill) thanks for being so welcoming to Dad and the other pilots who were very far away from home 65 years ago.

In truth, 130 Squadron was only there from December 31, 1944 to January 27, 1945. Dad only flew four times because the weather was so awful then – snow and wind. The wind actually blew some of the supply tents down at Y.32 Ophoven airfield. And so more details have become clear, to me at least.

And now to the plane! A man named Frans says he knows where Dad’s plane crashed. All that can be seen right now is a slight depression in the field near the woods not far from the Mardaga. However, Karel believes that work might be done to see what’s under there. So we’ll have to wait until the countryside improves before any digging goes on. But he says he’s like a pit bull once he has something in his teeth! I met Frans and he was one of the fellows who kissed my hand – I’m charmed! He is also going to give me a small piece of a plane tomorrow and I’ll have more about that then.

I had to be almost dragged away to get back to the Mardaga for the reporters and the presentation of the poster to the hotel owners. There will be lots of pictures later this week but above is one of Ludo Geurden of the Mardaga and me holding the plaque up on the wall in the lobby where he says it will be hanging. And that's Bill, of course, on the right. That’s the dining room just behind Ludo and the stairs going up behind me – a place of prominence indeed!

And so our host Ludo brought Bill and me each a snifter of Hennessy Cognac and we raised a toast to the hotel and to Dad. We raised our glasses on behalf of John and David Hall as well as the rest of my family.

Saturday Noon, January 16/10 at the Mardaga

Really, really big news! Karel says they have found Dad's Spitfire!

About an hour ago, a friend said there is an indentation in the ground where a plane crashed. I may not have this story exactly right but will correct as I get more. Karel has also located a man who has some pieces from the plane. He will try to get them and send them to us. There was only one Spitfire that crashed here and that would have been Dad's. Karel says it's hard to get to right now but he's looking into "things" - so we'll see.

We had a great time with Roger Dreesen of the newspaper "Het Beland Van Limburg" who took pictures for tomorrow's paper and then there will be an article in Monday's paper as well.

More later.

Saturday Morning, January 16/10 at the Mardaga

Bill at breakfast.

We had a short chat with our friend Karel (he says we can call him Karl) in the lobby of this lovely little hotel last evening. He brought us up to date on the events for later today. Around 11, a journalist for the local paper is coming to take pictures in the room where the “ceremony” is taking place so the item can go in Sunday’s paper. We’ll have lunch somewhere and then Karel is picking us up around 1:15 pm and taking us to the Opglabbeek Town Hall for the Mayor’s reception. Very close by is the exhibit which Karel has put together on Y.32 Ophoven airfield. I brought a CD with as many pictures and documents that I had scanned that I thought he might be interested in. He might be able to use some for the exhibit. Then we’ll go on a tour to see where the airfield was. After that we’ll come back to the Mardaga for a little ceremony presenting our poster to the hotel in thanks for the hospitality shown to Dad when he walked in the door with an injured right arm after parachuting out of his disintegrating Spitfire on January 16, 1945. I believe the owner, Ludo Geurden will be serving cognac this afternoon and there will be some journalists here. We are going to have dinner here with Karel and his wife this evening.

The hotel is lovely and the dining room is first class. We are in a suite with two rooms plus bathroom. Dinner last evening was amazing. I had sautéed foie gras with pears in Saba (? but delicious) sauce and Bill had a crab salad. Then there was minced veal and a small cream soup. Beautiful bread kept coming. Bill had Sole Meuniere and I had Hare – both were marvellous. This hotel has had 3 Michelin stars in the past and Ludo says they are working towards regaining that honour. I would say they are well on their way. The presentation of all the dishes was beautiful and the service was perfect. I overheard a lady in the dining room last evening talking about what was happening here today. It was quite the feeling.

The Mardaga burned down in 1943 and was rebuilt the same year so this hotel we are in today is the one that Dad would have been in. But I think things have been spruced up considerably since 1945. There are beautiful grounds behind which we just had a glimpse of when we got here yesterday.

In the meantime, I am here in the middle of the night thinking about what I will say at the exhibit opening and the Mardaga ceremony. It will be brief but I want to say the right thing. Karel says there will be some older people there who remember what happened during those days. The occupation was for four years here and apparently, quite brutal. When the Allied Forces came here in late 1944, they were extremely well received! Karel was telling us last evening that the local people tried to learn as much English as they could as fast as they could so they could welcome the English speaking liberators.

When our family came to Echternach in Luxembourg in 1953, we had never seen or been exposed to the kind of damage we saw in that in little town. It was only 8 years after the war and rubble was still being cleared away. It was a real shock for us from Canada. I knew some of the lingering feelings amongst my Luxembourgish friends about what had happened too. Coming here to As is bringing some of those memories back and while I don’t think that Dad would have wanted us to dwell on the past, I think it’s important to remember where we came from and how we are what we are today.

So I will report on this day that we have been talking about for over a year later on. I know that there are those with us here in spirit and I will feel your presence as this day proceeds.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday Evening, January 15/10 in As

We're here! We made it! Thank all the gods for GPS! The train was super but we had to sit backwards. We'll sit forwards going back. It was just a bit hard to see what was going on outside. The station in Brussels was manageable and the guy at Europcar gave us an upgrade to a Mercedes - imagine we're driving around Belgium in a Mercedes! The hotel is lovely - we have a suite. We just met Karel and made arrangments for tomorrow. More later because we're going down to dinner in the lovely dining room here.

Friday Morning, January 15/10 in London

This is a quick note about an interview Karel did for regional television last Monday. He was able to get the clip and it is posted here - While I haven't got much of a clue about what's being said, it is so great that he did this. I have learned that the interviewer was Miss Belgium Beauty in 2005. Apparently, she does a good job on TV. We're off to Belgium this morning. More later.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thursday, January 14/10 in London

This hotel was jammed with people overnight – they were stuck because it snowed hard outside the city and Heathrow was cancelling overseas flights. When we came down this morning to have breakfast and send the posts from the lobby – the place was hopping! No snow today, but it was raining – never mind. It looks like things have cleared up out at Heathrow this afternoon.

As you could see, I did get those two posts done this morning plus cleared up some emails. We had breakfast – the continental kind with no protein is included with the room – I had protein, feeling I needed my strength!

We got the red double-decker again and struck up a “conversation” with a Portuguese-speaking family from Brazil who were visiting London for the first time. What a great group! They wanted to go to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. I said I wasn’t sure if it happened when it was raining but that didn’t matter – off they went at the right stop. We continued on to Harrods.

An amazing place! It’s beautiful outside and inside it is spectacular. Expensive as all get out – I expected that. I did buy some souvenirs. Bill saw the Beretta guns and said he didn’t think he’d buy a new over and under shotgun for £7,000 “and change”. We looked at the bulletproof garb as well – one nice black, very soft on the outside, leather jacket with (probably Kevlar) bulletproof lining for £5,000. It weighed a ton but you would be very stylish as the bullets were whipping around your head! We had lunch at Ca’puccino’s which was lovely – excellent sandwich with salad. We went to the pet section thinking we might buy Sally a collar or something. Holy cow, £50 was the cheapest! And the variety was astounding – with jewels (real!), top leathers, up to £200 at least. Bill says he thinks some of the collars were more than the cost of a registered purebred dog.

Some quick observations – there were some very wealthy looking young people in there looking some very expensive items. The main central escalator is exquisite – Art Deco/Art Nouveau (I can’t really remember which is which) with an Egyptian theme – this is my favourite style. People were very, very friendly and courteous. I’m big on asking questions and asking for directions and everyone has been just wonderful – most polite and very helpful. The streets are very clean and I haven’t seen one panhandler. We saw someone walked a positive herd of Labs being walked – I’m sure I counted 5, one yellow and four black. The buildings are just beautiful. There are all kinds of round blue plaques on buildings which note some artist/writer/poet/composer/actor/thinker lived there. Over the centuries, London has been a hub for great thinkers and artists – that was wonderful to see.

I ran out of steam and came back to the hotel for a zzzz and Bill headed out to get info on our train ride tomorrow. The Eurostar is back on schedule, we can take a taxi from here and it’s not far, and we go through customs on this side. On the way back, we’re going to take the underground to Heathrow and a shuttle bus to our hotel – Sofitel - which is very close by.

One thing I meant to mention yesterday was, we went past Victoria Station which is where Mom, Rob, Louise, Don and I went to from Chester in 1953 on our way to Luxembourg. Dad was already over there and had found us a place to live in Echternach. We stayed overnight at the hotel next door (maybe the Victoria Hotel?) and caught the boat train to Dover (?) and went on the ferry to Oostende where we had to wait quite a long time before the train took us to Luxembourg City. Mom must have been exhausted! It was fun to see that. I doubt my brothers and sister remember that trip but…

So we’re going to try to make an early night of it tonight so we’ll be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning for the Chunnel trip. To wind up our stay here, we’re going to a pub just down the road from this hotel – just to say we did it. I may even have a beer! While this has been much too short a time in a magnificent city – it has been terrific and I’m so glad we did this.

Wednesday, January 13/10 in London

We had breakfast and then got on The Original Tour bus (red double-decker and we were on the top covered in) here at the hotel and spent a wonderful, amazing time touring around London. We bought the full meal deal from Russell Square past the British Museum (marvellous building) to Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column to Pall Mall to St. James Palace past the The Ritz down Piccadilly past the Hard Rock Café past Hyde Park and Speaker’s Corner and Tyburn and the Marble Arch. Deep breath…

We did go very close to Buckingham Palace on the bus but you really have to get off and walk a bit and then catch the next bus about 15 minutes later and continue on. And then Westminster Abbey and the tower of Big Ben (can you hear me singing?) and the amazing Houses of Parliament. Down to the Lambeth Bridge and back up to the Westminster Bridge and back to Trafalgar Square and along the Strand to Fleet Street (could hear those reporters scratching out a living) and then the wonderful St. Paul’s Cathedral with a statue of Queen Anne (MOI) in front.

The patter that went along with this part of the tour amazed me – Poor Queen Anne --- Left in the lurch; Face to the tavern; Back to the church. I didn’t get it exactly but may tomorrow when we head out again. The lady of the tour bus patter said Queen Anne drank excessively! Just think what that means for me for this year! My birthday party on February 6 at the Annapolis Royal Golf and Country Club could be fairly riotous!

We then went past The Monument which has a story about it and the Great Fire of London in 1666. Across London Bridge and along to Tower Bridge and past the Tower of London – an amazing fortress. By this time we getting a bit overloaded, I must say. We saw a Roman wall that been excavated and believed to have been built in 300-400 AD. Then across Southwark Bridge and we had a glimpse of The Globe Theatre reconstructed. Along then to Blackfriars Bridge and along the Victoria Embankment and back to Trafalgar Square.

And somewhere in there we passed the Air Force Church where the shrapnel marks on the walls have been left as a reminder of WWII. That quite took us back.

And the other place which stopped us both cold and brought tears to my eyes (literally) was the monument to the Animals in War - here's a link to information on this one, thanks to daughter Holly - I think there must be something online about it but it was so poignant. I’d like to know more about that one. Speaking of animals, it was wonderful to see the two mounted horses at the Horse Guards’ Parade.

We got off that bus and as it was about 3 pm, we looked for lunch. And ended up at The Slug and Lettuce, I kid you not. It was just great – food was super and the service was terrific. Got a little lost finding our bus stop but we actually asked and found it. Back here pretty tired but satisfied after a long day.

Bill says he was very impressed with all the well-established business whose names we knew and how tightly packed in they were in the commercial areas. I just loved the architecture – most of it. The variety of languages here is also noteworthy – there were languages from around the world. London has a huge number of parks and trees along the roads. Bill was very impressed by the driving skills required to get around the narrow streets.

I tried to send yesterday’s post in the lobby again but Windows insisted on doing a very long update. However, we ended up sitting with a really nice couple from Brussels who were trying to get to Miami to catch the Queen Victoria and go on a 3-month cruise from the Caribbean around to Fiji and Australia and then back up to Southampton. They were really nice and we had a good chat.

So here we are, Bill’s snoozing and I’m pounding away to hopefully get two posts done tomorrow morning before we hit London again. We’ll have to be a bit more selective. Although this trip has been primarily about celebrating Dad’s successful end to his war, I am delighted to be here and seeing so much that is familiar and new. The names are so familiar both from novels and history and they are re-used in our own country. The culture is where we came from – both of us. Bill even said if we were ever to come back, it would be at a different time of year and we’d go to Devon where our ancestors came from.

More later.

Tuesday, January 12/10 in London


After much to-ing and fro-ing, here are the travel notes from yesterday and today. Hopefully, they are at least chronological if not logical!

We had dinner with Maggie and Brian at Montana’s and bought books for the trip at the airport. Bill had to take off his boots for security and I sailed through after the usual patdown for my “new” hips. Having a sister-in-law who works for Air Canada is always a bonus, especially since she’s one of my best friends. She told us that the flight was oversold to London and there was a chance we could get to sit in executive class – you know, those neat pods at the front of the plane – not. Oh well, we didn’t really expect it so… But they look soooo comfortable. We had a two-year-old next to us who absolutely did not want to be belted in and screamed blue murder for quite some time until he fell asleep utterly exhausted along with his young mother and father who were totally beside themselves. Same thing happened at the end of the trip. We did not have to pay for anything, meagre lunch, etc. Oh yes, the bottled water on Air Canada from the land of oodles and oodles of fresh water was from Tennessee, imagine! The flight was long and smooth and we saw the sunrise when we were over Ireland. Neither of us slept a wink the whole time although we did try.

The hike from the plane to the baggage was loooooooong. We whistled through customs and got to the baggage and then kind of got a bit lost. The next time, we’ll know what we’re doing but we circled around until we finally found our guy with our name on it who was going to take us to the hotel. We got in a Renault car - very nice. What a trip into London! As we went along, the driver (from Madeira, my dear!) told us all the street names and places which I’ve read about for years. We were both pretty zonked so didn’t take everything. The traffic is horrendous! Bumper to bumper and the space between vehicles was inches. It took about an hour to get to the Royal National Hotel in Bloomsbury. We went past Canada House – and there’s a picture of Dad in London in 1939 with some buddies waiting to be allowed to join the RAF – I’ll post it later. All the mail about being accepted was addressed to Canada House.

Trafalgar lions in the snow 71 years later - taken from the bus, obviously.

The hotel is very “basic” – no connectivity in the room, only in the lobby. So I sat in the lobby yesterday evening and checked emails on battery. Then we found that the converter we bought in Annapolis wouldn’t take three prongs. We got that fixed this morning though. Our plumbing is raised just like the North so the pipes don’t freeze and were added later. It was part of the list of hotels listed with the Air Canada package – I should have gone up a notch. But it’s fine.

We had supper here – nothing fancy buffet style but it cost 50-pounds. There are vending machines in the lobby for drinks, Ben and \jerry’s ice cream and a place to charge your “device” like an iPhone.

I think we may be OK in the sleep department. We had a 4-hour nap yesterday afternoon and then went to bed around 9:30 last night. We got up at 9 and had our included (sort of) breakfast at the same buffet place this morning.

So now we’re off to one of those “hop on, hop off” all-inclusive bus tours. Those who know me well, know that the hopping part does not apply here!

Talk to you later. – 1100 hours Wednesday in London.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday before the Trip

We spent the day making sure we have everything that we need. You’d think we were going to the moon or something! And then I got thinking about all the trips I’ve done from Nova Scotia to Inuvik, Nova Scotia to Victoria, and so on. I realize that it takes as long to go from Halifax to Calgary as it does from Halifax to London. While there is a 3 hour time difference between Nova Scotia and Alberta, there is a 4 hour difference between Nova Scotia and England. And so we now have everything one would ever want on one of those grand Victorian treks into the unknown. I’m taking some of Dad’s memorabilia with us to ‘show and tell’ when we get to As.

I spent a fair amount of time this aft getting Google maps for the drive from Brussels – the Eurostar train station, where we pick up the rental car – to As. I asked for a GPS so we’ll have to figure out how to make it work. Having never used one of these gizmos before, I figured it would be good to have a real road map complete with directions just in case. Getting out of Brussels is probably the trickiest part for us.

Sally the dog (7 month old black Lab) goes off to the local kennel after lunch. We will take off for Halifax around 3 tomorrow afternoon – it takes 2 hours to get to Dartmouth (on the other side of the harbour from Halifax) - have dinner with Bill’s sister Maggie and her husband Brian (they live in Dartmouth) and then head out early for our flight from the Halifax Stanfield International Airport. We’re giving ourselves about three hours lead time to get checked in, go through security and customs and do it in a relaxed fashion.

I’ll start another post when we get tucked in on the plane at midnight.

In the meantime, here’s one of my favourite pictures of Dad – what a dashing guy he was!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Saturday before the Trip

I spent a fair amount of time checking to see about our flight on Monday and the Eurostar problems this morning. And Bill and I watched the problems with weather that are going on in Europe right now. We talked about our insurance, what’s the worst that could happen, and I looked at Harrods online to calm me down!

I’ll check Air Canada tomorrow and Monday to make sure they are still flying to London. We will have a weather forecast by Monday which should go as far ahead as Friday. Hopefully, the cold and snow will have abated somewhat by then and the trains will be back on schedule.

I’ve been emailing back and forth with Karel and Allan today as well.

Who knew it was going to be the worst winter in 30 years just exactly when we need to be in Belgium!

The actual date is 1944 on this picture - looks just awful!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Trip to Europe Itinerary

Here are the plans for our trip to freezing England and Belgium! We will be bringing our Canadian winter clothing, for sure.

Halifax to London – Monday/Tuesday, January 11/12
London – Tuesday to Friday, January 15
London to Brussels – Friday, January 15 - Eurostar (we are hoping and praying mightily!)
Brussels to As – Friday, January 15 (car rental)
Mardaga Hotel – Friday to Monday, January 18
As to Brussels – Monday, January 18 (car rental)
Brussels to London - Monday, January 18 (we continue to hope and pray mightily!)
London to Halifax – Tuesday, January 19

We hope to do some sight-seeing in London on buses and so on. I want to go to the Imperial War Museum and Harrods and Bill would like to see the Imperial War Museum and the Tate Gallery. On January 16th, the anniversary of Dad’s successful parachute jump from his disintegrating Spitfire, the wonderful people in Opglabbeek, which is where the WWII airfield Y.32 Ophoven was, have organized a reception by the mayor at the town hall, the opening of an exposition on the airfield and the airmen who served there and a tour of the place where the airfield used to be. We also hope to raise a glass to Dad and all the airmen who helped end WWII. Thanks so much to our new Belgian friend Karel Baeten.

I do hope to be able to post a journal of our time overseas with the blog and I hope you will find it interesting as well.

This is a wonderful print that my mother had. I am still trying to find out more about it. The printing on the bottom says "No. 369 B & M Wisbech "GENTLEMEN, THE ROYAL AIR FORCE!" D.L. Mays" All I've been able to deduce is that "B & M" may be either the printer or the distributor and that Wisbech is a town. D.L. Mays was an illustrator. And that's it. I have it hanging in my living room and it still intrigues and makes me smile (August 2011).

It has an interesting bit of writing that goes with it -


The time will come when thou shalt lift thine eyes
To watch a long-drawn battle in the skies,
While aged peasants, too amazed for words,
Stare at the flying fleet of wondrous birds,
England, so long the mistress of the sea,
Where winds and waves confess her sovereignty,
Her ancient triumphs yet on high shall bear,
And reign, the sovereign of the conquered air.

(Translated from Gray’s “Luna Habitatalis”, Cambridge, 1737)

And this is Dad in 1938 at the Ottawa Flying Club where he first learned how to fly.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Preparation Time

This is the cover of Dad's second log book.

This is the left hand page of his last entry from WWII. I hope to get better images but thought it would be good to post them asap.

And this is the right hand page of his last entry from WWII.

And so we get ready for our trip to England and Belgium. Here’s how I think I will keep a record of the trip. I hope to be able to post a daily journal with pictures as we go along. I’m taking the laptop, the iPhone, the Bell TurboStick, the camera, the converter, the chargers and the kitchen sink! I figure that should do it.

I would like, once again, to thank our good friend Allan Hillman of Truro, Cornwall, England for his great support and assistance in finding out all kinds of information that we never knew. He has sent us so many documents and places to find other documents that I’m hard pressed to remember them all. He has become a friend to our whole family and I am just sorry that he won’t be able to accompany Bill and me to As for that glass of cognac. He will certainly be there in spirit, I know. And I also know that my brothers and sister, my cousins David and John and my cousins Barbara and Janet will be there in spirit. I am really looking forward to meeting our other new friend in As, Karel. As you know Allan was responsible for putting us together – he’s quite the matchmaker!

In anticipation, I thought I should post Dad's record and a couple of documents that I have which people might find interesting.

Dad's Record
TRIPE, S/L Phillip Valentine King (42279) - Distinguished Flying Cross - No.129 Squadron - awarded as per London Gazette dated 25 January 1944. Born in Ottawa, 24 July 1918; educated at Lisgar Collegiate.

“Award promulgated in the London Gazette dated 25th January, 1944.
“Distinguished Flying Cross

“Acting Squadron Leader Phillip [sic] Valentine King TRIPE (42279) Reserve of Air Force Officers, No. 129 Squadron. This officer has led his flight and squadron during an extended tour of operational duty and has proved himself an extremely capable leader. During his operational career, he has personally destroyed 2 enemy aircraft and shared in the destruction of a number of others. On 17th August, 1943, he was chiefly responsible for the destruction by his Wing of 5 enemy aircraft. His outstanding ability is reflected in the fighting efficiency of his squadron.”

- Pupil pilot, RAF, 1 May to 23 June 1939.
- Appointed Acting Pilot Officer on Probation, RAF, 24 June 1939;
- confirmed as Flying Officer, 16 December 1940;
- as Flight Lieutenant, 16 December 1941;
- as Squadron Leader in 1943;
- at No.10 FTS under training to 8 June 1940;
- to No.7 Bombing and Gunnery School, 8 June 1940 (Flight Commander of Whitley Flight);
- to No.56 OTU, 14 April 1942;
- to No.411 Squadron, June 1942;
- to No.65 Squadron, December 1942;
- to No.222 Squadron, February 1943;
- to No.129 Squadron, September 1943;
- to No.57 OTU (instructing), November 1943;
- to No.2 Tactical Exercise Unit (Hurricanes), February 1944;
- to No.130 Squadron, 6 June 1944. Commanding as of 11 September 1944 until 16 January 1945).
- Transferred to RCAF, 22 December 1944 (C89529). Remained in post war force (numbers 20466 and 431-171-024);

The following victories credited to him are in Combat Cards held by Directorate of History and Heritage, Canadian Forces Headquarters: 22 June 1943, one FW.190 damaged; 9 July 1943, one FW.190 probably destroyed; 17 August 1943, two Bf.109Gs destroyed north of Huls; 18 August 1943, ½ Bf.109 destroyed (shared with an RAF pilot); 31 August 1943, one FW.190 probably destroyed; 27 September 1943, one Bf.109 damaged; 22 October 1943, one Bf.109 damaged. AFRO 644/44 dated 24 March 1944 (report of his DFC described him as a Canadian in the RAF.
Died 31 December 1982 at Trout Lake, North Bay (drowned following iceboating accident). Air Ministry Bulletin 12703/AL.741 refers.

NOTE: His application for Operational Wing, dated 12 June 1945, stated that he had flown with Nos. 411, 65, 222 and 129 Squadrons, June 1942 to November 1943 (248 operational hours) but does not clearly indicate when he went from one unit to another.

However, leave records indicate he was with No.411 Squadron from at least 11 August 1942 until 26 December 1942; he took leave while with No.222 Squadron in May 1943, and while with No.129 Squadron in October 1943.

His second tour, June 1944 to January 1945, was with No.130 Squadron (96 hours). The document then lists his sorties by date, duty and time flown. The first sortie given is 17 August 1942 (Fighter Sweep, Bereke-sur-Mer and Wamport, one hour 15 minutes) and the last is 20 November 1943. The total number of sorties is 148 including four on 19 August 1942 ("Fighter Umbrella for Dieppe Raid: 1.45" - "Close Escort Two Bostons laying smoke screen Dieppe, 1.40" - "Fighter Sweep Protection, Boats returning from Dieppe, 1.30" and a repeat of the previous, 1.30).

There is a long break between 6 December 1942 and 5 April 1943 followed by intense operations including three trips on each of the following days: 24 June 1943, 4 July 1943, 22 August 1943, 6 September 1943, 8 September 1943, 9 September 1943, 18 October 1943. The second tour sorties run from 8 June 1944 to 16 January 1945 (56 sorties).

Form dated 15 January 1953 gives times as follows:
- Tiger Moth, 60
- Anson, 60
- Avro Cadet, 2
- Whitley, 390
- Magister, 10
- Blenheim, 10
- Lysander 16
- Defiant, 15
- Battle, 20
- Hurricane, 50
- Master, 4
- Spitfire, 608
- Harvard, 29
- C-45, 9.

Telegram from Dad to Mom in Chester about his DFC.

Dad's service with the RCAF. I sent for this when we lived in Inuvik so I could join the Royal Canadian Legion there. I did hear from Mom at some point that Dad was not a big fan but the Legion was the place to go in Inuvik for drinkies.