Canadian veterans honoured during 100th anniversary Remembrance Day ceremony

'It's just mind boggling what they went up with': RCAF navigator Bob Middleton

Left to right: Reporter Bobby Hristova, veterans Bob Middleton and Mort Lightstone, and reporter Claire Floody sing O Canada during the Remembrance Day assembly. Courtesy Story Arts Centre Facebook

Veteran Flying Officer Bob Middleton remembers his days as a navigator inside a heavy bomber aircraft during the Second World War with a lasting sense of anxiety and fondness.

Middleton, along with his six crew mates, were members of RAF Bomber Command. They belonged to No. 6 Group, a Canadian heavy bomber squadron based out of Yorkshire, England. Now 95 years old, he is the only remaining member of his crew.

Middleton was one of the veterans being honoured Friday at Centennial College’s Story Arts Centre at this year’s Remembrance Day event.

During the war, Middleton flew 10 missions on Halifax heavy bombers and 23 missions on Lancaster heavy bombers between 1943-45. The objective was to destroy German targets in Europe and to help win the war for the allied forces.

Middleton said that he had to separate himself from his job as an airman with the reality of his missions: bombing German cities and military targets and often killing or wounding civilians in the process.

“It really wasn’t personal,” Middleton told the audience. “You were looking at things. Aircraft, cities, marshalling yards. I think it actually protects your mind from going crazy about what you are doing.”

As a young airman flying missions over Europe, he quickly understood the dangers of the job.

“They would lose one (aircraft), we would lose one. They would lose three, we would lose three. That really makes you stop and think, ‘Hey, this job is dangerous,’ but you signed on the dotted line in Toronto. You signed a mortgage. And you hope they don’t collect,” he said.

No. 6 Group would fly over 271,981 hours, drop 126,122 pounds of explosives and lose 814 aircraft on various missions throughout the war.

Middleton expressed his admiration of and bewilderment towards the veteran airmen and pilots who came before him and flew planes during the First World War.

“It’s just mind-boggling with what they went up with. But they loved to fly. Like every minute in the air is unbelievable,” Middleton said, referring to the original bi-planes that were first used in the First World War.

Barbara Trendos, author of the book “Survival”, also attended this year’s ceremony at the Carlaw Avenue campus in East York. Her book recounts the harrowing story of her father, Flight Lieutenant Albert Wallace, currently 98 years old. Wallace was unable to attend the event, for health reasons.

Wallace was an air force gunner on board a Halifax heavy bomber which was shot down in 1943. He was taken as a PoW for the remainder of the war.

He then participated in what became known as “The Great Escape”.  This was an attempt by hundreds of soldiers to escape from a German prison camp –Stalag Luft III in Poland- by secretly digging tunnels.

To build the tunnels, they had to get rid of the evidence.

“He was a penguin. Which is one of the guys who would disperse sand,” Trendos said, describing her father’s role in the escape.

Penguins were the prisoners who would carry the dirt out of the tunnels in their pants and scatter the sand on the ground so the guards would not catch on to the operation.

“They got a shoulder tap when it was time, because it was all very controlled and very secret. So he would go and get loaded up with sand and have to go and disperse it,” she said.

Seventy-six men managed to escape. Three made it to England. The rest were caught: twenty-three were sent back to prison while fifty were executed on Hitler’s order.

Trendos said she was amazed by the courage veterans like her father and Bob Middleton displayed during their service.

“Veterans all did so much, and they did it willingly. No one had to conscript them to the military,” she said.

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Posted: Nov 9 2018 7:52 am
Filed under: News