Bob Middleton has a message for young journalists: tell the stories of veterans before those stories are lost.
A navigator for the Royal Canadian Air Force, Middleton, now 96, was one of two veterans from the Second World War that spoke at the Remembrance Day observance held at Centennial College’s Story Arts Centre on Friday.
“The more you get a veteran to talk, the more you learn,” Middleton said. “If they’re like me, they’re gabby.”
Middleton spoke of his time flying in Lancaster and Halifax planes, and that despite the strains of war, how it was an amazing experience. He mentioned attempting to take a photograph of a plane above him as it opened its bomb doors. The plane maneuvered away at the last second. Middleton laments that it would have been a perfect photograph, but ultimately was for the best as it would have blown his plane’s wings off.
The other Second World War veteran present was Max Dankner, 94. He had war tales to tell, as well as some lighter anecdotes. Dankner served as a dispatch rider for the Royal Canadian Army, and fought in Holland and in Italy. He spoke of the immense danger that came with delivering messages as a dispatch rider, and how it claimed the lives of several comrades. He also, however, broke down into giggles while recounting a story of his friend Jack getting rejected from the RCAF.
“The officer said to Jack “Cover your right eye and look at the chart.” And Jack said, ‘What chart?’ And that was the end of the air force,” Dankner recalled.
Although all of the veterans had the audience laughing at points, their family members who attended share a sentiment that these stories deserve to be remembered and passed on.
“I just want to make sure the stories don’t stop,” said Dan Middleton, Bob’s son. Dan is in the process of writing a biography of his father.
“I met a fellow who wrote his Dad’s story about being a German soldier,” Dan said. “Sadly, he had to finish it without his Dad.” This, he said, was the “spark” that inspired him to start to write Middleton’s biography in 2018.
In addition to chronicling his father’s stories, Dan trawled through newspaper archives to find all but forgotten clippings of the day his father arrived home on the platform of Toronto’s Union Station. Dan’s mother, Bob’s then-finance Patricia, is seen in his arms, beaming.
Middleton speaks of how lucky he is to have the support of Dan and his other son Dave, who came all the way from Calgary to attend. He is aware that not every veteran enjoys the same circumstances.
“As the veterans get less and less and aren’t able to tell this story, what are you going to have in the future?” Middleton asked the audience of communications and broadcasting students.
“Because if you guys don’t do it, nobody knows. Because you’re the journalists.”