Remembrance Day stalwart is himself remembered

Centennial College marks Remembrance Day with in-person ceremony

Colour guard baring three flags marching down the isle
Centennial's colour guard marches down the aisle at Nov. 11 ceremony. Hassan Fakih/Toronto Observer

Robert (Bob) Middleton has been one of Centennial College’s honoured guests for many years during its Remembrance Day service. This year he was one of those being remembered.

Bob, a flight navigator during the Second World War, died Oct. 13 at the age of 93, just three weeks before the event.

Attending the Nov. 11 ceremony on his behalf was son Dan Middleton, who had published his father’s memoir, Luck Is 33 Eggs, on April 30.

The title of the memoir, written by both father and son, was about the elder Middleton’s time in the war as a navigator. It came from a tradition of breakfast before operations.

“The story is that dad had completed 33 operations, and, when they were in England … everyone would have powdered eggs [for breakfast],” Middleton said. “In their base, they had made the decision that they would not have breakfast until they returned. You know that people are not gonna return. So if you had breakfast before you went … it was like, this is a condemned man’s last meal.”

Returning from an operation meant that soldiers would get a real egg. His father as well as his squadron and base decided that breakfast would be their reward for returning. Coming back in itself was a challenge as roughly half of the people in Bomber Command were killed.

“The real egg was your gift for coming back,” the son said. “They were very fortunate that they came back 33 times.”

The bad luck squadron

Throughout the ceremony at Centennial College’s East York campus, Middleton was seen going through waves of grief, struggling to keep a calm demeanour, when speaking about his late father.

He recalled the process of writing and publishing the book.

“I [said I] gotta get this done because I don’t know how much time he has left,” Middleton said. “I wanted to make sure the book was out there.”

His father joined the war because he “just wanted to fly the planes” and was a part of 431 squadron working out of the Croft airfield in northern England.

It was considered the “bad luck squadron” because in the previous two months, Croft had lost 16 aircrafts. Once his father’s crew joined, there wasn’t an aircraft lost in Croft for two months, Middleton said.

“Four hundred and sixty-nine aircrafts went out and 468 came back after 33 operations that [his father’s] crew was in,” he said.

Host asking questions to Centennial College's honoured guests.
Centennial’s panel with honoured guests featuring a remembrance of Bob Middleton (pictured in the chair).

Hosted by Centennial professor Malcolm Kelly and created with the help of the school’s broadcast and film program, as well as staff and students from other campuses, the event showcased poetry, a colour guard from Centennial’s paramedic program and anecdotes about soldiers who fought in battle.

Traditionally, the college has held five separate events across its multiple campuses but, given that we’re still under COVID-19 life, a unified event was held at the courtyard of the Story Arts Centre campus on Carlaw Avenue and broadcast live for the other campuses to view.

The college was honoured to have two veterans as special guests: Lt. Colonel Rick O’Neill, who has completed three tours of duty in Afghanistan and is now a residential program officer at the Canadian Forces College, and Commander Leanne Crowe, the first woman clearance diver in Canadian forces history. An Afghanistan veteran, Crowe is now chair of the department of military planning and operations at the Canadian Forces College.

Friends that never returned

This year Remembrance Day also marked the 100-year anniversary of the poppy being a symbol of remembrance.

It’s a symbol of remembering the veterans and our soldiers and anybody who tried to make our life better, Middleton said.

His father remembered “all the friends that fought and all his friends that never returned,” he said.

Bob Middleton had a “greater good” mentality all the way to the end, as Dan Middleton showed the Observer a video of his father calling for people to get their vaccinations against the COVID-19 virus to ensure those who’re vulnerable will have a better chance of making it through the pandemic.

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Posted: Nov 16 2021 1:42 pm
Filed under: News