A delegation of 40 Canadian Second World War veterans led by Minister of Veterans Affairs Steven Blaney attended the unveiling of the new Bomber Command Memorial by Queen Elizabeth in London, England, June 28. The veterans honoured with the new memorial were young heroes when the Second World War ended 67 years ago.
One of them was Ed Callas from Vernon, who attended the ceremony with his son, Chic Callas.
He enlisted in Edmonton in 1942 when he was 18 and after training in bombing and gunnery, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force Air Crew 625 Squadron, 1 Bomber Command and arrived in England for more training in 1943.
He successfully completed 33 trips, two in 24 hours on June 6, 1944, between March and July 1944 and received the Distinguished Flying Medal Award. Callas came home to Canada to marry his fiancée, Wynne Gould, who was serving in the Canadian Navy. They recently celebrated their 67th anniversary. He studied watch making and owned a business, then worked for the federal government until his retirement in 1983. He has been a Royal Canadian Legion member for 70 years.
Callas found out in May that he was going on the trip and had to get his passport in a hurry. The members of the delegation spent a day in Ottawa at official events before flying to London in the prime minister’s plane.
“I only got to London one time during the war. There was an air raid and a bomb came through the kitchen of the YMCA where I was staying and some people were killed. I was not impressed with London that time,” he said.
The recent trip left a much better impression, with the heroes being taken care of in every way. They did a tour to Runnymede to see the memorial there for the people killed during the war who do not have a grave, had champagne at the London Guild Hall with English dignitaries and had supper at Canada House. Callas got his picture in a London newspaper with the Queen, who unveiled the memorial in Green Park. The memorial consists of large statues representing the seven-man crew of a bomber.
“I was thinking of our crew. I’m the only one left alive on it,” he said. “We were under enemy anti-aircraft fire a lot and I was hit on the head with shrapnel once but not seriously injured. We were pretty lucky. I talked to some of the other vets who had been shot down and taken prisoner. I was also thinking about my brother-in-law, Gerald Taylor, who was also in Bomber Command, who didn’t return home.”
Callas was happy to see that the British people remember the part Canadians played in the war and that there were thousands of people at the unveiling event.
“I’m glad I got a chance to go on the trip and see this. Some people say the monument came too late but it was good to see it,” he said.
Steven Blaney said before the delegation left, “I am honoured to lead a delegation of Bomber Command Veterans who will assist in the unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial in London. The memorial will serve as a permanent reminder of the many sacrifices and contributions made by these brave men and women.
“After proudly serving our country, our veterans deserve out recognition and respect. Our government will continue to ensure that their sacrifices and contributions will be remembered for future generations.”
Dal Bracken was not able to attend the unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial in London. He shares some of his memories of his time as a Lancaster pilot stationed in Yorkshire during the Second World War. He flew 35 missions and five diversions, which is appearing to be bombing a target to draw enemy attention from the actual target.
“Our crew had seven members, ages 18 to 24, and I was just about the oldest. They’re all gone now, have been for about 10 years,” said Bracken, 92, who wrote about his experiences in his book, Memories RCAF 1941-1945, published in 2002.
He thinks Allied air power played a vital role in the outcome of the war.
“It’s hard to imagine what would have happened if D-Day had been delayed. We could not get close to the Germans on the ground and their industrial areas were well-protected,” he said.
“Many people don’t understand that we didn’t just fly over and drop the bombs just anywhere and come back. The targets had been selected from photographs taken by high flying small planes and we had to take a photograph where our bombs released. A flare would go off and I had to keep the aircraft in the same place for 30 seconds — the longest 30 seconds in an aircrew’s life. We were flying at under 20,000 feet and it took the enemy 20 seconds to zero in on you. We were always flying through flak barrages. Our longest trips would be 10 hours return.”
They never knew if they would return when they set out.
“We knew we had to slow things down or the loss on the ground would have been unbelievable,” said Bracken, who recalls seeing how much of London was destroyed by enemy bombing in London, including his grandfather’s former home, when he first arrived in England. He shares the concern of many members of Bomber Command, that their experience has not been accurately portrayed by some historians, including in films made by the CBC in the 1990s.
“They have no idea how we feel, they weren’t there. It hurts,” he said.
“I think this memorial in London will spell finale to the whole thing. What else can be done? How many of us are left? The Canadian people don’t know much about it but the British people did and they came out to support the memorial unveiling by the Queen. I would have liked to have gone and been there. How many of the people who were involved in Bomber Command are not alive, who would have appreciated seeing it?”
Canada has two memorials to Bomber Command. The one in Nanton, Alta., has a wall recording the names of all the casualties and a restored Lancaster bomber. The memorial in Trenton, Ont., has a Halifax bomber salvaged from a lake in Norway and refurbished, as well as memorials to each of the squadrons that served.