Honouring Bill Carr

This past Saturday, 2 November 2013, we had our Vintage Wings Victory Gala, celebrating our accomplishments of the past year... of which we had many. As is our tradition, we raise a banner honouring a living veteran pilot of the Second World War. In past years, we have honoured men like Max Ward, Stocky Edwards and Bill McRae. This year, a year we celebrated leadership in all its facets, we paid a long overdue tribute to Lieutenant-General William Carr, a photo recon Spitfire pilot from the war. Bill was on hand to see his image and name piped to the rafters in the Vintage Wings hangar, alongside a pantheon of Canadian airmen... all friends of General Carr. I was asked to deliver the introduction for Carr before the banner raising, an honour I cherish beyond words. Here now, is a transcript of that speech/introduction, slightly altered to read properly for online reading. I used an image of Bill Carr, taken in 1943 in Malta, as the central theme of this dedication to show how the young men of the 1940s are no different than the young air cadets and recruits of today. Dave O’Malley

This summer, we did something extraordinary at Vintage Wings of Canada.

50 pilots from across Canada took the stories of 90-year-old men to 6,000 boys and girls in 9 locations in 6 provinces on two coasts using 7 aircraft. And then we took more than 500 of the most motivated into the air in a time machine.

We met the finest young Canadians and brought to them the messages of duty, honour and sacrifice. Photos via Yellow Wings



It was the most ambitious program we have ever taken on... and the most successful—largely because of the commitment of the pilots and staff involved. Photos via Yellow Wings

We reached out to them with a message that many today think is passé, even corny—a message of duty, honour and sacrifice. How do we reach young people today, and even their parents, with these seemingly old fashioned messages from history, when they are taught to them by a man who is likely 90 years old? How do they relate? How to they understand?

Here are a few photos of a Royal Canadian Air Cadet parade at Trenton. These are the kind of kids we are working with. These are your sons and your daughters. It is these young people that Vintage Wings of Canada reached this summer. These young people are powerfully self-motivated. They are strong of mind and heart. They are developing experiences and friendships to power them through the rest of their lives. They are the best we have in Canada and we want to empower them to reach even greater heights. During the Second World War, the finest natural leaders were found in the ranks and quickly supported, given responsibility and reward. This summer, we did the same.

Senior air cadets, after promotion to Warrant Officer 1st Class at Trenton. From this photo we can see that these young men are not much different than the young men who went to war in the 1940s. They are the best young people in Canada. Photo by Dean Ducas

Young Chris Ducas, Royal Canadian Air Cadets, eyes right and saluting, at Trenton and demonstrating visually the high quality of the young people involved in the cadet program. Photo by Dean Ducas

This is Warrant Officer First Class Chris Ducas, now 20 years old—handsome, determined, self-assured, thoroughly a product of the air cadet program. How is the story of a 90-year-old relevant to him? Well, I’ll tell you, but first, let’s meet that 90-year-old man.

This is Lieutenant-General William Kier Carr, Distinguished Flying Cross, Venerable Order of Saint John, Commander of the Order of Military Merit, Legion of Merit, Member of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame, First Commander of Air Command, Vice-President of Canadair and Bombardier and someone widely known as the Father of the Modern Canadian Air Force.

The Bill Carr in this photo is not yet a Canadian, but one day he will become one of our greatest leaders. He is a Newfoundlander, the son of the manager of a fishery in the tiny fishing town of Grand Bank on the Burin Peninsula.

The photo was taken at a studio on the island of Malta in 1943. Bill’s mother had written to him there, asking him for a photograph. He went to a studio and had it taken and sent to her. She must have been delighted by his image coming out of that envelope, but it must have surely brought tears to her eyes. I can just see her proudly showing it to all her friends in Grand Bank. In this picture, Carr is not two years older than Warrant Officer Ducas was in the previous photo, but he has come a long way in those two years. He is a Photo Reconnaissance Spitfire pilot with 683 Squadron Royal Air Force.

He flies a Spitfire equipped to fly fast, to fly high, to run from the trouble it is a magnet for. It has no guns, no armour, and no bulletproof glass. Its only weapons are its cameras, its speed and the courage of young Mr. Carr.

The Supermarine Spitfire XI PR, a photo reconnaissance variant of the iconic Merlin-powered fighter aircraft. One of the easiest ways to determine a PR from others is that most (but not all) were painted in overall PRU blue as high altitude camouflage.

A lovely photograph of a post-D-Day Spitfire XI PR. We can see three distinguishing indicators of the PR Spit—Overall Blue paint, lack of guns and no bulletproof glass in the cockpit.

A close-up of the previous photograph shows us clearly that the PR Spitfire had no bulletproof glass panel in front of the pilot as is found in all other Spitfires. This gave the pilot a clearer view forward and was not considered necessary as the pilot would not engage in dogfighting without guns.

Another excellent image of a Spitfire Mk XI PR at altitude, showing the clean lines of an unarmed Spitfire.

This single photograph of Mr. and Mrs. Carr’s beautiful son looks more like the young sons of 2013 than any image I have ever seen of an airman from the war. There is no weariness in his eyes, no tension in his jaw. He has made no attempt to look older with a mustache or more dashing with silk scarf. Despite the stress of continuous flying for two years, he is like an open book.

Here is a young boy that we in this room have seen before. He is your son; he is the boy who dated your daughter. He is the kid you said was going to go far.

In this world of doting parenting, entitlement and privilege, it is a mistake to assume that, back then, mothers and fathers did not love their sons as much as we do today. That it was somehow easier for them to say goodbye to their beautiful boys as they boarded a steam train headed into a future in which only one thing was certain... that their sons would return forever changed, estranged and even broken—if they came back at all. Mothers and fathers just like you and I watched their beautiful boys disappear over the horizon to begin a task so challenging that just training for it could kill them.

The answer to the question of Carr’s relevance lies in looking at this legendary man in the way his mother and father saw him, in the way pretty girls saw him back then. We need to see him as a breathtakingly beautiful boy, one who is strong and clear eyed and vulnerable and hopeful. We need to see him as our own son.

Our 20-year-old sons and daughters drink fine wines, artisan beers, shop online, and call themselves foodies. They take photographs of their gourmet meals and they share them on Facebook. And we are tethered to them through Skype, Facebook, Facetime, Email and smart phone.

Mrs. Carr’s son would eat a steady diet of oily canned sardines, powdered milk and eggs, thin soup and dry biscuits month after month. Year after year. The best contact Mrs. Carr could hope for would be the odd handwritten letter coming from a place she had no idea he was in. The simple arrival of a single telegram at the Carr residence could induce terror enough to make her heart stop.

My wife and I worried when our 20-year-old son drove alone at night to Toronto on the 401. We begged him to call when he got there so we could sleep, knowing he was safe.

Mrs. Carr’s 20-year-old son would strap himself into a Spitfire and deliberately take it deep into a Europe run by Nazis, the greatest evil known to modern man. In broad daylight, he would fly over their encampments, their anti-aircraft installations, their factories, their cities, their airfields, travelling at 300 mph, never positive that his oxygen system would continue to feed him life, or that his engine would continue to run in the thin air, always on the lookout for an attack. He did this 142 times.

And Mrs. Carr could never get a comforting call when HE got home safely.

There is an old saying that “At the Moment of Greatest Slaughter, the Great Avenger is being Born.”

It is a beautiful, if somewhat dramatic expression, which simply means that out of times of stress and intensity, the greatest leaders are born. It was in this cauldron of anguish and menace, that the future leader known as the Father of the Modern Canadian Air Force was created from young Pilot Officer Bill Carr.

Carr completed his Elementary Flying Training on Fleet Finches at No. 22 EFTS at L’Ancienne Lorette outside of Québec City. He did his Service Flying training on Harvards right here in Ottawa at No. 2 SFTS Uplands. Here he flew Harvard 2866, the same aircraft you see over there. His wings were pinned on him by no less a man than Air Marshall Billy Bishop. He flew Photo Recon Spitfires deep into enemy territory from bases in England, Malta, and Italy. This great future air force leader had one of the finest role models imaginable in his Commanding Officer at 683 Squadron—Wing Commander Adrian Warburton, one of the most decorated RAF pilots of the war with no less than two Distinguished Service Orders and three Distinguished Flying Crosses!

Wing Commander Adrian Warburton, DSO and bar, DFC and Two Bars, Bill Carr’s commanding officer at 683 Squadron. The son of a naval officer, Warburton was born in England, and christened on board a submarine in Grand Harbour, Valletta, Malta. Below his decorations (DSO, DFC and 2 bars), on his left breast pocket, Warburton wears “The Order of the Winged Boot”, an unofficial award given to airmen who had been shot down and forced to return to their base on foot or by other means. Warburton became one of the most successful and best-known aerial-reconnaissance pilots of the Second World War while flying sorties from Malta and North Africa in 1941–1943. Photo via the Imperial War Museum

A photo of LAC Bill Carr’s course at No. 2 SFTS, Uplands Ottawa in the summer of 1942. Carr is 4th from the left in the middle row. Photo via Bill Carr

Bill Carr (right), and two fellow LAC pilot trainees at No. 2 Service Flying Training School, Uplands, Ontario. Student pilots can always be identified by the white flash at the front of their caps. Photo via Bill Carr

Leading Aircraftman William Carr, of Newfoundland, stands before a Harvard at No. 2 SFTS, Uplands. There is an indication of a change of paint colour mid-fuselage on this particular Harvard, possibly indicating that this is one of the Harvards that was originally in camouflage and destined for the French Armée de l’Air. The delivery of these aircraft was cancelled when the Germans invaded France and the undersides and wing surfaces were overpainted with yellow. Photo via Bill Carr

A mighty proud LAC Bill Carr smiles as Air Marshal Billy Bishop, VC, pins his wings on him at Uplands in the summer of 1942. RCAF photo via Rob Kostecka

For the three peaceful summers after the war, Carr and our own beloved Bill McRae (whose banner is up there) flew Norseman bush planes surveying the North of Canada. However challenging the work was there, it was perhaps the perfect way to decompress from years of hard flying and the deaths of so many friends. There was fishing, flying, camping and lots and lots of open skies for flying... with no enemy aircraft to ruin your day.

After the war, Carr continued to fly, did postgrad work in Chemistry and Physics in the USA and attended Staff College.

He continued to fly in the photo mapping business he learned so well in Malta and Italy—this time on Lancasters and Mitchells—until he became Commanding Officer of 412 Squadron at Uplands. It was here, on aircraft like the de Havilland Comet, the world’s first jet airliner, that he flew the likes of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, Charles De Gaulle and Prime Minister Diefenbaker.

A de Havilland Comet 5301, one of two operated by 412 Squadron RCAF is parked at Uplands. Photo: RCAF

The de Havilland Comet jetliner used by Carr to fly Queen Elizabeth is photographed parked at Uplands. Photo: RCAF

After 412 Squadron, Carr moved up the command ladder in rapid steps—promoted to Group Captain, Commander of the UN air transport operation in the Congo, Commanding Officer of RCAF Station Namao, Alberta, National Defence College, NDHQ, promotion to Air Commodore, promotion to Command of Training Command as a Major General, Colorado Springs in NORAD as Chief of Operations and ultimately promotion to Lieutenant-General as Deputy Chief of Defence Staff. His final leadership role was creator and first Commander of Air Command. He retired in 1978 after 36 years in the Air Force and went right to work for 16 years as Vice-President of International sales for Canadair and Bombardier. I guess you could say that Mrs. Carr’s boy did pretty well.

In the end, Carr’s logbook totalled an astonishing 18,000 pilot flying hours. Something very few military pilots can equal.

Leadership is a pay it forward business. Great leaders beget great leaders.

From Wing Commander Adrian Warburton, young Carr learned about devotion to those under him. He learned that great leaders inspire loyalty, performance, respect and love.

The first time I ever heard mention of Bill Carr, it was from one of the de Havilland Comet pilots who he commanded at 412—himself a retired Major General in the Air Force and Surgeon General of the Canadian Armed Forces.

I will leave the final word to Major General Bob Fassold, who personally saw, felt and benefited from the leader Carr was and is today and I quote

“He had very high and inspiring expectations and performance standards for all aircrew and squadron members. Consequently, we achieved such high levels on our own, that we not only took great pride in ourselves, but also in our 412 squadron mates, and especially our CO.

Carr seems then and still today to somehow quietly radiate competency and authority … and a high regard for the importance of everyone to the unit objectives. He never went around ‘commanding’… he just ‘did’… and clearly expected the same of you.

Throughout his career, day in and day out, and to this day, he has set a glowing personal example of leadership in how to get things done right… sometimes even having to resort to unorthodox methods. In so doing he has contributed to the successes and enjoyment of life for so many.”

On Saturday night, we honoured Carr for his service to this country in war and peace and in business. Above all, we would want to honour Mrs. Carr’s beautiful son for his example of leadership that inspires us to this day.

If this was the NHL, we would retire his jersey and raise it to the rafters. The Vintage Wings equivalent was to raise a banner in his honour among a pantheon of Second World War heroes.


Dave O’Malley

Carr listens as his impressive career is outlined by Dave O’Malley. A career such as Carr’s cannot possibly be given justice in the fifteen minutes allotted. Photo by Peter Handley

At the end of the introduction and the banner raising, Carr is honoured with a long standing ovation. Photo by Peter Handley

The amazingly youthful Bill Carr, at 90 years, looks every inch a warrior in this photo. Photo by Peter Handley

Bill Carr speaks at the podium with the photo of him as a 20-year-old projected on the screen. Carr’s short speech had all the guests in stitches as he related the story of having to have a student visa in order to attend Mount Alison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. From Mount A, he volunteered for the RCAF. When he was in Malta and under a bombing attack, he received a letter from a bureaucrat back in Canada telling him his student visa had expired and he was no longer legally able to stay in Canada. To that bureaucrat, Carr said, “Come and get me!” Photo by Peter Handley

The ten-foot-high banner in honour of young Pilot Officer Bill Carr, who became the Father of the Modern Canadian Air Force, is raised to the ceiling. Photo by Peter Handley

Carr joins Max Ward, Bill McRae, Charlie Fox and Stocky Edwards in the pantheon of honour that is Vintage Wings banner row. Photo by Peter Handley

Carr at the podium on Saturday was both serious and humorous. Photo by Peter Handley

Carr and Canada’s finest Piper, Graham Batty, share a laugh with O’Malley after the banner raising. Thanks to Piper Batty, a pilot and flying instructor and gifted mechanic, the raising of the banners becomes an emotional high for the honouree and the entire audience. Photo by Peter Handley

Lieutenant-General William Keir Carr, one of Canada’s heroes of the war. Carr was quick to say that he was no different than any other of the many thousands of flyers who went to war with him, just a man with a lot of luck. Lucky to be a Spitfire pilot. Lucky to be commanded by Adrian Warburton. Lucky to fly with men he respected. Lucky to survive. Lucky to work through the chain to become the head of Air Command. Lucky to have his health (and good looks). Lucky to be still deeply involved. Yes Bill, you are lucky, but we did not honour you for your luck. We honoured you for your courage, skill, leadership, kindness, intellect, support for Vintage Wings and strength of character and will. Your mother would be proud. Photo by Peter Handley

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