The Ghost Lakes of Manitoba

 

By Dave O’Malley

Canada is a very large place indeed and much of it contains no Canadians whatsoever, save for sport fishermen and tiny remote communities. The great boreal forest stretches for thousands of kilometres across the north of Canada, a trackless and largely intact expanse of silent forest, rivers and lakes… many, many lakes. Even above the tree line, hundreds of thousands of lakes scratch and stipple the vast Barren Lands, highlighting the receding tracks of ancient glaciers. 

Canada has an estimated and astonishing 2,000,000 lakes and holds within its borders; more fresh water than all the rest of the world combined. Most of these millions of lakes can be found in the north, where retreating ice age glaciers scoured, cut and pressed deep water-filled scars in the landscape. Much of Nunavut, northern Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Québec is covered in fresh water. Many lakes that would be the largest freshwater lake in some countries remain to this day unnamed and unvisited.

Having a geographical feature like a river, lake, bay, island or mountain named for you has long been understood as a great and very permanent honour. Many early explorers named geographical features that they came upon after their funders and political sponsors. Lewis and Clark and many an Arctic explorer would take the time to name rivers, islands and promontories after their benefactors. Scottish explorer John Ross named a vast peninsula in the arctic Boothia Felix in honour of one of his financial backers, Booth’s Gin of London, owned by Felix Booth, a wealthy spirits manufacture.

In the Canadian province of Manitoba, the Manitoba Geographical Names Program has for many years attempted to put names to the province’s many geographical features. The program lists several thousand lakes, bays, rivers, streams and other natural features in indigenous languages. The program’s lists also include an astonishing 4,200 of Manitoba’s war dead for whom a lake, island or other geographical feature is named.

With over 110,000 lakes within its borders, Manitoba will not likely run out of features to honour their fallen for many centuries to come. The province published a compendium of all 4,200 honourees called A Place of Honour. The Program’s website explains: “This publication is dedicated to the families of those Manitobans who lost a loved one as a casualty of war. Our Province has recognized their sacrifice in the commemorative naming of more than 4,200 lakes, islands, bays and other geographical features after them.

This is not a military history. Innumerable histories have been published since the end of the Second World War focusing upon Canadian casualties, specific branches of the service and various military campaigns. The source of information on these men and women is not primarily historical, archival or military. It is the families and friends of these people, and in some cases, the words of the casualties themselves as expressed in their letters and diaries. In describing these times and events on a personal or familial level, it becomes apparent that the loss of these men and women continues to be felt throughout our province and indeed, throughout the world.”

In July of 1947, Manitoba began the process of honouring their war dead with the naming of 25 lakes in the northwest of the province, dedicating them to a short list of 26 airmen and soldiers who had died in the Second World War, all of whom had been decorated for their service. One of the lakes, Two Tod Lake (also known as Tod Lake), is named for twin brothers who died together during the war. One of the lakes is named for a man who was decorated during the war, but who died in Canada after war’s end.

Being an aviation history story service, I have selected the 15 honoured airmen from the list and compiled a brief synopsis of their service, found images on the internet that related to their stories and mapped the lakes that honour them. All 15 of the men were in their 20s, all of them came from schools, ordinary jobs and loving families, and only one of them is buried in his native Manitoban soil. They represent the best of youth that came through the Great Depression as well as the great promise of a better future for Manitoba and the often small communities that nurtured them. Their loss was felt deeply by their families and by their communities, but through the geographical place naming program, their names live on. Many of the lakes that honour them are home to some of the best freshwater sport fishing on the planet, and today the joyous shouts of anglers ring out across these lakes through the long summers. The few young men and women who are now guided to these lakes may never know why the lake is named as it is, but they will remember the day they had there, netting walleye and pike and trout into their boats for the rest of their lives. The name McGavock or McMillan or Wilmot will, for them, represent all that is great about Canada and the freedom we have to live a good life. The honourees would be happy with that.

The remaining Canadian Army soldiers from the first 25 lakes to be honoured include: Warrant Officer Abram Arbour, MC, Queens Own Cameron Highlanders; Warrant Officer Edward Tenklei, MM, Regina Rifles; Captain James Suttie, MC, Royal Canadian Infantry Corps; Major Ronald Counsell, MC, Queens Own Cameron Highlanders; Lance Corporal Rupert Story, MM, Seaforth Highlanders of Canada; Private Jack Hunter, MM, Queens Own Cameron Highlanders; Lieutenant Donald Matheson, MC, Royal Canadian Artillery; Private Walter Kadeniuk, MM, Seaforth Highlanders of Canada; Major Douglas McCallum, DSO, Royal Canadian Engineers; Captain Edward Reid, MC, Queens Own Cameron Highlanders; and Sergeant Marcel Van Hende, DCM, Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment.

The Manitoba Memorial Lakes were dedicated in 1947 to Manitoba-born members of the armed services who had lost their lives in combat during the Second World War. The practice to name lakes and other geographical features after those who gave their lives to protect our way of life is now quite common in several provinces, and many more of Manitoba’s lakes have been dedicated in the same manner since this first group. In fact, there are more than 4,200 lakes, bays, islands and other features named for Manitoba’s war dead from the Second World War, the Korean War and Victoria Cross recipients from the First World War. Sat-image: Google

Rectangle shows the location of the Memorial Lakes dedicated to the 15 airmen of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Sat-Image: Google

Two Tod Lake

Of the list of 26 aviators and other servicemen who gave their lives in the expedition of the Second World War, the name of one lake stands out from all the rest—Two Tod Lake—the only one dedicated to the memory of two men—the identical twin brothers Warrant Officer Second Class Richard Douglas Tod and Warrant Officer Second Class Robert Ernest Tod, the sons of Alexander and Mary Tod of Manitoba. Judging from newspaper articles about the young brothers, the twins preferred the use of their middle names. The myriad bays, channels and islands of Two Tod Lake are situated to the southwest of the abandoned Fox Mine in Northwestern Manitoba. The fishing in the area populated by the Memorial Lakes, in what is known as division No. 23, is some of the finest sport fishing on the planet. One fishing guide website exclaims: “Enjoy a shore lunch on a secluded beach, just you, your fishing partner, your guide and thousands of acres of unspoiled pristine Canadian wilderness. For many of our repeat customers names like … Craig, Runner, … Tod, and Eager will instantly conjure up memories of weary arms, incredible shore lunches and monster fish.” 

Douglas Tod and Ernest Tod were born within minutes of each other in St. Vital, Manitoba (now a suburb of Winnipeg), went to the same schools, enlisted together, had sequential RCAF service numbers (R91741 and R91742 respectively), trained together every step of the way, served in the same squadron on the same airplane, died at exactly the same moment and are buried side by side today in the Netherlands.

Following enlistment on 30 January 1941, the two brothers trained at No. 4 Bombing and Gunnery School in Fingal, Ontario on the shores of Lake Erie, then transferred to No. 1 Wireless School in Montréal, Québec with minimal flying training conducted at RCAF Station St. Hubert. As wireless operators/air gunners, they travelled to Great Britain and soon (following a very brief attachment to 115 Squadron) were on strength with 75 Squadron, a Royal New Zealand Air Force “bracket”* squadron flying Short Stirling heavy bombers with Bomber Command.

On operations, the twins liked to switch up positions between mid-upper turret and the radio since both were qualified for each position. It’s doubtful that the crew even knew, on any given night, which one was in which position (until Ernest earned a DFM ribbon). Throughout their entire lives and military career, they served as if one person, in lockstep with each other. The only significant period when they were apart during their RCAF service was when Douglas was recuperating for two months following a tumble in a London subway station.

Photos of the two Tod brothers appeared in many Canadian newspapers when their aircraft was reported Missing in Action. Photos via Canadian Virtual War Memorial

About the only difference in their careers was Ernest’s actions on an op in early 1943, which earned him a Distinguished Flying Medal. The 75 Squadron Operational Record Book for the night of 10–11 April 1943 sets up the scene in which Ernest Tod’s actions helped save his crew: “Stirling III BF455 captained by F/Sgt Rothschild was hit over the target by AA fire and also chased by enemy fighters. This caused him to run short of petrol over the English Channel on the way home, and he eventually crash landed in the sea, 3 miles off Shoreham. The wireless procedure had been perfect, and Spitfires escorted it from the French coast and a Walrus flying boat was waiting for it to crash land. Dinghy drill was perfect and all the crew got in safely after an immaculate landing—the Stirling floating for 25 minutes. The final scene was enacted in the Channel as the Walrus collided with the dinghy and dropped all the crew in the sea. No ill-effects except for Sgt Grainger, the flight engineer, who suffered from shock.”

For his actions Ernest Tod received an immediate Distinguished Flying Medal and the citation accompanying his DFM reads: “This airman was the wireless operator of an aircraft which was damaged by anti-aircraft fire during an operational flight over enemy territory. The aircraft gradually lost height and the pilot was eventually compelled to bring it down to the sea. Meanwhile, Sergeant Tod worked coolly at his apparatus, maintaining wireless contact with base. His excellent work enabled the aircraft to be continuously plotted from the ground and plans for rescue to be made. The entire crew of the aircraft were picked up within fifteen minutes of coming down on the sea. This airman displayed great coolness and unswerving devotion to duty throughout.”

The Short Stirling was the first four-engined British heavy bomber of the Second World War, designed by Short Brothers to meet an Air Ministry specification from 1936. This required it meet a wingspan dimension of 100 feet to save on overall weight. The Stirling’s performance would be hampered by this specification and it is thought that had the wings been longer it would have been just as good a performer as the Halifax or Lancaster.  It entered service in early 1941 but had a relatively brief operational career as a bomber, being relegated to second line duties from late 1943, when other more capable four-engined RAF bombers, specifically the Handley Page Halifax and Avro Lancaster, took over the strategic bombing of Germany. Photo: Imperial War Museum

A short article on Tod’s award appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on 3 May 1943 stating… “One of two St. VITAL twin BROTHERS, who together in the same Stirling bomber in long distance raids on Germany and Italy for the past eight months, Sergeant Robert Ernest TOD, 23, has won the Distinguished Flying Medal, a Canadian Press despatch from London, England, announced Monday. Sergeant TOD and his identical brother, Sergeant Richard Douglas TOD, have been taking it in turns on different nights to act as wireless operator and gunner in the big bomber, relatives explained…

On the night of 22–23 June 1943, 15 Short Stirling four-engined bombers of 75 Squadron joined a combined attacking force of 557 aircraft bound for Mülheim, Germany. The Tod brothers, both flying in Stirling EH889 (AA-Z), were part of a crew captained by Flight Lieutenant Thomas Fraser McCrorie, RAF. EH889 was attacked by a night fighter piloted by Luftwaffe ace Oberleutnant Lothar Linke of Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 and it crashed into the IJsselmeer, the large, shallow and artificial lake south of the Wadden Archipelago. It was a tough night for Bomber Command with 35 crews lost and for 75 Squadron with 4 crews lost.

The headstones of the Tod brothers are side by side in well-tended graves in Medemblik Cemetery. Photo via 75nzsquadron.wordpress.com

Following the crash, five of the bodies washed up on shore and are buried in the Medemblik General Cemetery Netherlands. The Tod brothers were two of those who washed ashore and though they came ashore at different times, they lay today together, forever.

a “bracket” squadron was any squadron created by the RAF and populated with the airmen of one particular nation—for instance 242 (Canadian) Squadron, 303 (Polish) Squadron, 75 (NZ) Squadron or 312 (Czechoslovak) Squadron, where the nationality appeared in brackets.

Vandekerckhove Lake

Vandekerckhove Lake lies just above the 57th Parallel, slightly east of the Saskatchewan border. At 10 miles wide and 15 miles long and some 27,000 acres in area, it is a rather large lake, deserving of a large name. Pilot Officer George Pierre Cornelius Vandekerckhove was born in 1917 in war-torn France. He moved with his family to Manitoba at an early age and was living in Stony Mountain at the time of his enlistment in 1941 with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

He trained as a pilot and was assigned to 427 Squadron RCAF on Vickers Wellingtons at RAF Leeming, North Yorkshire. On his seventh bombing operation, he and his crew were attacked by a night fighter that shot out their starboard engine and hydraulics. While the rear gunner managed to shoot down the attacker, they were over the city of Essen, Germany and had a very long way to get home. During the flight home to Leeming, the feathered propeller flew off. The navigator, Sergeant Bill Williamson of London, Ontario plotted a course for the nearest airfield in Norfolk. Vandekerckhove used up the entire runway to land and overran the far end, all without damage to the aircraft or injury to the crew. For this and other examples of fine airmanship, Vandekerckhove was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Pilot Officer George Vandekerckhove (back row at right) with his flight crew (wearing Mae West life vests) and his ground crew with their 427 Squadron Halifax (Squadron code ZL) in the background. Photo via rootsweb.ancestry.com

On the night of 31 August–1 September 1943, Vandekerckhove was piloting a Handley Page Halifax with an augmented 8-man crew that included a second dickey pilot (Sergeant C. Gofton—pilots on their first op often flew it without their own crew and with an experienced one). It was his 30th combat operation and he was a very experienced pilot by this time. They were attacked by a Luftwaffe night fighter near the city of Osnabrück en route to Berlin. With their starboard wing on fire, they turned for home and jettisoned their bomb load. A second attack resulted in the right wing breaking away and the aircraft fell into a spin. Only Williamson and Bomb Aimer Pilot Officer Rothwell survived the crash.

Today, the Wolverine Lodge on Vandekerckhove Lake, appropriately accessible only by air, offers some of the finest walleye and pike fishing in the province of Manitoba.

Mackie Lake

Mackie Lake lies to the west of Vandekerckhove Lake, just a few kilometres from the Saskatchewan border. About ten kilometres long and averaging less than a kilometre wide, Mackie Lake offers superb trout fishing. It is named in honour of Flying Officer Alexander Morton Mackie, DFC of 424 “Tiger” Squadron, RCAF. The 30-year-old Alexander Mackie was the son of George and May Mackie of Winnipeg, Manitoba and the husband of Alice Grace Mackie, also of Winnipeg.

Mackie was born in 1916 in St. James, Manitoba. He enlisted in the RCAF on April 12, 1941, and did his Elementary Flying Training at No. 14 EFTS Portage la Prairie, Manitoba and his Service Flying Training at No. 11 SFTS in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. He earned his RCAF wings on 5 December 1942.

On the night of 12 January 1945, whilst on a “gardening” (mine-laying) operation from RAF Skipton-on-Swale to Flensburg Fjord (at the entrance to Flensburg harbor) on the border between Denmark and Germany, Mackie and his crew failed to return. He was in command of Handley Page Halifax MZ805 (QB-X).

I couldn’t find an image of Mackie on the internet, but I did find this clear map of the lake named in his honour. Image: Geographical Names Board of Canada

Mackie’s Halifax was attacked at just a few minutes after 21:00 hours by a German night fighter piloted by Luftwaffe night fighter ace Oberfeldwebel Hans Schadowski, exploded in mid-air and crashed into the sea in a channel known as the Langelandbælt. The entire Mackie crew was lost without a trace. Without a grave, he is commemorated (as are his crew members) along with more than 20,000 other airmen whose graves are unknown on the Runnymede Memorial (Egham, UK).

Mackie had received his Distinguished Flying Cross retroactively to the day before his final operation, but was not gazetted until March 1946. His DFC reads This officer has completed, as pilot and captain of aircraft, numerous operations against the enemy in the course of which he has invariably displayed the utmost fortitude, courage and devotion to duty.”

Also killed in MZ805 that night were flight engineer Sergeant James Farquhar, navigator Flight Sergeant James Netzke, bomb aimer Flying Officer Harry Christie, wireless operator/gunner Warrant Officer Harold Carruthers, mid-upper gunner Flight Sergeant Fern Dobbs and rear gunner Flight Sergeant Claude Hudson, all of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Chepil Lake

Like Mackie Lake and Vandekerckhove Lake, Chepil Lake is situated near the small Manitoba community of Lynn Lake, the “Sport Fishing Capital of Manitoba.” Chepil Lake, named in honour of Warrant Officer Mack Chepil, DFM, a Halifax pilot with 428 “Ghost” Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Chepil did his Service Flying Training and earned his RCAF wings at No. 5 SFTS in Brantford, Ontario.

On the night of 2–3 August 1943, he and his crew took part in a fourth massive bombing raid on Hamburg, Germany, which was largely thwarted by severe thunderstorms, icing conditions and night fighters. The raid included 740 bombers, one of which was a 405 Squadron RCAF Halifax piloted by John “Peewee” Phillips, which was that night forced to ditch in the Baltic Sea. This is the same Halifax that is today being recovered from the bottom of the sea and transported back to Alberta where it will help in the building of a complete Handley-Page Halifax for Canada.

I could not find a decent photograph of Mack Chepil—only this low resolution image from his Service Flying Training School Course No. 53 at Brantford, Ontario. Chepil, who is third from the right in the back row, trained there from 11 April 1942 to 30 July, when he was awarded his wings. Photo via RCAFBrantford.blogspot.ca

Chepil’s luck was not as good as that of Phillips, for he and his crew in Halifax EB274 (NA-H) were shot down by a Messerschmitt Bf-110 night fighter flown by Hauptmann Hans Joachim Jabs of Nachtjagdgeschwader 1. All eight members of the crew including a “second dickey” pilot were killed when the Halifax crashed into the sea three kilometres north of the West Frisian island of Terschelling. The crew included Flying Officer Frederick Lennox Rogers (second pilot RCAF–age 21); Sergeant John R.R. Burfield (RAFVR–age 19); Flight Sergeant Myrddin Evans (RAFVR–age 28); Sergeant Maurice F. Spencer (RAFVR–age 32); Sergeant Stanley J. Williams (RAFVR–age unknown); Flying Officer Edward J. Andrews (RCAF–age 23); and Pilot Officer Alexander Garalick (RCAF–age unknown).

Just one month before his death, his award of a Distinguished Flying Medal was printed in the London Gazette. The citation accompanying his DFM reads, in part: “This airman captained an aircraft detailed to attack a target at Le Creusot one night in June, 1943. Soon after crossing the enemy coast the hydraulic system in the bomber became unserviceable but Sergeant Chepil continued his flight. Later, 1 engine caught fire and became unserviceable. In spite of this the target was bombed, after the bomb doors had been opened by an emergency method. Sergeant Chepil afterwards flew the damaged aircraft to base. This airman displayed outstanding determination and devotion to duty, setting an inspiring example.”

McMillan Lake

McMillan Lake is a large lake between Mackie and Vandekerckhove lakes in Northwestern Manitoba. Its numerous bays and large central island give it more than 100 kilometres of rocky shoreline, excellent for fishing. The lake is named in honour of Flying Officer Lawrence “Lorne” McMillan, DFC, AM (USA), the 23-year-old son of Fred and Mary Alice McMillan of Miami, a small farming community in southern Manitoba. Lorne McMillan completed his Elementary Flying Training at No. 9 EFTS St. Catharines, Ontario and his Service Flying Training at No. 6 SFTS Dunnville on the shores of Lake Erie.

McMillan was an RCAF Photo Recce Spitfire pilot with 542 Squadron, Royal Air Force. Following the completion of his first full tour, he was briefly repatriated to Canada just before D-Day and assigned to No. 1 Operational Training Unit in Bagotville, Québec, instructing future fighter pilots on the Hawker Hurricane. He was very unhappy with this assignment and lobbied hard to get back into action. At the time he was sent to Bagotville, his records indicate that he had 560 hours flying time with 210 of those in operational PR flying. After completing six months as an instructor, he returned to Europe and joined 400 Squadron, an RCAF PR unit.

Flying Officer Lawrence “Lorne” McMillan in his service file photograph (left) and with fellow PR Spitfire pilots of 542 Squadron, Royal Air Force (McMillan is second from right). Photos via VirtualWarMemorial

Sadly, McMillan was shot down by anti-aircraft fire and killed in his photo reconnaissance Spitfire on 9 May 1945—two days AFTER the German High Command surrendered unconditionally in Reims, France! His section leader on that day was Flight Lieutenant P.G. Wigle. Wigle’s action report described the terrible incident in which McMillan was murdered—“On May 9th, 1945, I was leading a section of Spitfire XIs on a shipping reconnaissance of the waters about the Danish Islands, the section being comprised of F/L McMillan and Myself.

At 16.56 hours we observed a convoy of four ships one mile off Spodsbjerg on the Island of Langeland [close to where Mackie died-Ed.] proceeding on a course of 190º (M.) I led the section down to the deck level and passed within 100 yards of the ships on the port side, at which time I observed that all four ships were carrying the Nazi flag, 3 of the ships were loaded with troops in dark uniforms, and the name of the second ship in the line was the “Ubena”. I led the section around to the starboard side of the convoy still at 50 feet and approximately 4-500 yards away from the ships.

The German troop ship Ubena was identified as one of the four ships observed by McMillan and Wigle carrying German troops from Denmark to Germany at the war’s end. During the war, it was commandeered by the German Navy for use as a U-boat supply ship and then later as a hospital ship. Photo via 7SeasVessels.com

At 17.00 hours I looked behind to observe my No. 2 explode in mid-air in a large sheet of flame and the wreckage immediately plunged into the sea. At the same time, I observed machine gun strikes on the water between us. I immediately climbed up to a height of 4500 feet and circled the position but could observe no debris whatsoever except for an oil slick on the water.

Due to the sudden nature of the attack it is my opinion that F/L McMillan was killed outright, and in any event, because of the low height, would be unable to get out of his aircraft before it plunged into the sea.”

It seems possible that the dark-uniformed soldiers were SS men, one of which was possibly angry at having to watch the two Spitfires casually checking them out. In any event, it is clear that McMillan was murdered as, at this time, the Germans had surrendered. 

Craig Lake

Craig Lake is situated southeast of Lynn Lake, Manitoba, ten kilometres to the east of the Saskatchewan border and a short distance north of Two Tod Lake, another of the Memorial Lakes. The lake is dedicated to the memory of 22-year-old Flying Officer James Craig, DFC, a bomb aimer with 97 Squadron, a Pathfinder unit of the Royal Air Force. James was the son of John and Elizabeth Craig of Winnipeg.

On the night of 30–31 March 1944, fourteen Lancasters and their crews from 97 Squadron were detailed to participate in an attack on the city of Nuremburg. Craig, his pilot Len Hyde and the rest of the crew took off in Lancaster ND640—coded OF-R—at 22:30 hours on their final mission and were attacked by a night fighter over Germany. It was a terrible night for Bomber Command, which lost a total of 97 aircraft. 97 Squadron lost two Lancasters, including that commanded by a Flight Lieutenant Leonard “Len” Hyde, DFC.

Hyde’s crew, judging by their ranks and gongs (four DFCs and one DFM), was a very experienced group and included Flying Officer James Craig, DFC, bomb aimer; Flight Lieutenant Eric H. Palmer, DFC, navigator; Pilot Officer Maurice E. Putt, flight engineer; Flight Sergeant Eric Hill, wireless operator; Flying Officer Richard J. Weller, DFM, mid-upper gunner; and Pilot Officer Richard Taylor, DFC.

Another 97 Squadron pilot, Flight Lieutenant C.S. Chatten, witnessed the end of ND640 and is quoted in The Nuremburg Raid by Martin Middlebrook: “I saw the light of tracer fire and an aircraft hit and going down on fire. Its markers must have been jettisoned for I saw them burst below. I identified the markers as belonging to those of the aircraft which had taken off just before me and was sure then that it was my friend Len Hyde.”

Craig’s Lancaster (ND640) crashed into farm fields near the small town of Münchholzhausen, southwest of the city of Wetzlar. It left a sizable crater that drew many locals to gawk at the demise of seven fine young men. Here, one of ND640’s Rolls-Royce Merlins rests at the edge of the impact crater. Photo via AirCrewRemembranceSociety.uk.co

Local citizenry and Luftwaffe officers look down into the large crater at the remains of ND640, its payload and its seven crew members. The depth and compact nature of the hole in the ground indicated a near vertical vector for the falling Lancaster. Photo via AirCrewRemembranceSociety.uk.co

The aircraft crashed at Münchholzhausen, five kilometres from the city of Wetzlar in east central Germany. It was Craig’s 29th op with Bomber Command. The men are all buried at Hanover War Cemetery in Niedersachsen, Germany. Craig’s Distinguished Flying Cross was gazetted in June of 1944, three months after his death.

Dunphy Lakes

The Dunphy Lakes (actually a series of three connected lakes) are situated with all the other Manitoba Memorial Lakes near the border with Saskatchewan, immediately north of the abandoned Fox Mine and are named for Flight Lieutenant Roderick James Dunphy, DFC, the 20-year-old son of Kenneth and Ella Rae Dunphy of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Dunphy was a navigator with 426 “Thunderbird” Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force. He was killed on the night of 20 December 1943, when his Bristol Hercules-powered Avro Lancaster II was brought down on a raid to Frankfurt, Germany from RAF Linton-on-Ouse.

Dunphy had enlisted in the RCAF on 12 September 1942 and did his navigational training at No. 3 Air Observer School at Regina, Saskatchewan. He was commissioned the same year. Dunphy was awarded a DFC for an action that took place on 20 October 1943. In May of 1945, a year and a half after his death, his DFC was gazetted in the London Gazette, effective to the day before he died. It was presented to his father in November of 1949. The citation accompanying the awards states in part: “Flight Lieutenant Dunphy has taken part in numerous operational sorties, the majority of which have been directed against major German targets. During a mission to Leipzig in October 1943, his aircraft was twice engaged by enemy fighters and sustained in all seven attacks [sic]. The aircraft suffered severe damage and all the navigational instruments were destroyed. Despite this, Flight Lieutenant Dunphy by superb navigation directed the pilot to the target and back to base. This officer has invariably shown a high degree of skill and courage.”

Left: A formal portrait of Flight Lieutenant Roderick James Dunphy, DFC. Right: Dunphy (squatting behind turret) inspects damage to the fuselage and mid-upper gun turret of his 426 Squadron Lancaster at the end of October 1943. Though this had the same squadron code (OW-D), as the aircraft he would be shot down in two months later (LL630), it was in fact a different Lancaster (RAF serial DS686). The three men are George Andrew (gunner), Dunphy and Flying Officer J. Dodge. Photos via Murray Peden

Lancaster LL630, coded OW-D, took off at 17:15 hours, an early hour for a night op, but this was just a day before the longest night of the year and darkness descended over England and Continental Europe very early. The 426 Squadron Lancasters were part of a large 650-bomber raid and LL630 was one of 41 Bomber Command aircraft that were lost that night. The pilot and commander of LL630 was Pilot Officer “Freddy” Stuart, CGM (Conspicuous Gallantry Medal) who at age 27 was the oldest of the crew. The other crew members were Sergeant Frank R. Taylor, flight engineer, age 21; Flying Officer Albert J. Rudman, bomb aimer, age unknown; Flying Officer John W. Flynn, wireless operator, age 23; Pilot Officer Thomas H. Hastings, air gunner, age unknown; and Flying Officer George V. Andrew, air gunner, age 20.

The aircraft was intercepted by a night fighter over the town of Güls near the city of Koblenz three and half hours after taking off and before they could reach their target. The Luftwaffe fighter, piloted by Leutnant Ludwig Wirtz, shot them down with a loss of the entire crew. It was a highly experienced crew at the end of their tour. It was Dunphy’s 22nd op.

The official certificate showing the position of the lake and certifying its connection with Dunphy. Photo via Murray Peden

Eager Lake

Eager Lake in Manitoba is connected via a small stream or channel to Two Tod Lake to the west. To the north lies the now-abandoned Fox Mine that produced zinc, copper, gold and silver and was operated by Sherritt Gordon Mines from 1969 to 1985. Its proximity to the mine means that it and Two Tod Lake are almost reachable by road… and a five kilometre walk through the bush.

Eager Lake commemorates the life and sacrifice of Flying Officer William Hedley Eager, DFC, the 23-year-old son of Harry and Johanna Eager of Norwood, Manitoba, which is now a suburb of Winnipeg. Though he was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, he grew up in Norwood. Eager did his Elementary Flying Training at No. 19 EFTS in Virden, Manitoba and earned his RCAF wings on Harvards at No. 10 SFTS in Dauphin Manitoba… making him a truly Manitoba-trained pilot.

After reaching England, he was sent to 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Wigsley, where he was involved in an accident he was lucky to have survived. He and his crew were training on the Avro Manchester, the twin-engined predecessor to the Lancaster, known for its terribly unreliable and underpowered engines. After taking off from Wigsley, one of the Rolls-Royce Vulture engines did what many Vultures did—caught fire. Eager turned immediately to base and almost made it down safely. On short final, the Manchester stalled and hit the ground, continuing to burn fiercely. Eager and all of his crew were injured to some degree but were safe.

Eager completed a full tour on Lancasters with his 61 Squadron, earning a Distinguished Flying Cross in the process for his skills and determination and was then sent to instruct at 1661 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Winthorpe. During this time he was made a Flying Officer and met and married his war bride Ada.

Inset: If any photo of a young man would embody the word “eager” it was that of William Eager. While searching the Imperial War Museum collection of wartime photographs, I came across one of Eager and his 61 Squadron crew—the air and ground crew of Avro Lancaster B Mark I, W4236 (QR-K), of ‘A’ Flight, No. 61 Squadron RAF, grouped by the nose of the aircraft at RAF Syerston, Nottinghamshire, after it had completed 70 operational flights. Air crew, standing left to right: Flying Officer F.L. Hewish, bomb aimer; Pilot Officer W.H. Eager RCAF, pilot and captain; Sergeant F.R. Stone, wireless operator; Sergeant L.S. Vanner, rear gunner; Sergeant H.T. Petts, navigator; Sergeant F.R. Sharrard, mid-upper gunner; and Sergeant L. Lawrence, flight engineer. Ground crew, sitting left to right: Leading Aircraftsman W.A. Long, flight mechanic (engines); Corporal C. Bowyer, fitter; and Leading Aircraftsman J. Blackwood, flight mechanic (airframe). Photo: Imperial War Museum

A send off from the women of RAF Syerston. WAAF and other ground crew members wave off Pilot Officer W.H. Eager RCAF and his crew in Avro Lancaster B Mark I, W4236 (QR-K), of No. 61 Squadron RAF, as they begin their take(off run from Syerston, Nottinghamshire, for a night raid on Hamburg, Germany. This was W4236’s 74th mission, from which it returned safely: it was lost, however, during a raid on Mannheim on 10 August 1943. Photo: Imperial War Museum

While on a night circuit training flight at RAF Ossington on 16 December 1943, Eager was killed when the Lancaster he was on board as an instructor (LM307, aircraft code GP-T) crashed two minutes into the flight at 20:06 hours. The pilot in training for the flight was Flight Sergeant Hampson. Six of the crew were killed in the crash. Two survived, but one of those died the next day. Just prior to his death, Eager was married to his girlfriend Ada, but he never lived to see the birth of his twin daughters in 1944. 

Wilmot Lake

At four kilometres long and one wide, Wilmot Lake is one of the smaller lakes in the 1947 memorial series. It stands about 2 kilometres south of the road into the abandoned Fox Mine.  It is named in the memory of 21-year-old Squadron Leader Brian Edmund Wilmot, DFC and Bar, a much decorated bomber pilot with both 425 and 415 Squadrons, Royal Canadian Air Force and the son of John and Bertha Wilmot of Winnipeg. He enlisted in the RCAF on 30 December 1941, did his Elementary Flying Training at No. 6 EFTS at Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and then went on to earn his wings at No. 10 SFTS in Dauphin, Manitoba. He completed one full tour with 425 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force.

Left: Squadron Leader Brian Wilmot of Winnipeg—a photo that appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press with the announcement of his death. Wilmot’s headstone at Harrowgate Cemetery in Yorkshire.

Wilmot died on 21 August 1944 in particularly tragic circumstances for 415 Squadron at RAF East Moor. Wilmot’s Handley Page Halifax III (MZ633 (QO-O), a 432 Squadron Halifax nicknamed Oscar the Outlaw) collided in mid-air in cloud with that of the squadron’s CO, Wing Commander J.G. McNeil, DFC while ferrying from Exeter to East Moor. The two Halifax aircraft contained the two full crews and all were killed. In the accident the squadron lost their CO, their Bombing Leader (Wilmot) and their Navigation Leader.

A photo of Halifax QO-O, Oscar the Outlaw, the aircraft Wilmot was ferrying to RAF East Moor when he collided with another in cloud. Photo via Flickr

Wilmot received his first DFC for the successful completion of a full tour with 425 “Alouette” Squadron. This was awarded in August of 1944 and the citation accompanying his DFC reads: “This officer has completed many sorties during which he has attacked such well-defended targets as Berlin, Frankfurt and Düsseldorf. One night in April 1944, in a sortie against the last named target, Flying Officer Wilmot displayed the greatest determination in pressing home his attack although one engine failed and some height had been lost before reaching the target. His fine fighting spirit has always been apparent and he has set a most commendable example.” He was then awarded a second DFC for his actions on the night of 12–13 August. That citation reads: “Since the award of the DFC S/Ldr Wilmot has completed numerous sorties against a variety of targets. On a recent operation against Brunswick, although his aircraft was attacked and damaged by enemy night fighters [a Ju 88 and an Me 110], S/Ldr Wilmot displayed great skill and determination in pressing home his attack and in bringing his damaged aircraft safety back to base. He has set a worthy example.”

McGavock Lake

Just to the east of Eager Lake lies the many bays and peninsulas of McGavock Lake, named in the memory of Flying Officer John Joseph McGavock, DFC, the son of Frank and Theresa McGavock of Winnipeg. McGavock, age 24, was killed four days before Christmas 1943 at No. 1679 Heavy Conversion Unit (an RCAF conversion unit supplying crews to 6 Group, Bomber Command).

McGavock joined the RCAF in June 1943 in his hometown of Winnipeg and was selected for flying training. He completed his Elementary Flying Training at No. 14 EFTS in nearby Portage la Prairie and went on to earn his RCAF wings at No. 10 Service Flying Training School at Dauphin, Manitoba.

McGavock was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross after completing a tour with 426 Squadron RCAF of Bomber Command. An announcement of the award appeared in the London Gazette on 15 June 1943. The citation accompanying the DFC was read to his parents when they received his cross a year after his death. It read: “This officer has taken part in numerous attacks against all types of enemy targets including such heavily defended areas as Hamburg, Mannheim, Essen and Cologne. He has also participated in several mine-laying operations. Pilot Officer McGavock’s quiet determination to complete his allotted tasks, regardless of adverse weather or enemy opposition, has proved him to be an outstanding captain of aircraft who inspires the utmost confidence in his crew.”

Flying Officer John Joseph McGavock beams with pride in this studio photograph with his new DFC ribbon. One of his commanders said he had “a physique and bearing which inspires confidence in his crew.” Photo via AirCrewRemembranceSociety.uk.co

Following his tour, McGavock was sent to RAF Topcliffe to train incoming crews. On the night of 21 December, McGavock and second pilot Flying Officer Thomas Major took off from RAF Wombleton in Lancaster DS615 shortly after 21:00 hours for some night circuits and landing practice. While on short final approach, the pilot (it is not known who was flying the Lancaster at this time as it had dual controls) aborted the landing and advanced the throttles too aggressively. The result was that the two port engines lost power when they choked. The aircraft swerved to the left, struck Halifax DT587 and impacted the ground heavily. The two pilots and flight engineer were killed outright, while the bomb aimer died two days later. The air gunner and wireless operator escaped without injury.

Of the young McGavock, one of his commanding officers said: “This officer has a physique and bearing which inspires confidence in his crew. He carried out his operations with determination and is considered to be one of the outstanding pilots of his squadron.”

Finch Lake

Finch Lake, dedicated to Squadron Leader George Herbert Finch, DFC, is located farther to the east than the others mentioned so far. Its namesake, George Finch, was the 21-year-old son of the Reverend Canon William Finch and his wife, of Birtle, Manitoba, a small farming community near the south Saskatchewan border. George was born in Melita, Manitoba in 1923, enlisting in the RCAF in the summer of 1941. He did his Elementary Flying Training at No. 8 EFTS in Boundary Bay (Vancouver), British Columbia and then went on to earn his RCAF wings on Avro Ansons at No. 7 SFTS in Fort McLeod, Alberta.

George Finch joined 13 Squadron, Royal Air Force in North Africa. It is difficult to find material about Finch’s time there, but I found one excerpt from the book Coastal Command by John Campbell: “13 Squadron was based at Protville II, North West of Tunis, operating Blenheim Vs, usually known as the Bisley. The squadron was under the command of North West Africa Coastal Air Force. On 12 September 1943, Fg. Off. G.H. Finch and crew gained a visual sighting of a surfaced submarine in position 3839N 00922E. This was the Topazio, an Italian Sirena class, commanded by Tenente de Vascello Pier Vittorio Casarini. An attack with machine guns and a stick of four depth charges was made. The boat disappeared and survivors were seen in the sea.”

A 13 Squadron Blenheim is readied for a sortie at Canrobert airfield in Algeria. Likely a posed promotional photograph. Photo: Imperial War Museum

This is the attack which precipitated his award of a Distinguished Flying Cross. The citation accompanying Finch’s DFC reads: “Since joining his present squadron, Flight Lieutenant Finch has completed operations from North Africa, Sicily and Italy. On one occasion whilst on anti-submarine patrol he sighted a U-boat which he immediately attacked and straddled with depth charges. On another occasion while taking part in a formation attack on a petrol dump in Italy his aircraft was damaged by heavy anti-aircraft fire. In spite of the loss of power occasioned by this, Flight Lieutenant Finch remained in his place in the formation until his engine ceased to function. He has always shown the greatest keenness for flying.”  

George Finch was killed on 17 March 1945. George is also memorialized on the Alamein Memorial in Egypt and on the Whitstable War Memorial, erected by the Royal British Legion Club.

Dobbyn Lake

Dobbyn Lake is 10 kilometres south of Finch Lake and is named for RCAF Flying Officer Joseph Lloyd Dobbyn, DFC, a pilot attached to 50 Squadron, Royal Air Force. The son of Joseph and Helen Dobbyn of Melita, Manitoba, Flying Officer Dobbyn was killed along with his entire crew of 50 Squadron Lancaster DV384 when they were attacked by night fighters on the night of 22–23 March 1944.

Dobbyn, a farm worker in Dand, Manitoba enlisted in the RCAF in late June of 1941. At 29 years old, he was older than most recruits. He did his Elementary Flying Training at No. 9 EFTS in St. Catharines, Ontario and his Service Flying Training at No. 11 SFTS in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. He was given his first commission as a Pilot Officer in August of 1943.

A month prior to his death, Dobbyn’s Lancaster was damaged while taxiing at RAF Skellingthorpe. At 7:00 hours (perhaps after a long operation) while taxiing to the dispersal his aircraft struck an obstruction and broke the starboard gear leg. No one was injured and the aircraft was repaired on site.

His Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded posthumously effective the day he took off on his last op. His award was listed in the London Gazette on 21 December 1945. 

The members of Dobbyn’s (centre) crew in a formal studio photograph. Photo via AirCrewRemembranceSociety.uk.co

On the night of his death, Dobbyn took off in Lancaster VN-V (DV384) at a minute before 7 PM, en route with the bomber stream of 816 Bomber Command aircraft to hit targets in the city of Frankfurt. They crossed the enemy-occupied coast of Holland. About two hours after takeoff, the stream was set on by Luftwaffe night fighters. The great website Air Crew Remembered has the text from the aircraft Loss Card for DV384. It reads, in part: “At approximately 21:00 hrs. the bomber stream was attacked by German night fighters near Grevenbrück. One of the bombers [presumably Dobbyn’s] was hit and immediately jettisoned a number of incendiary bombs (estimated at 80). Shortly after this the bomber crashed near the village of Obermelbecke, 3 km north of Grevenbrück. The aircraft must have had a considerable bomb load, as the explosion resulting from its impact with the ground was felt and heard at a distance of several kilometres and a very large crater was made in the earth where it struck.”

Killed with him that night were Sergeant Edward Cave, Flight Engineer, age 21, RAFVR; Flight Sergeant Norman Jennings, Navigator, age 22, RAFVR; Sergeant John Jackson, Bomb Aimer, age 22, RAFVR; Sergeant Greenwood Ridyard, Wireless Operator, age 22, RAF; Flight Sergeant David Duncombe, Air Gunner, age 30, RAAF; and Flight Sergeant Ronald Mason, Air Gunner, age 19, RAFVR.

All the members of the Dobbyn crew were buried at Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. His DFC was presented to his sister in November 1949. The citation accompanying the award reads: “This officer has flown on operations against such well defended German targets as Berlin, Hanover, Leipzig and Stuttgart. On three occasions his aircraft has been attacked by enemy fighters while making the bombing run but each time Flying Officer Dobbyn, undeterred, resolutely pressed home his attack. At all times he has displayed outstanding skill, courage and devotion to duty. Pilot Officer Dobbyn has now completed 22 operational sorties against such well defended German targets as Berlin (twelve times), Hanover, Leipzig and Stuttgart. On one occasion this officer was detailed for a small diversionary attack on Berlin when the main force attacked another target. On three occasions during his tour he has been attacked by enemy aircraft while on his bombing run, but not once did Pilot Officer Dobbyn deviate from the instructions given to him by his Bomb Aimer and relied on the accurate fire of his gunners to drive off the hostile aircraft. On each of these occasions he pressed home a vigorous attack. Throughout his tour he has shown a keenness and efficiency well above the average and his skill and courage have been proved repeatedly. For his tenacity of purpose, his devotion to duty and his enthusiasm for operations, he is recommended for the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.”

Runner Lake

Much farther south than the tight grouping of RCAF memorial lakes near Lynn Lake, Manitoba, Runner Lake is dedicated to the memory of Pilot Officer Joseph Moore Runner, DFM, the 24-year-old son of John and Mable Runner. It is not clear whether he was from Treherne or Morden, Manitoba as both small Manitoba communities are listed on the Town of Morden’s Second World War memorial list. He is, however, one of 3,050 Canadian airmen whose names are inscribed on the Runnymede Memorial.

Runner enlisted in the RCAF and followed the Wireless/Air Gunner route through to his wings ceremony. After initial training at No. 1 ITS in Toronto, he attended a 24-week course at No. 1 Wireless School in Montréal and then went to No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School at Jarvis, Ontario in the Niagara Peninsula where he studied techniques of bomb aiming and aerial machine gunnery. He graduated and received his Wireless/Air Gunner wings on 17 March 1941.

Runner was shipped to England where he was assigned to 115 Squadron RAF. 115 Squadron operated Vickers Wellingtons and made the RAF’s first mainland bombing raid of the war, hitting the Luftwaffe’s airfield in Stavanger, Norway.

I could find very little about Runner, his career or his final flight until I purchased the 115 Squadron Operation Record Book for the month of March 1942 from the Imperial War Museum. On the night of 8–9 March, 17 Vickers Wellingtons of 115 Squadron took off for an attack on the city of Essen, Germany. The aircraft took off in the dark between 19:10 and 19:56 hrs. They were to bomb from a height of 10,000–15,000 feet. Joe Runner was the rear gunner in Wellington TX3419, piloted by Pilot Officer Percy Runagall. Runner’s aircraft was the only one of the 17 that failed to return. Killed with him on this night was Pilot Officer Runagall, pilot; Sergeant Hickman, second pilot; Pilot Officer Hosea, navigator; Flight Sergeant Chamberlain, wireless operator and Sergeant Stevenson, front gunner.

His Distinguished Flying Medal was awarded posthumously (Gazetted 13 March 1942) and presented to his next of kin on 9 April 1944 and the citation read at the ceremony stated: “This airman has proved himself to be a cool and courageous air gunner when flying over well defended areas in difficult conditions. Apart from his duties as rear gunner, Sergeant Runner has always taken a keen interest in map reading and in obtaining intelligent [sic] information whilst over enemy territory. On several occasions it has been largely due to his excellent pin pointing that his crew have been able to identify and bomb their objective. The sorties in which he has participated have included many of the most important targets in Germany and occupied territory.”

Though a photo of Joseph Runner could not be found in the internet, I did find this image of his medals which are on display in the RAF Museum at Hendon… in the same place as those of Guy Gibson and other icons of Bomber Command. Photo: Paul Brennan

Watt Lake

Watt Lake is only two kilometres south of Dobbyn Lake and is named for Flying Officer Robert Huycke Watt, DFC, the 23-year-old son of Peter and Violet Watt of Winnipeg.

Watt enlisted in the RCAF in Winnipeg on 16 April 1941, did his Elementary Flying Training at nearby No. 14 EFTS Portage la Prairie, Manitoba and then went on to earn his RCAF wings at No. 11 SFTS at Yorkton, Saskatchewan. He flew with 415 Squadron RCAF during the war and is the only one on the Memorial Lakes list to have survived the war.

The citation accompanying his DFC reads: “Since January 1943, this officer has flown on most of the major operations undertaken by his squadron. He has often encountered very severe weather over the Dutch coast and has many times pressed home his mission in the face of heavy and light concentrated fire from enemy ships and in the presence of enemy night fighters. A skillful leader, he has been largely responsible for the fine efficiency and unerring operational ability of his detachment.”

On 19 January 1946, a Royal Canadian Air Force DC-3 Dakota with seven men aboard was reported missing on its flight from Comox, British Columbia to Greenwood, Nova Scotia. Search efforts for the Dakota, last seen in the vicinity of Cranbrook, British Columbia, were hampered by weather. Five days after the flight’s disappearance, forest rangers on snow shoes made their way to the crash site near North York Creek, guided by smoke from the still smoldering wreckage. The aircraft had struck terrain on Mount Ptolemy, Alberta and then had fallen into the valley below. There were no survivors. Flying Officer Robert Watt was one of the lost airmen. 

Today, the remains of the Dakota in which Robert Watt lost his life are still as they were when the site was first discovered by forest rangers. All of the bodies were removed by toboggan and Watt’s body was returned for burial in his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba. There is also a video on YouTube that pans the crash site. Photos: Chris and Connie, Off the Beaten Path

 

The author would like to thank the bloggers, historians and website managers of the world’s history archives and data repositories. In particular the great websites of the RCAF Association and the monumental, comprehensive and invaluable work of aviation historian Hugh Halliday in compiling RCAF awards and decorations (rcafassocation.ca) as well as the Air Crew Remembrance Society (aircrewremembrancesociety.uk.co) which were of great use in compiling information. 

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