Around the World, Around the Corner

 

By Dave O'Malley

The immensity and complexity of Second World War seems beyond comprehension—a global and total war that reached every corner of the planet—from the remotest of Aleutian Islands to the estuary of the River Plate; from frozen Iceland to steamy Ceylon; from grey Murmansk to sun-baked Malta, from the broken streets of Stalingrad to the surrender of Singapore. The cataclysm involved hundreds of millions of people, vacuumed up the industrial might and natural resources of every country involved and some that weren't, brought about the brutal deaths of more than 70 million human beings and changed the geography of the planet.

The known events and personal experiences of all involved seem more myriad than the stars in the known galaxies, a crawling blanket of deprivation, loneliness, mayhem, courage, evil, and politics. The best that one can do to understand any of it is to pull at one tiny thread, one fragile and incomplete filament and follow its course as it weaves itself into the infinitely complex tapestry of the times.

For many years, we at Vintage Wings of Canada have been doing just that—telling the stories of Canadian fliers of the Second World War—one at a time—through written stories and flying aircraft. I personally have written several hundred of these stories for our website and have followed these threads as far as I could. Most disappear into the historical noise of the war and never emerge. Some do return to the edges of this tapestry of horrors, but at a place far from where they entered. Every participant was changed by the war, never the same again, for better or for worse. 

When you've read enough Operations Record Books (ORBs), scoured enough combat reports, pondered enough photographs and listened to enough veterans, strange things begin to happen. Stories begin to intersect, names begin to become familiar, events that seemed to happen at the ends of the world had tragic effect on people who lived in your neighbourhood.  

I recently researched and wrote a piece on my neighbourhood here in Ottawa, Canada and its sacrifices in the Second World War. In my small and middle class neighbourhood, thousands of miles from the nearest battle of the war, I found the names of 472 servicemen who were killed or died of disease during the war and they represented every single major battle Canadians were involved in — The Battle of the Atlantic, the Battle of France, the Battle of Britain, Battle of Hong Kong, of Ortona, of Monte Cassino, of El Alamein, of Anzio, of the Scheldt Estuary, the Dieppe Raid, Dam Busters Raid, D-Day, Operation Market Garden, Battle for Caen, Battle of the Falaise Pocket, the Siege of Malta, the North African Campaign, the Conquest of Sicily, the Aleutian Campaign, Bomber Command, Fighter Command, Coastal Command, Transport Command, the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, Burma, Singapore and more. Seen through the lens of my neighbourhood, I could begin to see the over and underlap of these tapestry threads, to recognize certain patterns, and observe the rise and fall of heartache over the 5 years of the war.

This week, yet another story intersected with my neighbourhood. Let me provide some background.

The Silver Spitfire

This week, Vintage Wings of Canada will play host to the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the great Red Arrows who will be performing at the Gatineau-Ottawa Executive Airport as part of their two-month long, 21-stop North American Tour. As great as the Red Arrows are, they will have to share the spotlight with the breathtakingly beautiful Silver Spitfire and its 27-country round-the-world expedition. The Silver Spitfire website explains their mission:

In 2019 two intrepid aviators will attempt to fly a Silver Spitfire around the world, taking in some of the most famous landmarks on the planet from the Grand Canyon in the West to the snow-capped peak of Mount Fuji in the East.

The Spitfire is a UK treasure and an emblem of freedom across the globe. The Silver Spitfire expedition will hopefully promote the ‘Best of British’ worldwide showcasing the nation’s heritage in engineering excellence, and an aircraft that changed the course of history. The Spitfire embodies not only a pinnacle in aerospace engineering and design but commemorates a generation of intrepid aviators prepared to stand up to oppression and make the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of freedom.

The expedition will reunite the Spitfire with the many countries that owe their freedom, at least in part, to this iconic aircraft. The unmistakable sight and sound of this aircraft once again gracing the skies aims to inspire future generations more than eighty years after R.J. Mitchell’s timeless design first graced the skies.

In the great tradition of exploration, we seek to challenge ourselves by setting out to complete a trip that has never been attempted. By pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in this iconic single-engined aircraft we hope to climb “a pilot’s Everest”.

The beautiful Silver Spitfire, sponsored by the luxury watch brand IWC. Photo by the John Dibbs, one of the world's top aviation photographers. Photo: John Dibbs

Another beautiful shot by John Dibbs. The Spitfire was stripped of all its paint in order to save the 300 lbs of paint it would normally carry—an idea that, combined with additional fuel tanks in the leading edge D-boxes, extended the range of the aircraft to 900 miles.  Photo: John Dibbs

The sponsor, IWC Schaffhausen was a natural connection since they have been using a Silver Spitfire in their marketing campaigns for some years—witness this shot of a 15-foot wingspan Spitfire model at the IWC Schaffhausen display at the Zurich, Switzerland airport in 2016.  Photo: Dave O'Malley

A typically fine photograph by the world-renowned John Dibbs reveals her British registration G-IRTY.   Photo: John Dibbs

It was brought to my attention by my colleague Stephan King that part of the Silver Spitfire's combat history involved a two-week period in late November to early December of 1944 when she flew with 401 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force under the identity of her RAF serial number—MJ271. Known as “The Rams” for the Rocky Mountain sheep's head on its squadron badge, 401 (also known as the City of Westmount Squadron) has been a continuously active fighter squadron since its formation in 1937 as 1 Squadron (the 400-series squadron numbers came into use in March of 1941). This unit is one of the most historic of RCAF squadrons and its battle honours include the Battle of Britain, Fortress Europe, Dieppe, Normandy, Arnhem, The Rhine and much more. During the short period in 1944 when MJ271 joined 401, the squadron was heavily involved in dive-bombing and ground attacks throughout occupied Netherlands and Germany. 

When she arrived at 401 in late November of 1944, she was a bit of a beater, having been delivered to the RAF more than a year before. Since October of 1943, she had flown operationally with 118 Squadron RAF on bomber escort duties followed by more escort sorties and dive bombing with 132 Squadron. She was seriously damaged in a wheels-up landing at RAF Ford in early May 1944.  She arrived on squadron with 401 on November 23, 1944 after undergoing heavy repair and maintenance. MJ271 would go on to fly on 10 combat sorties with the squadron, flown by four different 401 pilots. The pilot who flew her the most (six times, including the first and the last) was Flight Lieutenant John Carson Lee who—and here's the FIRST intersection—grew up in my Ottawa neighbourhood known as the Glebe, at 195 Holmwood Avenue, just three blocks from my house!  While he survived the war, he would die in the crash of a military aircraft... but I am getting ahead of myself.

The only known photo of Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX MJ271. It is unknown when this photo was taken, but since there are no squadron markings and it looks freshly painted, it might be during a post-manufacture or post-maintenance test flight. This could have been taken either following its construction and delivery to 33 Maintenance Unit at RAF Lyneham where it was fitted with combat equipment and readied for frontline service or perhaps after it emerged from the repair hangars following its wheels-up landing at RAF Ford while flying with 132 Squadron. Sadly, the 132 Squadron ORBs were not as detailed as those of 401. The squadron adjutant responsible for keeping the ORBs and records of events did not record any aircraft serials and in the events summary made no mention of the wheels-up landing making it difficult to determine who flew MJ271 the day it was so seriously damaged. It is curious to see the pilot wearing his officer's cap rather than a helmet. This leads me to believe that this photo was taken during the delivery flight from the Supermarine factory at Castle Bromwich to 33 Maintenance Unit for installation of radios and guns. There would be no need for a helmet with radio headphones as there was no radio. The hat badge seems larger and brighter than a typical RAF pilot would have, and matches more that worn by most Air Transport Auxiliary pilots.

401 Squadron Service

The Silver Spitfire (then MJ271) first appears in the 401 ORB on November 28, 1944 at forward operating base known as B-80 near the city of Volkel in the Netherlands. Volkel, a former Luftwaffe fighter base lay just 20 kilometers from the German border, and had been heavily bombed by the Allies before the arrival of the2nd Tactical Air Force’s (2TAF) 126 Wing, comprised of 401, 411 and 412 Squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force. From Volkel, the entire wing was engaged in dive-bombing operations against German transport and military targets. My friend, the late Bill McRae, was a Spitfire pilot with 401 Squadron during D-Day and the push through France and Belgium. He was back in Ottawa and preparing for another duty in the north of Canada by the time the wing had made it as far as B-80, but in a story published on this website, he explained the difficulties the wing had in operating one of the world’s finest air superiority fighter aircraft as a dive bomber.

The first 401 Squadron pilot to fly her was Flight Lieutenant John Carson Lee and he was “wheels in the wells” at 0840 that morning with five other “Rams”. The weather was clear all morning, but worsened by afternoon. They were briefed to bomb a “flyover” near Dusseldorf, Germany. A flyover is a junction of multiple rail lines in which one or more cross the others via an elevated track—obviously a very important target. However, they found an even “more important” junction south of the briefed target and elected to attack it instead and “scored a very probable cut” by which I believe they meant that the railway line was cut. Lee was back on the ground by 0930 and the last of his group landing 15 minutes later.

There are no known photos of MJ271 in service with 401 Squadron, but she would have been painted like this Spitfire — with the squadron's “YO” code. The 401 Squadron ORBs record the RAF serials (MJ271) and pilot's name for each sortie, which was extremely helpful in tracing the Canadian combat record of the Silver Spitfire. Unfortunately, there is no record of which aircraft code she was painted with (“Y” in the case of the above Spitfire)

The following day, the weather was “dull” and the Squadron did not get going until after 1100 hrs due to ground fog when six “Rams” launched the first of the day’s 32 dive-bombing sorties. Flight Lieutenant Harry Furniss of Montreal, Québec was in MJ271’s cockpit that morning and was airborne by 1150, bound for a railway junction northeast of the city of Coesfeld in the German state of North Rhine/Westphalia. Overhead the target, the Spitfires could not bomb as the railway junction was obscured by low cloud. Instead, Furniss and the other pilots of his flight of six Spitfires dropped their bombs in a rail line west of Coesfeld and scored two visible cuts in the line. Furniss and his mates were back on the ground at Volkel by 1300 hrs.

One of the four 401 Squadron pilots who got to fly MJ271, the first was Flight Lieutenant Harry Furniss of Montreal, seen here in civilian flight training before the war.  Photo via Comox Air Force Museum

An hour and a half later, MJ271 had been refuelled and rearmed with two more 500 lb bombs. This time, John Lee was back in her cockpit and in the air with five others at 1435 vectored to a “priority flyover” south of Coesfeld. All six dropped bombs on the target area, but no claims were made.

The following day, 30 November, John Carson Lee had MJ271 again. The weather closed in and the first six 412 Squadron Rams including Lee did not get airborne until 1120. It was the only dive-bombing operation of the day and they were headed back to Coesfeld—a rail junction 3 miles northeast of town.  The target was again obscured by cloud, so the flight headed to the city of Wesel, an important strategic depot for Germany and a frequent target. Because the city was protected by 75 barrage balloons moored at 500 feet and obscured with cloud, results of their bombing could not be seen. The Spits were back on the ground safely at 1205 hrs.

A newspaper clipping from the Ottawa Journal on April 17, 1941 announces the graduation of two Ottawa boys from Service Flying Training.  John Carson Lee, who would go on to fly MJ271 on five combat sorties, grew up just three blocks from my home in the Glebe and survived the war. Sadly, William Finlay did not. He would not even make it to the end of the year as he was killed just five months later. He was “lost on operations at sea” so it's possible he was with Coastal Command. Image via Newspapers.com

Due to continuing bad weather and icing problems, 401 Squadron stood down and MJ271 waited until 4 December before flying again—again with John Lee at the controls. It was dive-bombing again for Lee and the Rams and they were airborne at 1115 hrs heading for an attack on a “priority” rail line between the cities of Wesel and Venlo. Bombs were dropped on the target, but no claims were made by the returning pilots. They recovered at Volkel at 1230 hrs that day.

A 126 Wing Spitfire IX from 412 Squadron taxies at B-88, near Volkel, Netherlands, in October of 1944 on a dive-bombing sortie over German rail yards with two 500 lb bombs slung underwing. This is how MJ271 was armed on all of her 10 combat sorties with 401 Squadron. Without dive brakes, the Spitfire was not a great dive-bomber and the wings could easily be overstressed. Photo: RCAF

On December 6, the wing moved 10 kilometers northwest to a newly completed forward airfield known as B-88, near the town of Heesch, Netherlands. It seems the squadron was grateful to arrive here after weeks living in the bombed-out ruins of Volkel’s former Luftwaffe base. The summary of events in the ORB for 6 December makes it clear as to how they felt: “Aircraft took off during the afternoon and landed at the new Strip without mishap. Conditions were better than many expected—a real roof and a proper floor underfoot perked everyone up considerably…”

MJ271 was not in the air again until 8 December, the first day of operation flying from Heesch, this time with Warrant Officer M. Thomas, a pilot who had a V-1 rocket kill and a jet kill to his credit (Arado 234), taking off from the steel Marston Mat runway at 1120 in the third section of squadron Spits to sortie. They attacked and cut a rail line northwest of the town of Hengelo in the east of the Netherlands still occupied by German troops. Hengelo, a major rail junction, had suffered much in the past few months. Two months previously, the historic centre of the city was accidentally bombed and destroyed by Allied aircraft with several hundred people killed. Thomas was back safely at Heesch an hour and five minutes after taking off. It would be a busy day for the Silver Spitfire.

Later that afternoon, John Lee was back in MJ271 and taking off at 1325 in clearing weather for a dive-bombing attack on a rail marshalling yard in the Westphalian town of Rheine which was a transportation hub with rail lines converging and the Dortmund-Ems Canal running though the city. Two clear cuts were made in rail lines and one locomotive was reported damaged. During their attack Lee and his section were attacked by three Messerschmitt 262 jet fighters. They made one bounce on the Spitfires and “showed no more fight and soon disappeared into the cloud.”

Lee and the rest were home by 1440 hrs. An hour later, MJ271 was airborne for the third time that day, with Warrant Officer Thomas back in the saddle. They made a dive-bombing attack on an unidentified rail line through clouds with no results observed. Thomas and MJ271 were home by 1640 when operations ceased for the day. (Later in the campaign, Thomas would be shot down, bailing out, evading capture and returning to his unit)

The next day, the squadron stood down due to inclement winter weather. Pilots of 401 found stuff to do. Two made short post-maintenance aircraft tests; one group “invaded the little town of Oss for baths”; another went to the larger Dutch city of s’Hertogenbosch to purchase furniture for their dispersal while another began painting the pilots’ room in the Dispersal Hut.

On 10 December, the squadron was late getting off due to weather, but Warrant Officer D. W. Davis was airborne in MJ271 by 1410 in the second section of 401 Spitfires to sortie that day. Davis’ target was a rail line near Heneglo and after bombing and cutting the line, the 401 Spitfires were bounced by two “gaggles of Huns” — four Messerschmitt Me. 109s (Allied pilots usually called them Me-109s rather than the correct BF.109s) and then later eight Focke Wulf FW. 190s. All returned safely by 1505 hrs.

The weather curtailed 401 Squadron sorties on 12 December with only six Spits getting airborne. The same was in store on the following day, only six Spitfires getting aloft that day and John Carson Lee was among them in MJ271. They lifted off the Marston Mats at 0930 hrs on a “dive-bombing show” but cloud obscured much of the land below. They ended up dropping them through cloud “somewhere in the area” of Coesfeld/Münster. They were home 50 minutes after launching, but the aborted operation was to be MJ271’s final sortie with 401 Squadron. It is not known what happened during Lee’s dive-bombing run, but the aircraft was deemed “over-stressed” and sent to an RCAF salvage and repair depot. Perhaps it was to cumulative stresses of pulling out from a dive during the ten sorties with 401 Squadron or maybe the result of one last aggressive pull by John Lee, but MJ271 would not return to 401 Squadron.

John Carson “Jake” Lee (J.5228)

After a brief search of the internet, here's what I can tell you about the very interesting life of John Carson Lee.

He was born June 25, 1923 in the small town of Shelburne, Ontario, 40 kilometers south of Collingwood in 1923, the son of Harold Logan Lee and Florence Jessie Carson. His father worked for a bank in Shelburne. He had two sisters Vivian and Frances (his twin) and an older brother named Harold. After Harold Lee Sr.'s time in Shelburne, he moved his family to Winchester, Ontario (60 miles south of Ottawa) where he became manager of the local branch of the Royal Bank of Canada. Here, in 1931 in his basement, he would shoot himself through the heart with a 32-calibre revolver over serious personal financial problems. His wife Jessie discovered the body. He left three letters of explanation—one to his wife, one to the coroner and one to the undertaker.  

Following this horrible family situation, Jessie took the family back to Quebec City where her and Harold's family were from. Later the family would move again —this time to Ottawa, taking up residence at 195 Holmwood Avenue in Ottawa's middle-class Glebe neighbourhood. Young John Lee attended Hopewell Avenue Public School and Glebe Collegiate Institute where he was an outstanding athlete. Following high school, he was briefly employed as a “ledger keeper” at the Toronto Dominion Bank in Ottawa South, a neighbourhood just to the south of the Glebe. Impatient to answer the call, joined the RCAF at Ottawa in August, 1940 on his 18th birthday. He traveled by train to Toronto to begin his training at No. 1 Manning Depot. After his Initial Training, he completed his ab initio training on Fleet Finches at No. 11 Elementary Flying Training School at Cap-de-la-Madeleine near Trois-Rivières, Quebec. He earned his pilot's wings on North American Harvards at No. 9 Service Flying Training School in Summerside Prince Edward Island, part of that school's first graduating class. His wings were pinned on him by Colonel The Honourable James Layton Ralston, the Minister of Defence who called Lee's class “No. 9's first installment of bad news for Hitler.” Ralston also added: “The fact that you are here, that you have won these wings, is a guarantee that you will bring honor [sic] to yourselves and honor to the country you come from.”

Following his graduation from No. 9 SFTS in April of 1941, he was commissioned a Pilot Officer and selected to become a flying instructor, likely a disappointment for a keen young pilot inspired by the exploits of Canadian pilots in the Battle of Britain. He was sent to No.1 Flying Instructor School at Trenton, Ontario, located north of Lake Ontario on the Bay of Quinte, at the midpoint between Toronto and Ottawa. After qualifying as a flying instructor, he was next sent to instruct student pilots not a whole lot less experienced than himself—at No. 2 Service Flying Training School at RCAF Station Uplands in Ottawa, one of the largest single engine training schools in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Although he likely was hoping for a transfer to a combat role, he was just a few miles from his home and could visit Jessie, high school chums and sweethearts anytime he wanted. 

So... here's the SECOND and even stranger intersection. My former father-in-law, Wing Commander Frederick C. “Fred” Jones, followed a similar arc in the RCAF—instructor then Spitfire pilot. During Fred's training at RCAF Station Uplands, one of his instrument flight instructors in 1941 was was none other than Pilot Officer John Carson Lee! According to Jones' logbook. his totals for the months of January, April, and July 1942 were signed off by J. C. Lee P/O, Commanding “A” Flight No. 1 Squadron.  

After attending Flight Instructor School at Trenton, John Carson Lee became a flying instructor at No. 2 SFTS Uplands. There in his first summer instructing, he taught my former father-in-law, Wing Commander Frederick C. “Fred” Jones (above) how to fly Harvards. Photo: Jones Family

It is not clear how long he was at Uplands as I have no access to his logbooks, but he eventually made his way to 401 Squadron on 2 July, 1944 where he first appears in the squadron ORB when he is posted in from No. 83 Group Support Unit (GSU) at RAF Bognor. 83 GSU was a holding unit for aircraft and pilots for operational squadrons in 2nd Tactical Air Force. They maintained a large number of aircraft of all types used by the squadrons in each group, prepared ready for issue to the squadrons to replace losses. It is possible that Lee did his conversion here as well.

Lee, whom his squadron mates called “Jake”, was in the thick of it just a couple of days after his arrival. His first operational sortie was escorting Typhoons on a mission to bomb a rail yard. Over the next month he flew regularly with his new squadron mates and several times with the late Flight Lieutenant Bill McRae, a dear friend of Vintage Wings of Canada and myself. During his time with 401 Squadron, Lee was tasked with taking care of the squadron dog Spitfire, which Lee called “Spittie”. Bill would leave the squadron on August 12, 1944, but Lee will remain well into 1945. By the time he was demobilized, is final tally was two enemy aircraft shot down and one probable. His last aerial victory was on New Year's Day, 1945. His after action report states:

I was flying Yellow 1 on a sweep of the MUNSTER/RHEINE area. Just EAST of MUNSTER Red 1 ordered my section down on two engines [locomotives-Ed.] coming out RHEINE. As I dived to attack, I saw an Me. 262 right below me and gave chase. The jet job led our section into about a dozen Me. 109's and F.W. 190's [sic] doing a circuit of the drome. I attacked one of the 109's and fired several bursts from 600 - 300 yds. varying deflection from 60º to 10º — I saw strikes on the cockpit and wings and the aircraft rolled over and went straight in.

I claim 1 Me. 109 DESTROYED

SECOND COMBAT

I then attacked at about 5,000 ft another Me.109 and fired the rest of my ammunition from 700-400 yds with deflection 30º to 10º and saw strikes all along the port side of the fuselage. He flipped to port and then dived away to the starboard in a fairly steep spiral pouring black smoke quite badly. I last saw him still pouring lots of smoke at 2,000 ft.”

I claim 1 Me. 109 PROBABLY DESTROYED

It was clear from the pages of the 401 Squadron ORBs that Lee was a now a highly experienced combat pilot with scores of combat sorties under his belt. On April 11, 1945 his name appears in the Squadron ORB for the last time—an armed recce sortie. Another pilot (P/O Gillis) was having mechanical trouble and Lee was ordered to escort him back to Heesch. His name never appears in the 401 ORB again.. not even in the POSTINGS OUT section of the summary section of the ORB for the month of April.

In August of 1945, he was 23 years old, still in uniform and engaged to Elizabeth Lucille Irving of Vancouver. A couple of weeks later, they were married in Vancouver on September 4, 1945 with his mother Jessie making the journey by train from Ottawa to attend. The couple honeymooned at Lake Louise, then took up residence in Vancouver. 

Engagement notice in the Ottawa Citizen, August 29, 1945

With the records available to me, it was not possible to piece together the life of Jake Lee after his marriage at the end of the war. At some point, he moved his family (they had a son named David) to Miami to take a job flying converted Boeing B-17s for an air cargo company called Air Carrier Leasing Corp. On December 13, 1962 he was co-pilot of a cargo-converted Flying Fortress (registered N131P) working its way to Panama City, Panama from San Juan, Puerto Rico where they had delivered a load of beef. It appears that Lee, who was now forty years old and his aircraft commander William F. Patterson (30) were well south of the direct route from San Juan to Panama City when they crashed in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains of Colombia, about 40 miles southeast of the northern coastal city of Santa Marta. They impacted the snow-covered mountainside at 11,500 feet. 

A photo of Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress N131P (USAAF serial 44-83439) during its short time (October 1959 to late 1962) with Paramount Aquariums Inc of Vero Beach, Florida.  Paramount acquired the Fortress and had it converted in Tucson, Arizona to carry tropical fish. It carries what looks to be a graphic of a Siamese Fighting fish on its tail and the title PARAMOUNT AQUARIUMS aft of the cockpit. The aircraft was white over a pale blue underside and the tail gunner's position was fared over.  The white over light blue with a red cheatline was a paint scheme used at one time in the civilian aerial spray/fire-fighting role. This photo was shot at Oakland, California. Photo: via Milo Peltzer Collection

Both the FBO and the CIA had been searching for the Fortress since December, when the crash site was reportedly discovered by a local native on March 19, 1963. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune on March 25, 1963, a recovery team was able to identify the bodies of both Patterson and Lee based on documents found in the wreckage — but they also found a third unidentified body. Patterson was the son of a prominent Chicago lawyer and the article went on to quote Patterson's father as saying “The plane might have been hijacked. There were supposed to have been only two men, my son and his co-pilot in the plane when it took off for Panama.” While the grieving father hinted at hijacking, there is no proof of such a thing ever happening. I cannot find record of the identity of the third man or any proof that the story of the discovered documents and bodies in the Tribune article is 100% factual. Most sources indicate there were only two fatalities. For certain, there is still controversy as to when the wreck was discovered and by whom.

High in the arid alpine heights of Colombia's Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, near the shores of tiny Lake Uldumindia lie the last remains of John Carson Lee. The remote and sacred spot connects with Holmwood Avenue in the Glebe and to the Silver Spitfire's journey to 27 countries around the world. Photo: https://www.gobernacionkogui.org/

Elizabeth Lee and their son David must have held out hope all that time that Jake would be found alive. Sadly, due to the extreme difficulty getting to the wreck site, the crash site would be his grave site for ever. In the great aviation forum Warbird Information Exchange, a post from a man named Wyman Culbreth, who had visited the site in summer of 2014 stated “There are stories from the Kogui Indians as well but not firsthand, that two Indians spotted the wreckage from a trail above on route to another village. after some time it was reported to police, and religious leaders then came up from the village of Don Diego and held ceremonies for 8 days. Lake Uldumindia is one of two of the most important lakes in their lands, and they now consider the wreckage part of the spirit of the lake.” 

Jessie died in 1969 after a long illness and a life marred by tragedy. John Carson Lee's last resting place is so remote that only a few visitors have ever been there—mostly native Kogui people who have embraced Lee's memory as their own. Certainly, given its extremely remote location, none of his family has ever made the difficult trek to pay their respects. But Lake Uldimindia is connected in story to 195 Holmwood Avenue in Ottawa and to all 27 countries that the Silver Spitfire will visit in the coming months. Though IWC Schaffhausen's logo is emblazoned on the outside, John Carson Lee's spirit runs through MJ271 along with those of fellow Canadians Furniss, Davis and Thomas of 401 Squadron as well as those pilots of 132 and 118 Squadrons and the Royal Netherlands Air Force who brought her safely home time after time while she was an operational Spitfire. No doubt the pilots of the Silver Spitfire, Matt Jones and Steve Brooks, will do the same.

Chercher
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