The last time I saw Charley Fox, he was laughing and talking and laughing some more with his friends - all fighter pilots from the Second World War - men from the Greatest Generation. Men like Barry Needham, Bill McRae and Alan Griffin. They kibitzed like young men, shouting across the hangar floor - surrounded by the aircraft that had changed them from boys to men so long ago. The back-slapping had gone long ago too, supplanted by a warm and lingering hand on the shoulder of their old friends. A gesture that seemed to say, "Hang in there old friend, there's still things to do - not long to go, but still things to do".
Charley had things to do. Charley had many things to do. That day in mid September, he was setting up a display of images and words that told the story of Canadian aviators in the Second World War. He busied himself in the shade of the hangar, getting ready to talk to young people and old friends alike. He was a champion of veterans, past and future, of underdogs, of history and above all of the Royal Canadian Air Force. He worked tirelessly. He was a teacher - during the war and right up until this weekend.
I had introduced myself only once to Charley, but watched him from a distance all the time as I do with all our veterans who have supported Vintage Wings. I couldn’t stop my eyes from glancing at his Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar. Such things are earned and never given frivolously. Charley was a legend. A real honest-to-goodness living legend. He was the quintessential Spitfire pilot from Canada. To know that the man who shot down enemy fighters, who dove from the sky over France like a shrieking wraith to attack and wound Erwin Rommel, The Desert Fox, riding in a staff car, subsequently lived the rest of his life in the employ of Tender Tootsies shoes, is to understand the essence of the Canadian fighter pilot of the Second World War. They were not bred from warrior stock like the men they faced. They were peace-loving Canadians who stood up to the task of defeating an evil empire, and once done with it, returned to their beloved homes and resumed a life of strength and love with their families. They were above all Canadian men.
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Der Wustenfuchs (Desert Fox), was given the task of defending the coast of France against Allied invasion and ultimately to throw them back into the sea when they invaded. His presence on the Normandy front was important to the morale of German fighting men. Then on July 17th 1944, the Desert Fox ran into the Flying Fox .
This painting titled "Rommel Under Attack" by Lance Russwurm depicts Charley Fox beginning his straffing run on Erwin Rommel's staff car in France. It is available as a limited edition signed print (co-signed by Charley Fox) at http://www.spitcrazy.com/russwurmart.htm.
We feel the need at Vintage Wings of Canada to move quickly to honour our veterans and to capture their stories for we know that many will not be around too much longer. But Charley was taken before his time was up, before he was ready. He still had things to do. In terms of the veterans of the Second World War, Charley was young. Forever young.
Vintage Wings of Canada mourns the loss of Charley - the Flying Fox, Canadian icon and friend of many. Our condolences go out to his family and his vast family of friends, especially the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association.
Charley... you are missed already.
Charley always took a great picture, but none more poignant or more handsome than this superb portrait by Della Rollins taken just a few weeks ago during the Battle of Britain memorial flypast at the Canada Aviation Museum. Charley watches as Spitfires, Hurricanes and a Lancaster thunder overhead. As a Spitfire pilot, Charley had the good fortune to hear and feel the spirit of a live Spitfire right to the end. Photo Della Rollins
Suddenly as the result of an accident on Saturday, October 18, 2008. Charles "Charley" Fox DFC, CD of London, Ontario. Honorary Colonel of 412 Squadron of the Canadian Air Force, in his 89th year. Beloved husband of the late Helen (Doughty) (1995) and dear father of Jim (Cheryl) of Kitchener, Sue (Doug) of Thamesford and Adrienne (Bruce) of Budd Lake, NJ. Dear grandfather of Kristi, Todd, Steven, Ryan, Amy, Katie, Travis, Jeff and Jen their spouses and step-grandfather of Dominique, Frank and Veronica. Also loved by 6 great grandchildren. Sadly missed by 3 sisters-in-law Mary, Barb and Christine, many nieces, nephews, and some very special ladies who were additional daughters to Dad. Predeceased by 2 brothers Ted and George.
Charley served his country as a decorated Spitfire Pilot during WWII. He ended his tour of duty in January 1945 but became active in the London-based 420 Reserve Squadron after the war. On April 30th, 2004 he was named Honorary Colonel of 412 Squadron passionately devoting his time and energy to honour the veterans, past and present. Throughout his working career, Charley contributed 30 years to the success of Tender Tootsies and Lyons of London. He will be missed by family, friends and everyone whose lives he touched.
Visitation will be at the Harland B. Betzner Funeral Home, 177 Dundas Street, Thamesford, ON (519-285-2427) on Wednesday from 7 - 9 pm and on Thursday from 2 - 4 pm and 7 - 9 pm. Funeral service will be held at East London Anglican Ministries, 2060 Dundas Street, London on Friday, October 24, 2008 at 11:00 am. Rev June Hough officiating. Internment will be at Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens. As an expression of sympathy memorial donations may be given to the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association, Stevenson Children's Camp, or the Children's Hospital Foundation of Western Ontario.