On Thanksgiving Monday, a gray, cloudy stint of weather gave way to sunshine. Robert dropped me off in Rowney Green and I joined a crowd of people assembling on the village green. Regimental band music was playing over a loudspeaker as the men and women of the Alvechurch Ex-Services Association, veterans of the Second World War and more recent wars, gathered with others to remember the Canadians lost in the plane crash. Although some were now frail and stooped with age--and some sat in wheelchairs, they proudly wore regimental badges on their blazers and their war medals shone bright in the autumn sun. The emblems told of a common bond of service and sacrifice. Quivering chins, voices choked with emotion and handkerchiefs clutched tightly in trembling hands, told of deep feelings for comrades lost.
In contrast, a group of fresh faced children, from Alvechurch C.E. Middle School, dressed in smart, navy blue school uniform, were there to lay a wreath, following the ceremonial planting of the maple tree, by Lieutenant Colonel Gary Walker of the Canadian High Commission.
As the crowd dispersed and walked towards Rowney Green Peace Hall, where pumpkin soup and rolls awaited them, to be followed by tea and "Canadian muffins," I chatted with Reg Hudson, a man with kindness written in the lines on his face. He told me that he was 16 in 1943, and working on the farm next door to Lower Park Farm, where the plane plummeted from the air. He remembers two of the men baling out of the plane, but being too close to the ground for their parachutes to open. He shook his head at the memory and said, with great emotion in his voice, "I never go past the farm without remembering."
And later he said, "We'd want those back where they came from, to know we care."
As I walked amongst the crowd I heard the same sentiments murmured over and over again by the veterans--special gratitude for the young men who had come from so far away to join the fight for freedom here. Their sacrifice will not be forgotten.
These were the five crew members of the Wellington bomber:
Flying Officer Hugh H. Barton of Windsor, Ontario, age 28
Sergeant Charles R. G. Long, Pilot (of California, U.S.A., who enlisted in the Royal Canadian Airforce before the U.S. joined the war)
Pilot Officer Gordon J. Gallagher, of Ottawa, Ontario, age 30
Pilot Officer Harold J. Magnes, of Lockwood, Saskatchewan, age 27
Sergeant Alton J. O'Neil, of Prescott, Ontario, age 28