News that Canadians who served in Bomber Command during WWII have received a “Bomber Command” bar to add to medals they have already received is good, I suppose. But, due to extensive delays caused by bleeding-heart pacifist-types who objected to the number of civilians killed in the campaign to destroy Germany’s industrial war production, it is being awarded far too late for many, including my friend Ray Stinson, who died some twenty years ago.
He worked with the Metropolitan Toronto Property Dept., and was in charge of renting out the hundreds of houses that had been expropriated for the several planned expressways that were subsequently scrapped due to political considerations.
I was with the Treasury Dept., and worked closely with him to ensure that property taxes were paid to the City of Toronto on those houses which were producing revenue, but not on those which were vacant and thus exempt. He, myself, and the clerk responsible for rent collections, worked together quite closely although we were in different departments.
Despite his relatively senior position, Ray was still a member of CUPE Local 79 when I first met him, and served for many years on the Audit Committee, another factor which provided common ground.
Ray was from Orangeville, Ontario, and was the rear-gunner in a Lancaster bomber shot down over Europe during the war. He parachuted successfully from the stricken plane, and spent some time “on the run” before being caught. He sometimes spoke of German soldiers thrusting bayonets into a huge pile of straw under which he was hiding.
He often urged me to join the Royal Canadian Legion, but I was reluctant to do so as I had it in mind that the Legion was for “veterans” who, unlike myself, had been in action or on active service during the war and who, like both of my parents, could quite conceivably have been killed as the result of enemy action.
The closest I ever got to that was a few very tense days during the Cuban Missile Crisis while serving as a “boy soldier” at Bovington Camp in Dorset, hardly the same thing.
Ray flew from an RAF aerodrome in Yorkshire, perhaps the one that, just a dozen or so years after the war ended, my father would take us to in order to teach my mother how to drive.
Although the surfaces were cracked, with grass and weeds growing through the surface in parts, the runways were absolutely huge; it would have been impossible for my mother to run into anything, or to have any kind of accident, with so much space to practice in!
I’m sure we were trespassing, but nobody ever showed up to tell us to leave.
The massive runways, their clusters of buildings, and the control tower, just sat there, silent memorials to those who, like Ray Stinson, once flew from them in the defence of our now rapidly-vanishing freedoms.