Flight Lieutenant Colton “burns bright” in memory

News Article / October 30, 2017

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By Joanna Calder

Flight Lieutenant John Colton lives on in the hearts and minds of those who knew and loved him. And now his memory has been captured in stunning artwork by Mr. Jean Lacroix and shared with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Flight Lieutenant John Colton was a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force who flew Hawker Typhoon fighter-bombers with the Royal Air Force’s 137 Squadron during the Second World War. He enrolled at the tender age of 19 and by the end of the war he had carried out an incredible 104 operational sorties; on average, Typhoon pilots flew only 17 sorties before being killed, shot down or reported missing. During his service, he flew in a number of well-known and dangerous operations, including the Normandy Invasion, the Falaise Gap and Market Garden.

But John Colton made it safely home to Sherbrooke, Quebec, worked for Bell Canada for 40 years, taught flying for a few years, raised a family and passed away in Sherbrooke on May 14, 2013, at the age of 90.

On October 5, 2017, Mr. Lacroix and members of the Colton family gathered at RCAF Headquarters in Ottawa to present a limited edition giclée print of a pencil portrait of John Colton to the commander of the RCAF, Lieutenant-General Mike Hood. Three generations of Coltons were present: Flight Lieutenant Colton’s son John and daughter Nancy, as well as John Jr.’s daughter Stephanie and her three-month-old son Brian.

Major (retired) Francis Mercier, a former RCAF fighter pilot, explained that he’d met Mr. Lacroix at an air show in Trois Rivières, Quebec, several years ago. “A visitor showed up with his two little girls; it was Jean. He had a photo taken of his two daughters with me in a CF-18 Hornet cockpit.”

Major Mercier was instrumental in arranging for Flight Lieutenant Colton to speak about his wartime experiences to members of the RCAF Headquarters staff in 2012. (See “I could smell death at 1,000 feet” for an account of Flight Lieutenant Colton’s remarks.)

Fast forward a few years, and Mr. Lacroix takes up the story.

“Last summer, Francis came to visit me in Quebec. I had drawn a portrait of his family and also of my friend [who flew Corsairs during the Korean War]. He told me that he knew a wonderful man, Mr. Colton [Jr.], and that if I was interested, we could propose a project to him.

“Aviation has always been a subject of interest and passion to me [and] it was a pleasure to do the project. I took a picture of [Flight Lieutenant Colton] that was typical of the era and … the exact aircraft he piloted, the Typhoon.”

Mr. Lacroix also included two Focke Wulf 190s and a Panther (Panzer) tank in the montage. “I tried to be as historically accurate as I could . . . I wanted to portray both the dramatic side of the era and the joys of youth,” he said.

“Thank you very much for your generosity in presenting the Air Force with this; I guarantee we will cherish it,” said Lieutenant-General Hood. “Thank you for sharing this with us, and I know your Dad probably burns bright in your memories – but he burns bright in our memories as well. I think that’s a beautiful thing.”

“On behalf of the family, we would like to thank you for taking the time today to accept it,” Mr. Colton responded.

After the presentation at RCAF Headquarters, the Colton family, Mr. Lacroix and Major Mercier went to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa where the family thanked Major Mercier and Mr. Lacroix for their contributions to honouring the memory of their father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

“It was a real pleasure to pay homage to Mr. Colton and, by extension, to all those who contributed to our freedom,” added Mr. Lacroix in an email following the ceremony.

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