Vimy-Ridge centennial flyby ‘close to home’ for 14 Wing pilot

News Article / April 24, 2017

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By Sara Keddy

A dozen small homes in the community of Vimy-Ridge, Québec, played a role in the April 9, 2017, 100th anniversary commemoration of Canada’s First World War battle at Vimy Ridge, in France. The flyby of a CP-140 Aurora aircraft over the community brought history, heritage and remembrance close to home, for both residents and the aircrew.

The Aurora was tasked by 1 Canadian Air Division to represent the Royal Canadian Air Force as the Thetford Area Archives hosted a commemorative lecture and plaque presentation. While the event was still in the planning stage, Normand Baker, a village councillor and the event’s eventual emcee, made the special flyby request. His son is Lieutenant-Colonel Bruno Baker, commanding officer of 404 Long Range Patrol and Training Squadron, based at 14 Wing Greenwood, Nova Scotia.

“This story," says Lieutenant-Colonel Baker, "is full of unexpected loops,” .

He grew up in the area and went to school there, and worked for several years as a local TV reporter. “I know the area,” he says, “but I didn’t realize the significance of the community of Vimy-Ridge until we started doing some history for this.”

Vimy-Ridge was developed by a British asbestos mine owner in the region as housing for mine workers. He had been a lieutenant-colonel in the British Army, and named the small community within the village of St-Joseph-de-Coleraine in honour of the significant battle.

Lieutenant-Colonel Baker’s grandfather was that mine owner’s driver and “right-hand man” back in the day, and the two families were close, even living across the street from one another. In a further unexpected connection, Lieutenant-Colonel Baker says, during his reporter days, one of the community newspaper writers, Beverly Penhale, was a member of the mine owner’s family. When Lieutenant-Colonel Baker arrived at 14 Wing Greenwood, he met 404 Squadron’s honorary colonel at the time, Lloyd Graham. Honorary Colonel’s Graham’s wife, Mary Lou, was a high school best friend of Penhale.

Lieutenant-Colonel Baker canvassed for a crew to take the Aurora to Vimy-Ridge, and had no trouble finding volunteers for the weekend tasking. “More than we needed,” he says, “and we made the most of the weekend, leaving Friday, landing at some higher density airports and resetting the aircraft for new flights. It turned into a dual purpose flight for us.”

On April 9, the crew had intended to take the Aurora over Vimy-Ridge on a couple of practice runs at the 500-foot (153-metre) flyby height.

“It turned out, they had expected about 40 people at their event and there were more than 200; they moved outside and there was a big crowd,” says Lieutenant-Colonel Baker. “The whole hometown was involved, and they got more than our single flyby. We had a picture-perfect day.”

The local Member of Parliament, Luc Berthold, mentioned to the crowd it was also a special moment for him because, 30 years ago, he and Lieutenant-Colonel Baker were friends and reporters in Thetford Mines, and how interesting it was to see their paths cross once more in a most unexpected way.

Lieutenant-Colonel Baker says his father, busy being the master of ceremonies for the event, was in contact with the aircrew during the flyby. The senior Baker thanked them, and told the crew “he had realized a life-long dream of working closely with one of his sons on a big project for the area.”

“The impact on the people of the area was pretty big, judging by the number of comments I see on social media,” Lieutenant-Colonel Baker says. “It meant a lot for the people of the region to see an Aurora up close and personal, and know it was flown by someone who grew up with them.”

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