When Flight Lieutenant Alfie Hall visited the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire, United Kingdom, in May 2010, he asked where he could find the monument to the Royal Canadian Air Force.
He was told there was no such monument at the Arboretum, which is the U.K.’s centre of remembrance. It contains more than 160 military and civilian memorials, including the Armed Forces Memorial, dedicated to those who died in the service of the U.K.
In fact, what he further discovered was worse; there was no such monument in all of the U.K.
And for someone like F/L Hall, who is from 609 West Riding Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force, a British squadron rich in war time history that welcomed a number of Canadian servicemen during the Second World War, the lack of such a monument was wrong.
“A total of 21 Canadians served with 609,” said F/L Hall. “When I was down at Staffordshire, I asked where the Canadian memorial was and they said there wasn’t one, which I thought was wrong. We developed a project team which came up with the design of a memorial and [began] fundraising. It’s drawn me into it because of my own squadron having such a great history.
“We’ve never lost sight of the fact the Canadians were volunteers.”
The project that F/L Hall spearheaded with such dedication became a highly successful Canadian and British fundraising and awareness campaign.
RAF Leeming and RAF Linton-On-Ouse, both located in North Yorkshire, were central to the success of the initiative. These two Royal Air Force bases were made part of No. 6 (Royal Canadian Air Force) Bomber Group during the Second World War; both RCAF and RAF personnel served in the group. (The Group – also known as ‘the Canadian Bomber Group’ – was formed in 1942 and controlled by the RAF as part of Bomber Command.)
Furthermore, LaFarge Canada, located near Trenton, Ont., donated the granite pieces, which were quarried near Sturgeon Falls, Ont. 426 Transport Training Squadron from 8 Wing Trenton, Ont., flew the granite to the U.K. onboard a CC-130 Hercules during a training flight.
Their efforts to honour Canada’s contributions to the war paid off.
On July 8, 2011, a little more than one year after F/L Hall visited the Arboretum, the monument honouring the RCAF was unveiled.
“It was a wonderful occasion for our two great nations to come together to celebrate our past, commend the cooperative work of today, and look forward to a bright future together,” said Major Jason Furlong, an RCAF officer posted to the U.K., who, along with F/L Hall was a driving force in the development of the monument.
A monolith, created out of red and white granite to represent the Canadian flag, is the centrepiece of the monument. Surrounding it are thirteen stone markers representing the provinces and territories. The monolith is topped by a maple leaf and stands upon a granite maple leaf with a matching granite ring surrounding it; from above this shows Canada’s modern Air Force roundel. The words of the iconic Air Force poem “High Flight”, written by RCAF pilot F/L John Gillespie Magee, Jr., are also inscribed on the monument.
“It represents many young men and women who volunteered to come from Canada to support their mother country in their hour of need,” said Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester during the ceremony. “They stayed to build up the most complete air force that was able to eventually bring air superiority that brought victory in the Second World War.
“Canada trained many pilots in the 40s and helped to make our air force the power that it became…And I hope that all those who pass it will read the message on it and acknowledge the contribution that Canadians have made to the Allies` effort at that time.”
Geoffrey Hood, a Second World War RAF veteran, also attended the ceremony.
Mr. Hood was a Flight Sergeant who served from 1944-1945. He was a flight engineer with 427 (Bomber) Squadron, part of No. 6 (RCAF) Bomber Group, and served alongside Canadians. He was a young man of 20 when he went to Chebnitz, Germany, for what would be his first raid over the German territory. Some of the pilots, including Canadians, who he flew with were just 19 years old.
“When you think of it, 19 years of age, piloting a four-engine aircraft, an eight-hour flight to Germany, it was really, really something actually,” said Mr. Hood. “I went with four different pilots and I survived the war so I must have done something right. I have to say, when I was with the Canadians, apart from being at war, it was a marvellous experience. They were really kind to me. It was fantastic.
“The ceremony was absolutely brilliant,” he continued. “It was a credit to Canada, actually, an absolute credit to Canada.”
Some who attended the unveiling described the ceremony’s flypasts as the most amazing they’d ever seen: four Tucano T MK 1s from RAF Linton-on-Ouse flew in formation over the memorial.
A lone Spitfire, from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, flew over the memorial, rolling from side to side, to mark the ceremony’s closing moments.
“And that’s the sound of freedom,” said Colonel Paul Keddy, senior RCAF officer posted to CDLS (London).