Flight Lieutenant (Ret’d) Barry Needham was a young man when he flew four sorties over the beaches of Normandy, France, on D-Day during the Second World War.
As a member of 412 Transport Squadron, he flew with some of the most celebrated wartime aviators in history, including Charley Fox (known for strafing the staff car of Field Marshall Erin Rommel from his Spitfire) and American John Gillespie Magee, author of the celebrated poem “High Flight”.
Although F/L Needham has attended several squadron functions over the past few years, it was the most recent event in his hometown of Wynyard, Sask. that has the 90-year-old veteran more than a little choked up.
Wynyard recently named its unmanned airfield the W. B. Needham Field in a ceremony that included tributes from the Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Lieutenant-General André Deschamps, the commanding officer of 412 (T) Sqn, Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Philippouci, and Major Chris Strawson, chief multi-engine instructor at 3 Canadian Forces Flying Training School, Portage-La-Prairie, Man. who has become quite close with F/L Needham in recent years.
Maj Strawson and F/L Needham met during the 60th anniversary commemoration of D-Day in France in June 2004 and they flew together over Normandy during the celebrations.
F/L Needham had flown over Normandy during the D-Day landings in 1944, but was shot down during the assault and taken prisoner in a makeshift German prisoner of war camp. Fortunately, after only 34 days, the American Army liberated the entire area and he was freed.
During his speech, Maj Strawson described F/L Needham as a man of “integrity, fortitude and resilience”.
“Pilots like Barry provided hope. They sacrificed. They liberated Europe. They freed small towns like Wynyard with airfields like the Barry Needham Field,” Maj Strawson said.
In a letter read aloud to the 150 guests, including a contingent of 17 Royal Canadian Air Force personnel from 15 Wing Moose Jaw, Sask. and 3CFFTS, Portage-La-Prairie, Man., LGen Deschamps thanked F/L Needham for “the unwavering contributions that you have made over the years, and continue to make, [which] were undoubtedly cemented during your valiant service flying with the RCAF during the Second World War.
“Today, a new generation of RCAF airmen and airwomen find inspiration not only in your wartime flying achievements and sacrifices, but also in your exemplary service to your community.
“May I also thank you on this occasion for your tremendous ongoing dedication to the RCAF family. We will always consider you one of our own.”
The airfield dedication included a flypast by four RCAF aircraft.
“It was truly an honour to witness such a joyous occasion, as all too often such tributes are left until after our veterans have passed. It was great day indeed,” said Alison Squires, publisher of the Wadena News, who covered the event.
F/L Needham said it was “the greatest day of my entire life, absolutely…To see two Harvard trainers, a helicopter and a King Air all come in for a landing at the airfield all on my behalf was just unreal.”
After the war, F/L Needham returned to Canada and worked in the newspaper business in Wynyard.
“Barry and my dad were great friends as publishers of their respective weekly newspapers and as such it was really an honour for me to be there,” said Ms Squires. “Although the ceremony had its formalities, it was really about the relationship between today's members of the Air Force and Barry that stood out above all.”