The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum unveiled a new statue honouring Second World War fighter pilot Flight Officer George Frederick ‘Buzz’ Beurling on Thurs. Sept 1.
Among those who attended was 427 (Special Operations) Squadron Honorary Colonel Bob Middlemiss, who flew Spitfires with F/O Beurling during the Second World War.
F/O Beurling, DSO, DFC, DFM and Bar (RCAF) had more than 33 victories in his four years with the RAF and the RCAF, most of which were accomplished within his 5.5 months in the Maltese theatre.
His abilities in the cockpit of any aircraft were second to none. He would see enemy aircraft over Malta several minutes before his compatriots spotted any signs of them. He was the most decorated pilot of Canada’s Second World War effort but yet mostly unknown to the Canadian public.
Today, in honour of this great Canadian war hero, we present this tribute by HCol Bob Middlemiss.
“I was in three squadrons with Beurling, RAF 41 Squadron, and 249 Squadron in Malta, and then RCAF 403 Squadron at Kenley and at Lashenden Airfield.
I am not sure how George Beurling became "Buzz" but I assume that he would often buzz the aerodrome after one of his victories. As for "Screwball", I assume it was people who did not know him well who considered his antics as screwballs.
I would say that he was one of a kind, a loner and a person that had full confidence in what he was doing.
Beurling had unbelievable eyesight. He could see further than anyone I believe in the Air Force, a superb marksman again being able to hit enemy aircraft from great angles off or deflection and an excellent pilot with great confidence and knew that his job was to shoot down the enemy.
In 41 Sqn he scored two ME 109s, unfortunately no one saw the destruction of these aircraft or did they show up on his cine film camera. We all thought here is a young "Sprog" trying to make a name for himself. Later on in Malta we were able to see him in action so some of the pilots from 41 Squadron who were now in Malta became believers.
Like so many of his desires, when one of the pilots in "41" was posted to Malta but preferred not to go, Beurling jumped in and asked the CO if he could take his place. The CO was happy to allow this keen young pilot to take the place of the other pilot.
He made his way to Malta as we all did by flying of the aircraft carrier "HMS Eagle " and arrived in Malta on June 9th, 1942 and posted to 249 Squadron the same squadron that I flew with.
We were able to see from the ground the raids that came from Sicily, when Beurling would look up from the direction of the raids and counting, the number of bombers approaching, we other pilots there with him would not see them for some 30 or so seconds after him. Then he would be counting the number of fighters that were there to guard the bombers, again it would be again a short time later that we could see them.
In Malta you did not claim any of your victories, it was either your wing man or from personnel on the ground. As I mentioned he would often shoot down an aircraft from zero or 90 degrees off, always aimed to hit the pilot again with a minimum amount of ammunition, that means even with one or two cannon shells.
We were both interviewed by the Wing Commander for our officer's commission. The day of the interview I arrived all polished and in full uniform (normally worn when meeting with the Wing Commander.) Just before the appointed time Beurling arrived from the aerodrome where he had been working with the ground crew, came in sweaty, in shorts and quite dusty. His first statement to me was, "Bob, could you lend me your comb to do my hair?”
I then went into the Winco's office had my chat and then went outside of his office. In went Beurling, the door being an opening in the wall with beads hanging down so I could hear all the conversation. Beurling in his chat said to the Wing Commander he really did not want to be commissioned because of the saluting and all the other things connected to being an officer. The Wing Commander assured him that he would have no trouble as all looked up to him for his great feats. We were both commissioned on my birthday, July 30, 1942. I received the news when I was instructing at 53 Operational Training Unit (OTU).
On leaving Malta, Beurling presented me with the Italian insignia from a Machi 202. A couple of years ago I gave it to the RCAF Museum at Trenton.
After my rest tour from 53 OTU, I was posted to an RCAF Sqn based at Kenley and then on the Airfield at Lashenden, living in tents and preparing ourselves for the time when we would be invading the continent. I was lying down outside the tent that was our dining room, enjoying the sun when I got a kick on the bottom of my boot. Here was Beurling having returned from his rest tour in Canada.
One incident that I well remember was the day that we were giving Wing Commander "Johnny" Jonhson his farewell dinner. The AOC was flying over from his Headquarters in an Auster aircraft. When he flew low over the top of us Beurling happened to have a shotgun over his shoulder and said ‘I will give a "ring and a half" of deflection’ and fired. When the irate AOC landed and questioned us we all pleaded ignorance and said it was probably a farmer shooting at some ducks - luckily nothing further was said.
Also here Beurling would take up the Tiger Moth and do spins and aerobatics over the field then often would land in a farmer's field and buy and bring back some freshly laid eggs. On these occasions we had a feast of yummy eggs.
When we left the airfield we returned to Kenley and here after a short time the type of operations of doing fighter sweeps and sweeps protecting the B-17 bombers, Beurling did not feel that this was his cup of tea, not enough action and chances of engaging the enemy. For a number of reasons the Group Captain had him transferred from our 127 Wing to the 126 Wing at Biggin Hill.
It was during this time that he requested that he be given four P51 Mustangs so that he could roam deep into enemy territory and once again fighting the enemy. This was refused and it was not long after that he returned to Canada and discharged.
I often wonder had he stayed in the UK and gone through the invasion and subsequent moves on the Continent how many more enemy aircraft he would have destroyed. I always considered him as the "Billy Bishop" of the Second World War.
The next time I saw Beurling when he and a couple of other pilots from 403 attended my wedding in Montreal, Beurling gave my wife and I a present of pearl handled fish knives and forks which I have never used but still have them as a memento.
Later I was to meet him on St. Catherines’ Street, Montreal, an in our conversation he mentioned that the Israel's Air Force had Spitfires and looking for volunteers. He said he was going and why not come along. My answer was, Buzz I don't think my wife in the short time that we have been married to see me fly off again to fight another war.
Sadly as you know he was killed in a Norseman when it caught fire on his approach to Rome. I always believed that the aircraft had been sabotaged. He then laid in the morgue and after some time Vivian, a lady friend of his, had his body removed from Italy and buried in Israel.
For a number of years every Remembrance Day a senior officer of the RCAF placed a wreath of poppies on his grave. I am not aware whether this is still being done.
Of course I have always felt that our great country and government have not honoured this great airman and am pleased that at least a statue has been dedicated in Hamilton after these many years.