Veterans, currently serving members of the Canadian Forces, and supporters of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) gathered at the air park at 8 Wing Trenton, Ont., on Sept. 24 for the 16th Annual Ad Astra stone dedication ceremony.
"I'm honoured to be here with you as we dedicate more than 300 Ad Astra stones that help preserve Canada's aviation history," said Colonel Sean Friday, 8 Wing Trenton commander. "As we stand here today surrounded by one of the largest Canadian collections of military aircraft, we acknowledge the invaluable contribution of all our supporters for their help in keeping the National Air Force Museum of Canada active."
The Ad Astra Stone Program started in January 1996 to raise funds for the National Air Force Museum of Canada (NAMC). The project, which was initiated by Colonel (Ret’d) “Cy” Yarnell, showcases engraved stones bearing names of Canadian airmen and airwomen that are installed along the walkways of the air park beside the museum.
"We thank all our volunteers who devotedly gave their time and effort in helping maintain the museum and in promoting the Royal Canadian Air Force's heritage," said Bob Burke, chairman of the museum’s board of directors. "Each stone here represents support from individuals and organizations who recognize the importance of safeguarding Canada's aviation history for generations to come."
To date, more than 10,300 people have made donations to the museum through the program. The funds raised have been used to contribute to help the museum acquire new displays, enhancements, restorations and renovations.
Col (Ret’d) Yarnell, who flew Spitfires in the Italian campaign during the Second World War, chose stones for the program after hearing how Israelis commemorated the death of Second World War flying ace, Buzz Beurling.
“Beurling landed in Rome on his way to Israel [after the war] and the aircraft crashed on take-off and he was killed. He is buried in Tel Aviv. There, graves are often covered by granite slabs and during funeral services people place pebbles or little stones on the slabs as a sign of respect. As the saying goes, ‘a flower fades, a stone never’,” Col (Ret’d) Yarnell said during an interview with Alan Capon of the web-based, Prince Edward county newsletter www.countylive.ca.
The ceremony also commemorated the 72nd anniversary of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP), an agreement signed in 1939 by Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand to provide training for Commonwealth aircrews.
"This Commonwealth agreement is a significant part of our aviation history," said Col Friday. "In the Quinte area alone, the BCATP built four training schools in Belleville, Mountainview, Picton and here in Trenton."
The memories of the BCATP are among the many significant milestones in history that the Ad Astra program helps to preserve.
“The continued success of the Ad Astra program comes from everyone's support," said Col Friday. "Let us continue to make an effort to preserve Canada's aviation history, one stone at a time."
About the Ad Astra Stone program
The Ad Astra Stone program offers current and past Air Force personnel and their spouses a significant means to permanently commemorate their service. Anyone who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Regular or Reserve force, an allied Air Force, has four years service in the Air Cadet League or is a regular member of the Air Force Association of Canada, is eligible to have a stone. A donation to the museum is all that it takes to commemorate a loved one who has served or is serving our country with honour.
About the stones
The Ad Astra stones are made of gray granite measuring six inches by 10 inches and are engraved with the Latin inscription ad astra meaning "to the stars," which signifies their goals and aspirations.
Each stone features the RCAF roundel, the name of the person being commemorated, his or her home town (or place of birth), year of birth and date of passing (a person does not have to be deceased for a stone to be placed in the park; the museum will engrave the date of death when informed of the person’s passing). No rank, decorations or awards are engraved on the stone.
A special computer database, available on the museum’s website, is used to enable visitors to readily locate the stone(s) they wish to view.
Each year, on the last Saturday of September, these Ad Astra stones are blessed by a Canadian Forces chaplain and the new stones are dedicated in a special ceremony marking the contributions to the Air Forces of Canada made by the people commemorated on each stone.
Anyone interested in donating an Ad Astra Stone, can visit www.airforcemuseum.ca or call 613-965-2208.