Tragic Chilliwack war story lives on with memorial

Air Cadets, legion members come together to create memorial for 11 airmen who died in training exercise in Cheam mountain range

An artist's rendering of what the Airplane Creek Memorial in Thompson Regional Park will look like. The memorial will pay tribute to the loss of 11 men who died in a Second World War training exercise in the Cheam mountain range.

An artist's rendering of what the Airplane Creek Memorial in Thompson Regional Park will look like. The memorial will pay tribute to the loss of 11 men who died in a Second World War training exercise in the Cheam mountain range.

A 70-year-old war story is being retold this week, in an effort to memorialize 11 men who died in the Cheam mountain range.

For those who know local aviation history, the tale is a familiar one.

A crew of 11 Royal Air Force volunteer airmen stationed in Abbotsford awoke early on June 1, 1945 to hear their dispatch for the day.

They were to take a navigation training flight from the Abbotsford base, fly to Penticton, turn and head to Revelstoke, and return to Abbotsford — a 509-mile exercise.

The war in Europe had just ended, and at least one of the men had written home about his desire to return to England.

“I’m only living for the day I can get out of this and do as I please for a change,” RAF volunteer James Gordon Hammond, 20, wrote to his parents. “In about a month from now I shall know whether I am coming home first. It would be just my luck not to.”

The crew left the Abbotsford base just after 9 a.m., heading into a partly cloudy sky. The flight was under the command of Flying Officer William D.A. Hill. The Second Pilot was Pilot Officer Gilbert, and the Navigator was Sergeant Graham Murray.

About 30 minutes into the flight, the crew’s B-24 Liberator bomber KK241 lost radio contact.

When they crashed into a mountaintop, it marked the largest single loss of life in British Columbia during the war.

The ensuing search for the plane was long and arduous, hampered by consistent cloud cover and rainy weather.

It took 17 days to locate the crash site, which was 36 miles off course, near the top of the tallest peak in the Cheam range, Mt. Welch. It took another two weeks to reach the site. Mt. Welch had been summitted for the first time in recorded history only about 20 years prior.

According to Chilliwack Progress archives, the search crew included the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers, the Royal Canadian Air Force personnel, “and some of the district’s best known mountaineers and woodsmen,” including Game Warden Art Butler, Bridge Bailey, and George Stevens.

A mountaintop burial eventually took place in a saddle near the top of the mountain. Photos were taken of the burial site and its beautiful surroundings, and mailed off to family members in the United Kingdom. In one of the photographs, a man in uniform salutes the gravesite.

A man in uniform salutes the grave of 11 men killed in an aviation crash in 1945, the largest single loss of life in British Columbia during the Second World War.

But over the decades, landslides have covered the crash site and the graves. There have been attempts to memorialize the men in the past. In 1983, the cadets of 861 Silverfox Squadron erected a memorial cairn to the victims on the shore of Airplane Creek which was named in honour of the crash. The cadets have been surveying the monument over the years, and in 2013, the monument was found to have fallen into the middle of Airplane Creek.

And this week, the efforts to keep the memory of their sacrifice alive are still going strong. The Canadian Forces helped a group of volunteers with the recovery of one of the Liberator’s engines on Tuesday. It took a crew of 10 CF members about two hours to hike to the engine, to await a helicopter’s arrival. The engine was then to be carried out to a waiting truck — and a crowd of people eager to see this relic from the past.

While an attempt on Monday was unsuccessful due to weather, it was expected to be brought out on Tuesday afternoon (after press deadlines).

Leading the charge is Lt. Ron Shore, who is working with both the Legion (Br. 280) and Chilliwack’s 147 Air Cadet Squadron to create a memorial in Thompson Regional Park.

The memorial, although far from the crash site, gives a vista of the mountain range that sealed the men’s fate in 1945. The engine will be mounted and included in the memorial. Two ‘wings’ will flank the memorial’s centrepiece, listing the men’s names and noting the 55,000 other bomber flight crews that were killed in the Second World War.

The plan for the memorial is six years in the making, and this week Shore was thrilled to see this monumental step forward take place.

But the project is far from over. They hope to fly members of the men’s families here from the United Kingdom, for a dedication ceremony planned for Sept. 26 this year. They are still searching for family members and fundraising to cover their travel costs, and other costs associated with the memorial.

Some of the costs will include long term maintenance, commemorative pins, benches to surround the memorial, purchase and installation of a flag pole, and the cost of the dedication ceremony.

So far, they have raised $63,000 toward their $105,000 budget, with the Dept. of Veteran Affairs donating $25,000 to the project.

Shore noted that during the research of this aircraft, the Veterans Memorial Restoration Society found an additional 27 sites like this, and any extra funds donated will be forwarded to fund other memorials that need rebuilding.

A Go Fund Me page has been set up to receive donations.

 

B-24 Liberator bomber KK241 Flight Crew:

Stanley ALDRIDGE , Sergeant, 20

Albert Eric BROADBENT, Sergeant, 19

John Randall DALE, Sergeant, 32

William Peter Watt DRUMMOND, Sergeant, 23 or 24

Isaac GIBBONS, Sergeant, 19

James Leonard Gordon HAMMOND, Sergeant, 20

Arthur William David HILL, Flying Officer, 21

David Robertson LANGLANDS, Sergeant

Gilbert Ewart Ellis LONG,  Pilot Officer , 21

Graham MURRAY, Sergeant, 20

William Thomas SWATTON, Sergeant, 34

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Abbotsford school board trustee Phil Anderson has stepped down after sharing an offensive image on Facebook. (File photo)
Abbotsford trustee temporarily steps down after sharing post relating COVID masks to slavery

Phil Anderson to receive training after comparing wearing a mask to slavery on his Facebook page

Motorists breaking travel rules can be fined $230 for failing to follow instructions or $575 if the reason for travel violates the essential travel health order, at this Highway 3 check area near Manning Park. Photo RCMP
RCMP begin stopping drivers on B.C. highways – checkpoint at Manning Park

Four checkpoints are set up Thursday, May 6 around the province

UBC Sports Hall of Famer Carrie (Watson) Watts (far right, front row) helped lead the UBC Thunderbirds to the 2004 national championship, their first since 1974. She served as assistant coach a few years after graduation. (Photo/UBC)
Agassiz-born basketball star inducted into UBC Sports Hall of Fame

Carrie (Watson) Watts helped lead the team to their first championship in decades

Winnie Peters, centre, spoke about the loss of two husbands over the years, both of who were murdered. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls event in Hope on May 5, 2021 included prayers for men who have been killed as well. (Jessica Peters/ Hope Standard)
Red dresses hang in Hope’s Memorial Park in remembrance

Group gathers for National Day of Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

The Aquilini Investment Group has agreed to a proposed contract of five years to run the Abbotsford Centre. (File photo)
Proposal to run Abbotsford Centre offered to Canucks ownership group

Planned five-year contract to cost city $750K annually, starting Jan. 1, 2022

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Leaked report shows detailed B.C. COVID-19 data not being released to public

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

B.C. announced the launch of an app May 7 that connects youth struggling with mental health and substance use with “life-saving” social services. (Screen grab)
5 years in the making: Mental health app for youth and children launches in B.C.

The province provided $1.6-million to fund a virtual care platform

Rex, an elderly golden Labrador retriever, is surrounded by his rescuers in Golden Ears Provincial Park. (Special to The News)
VIDEO: Dog survives plunge over Gold Creek Lower Falls in Maple Ridge

Fire chief asks for visitors to be more cautious in Golden Ears Provincial Park

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Amazon has announced the creation of five new facilities in B.C., to employ about 2,000 people. (Amazon/Special to Black Press Media)
Amazon adds new facilities in Langley, Pitt Meadows, Delta, Vancouver

The Vancouver port centre will be the first Amazon centre to feature robotics in B.C.

A worker rides a bike at a B.C. Hydro substation in Vancouver, on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
BC Hydro report raises safety concerns as pandemic prompts jump in yard work

Incidents involving weekend tree trimmers, gardeners and landscapers have risen 30% since the pandemic hit

Surrey RCMP is investigating after a serious three-vehicle crash at the intersection of King George Boulevard and 128th Street Thursday afternoon (May 6, 2021). (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
VIDEO: Serious crash in Surrey sends 1 to hospital

Surrey RCMP say one of the drivers fled on foot, but was later found at an area hospital

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Most Read