Commonwealth War Graves

All posts tagged Commonwealth War Graves

It is 11 November 2018, and I am taking a moment to reflect.

Commemoration ceremony held in 2009 in Gander to remember those who perished in a crash on 14 February 1945. Second from the left is Bill Dolan, the son of the pilot on that flight. Find more information on this crash from Hillier’s thesis.

Much of my work is remembrance. While not every story involves tragedy, one of my goals is to get the names of those who were involved in Newfoundland and Labrador aviation out of the archives and on the internet so they can be more easily found. I have had many family members contact me to tell me how they found their loved one and links to other documents, through this work. It may not always be war stories, but many who were involved in aviation between and after the wars were typically aviators during the war, such as many of those involved in the Great Atlantic Air Race that pioneered trans-Atlantic Aviation, making way for Ferry Command in the Second World War.

While my work has kept me away from my blog posts, I have been working to continue my work. In the past few months, I have had an article come out about the American Overseas Airlines crash in Stephenville in 1946. This aircraft was looking to bring the families of those helping to rebuild Germany after the war together, but, tragically, there were no survivors. The article is online through the AP Online Journal in Public Archaeology called An Empty Graveyard: The Victims of the 1946 AOA DC-4 Crash, Their Final Resting Place, and Dark Tourism. The other articles all look at archaeology, death, ethics, and our perceptions of death in the contemporary world. I want to thank Howard Williams and Lorna-Jane Richardson for accepting my article into this journal, and for the help they and the other reviewers provided. This is my first sole author peer-reviewed article.

Images of the memorial cemetery from heritage.nf.ca. Note, since this image was taken, many of the wooden crosses have fallen.

Last week, the chapter in a book I have been working on came out. The book is Canadians and War, Volume 3 and my essay is called Sacrifice in Second World War Gander. The essay looks at the first tragedies associated with Gander during the war. First is the events around the crash and death of Sir Frederick Banting. Those who died in that crash were sent back to the mainland for burial. Months later, the next aviation tragedy happened in Gander with the crash of RCAF Digby 742. Due to these events, it was recognized that there would be more tragedies at the airbase, and this lead to the establishment of the Commonwealth War Graves at Gander. For this work, I want to thank Jeremy Lammi, his editors, and Darrell Hillier for helping me and catching some of my errors in earlier drafts.

Canadians and War, Volume 3, published by Lammi Publishing, 2018.

Finally, later this month, the Association of Newfoundland and Labrador Archives are having a symposium, and I was asked to be a part of the event. I will be giving a talk alongside other archaeologists, historians, and heritage professionals. I look forward to coming home for the event. It will take place at the rooms, and tickets can be purchased at anla@aibn.nf.ca. This talk looks more at the mechanics of research, the various sources and archives that I use, with a focus on Second World War Gander.

Finally, I did not write in this text, but I did contribute a photo. I do not have a copy yet, but I look forward to reading A Shadow of War: Archaeological Approaches to Uncovering the Darker Sides of Conflict from the 20th Century by Claudia Theune.

While I have not been posting here lately, I have been working on other projects while working CRM archaeology in New Brunswick. My heart certainly belongs to Newfoundland and Labrador heritage, and I will continue to work to tell the stories of Newfoundland and Labrador aviation.

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The full report for this Royal Air Force Ferry Command flight is not available. That said, two of the crew on board were members of the Royal Australian Air Force so there is crash information available in the file associated with the pilot P/O Ronald George Stanley Burrows (RAAF 1942).

Table 1: Crew list for RAF Hudson FK690. Adapted from Christie 1995 and RAAF 1942.

Name Rank Serial Number Service Duty
Burrows, Ronald George Stanley P/O 401898 RAAF Pilot
Simmons, Douglas Percy Charles Sgt. 1334966 RAF Pilot
Thomson, Graeme Hamilton P/O 656086 RAF Navigator
Fazel, Jack Eric Sgt. 405399 RAAF Radio Operator

Ferry Command Hudson Mk. VI s/n FK 690 crashed on 6 December 1942 at 0351 GMT, one minute after takeoff. The aircraft was beginning a Ferry Command delivery flight to the United Kingdom, but stalled after takeoff, crashed and burned, killing all four crew on board (Table 1; Christie 1995; RAAF 1942). A funeral service was held at 1700 GMT and the victims were all buried in the Commonwealth War Graves in Gander on 7 December 1942 (Figure 1; RAAF 1942).

Figure 1: The graves of RAF P/O Graeme Hamilton Thomson and RAAF P/O Ronald George Stanley Burrows at the Commonwealth War Graves in Gander. Photo by author, 2014.

Figure 1: The graves of RAF P/O Graeme Hamilton Thomson and RAAF P/O Ronald George Stanley Burrows at the Commonwealth War Graves in Gander. Photo by author, 2014.

There is very little left to this site, mostly due to the fact that the Trans-Canada Highway was planned to pass over the wreckage. As such, people from Gander were encouraged to visit the site and take pieces of the aircraft as souvenirs or scrap. Some of these pieces are still in the possession of people around Gander, and some were kind enough to allow me to photograph what they had (figure 2).

Figure 2: The hydraulic and tank cover collected my Mr. Connors of Gander when highway construction threated the crash site. Photo by author, 2010.

Figure 2: The hydraulic and tank cover collected my Mr. Connors of Gander when highway construction threated the crash site. Photo by author, 2010.

The highway did not pass directly over the site, but the road to the War Graves does potentially pass over some of the wreckage. When visiting this site, I was told that some pieces were on either side of the road, including a landing gear east of the road. Looking through thick alders, my team could not find the landing gear or any other evidence of wreckage east of the road, but did find some small pieces west of the road (figure 3). That is not to say that the landing gear isn’t still on the site, just that I could not find it.

Figure 3: Some of the wreckage that remains on site. Photo by author, 2010.

Figure 3: Some of the wreckage that remains on site. Photo by author, 2010.

My team also used a metal detector to see if there was much under the surface of the area. Only a couple of small pieces were found and positively identified as aircraft wreckage. Some of the hits closer to the highway were simply litter (figure 4).

Figure 4: With the use of a metal detector, more aircraft fragments were uncovered in 2011. Photo by author, 2011.

Figure 4: With the use of a metal detector, more aircraft fragments were uncovered in 2011. Photo by author, 2011.

As there is so little left to this site, very little further information about the crash can be found through the analysis of the material culture. Also, how the objects were removed from the site is a little different from other sites. Sites that are stripped of scrap metal tend to be very distinct in what remains. Objects that are too heavy to transport, that are heavily rusted, or that contain materials that cannot be easily recycled in Newfoundland (like steel), tend to remain on site. Those pieces are also left in situ as there would have been no need to move them. But, as people were encourage to take whatever they found interesting, what remains are very small pieces that were potentially moved and gathered together in an effort to encourage their removal (figure 5).

Figure 5: Area of highest artifact concentration on the site. Photo by author, 2010.

Figure 5: Area of highest artifact concentration on the site. Photo by author, 2010.

 

Sources:

Bryan, C.
2010    Personal communication, Gander resident.

Christie, C. A.
1995    Ocean Bridge: The History of RAF Ferry Command. University of Toronto Press, Toronto.

Hillier, D.
2010    Personal communication, historian.

Leahy, D.
2012    Lockheed Hudson Mk. VI FK 690. RAAF Casualty Database, http://www.raafdb.com/ , accessed 10 May 2016.

RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force)
1942    4018988 F/O R.G.S. Burrows. Royal Australian Air Force, Canberra. On file, National Archives of Australia, A705 163/24/355.

Site wreckage

Site wreckage

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