Remarkable local men exemplified bravery, duty (photos)Saturday, September 21, 2013 by: Rick McGee
Two Sault Ste. Marie veterans of Bomber Command have been recognized for outstanding service during World War ll.
Paul Dalseg (front left in photo above) and John Burke DFC (front right) received Bomber Command Bars during a special September 14, 2013, ceremony at Branch 25, The Royal Canadian Legion.
The photo also shows, back from left, Alan Fell, past president and ceremonial chair, Royal Canadian Air Force Association (RCAFA) 432 (Algoma) Wing; Sault MP Bryan Hayes who made the presentation; and Clyde Healey, president, RCAFA 432 (Algoma) Wing.
During World War ll, Canada played a vital role in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, a collaborative effort involving Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Graduates of the program formed the backbone of Bomber Command.
Many Canadians served with Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons in the No. 6 Bomber Group - the only non-British group to serve in Bomber Command.
By the end of the Second World War, No. 6 Bomber Group had carried out more than 40,000 sorties and approximately 8,000 members received decorations for bravery.
The Government of Canada created the Bomber Command Bar as an official honour to formally recognize these brave Canadians.
John Burke DFC
Born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, John attended Sault Collegiate Institute.
He enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in June 1941 and was sent to Regina to become a pilot.
When a depth perception problem forced a change in plans, John went into other training in Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick, graduating from air observer school, bombing and gunnery school and astronavigation school.
The young airman was subsequently posted to Bournemouth, England where he became a bomb-aimer on a five-man Wellington bomber.
Shown below is a wartime Wellington.
The first operational assignment was to 420 Squadron bombing Europe.
That meant flying over heavily armed targets, including Wilhelmshaven, Cologne, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Manheim, and Duisburg.
"It is hard for us to imagine that these men flew in Bomber Command with a small measure of surprise and darkness as their only advantage, took the fight to the heart of the enemy's homeland,” notes The Rev. Phil Miller, a local military historian.
“Losses were staggering, yet they flew on. Their friends fell from the skies about them, yet they flew on. They achieved success after success at tremendous cost. The few who are left deserve our highest praise and deepest admiration. They are the bravest of the brave."
After eight operational flights between February 1942 and April 1943, 420 SQN was posted to North Africa in preparation for the invasion of Sicily.
But before those missions began, a harrowing situation developed over an airfield in Algeria.
The landing gear hydraulics on John’s Wellington failed after an engine ran into difficulties.
He crawled into the plane’s belly to help the pilot land by manually lowering the landing apparatus.
The aircraft ended up crashing just short of the airfield but there were no injuries.
That incident wouldn’t be the last of its kind for the young Saultite.
The invasion of Sicily began on July 10, 1943, and six days later John and company were sent to attack a Naples airport where enemy aircraft were concentrating.
Enemy fire badly damaged John’s aircraft and he took shrapnel in the leg.
After struggling back to North Africa, the crippled Wellington crashed on landing.
John’s injuries led to hospitalization for two months.
By early 1944, he had recovered and was becoming familiar with a new crew and a new aircraft.
Flying aboard a Halifax bomber (shown below is a Handley Page Halifax), John was part of 424 Squadron which in June 1944 bombed coastal areas in support of the D-Day Invasion of Europe.
John and his crew mates went on to fly 21 more sorties.
Their strikes concentrated on oil refineries, railroad marshaling yards, and buzz bombing rocket sites, one of which housed V2 rockets.
John was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) effective November 4, 1944.
The DFC is “awarded to Officers and Warrant Officers for an Act of Valour, Courage or Devotion to duty performed while flying in active operations against the enemy.”
The citation for John’s award read, in part: “This Officer has successfully completed many sorties over such strongly defended targets as Wilhelmshaven, Cologne, Frankfurt and Stuttgart. In July 1943 he participated in an attack against Naples, during which he was wounded. He resumed operational flying June 1944.”
John left the service in October 1945, came home and started a job in Algoma Steel’s chemical lab.
In 1946 the war vet joined the Canadian Forestry Service where he worked until retirement in 1982.
John resides in the Sault with Jean, his wife of 57 years.
A native of Rainy River, ON, Paul joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in September 1942 and graduated as an air gunner in July 1943.
That September he was posted to the Royal Air Force, receiving operational training in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, England before being posted to 57 Squadron RAF in March 1944.
On May 22, 1944, Paul was the mid-upper gunner on a new Lancaster that exploded in the skies over Dorkwerd, Germany.
The photos below show Lancasters in action and a mid-gunner in position.
A remarkable story - referred to as “the Dorkwerd Miracle” - emerged from the ensuing circumstances.
The Lancaster had been on a bombing mission to Germany when it was attacked by an enemy night fighter.
Fire broke out in the rear of the fuselage between the mid-upper gunner and the tail gunner, and dangerously close to flares and ammunition boxes.
The tail gunner, Norman Wharf, tried to leave his turret to assess things and, if necessary, bail out.
But he couldn’t open the hydraulically controlled door to escape.
Paul dropped from his position in the mid-upper turret and tried to help open the door manually.
It wouldn’t give.
Meanwhile, the possibility of an explosion grew by the second.
Norman urged Paul to open the side-hatch and jump.
But Paul was reluctant to leave his friend trapped in his turret without a parachute and knew that opening the side-hatch would fan the blaze.
Paul tried an extinguisher, but by then the flames were beyond control.
Experiencing breathing difficulties and close to losing consciousness, Paul finally opened the side-hatch and jumped.
The explosion came shortly after, splitting the Lancaster in two, with the break coming immediately in front of the tailplane.
Norman was in his gun-turret which, incredibly, provided a parachute of sorts that carried him downward.
His landing was further softened by a water-filled ditch.
Serious injuries resulted but Norman was eventually nursed back to health in a German hospital.
Paul made a safe parachute landing in a meadow close to Dorkwerd.
The remaining members of the crew were killed.
Paul was held as a prisoner of war by the Luftwaffe at “Luft 7” until the great march of war prisoners to Luckenwalde Stalag 111A in the winter of 1945.
He was transported back to England and then Canada in mid-1945.
Widely known as a successful businessman and generous community supporter, Paul came north from Port Credit after acquiring the local Canadian Tire Associate Store franchise.
In 1974 he relocated the outlet from Queen Street to the corner of Great Northern Road and McNabb Street.
Later the store became part of Cambrian Mall.
Strong commitments to Sault life by Paul and his late wife Eleanor have helped to strengthen the city and area over several decades.
"It has been my pleasure to know these two gentlemen for many years,” said local Wing president Healy.
“They have been strong supporters of this Wing and contributed much to our community both individually and through groups and organizations they worked with. They certainly have much to be proud of yet they are very humble gentlemen. They allowed their work to go on without fanfare or public acknowledgment. I am just proud to say I know them.”
“From this day forward, when Canadians see your special bar, they will know you were among the approximately 50,000 Canadians who proudly served with Bomber Command,” said MP Hayes while presenting the bars.
“They will know that you bravely accepted the most dangerous of missions, and that you prevailed against the greatest odds. This special bar will also remind Canadians that our nation paid a terrible price for victory.”