Remembrance Day is always a special time for long-term Campbell River resident and World War II veteran Ted Turner, who might perhaps best be called “Lucky”, and he intends to be back “on parade” again this year.
And this time, Turner, who turned 90 earlier this year, will be sporting a new medal he received a short time back: the new Bomber Command Bar, which was attached to his Volunteer Medal of Honor, as directed by the federal government, just in time for his birthday.
Turner volunteered for the Royal Canadian Air Force in the war, trying – initially in vain – to get in under aged at 16 but eventually being accepted at 18.
He then flew 35 missions as a tail-gunner in a seven-man, four-engine Halifax bomber.
He had hoped to be trained to become a pilot, but in order to be part of an air crew, accepted the vulnerable tail-gunner’s position, on the suggestion of the recruiting officer that he could become pilot “later.”
He finally did, but only after he had survived an entire “tour” of duty to win a return to Canada and civilian life.
The Bomber Command Bar is a new recognition of still-surviving members of the RCAF in Bomber Command who have to apply to apply to Ottawa and Veterans Affairs for it.
Turner says that recognition was not given before because of the devastation Bomber Command delivered to Germany and German forces that inevitably also killed large numbers of civilians.
Canada contributed thousands of aviators and ground crew to that effort, and lost thousands of airmen as a result.
Close to one in every six airman was shot down and killed or taken prisoner for the rest of the war.
Tail-gunners were favorite targets for German fighter pilots attacking the bombers on the way to or out from targets in continental Europe.
But in England, too, the bombers’ contribution to the Allied war effort was only honored in the past few years with a Royal unveiling of a special statue and war memorial dedicated to Bomber Command (BC).
Turner attended that dedication in London with his son Mark, alongside many other representatives of Canada and throughout the world.
Turner recalls that he and the crew he joined in England completed their “tour” of raids over Europe in just a matter of months and he returned to Canada a year to the day after he left for the United Kingdom.
After the war he flew for some years for the Lac La Croix Air Service in Ontario before deciding he wanted to get away from having to service aircraft in agonizingly-cold conditions.
That led to Campbell River, where his experience as a pilot quickly got him a job with Vancouver Island Air, flying out of the floatplane base down on the Tyee Spit.
Although he had picked up a respiratory problem during his time as “Tail End Charlie” – as the rear-gunners were known – he and the rest of the crew came through the war almost entirely unscathed; and they were widely honored when they came together as an entire crew at a RCAF war-vets’ reunion 30 years ago, in 1984.
They were told then that they were the only still-intact RCAF BC crew in the world.
Turner said in interview recently that only three of the crew are now alive and both his colleagues are two to four years older than him. He’s in process of obtaining the Bomber Command Bar – which is decorated with a four-engine bomber – for them, too; and he plans on being “on parade” in Campbell River on Remembrance Day Tuesday.