Girl On The Wing

Claire McKeen - girl on the wing
Photograph from the files of Timmy MacDonald, Memories in Pictures, With permission 24 April 2015


Some events in our lives are indelible. We remember them as if it were yesterday. But truly, they are few and far between. This is the story of such an event, the air crash in the field at Glenelg NS at the end of the Second World War. Claire McKeen and Graham Kirk, both lifelong residents of Glenelg, remember it well. They were 15 and nine years old respectively at the time.

It seems appropriate to record their recollection this year, which is an important anniversary for Canada. The eighth of May is a significant milestone, marking the 70th anniversary of VE Day, the end of the war in Europe.

The 8th of May is the anniversary, which for many Canadians seems to mark the end of the Second World War. In fact the war was not yet over on that date. There was still a war in the Pacific to contend with. The final push on Japan was to be the final act. Peace was delayed until Japan’s unconditional surrender that occurred much later.

The government of the day desired that Canada would be represented in that final act. But there was to be no big Canadian role. Canada planned to send elements of all three of its armed services to the Pacific fray as a token to its commitment to its allies.

With that in mind, a Tiger Force was being assembled by the Royal Canadian Air Force which was to be the RCAF’s contribution in that effort. No. 6 Air Group was being reformed and re-assembled from air units returning from England. The units of No. 6 Group would train at many bases in Nova Scotia for the upcoming mission.

Claire’s Story – Girl on the Wing

At the core of this story then, was a Saturday, 11 August 1945, which was a typical summer day at Glenelg Nova Scotia. One unit from No. 6 Group would visit Glenelg in an unseemly manner. An air crash would occur that was witnessed by Claire McKeen (nee Cruikshank), Graham Kirk and many others. Claire was only 15 years old at the time. She remembers this unique event clearly.[1]

The Second World War was just about ended. Japan would finally surrender on 14 August with a formal surrender on 2 September 1945.[2] But on the 11th of August, the war or the remnants of war, were still very real to the people of Glenelg.

Claire recollects Glenelg as a typical rural Nova Scotia community. There were no more than 100 inhabitants at most. But it was a large, vibrant and active centre for its day. It had its own character and foibles too, typical of rural Canada.

Claire and the children of Glenelg were taught at one of two schools in the areas. The Glenelg-Melrose school was for those resident in that area, while the Aspen School served those living in that community.

There were three churches serving the spiritual needs of those communities, two of which still exist today attesting to the vibrancy of that spiritual community.

Children’s entertainments may be judged as few and far between by today’s standards.

But Glenelg’s children lead active and playful lives, running free in the woods, playing games in the fields and fishing in the streams in summer. In the winter they coasted on the hills, skated on pond rivers and lakes and played hockey until dark. They had fun and made do with what they had.

The community was typical by its labours as well. The people of Aspen, Melrose and Glenelg survived on farming and lumbering.

It all seemed idyllic, but there were tensions and divides in those communities that were typical of politics and religion of the day. Claire remembers there two stores in existence, one serving those of a liberal bent and the other for the conservatives. And typical for the time, the post office, staff, and contract seemed to change every time the government changed.

Tensions extended to the religious life as well. There was a schism in the United Church. This schism led to the creation of a separate United Baptist Church built over in Aspen whose remains exist today. By and large though, Glenelg was just another staid Nova Scotian village, where nothing ever happened, yet things were about to change and get very exciting.

On 11 August 1945, the ladies of the community had gathered for the local monthly Women`s Institute meeting at the home of Herbie McLaughlin. This would also be a social occasion for the children. It was an excuse, for what young people do on those occasions, to get together to laugh, play and socialize while their elders attended to the more important matters of the community.

In the distance the children heard the roar of piston engines and saw a low flying aircraft circling the hills around the St Mary`s River and Lead Mines. Claire remembers she was with three friends that afternoon and it was in the mid-afternoon somewhere, between two and three in the afternoon.

The temperature was about 27 centigrade that day.[3] It is difficult to piece together but both Claire and Graham Kirk remember it to be a pleasant and clear in Glenelg. It was probably humid, good drying weather for making hay.

Avro Anson MkV Serial #12578, was flying out of No. 6 (RCAF) Group Communications Flight at Debert, NS. It was on a training mission in a broad area between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia that would end in a hay field at Glenelg, NS.[4]

Claire recalls the crew saying after the crash that they got caught in a thunderstorm over the hospital at Antigonish and became disoriented. They diverted their aircraft south in the direction of Glenelg to avoid a nasty system.

By the time they reached Glenelg though, their aircraft was flying at an extremely low altitude. It was observed to be getting lower and lower to the ground still. Claire and friends watched the plane circle about with great interest. It seemed that it was about to either land or crash!

Claire and others observed that the plane appeared to be flying under control. It was proceeding away from them in the direction of Silver’s Pool. It then turned and backtracked on the up river on approach to the cornfield at Glenelg bounded by the river and the crossroads road at Glenelg. The plane was observed to touch down shortly thereafter.

Their landing was both a surprise and eventful. As the Anson touched down, the wheels soon collapsed, the engines churned the dirt, and the aircraft skidded to a halt. Official records indicate that “The landing gear collapsed during harsh application of the brakes”.[5]

Figure 1[6]

Google Map showing Glenelg, Nova Scotia
Google Map showing Glenelg, Nova Scotia

Graham’s Story – Haystacks in the Field

Graham Kirk, another witness, was 9 or 10 years old at the time. He too remembered the plane landing in Glenelg. He saw a plane coming up through the yard at Herbie McLaughlin’s home who lived on Lead Mine Road. It was heading down river in the direction of Silver’s Pool when it turned back toward the field at Glenelg.[7]

Graham remembered the plane touching down in the field intact. The Avro Anson landed on the right hand side of the field (observer to target) in the heading towards the crossroads, Lead Mines and Glenelg. Graham saw aircraft swerve as it landed towards the crossroads. It promptly hit an embankment on the road where the force of the impact collapsed the landing gear. The aircraft then went onto belly skid across the field before coming to a halt.

Graham’s perspective of the crash provides an insight into why the landing gear collapsed and the reason for the harsh application of the brakes”.[8] He remembers that this field was used for making hay at the time. There were hay stacks everywhere. The field was dry, and the colour of dry hay was a golden stubble.

Once the plane touched down, the pilot may have thought that this wasn’t an open field after all, but may have been a rock pile. The hay stacks in the fields were high and certainly looked solid and the aircraft was approaching these at speed! A quick decision may have been necessary to avoid disaster.

There must have been some sense of urgency in the cockpit if the conclusion was, “the haystacks were rock piles”. Consequently the sudden application of the brakes may have been necessary resulting in a change of direction. The result was not the one desired. They pranged the aircraft, severely.

Graham remembers the plane carried three crew members.[9] The crew didn’t seem too excited or upset by their experience. They seemed to be of good spirits nonetheless and were none the worse for the wear. But basically, they had scared themselves silly.

Graham was of the opinion that the pilot could have saved the plane that day. There was a clear road going through the middle of the field. It was rarely used by vehicular traffic and was free of all obstacles. It seemed to be an obvious choice for touchdown and safe landing.

Nobody knows why the pilot elected the field landing. There may have been pressing demands in the cockpit requiring some urgency in getting down, fast. These details are revealed in official report and records later below.

Other Details

The crew did not divulge where they were from, their nationalities, or their mission. The aircraft from the photograph of Claire was an Avro Anson MkV. Some 2000 Avro Anson’s of various marks were built in Canada during the war. They were widely used and flew at many training and operational units. A good number were actually built under license in Nova Scotia at the Canadian Car and Foundry plant, Amherst, NS.[10]

Claire noted that the aircraft was painted yellow on the exterior and green on the interior. From this colour of the aircraft’s exterior we can identify this as a training aircraft.

There was flurry of activity as many rushed to the scene to lend assistance. Luckily, the crew was uninjured. The assistance required and given to them was probably minimal. The aircraft was largely intact and the crew was indeed safe.

But it was necessary to inform the authorities! A telephone was much needed, and fortunately, there were plenty of telephones at Glenelg, but all on a party line at the time.

In the meantime the aircraft became a source of local curiosity. Claire had her picture taken on the wing. So did many others.

The Crew of Anson 12578 [11]

The names of the three individuals aboard Anson 12578 in the accident were:

  1. J89815     F/L Richard Joseph CALLAHAN
  2. R125563  LAC Arthur Henry DREW
  3. R256120  LAC Albert TUB

F/L Callahan enlisted in the RCAF on 3 December 1942. He was a member of the University of Toronto  University Air Training Corps.  F/L Callahan attended N0 23 Pre-Aircrew Education Detachment at the U of Toronto before going to No. 1 Initial Training School (February 1943).

F/L Callahan commenced pilot training at No. 12 EFTS on 10 July and on graduating continued training at No. 2 SFTS  commencing 4 September 1943.  F/L Callahan was deployed overseas on 23 March 1944 to a bomber squadron. He returned to Canada in June 1945 and posted to 420 Squadron at Debert.  F/L Callahan was discharged on 17 October 1945.

LAC Arthur Henry DREW enlisted in Ottawa on 27 August 1941.  He was an aero engine mechanic. He commenced his service at No. 1 Manning depot, then posted to No. 4 Bombing and Gunnery School on 13 September 1941. He was subsequently posted to No. 6 Repair Depot on 25 November 1941 and served there for the next 3 ½ years.

LAC Drew was posted to Scoudouc on 27 July 1945. and was finally discharged on 20 September 1945. There is no record that LAC Drew attended the Technical Training School at St. Thomas as part of his training. He was one of the few who had  previous mechanical experience upon enrolment.

LAC Albert TUBB was also an aero engine mechanic.  He enlisted in Hamilton on 5 May 1943. Common in the day, LAC Tubb had to wait awhile before he started his training.  His first posting was to No. 4 Wireless School where he did menial jobs while waiting for a billet to become available.

LAC Tubb commenced his basic training at No. 1 Manning Depot on 15 September 1943. Upon completion of this training, LAC Tubb was posted to No. 14 SFTS, where he the worked and was mentored in AEM job duties under supervision until 27 January 1944 when he started his level B AEM training. This training occurred at St. Thomas, Ontario.

LAC Tubb  qualified in his trade on 1 July and for his Level A on 1 October.  LAC Tubb was posted to Scoudouc on 27 July 1945. He was subsequently posted on 25 October 1945 to Greenwood where he was discharged on 21 December 1945.

Scoudouc, NB was just newly formed and re-organized unit on 13 July 1945. It had previously been established as No. 4 Repair Repot. Both LAC Drew and LAC Tubb were posted to Scoudouc, NB on 27 July 1945.

F/L Callahan, he had 2 hours dual and 5 solo flying hours on the Anson. He was an accomplished pilot amassing overall 210 hours dual and 530 solo on various aircraft.

The ORB for Scoudouc, NB noted under ferry flights for August 1945 that they ferried 1 Menasco Moth, 3 Mosquitoes at Moncton, 3 Norseman and 1 Anson.  It would appear that the one Anson never made it to its destination.

The Stuff of Legend – Buried/Hidden Treasure?

This crash wreckage is the stuff of legend too. It was rumoured that the military buried the remnants of the aircraft on the field where this crash occurred. Contrary to popular myth, the aircraft was not buried by the military near the crash site. It was the property of the Crown.

Even as a write off, the scrap metal and other parts still had value. The plane was likely recovered by the Repair Depot from Scoudouc, NB for eventual disposal by Crown Assets.[12] In the end Avro Anson MkV Serial #12578 was simply hauled away by the military and written off by official accounts. But it wasn’t all hauled away!

Claire remembered that the aircraft was eventually scrapped on site. The bulk of it was taken away by military authorities but not before some souvenirs were appropriated! It is alleged that some ‘salvaged’ materiel was appropriated rom the crash site. There are reports that objects associated with Avro Anson MkV Serial #12578 were seen and in family possession for many years following the crash.

Photograph # 1 below gives a clue on what may have happened to some of the parts of the aircraft. It is very evident that there was a tip broken off the propeller on the left hand side. Ernst Jordan’s nephew reported seeing that item in the Jordan home as a young child. He was always excited to see it every time he visited. It was said that Ernest was making hay in the field when this happened.[13] There must have been debris all over his field that was retrieved after the fact by anybody seeking a piece of history as a souvenir.

From the archives of Bonnie McGrath, Glenelg NS (with permission) Caption: Not sure of the names here. My Aunt Ella is on the front right (with the child in front of her). (This picture came from Elsie (Archibald) MacDonald). Photograph 1
From the archives of Bonnie McGrath, Glenelg NS (with permission)
Caption: Not sure of the names here. My Aunt Ella is on the front right (with the child in front of her). (This picture came from Elsie (Archibald) MacDonald).
Photograph 1

It would appear that other remnants also existed. Two young sisters remember playing on green seats in Mrs. Elwyn’s field in Glenelg that were rumored to be from the airplane. The colour was lime or light green. The girls remember that the seat was wooden and rounded at the back. They also remember a dashboard of some kind. They were told (unsure by who) that this was wreckage of the plane crash some years before. The area they remember seeing this material was in the brush at the edge of the field bordering Mrs. Elwyn Archibald’s property.[14]

So it would seem that there was some material left behind in the community. There might still be some of that stuff in local barns, who knows!

A picture is worth a thousand words!

Oral histories give us a sense of the event. Photographic images provide an accurate scale and magnitude of the moments of an event. But they first must be found. There have been a number of these images that have been located and have come to light since I first wrote and posted this article. They are fascinating! Moreover they have led to another line of investigation.

The crash did happen on the near side of the field bounded by the St Mary’s west branch St Mary’s River at Glenelg. The landing was successful but must have been too fast in the approach. You can plainly see in photograph 2 how close the aircraft came to the property line at the crossroad of Highway 348/Waternish road.

From the archives of Bonnie McGrath, Glenelg NS (with permission) Caption: This picture was given to us from Jessie Lawson. Photograph 2
From the archives of Bonnie McGrath, Glenelg NS (with permission)
Caption: This picture was given to us from Jessie Lawson.
Photogaph 2

Another view of the crash site in photograph 3 shows that the Avro Anson was heading for Ernst Jordan’s house that was at the end of the field. The Jordan home has long since gone.

From the archives of Bonnie McGrath, Glenelg NS (with permission) Caption: Bonnie’s father, Bob Archibald and Aunt Ella (Hattie) Archibald. Photograph 3
From the archives of Bonnie McGrath, Glenelg NS (with permission)
Caption: Bonnie’s father, Bob Archibald and Aunt Ella (Hattie) Archibald.
Photograph 3

I suspect the pilot had to brake hard for that one reason alone. He was about to hit a dirt berm evident in the photo (#3). Odds are that he would either punch through and over the berm, sliding through, hitting a house, or impacting on the hill opposite destroying the aircraft, killing the crew. There were few options but to hit the brakes. He was running out of room! But the real reason is found in the official crash record that will be discussed in due course.

From the archives of Bonnie McGrath, Glenelg NS (with permission) Caption: Not sure who these people are (from Jessie Lawson's photo). Photograph 4
From the archives of Bonnie McGrath, Glenelg NS (with permission)
Caption: Not sure who these people are (from Jessie Lawson’s photo).
Photograph 4

The above photo’s (#4) perspective appears to have been taken from under the wing of the crashed Avro Anson. The object in the foreground is a piece of metal wreckage from that aircraft.

But this photograph gives an interesting insight how close this event came to disaster. The men in the middle ground of the photo are very near the aircraft. If you measure the distance between them and the people in the far ground you can see that the aircraft was not very far from clearing and exiting the field.

Had the pilot not taken action to brake hard, the plane could have easily continued and plowed into the farm house killing or injuring all there in the resulting crash.

The pilot had the presence of mind and courage to take the correct steps to avoid that. He did so at great personal risk to himself, his aircraft, and his crew. He braked hard, collapsed the gear, and skidded to a halt that prevented certain disaster that would be remembered quite differently and solemnly today had it happened!

The Glenelg air crash was a close disaster but there was also humour in its passing. That was Ernest Jordan’s hay field just where the crash occurred.

Ernest Jordan was likely one of the first on the scene given the proximity of his home and that the field had just been mown. The aircrew were standing in the field.

They had their maps out and asked Ernest where they were while pointing at the maps. Ernest said “You’re in my F***ing hay field!”[15] The crew….was lost indeed!

Transcript of the Official Crash Record

The third and final element that completes the story comes from the official record of the crash. Avro Anson MkV Serial #12578 was piloted by F/L M. J. Callahan. He was carrying two passengers that day, LAC A. Tubb and LAC A. Drew.[16]

The official transcript stated that “The pilot got lost flying from Scoudouc to Debert. He did a square search but was unable to get a pin point.

He decided to do a precautionary landing when he had 30 minutes of safe flying left. He flew over a field once then came in for a landing near Glenelg, New Brunswick (record is incorrect).

The field was fairly short and a farmer raking in the field caused the pilot to apply brakes harshly. The undercarriage collapsed when brakes were applied.”[17]

So it would seem that Ernst Jordan was indeed first on the scene that fateful day!

This accident report and the recollections of those there, give us a general flight track of Avro Anson MkV Serial #12578. The Anson was part of Debert’s unit establishment. It was on a flight outbound from Scoudouc, NB to Debert, NS for an unspecified reason.

F/L Callahan was on a return flight departing from Scoudouc, heading generally eastward to return to Debert, its home base. Scoudouc to Debert is in a rough line bounded by the Bay of Fundy and the Northumberland Strait, flying over the isthmus of the New Brunswick- Nova Scotia border.

There were waypoints along the way, Amherst, Parr borough, and so on that should have assisted orientation and navigation. There was also a clear path pointing the direction ahead by following the railroad and TransCanada Highway that passed through Debert.

There was nothing in the report that commented on the weather, other problems, time of day, or other details that may have indicated why the pilot encountered difficulty in locating Debert. The report was typical of its time, rendering the story in one simple paragraph and conclusion. Not much time was spent in analysis or details.

This should have been an easy return trip. There were clear waypoints and landmarks along the way. So how did F/L Callahan get so lost and why didn’t he have a navigator on board? There were no answers in the official crash record.

The interview notes though may give some insight. It was recorded that the crew had said they got lost in a thunderstorm over Antigonish and were disoriented.[18] So it was quite possible that the weather also deteriorated locally en-route along the flight path that contributed to the pilot’s difficulty in flying and navigating. It is mere conjecture but it is the only obvious conclusion at this point.

It does not matter what the conclusion may be, the fact is that F/L Callahan was lost. He did a grid search along the way in an attempt to locate and pinpoint either his home base or a suitable field for safe landing. Time simply ran out for him. He had few options. He chose to land with what was available and at hand.

F/L Callahan’s situation was desperate and most urgent. He had only 30 minutes of fuel remaining in his tanks with no hope of making any safe landfall at any nearby base. These were too far out of range to be of any use or assistance.

He landed at Glenelg to his, Ernst Jordan’s and his superiors’ chagrin.

The aircraft sustained Category B damage and was subsequently written off.

Analysis Avro Anson – Its Specifications in Relation to Crash Events

Photograph 4 provides some key information to the aftermath of the landing and of the crash of Avro Anson MkV Serial #12578. The aircraft itself was a robust airframe and was widely used in Canada. The Avro Anson was designed for operations on short air fields. So how did it come to such an inglorious end in Jordan’s Field at Glenelg?

The Avro Anson had a minimum runway requirement of 2000 yards or 6000 feet.[19] It was very capable of landing on grass.[20] The landing requirements for most aircraft are usually somewhat shorter than that required for take-off.

The field at Glenelg is estimated to be about 2700 feet (800m/875 yards) at most. But at that distance. It was likely very tight for landing the Avro Anson MkV. This was made more difficult given obvious obstacles at both ends of the field consisting of trees and berm. The usable run out length was probably much greatly reduced and probably below the minimum required for a safe landing.

We now have an idea why the sense of urgency for landing at Glenelg. F/L Callahan was running out of time and fuel. These photographs provide some insight into his approach to the field and how events then unfolded. The landing characteristics of an Avro Anson MkI too provides great insight.

The stall speed of the Avro Anson was between 50-60 knots. On a normal landing the flaps would be lowered and an approach made onto a runway starting at 80 knots. The aircraft would be on a glide approach and when it crossed the field threshold, when power was further reduced by 10 knots before crossing the threshold, and then the aircraft would land on the prospective airfield.[21]

Both engines of Avro Anson MkV Serial #12578 appeared to be functioning at the time. There is no indication from the witness accounts that the aircraft had engine trouble. But let us assume that there were engine problems. This could have happened at any moment given F/L Callahan’s fuel situation.

The procedure on a single engine approach is instructive. It was most important for the pilot to retain directional control. He was not allowed to let the airspeed fall below 85 knots (5 knots faster than a normal approach). He was to delay lowering flaps until confirming that he could safely land before lowering them and setting down on an airfield.[22]

He had other things to consider in ly because he could not afford to overshoot the runway. An overshoot was inadvisable for it was a completely unsafe endeavour.

In these circumstances, the pilot was requirehis approach. Was he too high, too low, to slow too fast? All these judgements had to be made expeditiousd to accurately handle the aircraft and maintain a minimum speed of 80 knots. He was also advised not to go below 600 feet in altitude. If he elected to do so or if he had no choice, he had to aware that he would lose an additional 400 feet in altitude in the process of cleaning up his approach, while clearing the runway in the attempt to achieve this go around.[23]

Failure to allow for these factors would have been catastrophic. He would have simply flown into the ground. F/L Callahan was committed to a landing because he was now less than 400 feet in altitude and there was insufficient time and height in the flight profile to safely abort the landing and seek an alternative field at that point.

To put “speed” into perspective, the landing speed of an Avro Anson MkI was 92 knots or 106 mph. This first production model did not have full flaps and was only produced with inefficient trailing-edge flaps.[24] This was an MkV. But the apparent airspeed to an observer on the ground in all variants would be around 100 mph.

We must assume that this pilot was operating by the book and was landing at speeds between 80-85 knots (100mph) on touching down. We now have the problem of the control roll out. The aircraft was under control. The problem was did he have sufficient running room to bleed out speed for a safe landing? No! F/L Callahan’s problem was that there was indeed an obstacle in his way. It wasn’t a haystack, it wasn’t a rock. It was Ernst Jordan who was raking in his field that caused him to apply brakes harshly.

It is doubtful that F/L Callahan had time to do much else. Even if he had cut power at the point he touched down, with the flaps deployed on proper settings, the aircraft would have persisted in a forward direction for quite a while because of its momentum. Braking would not have been possible until the point his tail touched the ground and where the speed was slow enough to safely apply the brakes, coming to a stop. That did not happen, it was a hard braking.

The crash at Glenelg was a severe accident but it was not catastrophic as judged by other crashes, which too is suggestive. He simply did not have time nor space to accomplish a safe landing in that constrained field. The pilot was forced to brake before he either hit Ernst Jordan, the berm or before he careened into the Jordan house at the end of the field. He simply ran out of options, room, and time to do much else.

A Beam of Light

So had the war only touched Glenelg days before its conclusion? It would seem so but this actually was not the case. The air war was very active over Nova Scotia. Both Claire and Graham observed many aircraft over flights in the area as youngsters. They were a common sight.

The Second World War was very real on the Canadian home front. Local communities in Nova Scotia did observe a local blackout throughout the war. That blackout was necessary for a wide variety of reasons. But it all boiled down to security.

There were very active U-boat operations, especially in the approaches to our Eastern shore. It would seem that a local blackout was necessary for inland communities too. It was required.

Light aided the enemy. Any beam of light at night from a known location could have been used by the enemy as a fix. The reasoning for a blackout to communities some 30 miles inland from these operations may seem in congruent but oddly enough there is a basis in fact for its necessity.

Any beam of light from a known point could be used as a navigational fix. In the clear night skies of the Nova Scotia during the Second World War, light would be visible a long ways away. The night skies then were clearly different than today. The lack of light pollution in the day would make easy identification of places and fix locations over long distances.

But the pinpoint of light also affected and detracted from Canadian air training. Many air force operational and training establishments existed in Nova Scotia from Debert, to Yarmouth, Sydney to Greenwood that trained both by day and by night.

Aircraft flew extensively over the province as well as those from bases in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, we can easily deduce the intensity of training. All these aircraft added to the load and number operating in skies over Nova Scotia.

The need for realism was paramount and required for navigation training. Any beam of light at night enabled the trainee to fix a location especially at known locations at night, was detrimental to the training. Crews wouldn’t get that luxury over the skies in Europe while on active service and under fire. The training had to be as close to realistic as possible, conducted under the same conditions as would be found in a war zone, and without being hurt or shot at.

Concluding Remarks

Air Training and operations were a vast enterprise on Canada’s east coast during the Second World War. There was much hurt, pain suffering, and sacrifice in this vast enterprise. There were some 856 deaths in the training of 131553 aircrew in the BCATP throughout Canada. It seems a small number. But numbers belie the immensity of the loss.

Debert alone incurred some 110 of these 856 fatal casualties (13%), just one small rural community, near the hub of central Nova Scotia.[25] Casualties, loss, death and suffering did happen here and elsewhere in many Nova Scotia communities Many would come to be touched in different ways by its consequences, some humorous, most tragically.

We often lose sight of the active operational units in Nova Scotia specifically tasked with the protection of our eastern approaches from the U-boat threat. Aircraft were dispatched from various units to pursue, contact and destroy these targets if possible. They also acted as an air screen for departing and incoming convoys in Canadian approaches. Many of these were lost on operations and never returned.

The war was very real in Nova Scotia. It was in an active front of operations, it just wasn’t obvious. There were some 300 air crashes alone in Nova Scotia.[26]

Many stories are still yet to be discovered and told. Sometimes all it takes to do so, is one picture to prick one`s interest and will to discover our vibrant history. The Girl on the Wing led such a discovery. Does one exist for you? You never know what`s waiting for you in those old family albums.


Claire McKeen is a life-long resident of Glenelg where she and husband, Doug, happily raised seven children. Claire is still active to this day. She is a member of the Kirk Memorial Church and the UCW.

Graham Kirk is a lifelong resident and still lives at Glenelg. Born to John (Isaac) Kirk and Margaret Catherine (nee Macdonald) at St Martha’s Hospital 1933 who raised a family of four girls and two boys in Glenelg. Graham worked for STORA Forest Company for many years and is a lifelong member of Glenelg Presbyterian Church.


This paper would not have been possible without the help of many people. First of all I would like to thank both Claire McKeen and Graham Kirk for relating their stories. Their stories are the core of the paper, the memories of those who were there.

But the paper would not have been brought to life without the photographs! I want to thank Timmy Macdonald and Bonnie McGrath, who generously shared their photographs and gave me  permission to share them with a wider audience.

Finally I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Mark Peapell, Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum, and Major Chris Larsen of CFB Greenwood who helped me with the technical details, correcting the copy, and providing direction to the official records from whence I was able to reconstruct the story of Avro Anson MkV Serial #12578’s odyssey.

It would have been impossible to build the story in any depth without the help and generosity of all.

Thank you.

Gerry Madigan
May 2015

[1] Interview Claire McKeen, Glenelg NS, Claire’s recollection of an air crash at Glenelg, NS WWII, conducted by telephone 23 April 2015, 1400-1425 hrs, author’s archives. Unless otherwise cited or noted, this is Claire’s recollection, account and story on the day.

[2] Arthur Krock, Japan Surrenders, End of War!, The New York Times, 14 August 1945. Accessed: 26 April 2015

[3] Weather Underground, Weather History for CXTD (Antigonish), Nearest airport to Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Saturday 11 August 1945. Accessed: 28 April 2015

[4] Email Major Chris Larsen, Wing Historian CFB Greenwood, 30 April 2015

[5] Ibid Larsen

[6] Google Maps, Satellite view of Glenelg, Accessed: 24 April 2015

[7] Interview Graham Kirk, Glenelg NS, Graham’s recollection of an air crash at Glenelg, NS WWII, conducted by telephone 26 April 2015, 1305-1325hrs hrs, author’s archives Unless otherwise cited or noted, this is Graham’s recollection, account and story on the day.

[8] Ibid Larsen

[9] Major Chris Larsen, May-08-15 1:08:44 PM, enclosure. This section is based on the contents of transcript in the enclosure to the e-mail. It confirms the number of crew aboard as Graham remembered it.

[10] Mark Peapell, , Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum, identified Avro Anson MkII, e-mail 23 April 2015

[11] Major Mathias Joost, Department of National Defence / Government of Canada, Directorate of History and Heritage (DHH), Operational Records Team, Crash Record Avro Anson MkV 11 Aug 1945, e-mail May-13-15 10:00:22 AM & 14 May 2015 13:28:49 +0000 (this entire section was written with notes from DHH noted above)

[12] Ibid Larsen

[13] Jim MacLaughlin, Personal Recollection, Facebook, Glenelg, Aspen, Melrose, Smithfield & East River. Memories In Pictures, 3 May 2015

[14] Margie T.Goodacre and Liz (Carty) Harpell, Personal Recollection, Facebook, Glenelg, Aspen, Melrose, Smithfield & East River. Memories In Pictures, 3 May 2015

[15] Jim MacLaughlin , Anecdote, family history comment, Facebook, Glenelg, Aspen, Melrose, Smithfield & East River. Memories In Pictures, 3 May 2015

[16] Ibid Graham Kirk, this confirms Graham’s recollection.

[17] Ibid Major Chris Larsen, May-08-15 1:08:44 PM.

[18] Ibid Claire McKeen

[19] David Ogilvy, The Anson in later life, General Aviation, October 2006, pg. 34-35

[20] Ibid Ogilvy, pg. 33

[21] Ibid Ogilvy, pg. 35

[22] Ibid Ogilvy, pg. 35

[23] Ibid Ogilvy, pg. 35

[24] United States Of America, The Avro “Anson” General Purpose Airplane (British) – A Two-Engine Low-Wing Cantilever Monoplane, Aircraft Circulars National Advisory Committee For Aeronautics , No. 201, Washington, March 1936, pg.8

[25] Hosted by RootsWeb, No.31 Operational Training Unit June 3, 1941-July 1, 1944 – No.7 Operational Training Unit July 1, 1944-July 20, 1945 Debert, Nova Scotia, Roll of Honor, 2010. Accessed: 20 December 2010

[26] Nancy Kelly, Military looking for memories of Valley aircrews, crashes from the past, Kings County Register, 8 September 2008. Accessed: 22 April 2015