A pilot from Nanaimo is among those featured in a new book about Canadians who served in the Royal Air Force Bomber Command during the Second World War.
On Nov. 16, editor Keith Ogilvie of North Saanich unveils Failed to Return: Canada’s Bomber Command Sacrifice in the Second World War at an online book launch. He’ll be joined by contributor Steve Darlow, who has written extensively on Bomber Command, and Kevin Windsor, executive director of the National Air Force Museum of Canada.
Ogilvie said telling the stories of some of the Canadians who served in Bomber Command is part of an effort to “try and make sure that people are aware of the individual efforts that the men who were part of Bomber Command made and the commitments they made and the sacrifices they made.”
Nanaimo is represented in the book by flight lieutenant John Fraser. Ogilvie calls Fraser “a fascinating man from a number of perspectives.” Known as ‘Fearless Fraser,’ Fraser completed 30 or 40 missions before being offered the opportunity to be an instructor, but he turned it down to keep fighting.
Fraser proceeded to join the Dam Busters squadron, which was tasked with destroying dams in Germany’s Ruhr Valley, a mission Ogilvie said was “highly technical” and “demanded the highest standard of flying.” Fraser was one of two airmen who barely survived being shot down.
“The pilot managed to keep the airplane in the air long enough for John and one of his crew mates to get out of the aircraft at only a few hundred feet above the ground,” Ogilvie said.
Fraser ended up being captured by the Germans and spent the rest of the war in prisoner of war camps, including Stalag Luft III, where The Great Escape took place.
“It’s an extraordinary story and certainly one worth knowing,” Ogilvie said.
After the war, Fraser went on to become the second president of the Nanaimo Flying Club. He died in 1962 when his plane went down while he was conducting an aerial survey of log booms at Saltery Bay near Powell River.
“[Fraser’s] wartime efforts were quite amazing and he came back and went into civilian life after the war and he did OK,” Ogilvie said. “But … he always was on the edge of fitting in but never quite did, which was a common issue I think with a lot of people who survived the war.”
The stories in Failed to Return, including that of fellow Vancouver Islander Teddy Blenkinsop of Victoria, cover only a few of the 40,000 Canadians who served in Bomber Command. Ogilvie noted that that sum makes up about a third of the airmen in Bomber Command, making for a strong Canadian presence.
“It’s way out of proportion with the population of Canada compared to the U.K. and so on,” he said. “So Canada had made an extraordinary contribution as a country and the stories of the individuals sometimes get lost in there.”
Failed to Return: Canada’s Bomber Command Sacrifice in the Second World War is available at https://www.heritagehouse.ca/book/failed-to-return/.
WHAT’S ON … Failed to Return online book launch takes place Nov. 16 from noon to 1 p.m. To register, visit http://failedtoreturn.eventbrite.ca. The Nanaimo Historical Society will host a public meeting Nov. 18 at which Brian McFadden, Vancouver Island Military Museum vice-president, will speak about Fraser and his missions. The meeting is at the Bowen Park Activity Centre at 7 p.m.; doors open at 6:30 p.m.