Every year on this day, I think about a man I never met. I share a first name—and a lot of DNA—with him. His name was Eric William MacDonald, and he was my mom’s brother.
Uncle Eric enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War Two. He volunteered. He felt that it was his duty to serve in the armed forces and fight for freedom and democracy. He didn’t have to go. It was his decision, and his choice.
He rose to the rank of Sergeant, and was deployed to England, serving as the tail gunner on a Lancaster Bomber in the 83rd Pathfinder Squadron. The Pathfinder Force (PFF) was a group of squadrons in RAF Bomber Command whose mission it was to locate targets and mark them with flares, providing increased accuracy for the main bomber force that came in behind them.
The Avro Lancaster he and his crewmates flew was designated R5670, and its mission was to mark bombing targets in Genoa, Italy (or Genova, in Italian). They flew out of RAF Station Wyton, Near St. Ive’s, Cambridgeshire, at 2205 hours, November 6th, 1942. On their return the next day, they were attempting to land at RAF Station Mildenhall in Suffolk, but the pilot overshot the runway due to foggy conditions. They circled around to attempt the landing again, but the Lancaster stalled in a steep turn and crashed not far from the airfield. The plane burst into flames on impact, killing all aboard.
Sergeant MacDonald was twenty years old.
Another Canadian, Sergeant Franklin Thomas Sabourin of Manitoba, was also a gunner on board. The rest of the crew were British.
Every year, I put up a picture of Uncle Eric on my cubicle wall at work. For the first eleven days of November, I add one poppy per day to the area around the picture. It’s important to me to do this, because I want to honor him, and his crew-mates, and his peers, and all Canadian Forces members, for their courage, sacrifice, and selfnessness in the protection of our rights and freedoms.
Thank you, Uncle Eric. I don’t take this stuff for granted.
Lest we forget…