November, 2014 · ISSN 1913-4134
On the 11th hour of the 11th day on the 11th month each year we remember those who fought and died so that we may enjoy the freedom we too often take for granted. And in this issue of your newsletter on this day and throughout this month I ask you to remember those who battled for us, many of us yet unborn at the time, through the eyes and lives of two Sackville boys who fought and died for us. Donna Sullivan writes to us about Pilot Officer Joseph Albert Richard who, through his bravery and flying expertise, was recommended for the Distinguished Flying Medal. We shall remember. And Nancy Rourke contacted us about her uncle Robert C. MacFadden who assisted in a remarkable rescue operation serving as Able Seaman aboard the minesweeper HMCS Georgian. It is quite a tale. We shall remember.
Pilot Officer Joseph Albert Richard
by Donna Sullivan
Joseph Albert Richard, son of Dominique and Agnes Richard, along with his siblings Helen, Leo, John and Henry, lived on Walker Road in Middle Sackville. Joseph Albert graduated from the Middle Sackville High School and shortly after was employed by the Sackville Tribune Printing Company Ltd. as a pressman apprentice. He enlisted with the RCAF in Moncton, August 21, 1940, and was posted to No. 1 Initial Training School in Toronto. Upon graduation he was selected as a wireless operator/air gunner and posted to No. 2 Wireless School at Calgary, AB. Then upon completion of his training at No. 3 Bombing and Gunnery School in MacDonald, MB, April 14, 1941, he was promoted to Sergeant.
He went overseas, and after completing operational training in England was posted to the 407 Demon Squadron, a coastal strike unit of flying Hudson bombers. While with that squadron Sgt. Richard, F/S Majeau and Sgt. Cook were recommended for the Distinguished Flying Medal. The recommendation reads:
On the 12th February 1942, Flight Sergeant Majeau with his crew Sergeant Cook and Sergeant Richard, were despatched to attack an enemy force proceeding through the English Channel northwards up the enemy coast. Upon approaching the target the aircraft was attacked by three Me. 110s. While the gunners engaged the attacking aircraft the pilot and observer went into the attack on the largest ship which was probably the Scharnhorst. The aircraft was hit by cannon shell and machine gunfire from the attacking aircraft and the nose of the aircraft was sprayed with shrapnel from anti-aircraft fire from the ship. The attack was made from 1,500 ft. but the bombs hung up because the bomb doors were hit by a cannon shell at the moment of release. The pilot did not realize that his bombs had not gone off until he had returned part way back to base and they had driven off the attacking aircraft. By this time the rudder was jammed and the pilot had to jettison his bombs. The pilot then made a safe landing at his base.
At the time of the recommendation J. Albert had flown 81 operational hours and had attacked three merchant ships and damaged one of 3,000 tons. His recommendation for the DFM was downgraded. He was later commissioned as a Flying Officer and promoted to Pilot Officer.
It was learned through news dispatches that J. Albert Richard had suffered a fractured shoulder. At home the guys at the Tribune planned a banquet in honor of him, as well as another Tribune staff member on active service with the RCN, Able Seaman Arthur Wright. Toasts were made to Sgt. Richard’s health and well-being and later a parcel was packed and forwarded to him. Later that year the Richard family received the following missive:
Deeply regret to inform you your son, Can. R. Flight Sergeant Joseph Albert Richard is reported missing as the result of air operations on the 28th April 1942. Letter confirming this cablegram and giving all available information follows. Any further information received will be communicated to you immediately. Should any news of him reach you from any other source please inform me. The Air Council express their sympathy with you in your anxiety.
J. Albert Richard was mentioned in dispatches effective June 9, 1942, and the London Gazette, June 11, 1942.
Five years went by with no further word on their son. During that time Dominique and Agnes Richard learned that another son, Private Leo Richard, who had joined the army, was also badly injured when he was gunned down by a sniper. Then in 1947 the Richard family received the following from Overseas Headquarters:
Pilot Officer Joseph Albert Richard. Through the translation of captured German documents it has been ascertained that his body was recovered by the German ship Arctur and identified with his correct name and number which was marked on his Mae West. He was buried at sea, this being in the North Sea, a few miles out from the Frisian Islands. Permanent commemoration to the memory of all gallant airmen who lost their lives in the fight for freedom will be carried out as soon as details are complete and conditions permit.
In January the following year the Richard family received word that Pilot Officer J. Albert Richard had been honored by the Geographic Board of Canada by having the name Richard approved for a lake on the Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut, 63°52′N 091°46′W (map sheet 550), in recognition of his services overseas.
- The Sackville Tribune (issue unknown) 1942
- The Sackville Tribune-Post, Jan. 30, 1948
- Veterans Affairs Office, Ottawa
- Family information and photos courtesy Henry Richard
Danger at Daybreak
Able Seaman Robert C. MacFadden (1923–1996) and the HMCS Georgian
by Colin MacKinnon
Many Canadian men and women have served in this country’s past conflicts. As time moves on, many of the stories of these people and events that they were involved with are lost to us. Our last known Canadian WWI veteran, John Babcock, passed in 2010 and many of those who fought in WWII are also no longer with us. So, any story saved to remind us of past sacrifices is a legacy for future generations.
This story is about a Sackville boy who was involved in a daring sea rescue that occurred in 1943 off the coast of Newfoundland in the cold and unforgiving North Atlantic. Robert Clarke MacFadden was born on 28 March, 1923, the son of Charles L. and Edna Penniah (Doherty) MacFadden who lived on York Street in Sackville. As a young man, he loved the out-of-doors, and enjoyed a number of activities with his sister Phyllis who was near his age. He had another sister, Beryl, who was quite a bit younger and still lives in Sackville. In the late fall he enjoyed fishing at the nearby Mill Brook (see Newsletter #6, 1998) with Norman Doherty and Hilly Crossman. Although not a large brook, the family recalled that the small trout it produced made a delicious meal. In the winter, he set snares for rabbits along the edge of the fields and in the woods behind the pig barn. His sister Phyllis recalled that once he caught a muskrat in the cellar of their house and remembered seeing the pelt stretched and pinned on the railing of the back veranda. Other winter activities included coasting on the hill below Rayworth Heights and playing hockey at the Pickard Quarry.
All children like pets, and Robert was no exception. Nancy Rourke, Robert’s niece, recalled being told a story where he arrived home with this cute little black puppy he got from Hilyard Crossman. He and Hilly hid the puppy in the loft of the barn and Robert was crying because he knew his mother would not let him keep it! Bob’s sister Phyllis helped the situation and pleaded his case. Robert was allowed to keep the dog!
When he was quite young, maybe eight, he enjoyed boxing and built his own boxing ring in the yard behind his house; his bedroom walls were covered with pictures of boxers. He had two pair of boxing gloves and sparred with the neighborhood boys for fun. On one occasion he knocked his friend’s tooth out!
The threat of childhood diseases was always present and the family children had the usual bouts of mumps, measles and chicken pox. On one occasion, Robert, and his mother Edna, came down with Scarlet Fever. A sheet was hung across Edna’s door and a notice was posted saying they were quarantined. This isolation lasted two weeks. Robert MacFadden would have been about 16 years old when the war started and worked for some time at the 5¢ to $1.00 store in Sackville. He joined the Canadian Navy in March 1942, just shortly before his nineteenth birthday. He trained at Saint John, New Brunswick, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was assigned to the H.M.C.S Georgian in September 1942. The Georgian was a Bangor Class minesweeper built by Dufferin Shipbuilding Company of Toronto and launched on the 28th January, 1941. Not a large ship, it was 180 feet long, 28.5 feet wide and with a draught of 8.3 feet. Gross displacement was 672 tonnes. All hands on the ship included 6 Officers and 77 Crew.2
Robert probably was employed at a number of tasks as he gained experience aboard ship. He would have started as an Ordinary Seaman and, with time, became an Able Seaman. His family recalls that at some point he was a radar operator responsible for searching for underwater mines as well as the “shooter” responsible for firing at mines to detonate them. On his off-duty hours he took on the job as ship’s barber and gained the nickname “Iber” because of it. He would cut the sailors’ hair in exchange for cigarettes. In 1943, at just twenty years old, he was to take part in a daring sea rescue that was to make international news. The following account that appeared in the Montreal Gazette (20 October 1943), and widely copied in the United States and Canada, described the details of the heroics:
H.M.C.S. Georgian Crew Rescues 10 U.S. Fliers Adrift in Atlantic
Ottawa, October 19. — Ten United States army fliers were rescued by the Canadian minesweeper Georgian after they drifted on two rubber rafts for 18 hours in the iceberg-dotted North Atlantic, Naval Service Headquarters announced today.
When the rescue was carried out was not stated. The airmen’s Flying Fortress had to be crash-landed after it developed engine trouble. It broke in two as it hit the water and sank in a few seconds, almost before the crew could get away.
“The crew of the H.M.C.S. Georgian are highly commended for the efficient manner in which they carried out the rescue of the 10 United States army fliers” said the U.S. Government in a letter. “The rescue which was made under trying conditions was a difficult job well done.”
The Canadian government’s official message to the ship was: “H.M.C.S. Georgian is to be commended for the efficiency shown in rescuing survivors of the U.S.army aircraft.”
Lt. Allan Boucher, R.C.N.V.R, of Halifax, Ottawa and Regina, Georgian commanding officer, said there was “actually very little to it,” except for the danger of proceeding through the treacherous waters and fog.
“We were on convoy escort duty at the time. Shortly before five in the morning I was called to the bridge when flares were reported off our port bow. The fog was still a bit heavy and it was rather hard to ascertain just what type of flares they were. As it’s a custom of enemy U-boats to set up rockets to draw convoy escorts out of position we were a little leery at first. When another flare went up I decided to chance it. I signaled to the senior escort for permission to investigate. As we made our way towards the flare we just missed a huge iceberg. For a moment we thought it was a sub.” There were several other close calls with icebergs and when located, the airmen’s rafts were crowded between two huge bergs.
“There wasn’t sufficient room for us to manoeuver between them so the trick was to get into position so they would drift down on us,” said Lt. Alex Grant R.C.N.V.R., of Montreal, who took charge of the rescue party on the quarterdeck. “I ordered the ship’s scramble nets to be lashed over the side.” Leading Seamen Albert Baker of Ottawa, Edward White and Edward Hitchin, both of Toronto, went over to help the airmen aboard. “They were so cold and numb from exposure they could hardly move,” said Engine Room Artificer Thomas Pate of Toronto who, with Sub-Lt. David Burt of Toronto, carried the first survivor to the Ward Room. The ship’s company to a man regarded the incident lightly. Able Seaman George Reid of Quebec classed it “only a regular day’s job at sea.” “Maybe it was routine for these sailors,” said James B. Crary, of Canton, N.Y., one of the American fliers “but God bless them and I hope they’re around every time I’m rescued. They work like fiends and really take risks. It was no easy chore getting us aboard and for a while we were afraid they wouldn’t be able to help us.”
The first thing the Americans did after their rescue was to search through soaked, sea-drenched clothing for pictures of wives or sweet-hearts, said Grant.
One of the sailors also recorded some of his involvement in the rescue:
I had been in the crows nest for quite a while and had just came down for supper. Having spotted nothing at this point. Another fellow and myself just happened to look to the side of the ship and spotted a speck in the water. We hollered and our ship headed in that direction. At last we had found them. There were 2 lifeboats lashed together and all 10 missing men aboard. Cold, wet and hungry, but alive. We put the scramble nets over the side and a couple of our guys climbed down to help them aboard. We got them into the Officers’ Ward Room and cleaned them up a bit. Two of them had a gash on their leg, but nothing serious. After getting dry clothes on etc., they were offered a rum and coke to warm them up internally but I can’t remember if they all partook of this or not.4 – Clarence Wark memoirs
The rescue itself may have been “only a regular day’s job at sea” as stated by Able Seaman George Reid of Quebec. However, the risk taken by the Georgian and crew cannot be understated. It could have just as easily been a U-boat trap to lure the ship into danger, or away from the convoy leaving the other ships unguarded. That the lives of the 10 airmen hung on the decision to go into harm’s way caught the attention of the media. With so much death and destruction throughout the war, the saving of these men from almost certain death was something to celebrate in the darkest days of the conflict. The rescue of the U.S. airmen was a significant enough news event to generate a cartoon page of the heroics with the title Danger at Daybreak featured in True Comics #33, March 1944.
The MacFadden family has a few rare photographs that were taken by Clarence Wark, Robert’s friend, while they were aboard ship. Officially, such photographs were not permitted, but the posing on deck in plain sight below the bridge suggests the ship’s officer allowed it. Wark took the pictures with a small Brownie camera and developed the pictures in the “Chain Lock” room (where the chain for the anchor was stored) as it was the only place that was dark enough and where he would not be disturbed.
Although the details are scant, the Georgian was also involved in another sea rescue. In February 1942 the Norwegian ship Tyr departed Loch Ewe, Scotland, in convoy destined for Halifax. On 9 March, she was struck by a torpedo from a U-boat (U-96) and quickly sank. Three life-boats were launched from the stricken ship but were unable to stay together due to high wind and waves. “The 3rd mate’s boat with 9 on board was found after 16 hours by a Canadian patrol vessel and landed in Halifax that same evening. The 1st mate’s boat (also with 9 on board) was spotted by a Canadian aircraft and after having been in the boat for 52 hours its occupants were rescued by the Canadian HMCS Georgian on March 11 and landed in Halifax on the 12th. The captain’s lifeboat with 13 on board was never found. 18 had survived.”3
After her convoy escort missions, the Georgian was assigned to support the D-Day invasion in Normandy. On 18 February, 1944, she departed Halifax with other minesweepers Bayfield, Mulgrave and Thunder for Plymouth, via the Azores, and arrived on 7 March. Once in England, she was assigned to a series of minesweepers flotillas, particularly the 14th, and was present on D-Day 2. At this point in his Navy career, Robert had been trained as a radar operator to search for underwater mines.
Robert’s mother maintained a diary throughout the war and was constantly worried about his safety. She made the following notes in her journal:
- March 13, 1944 — Wire from Robert, arrived safely in England.
- May 15, 1944 — sent letter to Robert.
- May 16, 1944 — sent letter and parcel to Robert.
- June 4, 1944 — Sent card from bank to Robert.
- June 10, 1944 — Sent cigarettes to Robert.
- June 26, 1944 — Sent box to Robert.
- October 11, 1944 — Sent box to Robert.
Mrs. MacFadden recalled that when her son was crossing the English Channel, heading to France in advance of the D-Day invasion, the officers gave the guys their mail to take their mind off of what was going happen. Robert’s sister Phyllis had sent him a can of peanuts and he ate them all at once; however, probably from the stress of the pending action, he could not hold them down.
After the war, Robert married Claire Murray on the 18th June, 1946. She was the daughter of Ward and Elizabeth Murray. Claire and Robert were dating during the war and she was a coding operator who sent signals to his minesweeper while working for the Navy in Halifax. They were married in Bright, Ontario, and moved to the town of Oliver in the southern Okanagan Valley of British Columbia just before 1954 where he operated the “Oliver Variety Store”. Robert and Claire had 5 children: Patricia Claire, Roberta Lynn, Mary Jane, Joanne Lee, and Larry Robert. Robert Clarke MacFadden died 28 September, 1996.
A special thanks to Nancy Rourke and family for their interest in the Robert MacFadden story. Nancy was responsible for sourcing many of the details and photographs regarding Robert’s life.
- Danger at Daybreak, True Comics, Volume 4, No. 33, March 1944, True Comics Inc., Chicago and New York, U.S.A.
- readyayeready.com/ships/shipview.php?id=1154&ship=GEORGIAN (Accessed on 8 October 2014)
- warsailors.com/singleships/tyr.html (Accessed on 6 October 2014).
- MS — Memoirs of Clarence Wark as transcribed by his daughter Diane Kivell (copy held by Nancy Rourke).
Book Launch: Tuesday, November 25, 2014, 4 pm
The Trust’s new publication, A Duty Toward the Living; A History of Healthcare in Tantramar, by Sandy Burnett, is being launched at the Sackville Memorial Hospital Atrium. Pick up your copy of this fascinating story from the early days of herbal remedies to the challenges of building two hospitals. A copy of this engaging book, signed by the author, would make a wonderful Christmas present for anyone who loves history!
Open House: Friday, December 5, 2014, 6–8 pm
Please join us for our annual Holiday Open House and Volunteer Appreciation Night at the Boultenhouse Heritage Centre!
It’s time to RENEW YOUR THT MEMBERSHIP for 2015. Send your form and payment to Karen at our office at the Boultenhouse Heritage Centre in Sackville.