Photography, like writing, has the ability to be many things. And one of those things is as a keeper of memory. It can record facts like no other medium. And in some cases, like music, it can recall people and places along with powerful associated emotions. But one picture may have a different impact on different people depending on each persons connection to the subject.
This is my Dad taken in 1940 shortly before he received his “Wings” here in Vancouver. He was in the first graduating class of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan set up by Canada to train pilots for the war effort.
I am going to show you some pictures that have a strong emotional content for me. I know exactly what my Father was doing 75 years ago tonight. I know because he wrote it down. He was required to. You see, he spent three and a half hours flying his Mosquito twin engine night fighter over the beaches of Normandy 75 years ago to-night. And even writing about it brings tears to my eyes.
Dad took his final flight just over a year ago at the age of 100 and I still miss him terribly. Because of his war time flying he was a champion of aviation all his life: airline pilot, private pilot, and supporter of museums, restoration projects, and memorials.
Although never a pilot myself, I learned a love of aviation from him and to this day stop to watch whenever a plane flies overhead.
But, back to my story about my Dad and his D-day flights over Normandy.
Besides instructing he flew one tour with 409 Squadron of the R.C.A.F. flying Beaufighters and Mosquitos. And on the 6th of June in 1944 he was flying in a Mk XIII Mosquito MM590, or, as the squadron referred to it, M-KP. The Mosquito was a two man machine and in the night fighter roll it had a pilot and radar operator. Dad’s radar operator was Joe Carpenter, a French Canadian from Montreal. They flew together most of the time.
I was not there, obviously, but through this wonderful medium we can see them and their machine as if it were yesterday. It is hard to believe that this was a generation that went to war in a shirt and tie! But pictures don’t lie, in this case.
I am fortunate to have my father’s log books, and that of Joe Carpenter, so we can read for ourselves of their flight that night. Just two of many, it must have been frightening up there in the pitch black with people shooting at them; engines roaring, the aeroplane being thrown around by nearby explosions, all the while searching for enemy fighters. It is hard to imagine.
Each Remembrance Day I usually have a few tears standing at a memorial service at the local cenotaph and, for some reason, this D-Day remembrance has me a little watery in the eye.
This is Dad’s Logbook for the 6th of June. You can see that he is very matter of fact about it. Just another day at work.
So this D-Day, 75 years later, I am thinking of my father. Because of photography he is still with me and for that I am grateful. Art or not, I know that it is a valuable craft and that it can bring remembrance and comfort. I hope everyone takes a moment to remember that day and think of the men and women, regardless of what side they were on, who gave their best and of some who gave their everything. In the words of Vera Lynn, “Bless ’em All”.