In our Aug/Sept issue, Rob Erdos muses on float flying and we discuss night aerial firefighting. Plus: Air Canada in the pandemic, KF Aerospace at 50 and Canadians in the Battle of Britain.
Deep in the New Brunswick forest lie a few pieces of twisted metal wreckage, partly covered in dried pine needles. They have been there for 80 years.
Nearby stands a new granite monument honouring the two Canadian airmen who died at the site — the first to lose their lives on Canadian soil during the Second World War.
The loss of Delta 673
Although Canada declared war on Germany on Sept. 10, 1939, planning and preparation for the conflict were well underway throughout the summer. High on the priority list was ensuring the protection of the east coast from enemy action. Northrop Delta aircraft from 8 Squadron, a photographic survey unit located at Royal Canadian Air Force Station Rockcliffe, in Ottawa, were re-roled to reinforce anti-submarine patrols along the coast and over the Atlantic Ocean.
On Aug. 27, six Deltas left Rockcliffe, headed to Sydney in Cape Breton to take on their new task. Delta No. 673 was piloted by WO James Edgerton “Ted” Doan and his mechanic was Cpl Dave Rennie.
Delta 673 never reached Sydney. On Sept. 14, after several delays due to mechanical issues, Doan (his promotion took effect that same day) and Rennie took off from Lac Mégantic, Que. Somewhere near Plaster Rock, N.B., the aircraft disappeared. Despite intensive searches, the wreckage and the crew were not found.
Nineteen years later, employees of J.D. Irving Ltd., discovered the wreckage as they surveyed land near Beaverbrook Lake in preparation for building a logging road. Although the aircrew’s remains had disappeared over the years, there was evidence that they had not survived the crash. Ten years after that, some of the wreckage was transported to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, where it remains in storage.
On Sept. 14, 2019, 80 years to the day after Doan and Ritchie lost their lives, a small group journeyed to the crash site to commemorate their lives and honour their sacrifice. Many of the attendees travelled to an airfield near the site onboard two CH-146 Griffon helicopters flown by 403 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, based in Gagetown, N.B.
J.D. Irving Ltd., has protected the remote location, which is, essentially, the airmen’s gravesite. The land is, therefore, no longer available for logging or industrial purposes. In 2017 the company cleared a logging road and trail into the site, and erected an explanatory plaque on behalf of the Turnbull (N.B.) chapter of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society (CAHS). Now, a permanent granite monument has been placed at the crash site to commemorate the loss.
“It is an honour for our family and company to be part of today’s service . . . Today’s event is about making sure we never forget the bravery of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country,” said J.K. Irving of J.D Irving Ltd. “We have commissioned a special memorial on this site that will serve as a permanent reminder of the bravery of those two men for generations to come.” He then invited members of the Rennie family and MGen Blaise Frawley, deputy commander of the RCAF, to join him in unveiling the memorial.
“The Royal Canadian Air Force has a very strong emphasis on history and heritage. It’s our history that defines us,” said Frawley, adding that learning from the past prepares us for the future.
“I can’t say enough [about J.D. Irving Ltd.], first and foremost for finding the site and at least bringing some closure to the families,” he continued. “For preserving the site as well as you have. For memorializing these two individuals and this site and all the effort that has obviously gone into preserving this. Thank you so much to the whole team.”
After the unveiling, Frawley presented J.K. Irving and Jim Irving with a certificate on behalf of the commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, “in recognition of J.D. Irving Ltd.’s outstanding work to preserve the history of the Royal Canadian Air Force and to honour those lost in service to Canada”.
“We never met Dave,” said Shirley Routliffe, Rennie’s niece, who was 15 when the aircraft was found. “But we feel we know him.”
“The Irving Company and Mr. Irving, it’s just amazing. We’re overwhelmed,” she continued, her voice breaking. “Thank-you very, very much. [This is] a beautiful memorial and our parents would loved to have seen it, and our grandparents.”
Routliffe was accompanied by Walter Bateson, Rennie’s nephew, and Lynda Diepold, another niece. Early childhood educators, who are working on an educational project for students about this story, also attended the ceremony.
Harold E. Wright of the Turnbull (N.B.) chapter of the CAHS was a key player in making the memorial event a reality. Frawley also presented him with a certificate of appreciation thanking him for his work to preserve “the history of the Royal Canadian Air Force through [his] work with the CAHS . . . and to honour the memory of those lost in the Northrop Delta 673 crash”.
At a luncheon later in the day, Wright expressed his appreciation to the many individuals and organizations who had contributed to making the commemorative event a success.
“I wish to express, in the most heartfelt way I can, our combined feelings of awe, appreciation and gratitude to the staff of J.D. Irving Ltd.,” he continued. “We will never know the full extent of the tremendous efforts your staff put into making today so meaningful. The families of those who we remembered today, to those who served and continue to serve with our Armed Forces, and to the youth here with us who will carry forward the torch, thank you.”