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Dec. 3, 2019, marked the 100th birthday of retired squadron leader Thomas W. Dowbiggin, who served as a Second World War Spitfire pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF’s) 401 Squadron.
If you had read the Montreal Gazette newspaper on April 25, 1944, this would have been one of the headlines: “Local flier bags his first Nazi with Montreal Spitfire Squadron.”
Like many young men at the time, Dowbiggin joined the fight and went to war for his country.
Born in Montreal, Que., on Dec. 3, 1919, Dowbiggin enlisted with the RCAF in 1941, after two years at McGill University in Montreal. In less than a year, he completed his military training, gained his pilot’s wings, and shipped overseas to combat the Nazi aggression.
While on the front, he flew a Spitfire with the Royal Canadian Air Force’s oldest Squadron — No. 401 Squadron. After more than 30 successful missions, Dowbiggin experienced an engine problem with his aircraft and had to forcefully land in German-occupied Belgium. He rendered his aircraft inoperable, thus making sure the enemy couldn’t use it, and managed to join the Belgian underground resistance.
He and four Americans were betrayed, and sent by the Germans to a detainment camp in Prussia, where they remained for more than a year. The Germans, fearing the advancing Russian troops, took the prisoners on a forced march west. It was during that long march that they were liberated by a British advance party.
Today, while Dowbiggin is celebrating his 100th birthday with his family, 401 Squadron is still actively serving Canada’s interest around the globe. Currently 401 Squadron is back in Europe conducting enhanced Air Policing, alongside NATO partner Romania.
From the Spitfires of the Second World War to modern day CF-188 Hornets, 401 Squadron has long possessed the tools and skills to contribute towards regional stability and order. Retired squadron leader Dowbiggin sowed the seeds of professionalism, which the members of 401 Squadron continue to uphold as they proudly represent Canada and the RCAF as international partners towards peace and stability.
From the “Rams” of 401 Tactical Fighter Squadron currently deployed in Europe, Happy Birthday, Mr. Dowbiggin!