Pigeons and planes. You might think that the two should avoid each other, but during the Second World War, the birds acted as crew members on the aircraft. To commemorate that at this year’s Rockton World’s Fair this month, organizer Bill Albers put together a special ceremony.
“Pigeons were used in the war as well in Lancaster bombers and that’s how I decided to tie aircraft into the whole picture of pigeons and pigeoneers,” said Albers in an interview with the Flamborough Review.
The Cambridge resident said he wanted to do something to thank the veterans who liberated him and his family when they lived in Holland.
“I visited the (Canadian) Harvard Aircraft Association (CHAA) in Tillsonburg to try and get an idea if they would do a flyover and associated with the war effort,” he said, noting that although it was the second memorial presentation, this was the first time planes were involved.
Harvard trainers took to the sky in a formation and performed three flyovers – one with a smoke trail, one flyover and the missing man formation, in which one plane flies with a smoke trail and breaks away from the others.
“You know how hundreds of aircraft went over to Germany from England and sometimes one of them would get picked off by the Germans? That’s really what that separation indicated. You know, a fallen comrade or comrades.”
Albers noted he thought the veterans in attendance would appreciate the symbolism represented in the flyover.
During the presentation, he spoke to the crowd that included Dutch veterans from Ancaster and Dundas, a NATO vet, the 822 Tutor Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets and members of the Royal Canadian Legion.
He told them about how grateful he was and told stories about when he was growing up in occupied Holland – like having to eat “black bread” made of flour and sawdust and how the lack of food caused people to starve and resort to stealing.
He also recounted stories about the pigeons that helped the Allies to victory.
“When I saw probably 100 of our veterans…walking to Germany as prisoners of war, some barefooted so they wouldn’t run away, they walked 450 kilometres…that is etched in my mind,” said Albers.
On April 1945, when the First Canadian Army liberated his home country and brought in food supplies, Albers saw tanks and armoured vehicles that rolled into his town and women jumping on them to give the Allied soldiers hugs.
“It has a special meaning for me and I’ve always wanted to do something for the veterans,” he said, noting last year about 40 vets came to the event and were given special parking spaces and received a tour of the fair grounds.
“The vets appreciate the little bit of appreciation that we show and I’m reminded everyday of my freedom here in this country because of it,” Albers added.
Chris Kruter, a private in the Dutch army during the time when East and West Germany were being separated, said he enjoyed the presentation and loved to see the planes fly overhead. Kruter was among a group of Dutch vets from Dundas and Ancaster to be present at the service.
“That was great, you know, it’s special for the older generation,” he said.
Kruter, who grew up below the Rhine River, didn’t experience the hardships like those in the rest of the Netherlands, but did lose family members during the war. In May 1944, his father and sister were killed in a bomb raid. In September of that year, the First Canadian Army moved in and began liberating the country.
“Not until after I lost my dad. That is when…the hardship started,” he said, adding that he moved to Canada in 1965 and now lives in Ancaster.
It’s for these stories and for these vets that Albers felt compelled to hold a special presentation and one he hopes he can continue to present every year.
“For me it’s a great honour to honour the vets,’ he said. “I sometimes say, ‘It’s not about me, it’s about what the vets did’.”
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