My Dad’s Medals   1 comment

“Never in the field of human conflict
has so much been owed by so many to so few.”

— WS Churchill

•   1939-45 Star

•   Air Crew Europe Star

•   The Defence Medal

•   Canadian Volunteer Service Medal

•    The War Medal 1939-1945

Here’s a better view:

The background, in case you’re wondering, is Nova Scotia Tartan, in honour of the province Dad was born and grew up in… Me too, come to think of it…

When I was about 8 – 10 years old I guess, I asked my Dad if he got any medals in the war (World War II) and he said something like “Oh I suppose so.” “Well, where are they?” I asked him. “I never applied for them” he answered.. “Well.. Why don’t you?”

And so he did. And immediately tossed them in the bottom drawer of his dresser where occasionally I’d sneak into Mom and Dad’s bedroom and look at them. During his working years he just did not want to talk about the war, other than his four or five old war stories that he told, over and over and over; for example of the trainee who flew under every bridge in Scotland after his Polish trainer (one of the pilots in the Polish Air Force who managed to get out of Poland before the Nazis stomped all over it) bawled him out for flying over a bridge: “Whyfor you fly over the bridge? You fly over the bridge you get shot down! ALWAYS FLY UNDER THE BRIDGE!!” and the one about how he and a couple other guys didn’t want to take the troop train from Algiers to Tunis so they faked their way into flying a Dakota (AKA a C-47 / DC-3 in its civilian incarnation)… these guys were fighter pilots.. The Dakota was a twin-engine heavy-lift (for its day) cargo aircraft…. as they faked their way in “Sure, fly ’em all the time”… Once on-board: “How do you start this thing?” and once airborne:  “FOR CHRIST’S SAKE TRIM THE F_____ THING!!”

But hardly anything really interesting – to a 10 year old… Usually he’d re-experience those late at night, and wake himself up — and the rest of the house — screaming…

Many many years later, when I was in my late 40s and had come to Victoria for a fresh start after my marriage fell apart, he regaled me with a story of how, in 1944 or 45, a bunch of Air Crew who had survived Europe were brought into a room in Vancouver for a briefing and were asked: “Would any of you like to volunteer for the Pacific Theatre?”

“You never saw a room clear so fast in all your life!” he remarked.

Still, it would be pretty hard, in terms of what life has to offer for adventure, to top being a Spitfire pilot… tiny little airplane — with a 1,800 hp engine and a top speed with the Mark 9 of just over 400 mph (640 kph)… consider that humanity at that point had been flying just over 40 years… and these came equipped with machine guns and 20 mm guns and a couple of 250 lb. bombs.. “Train busting was a lot of fun” allowed Dad…

I implored him, over and over.. “Write this stuff down!! all of it! it’s important!”… and other than Spitfire Pilot, barely a hundred pages long and it could have been 1,000 and still have been good — he never did.

I was going to be a fighter pilot just like him, and it was a bitter day in Grade 3 when I had to start wearing glasses. Possibly something else might have stopped me, in peacetime they only take the cream of the cream of the crop for aircrew; back in WWII they were a lot less picky, and thus merely took the cream of the crop to be blown or smashed to pieces. IOW my dad was way above average in terms of visual acuity, and intelligence… and likely a whole bunch of other measures…

1944 I guess; Dawn-to-dusk patrols knocking V-1 bombs out of the air, and he fell asleep at the controls of his Spitfire, the landing gear got caught in the summerfelt matting (“British system of wire netting laid on ground to create runway” according to He smashed his head on the instrument panel and was in a coma for three days before he came to, and his flying days were over. Injury must have been significant, even by 1944 with the war starting to wind down they couldn’t train pilots fast enough; Mom and Dad’s Best Man was their fourth choice. First three were killed / missing in action…

I surmise, and after his departure, this accident very likely had left him brain-damaged — over and above his wartime experiences already likely rendering him  in need of a lifetime of psychiatric intervention; emotional control was not something he had much of. He was a difficult, difficult man, and didn’t get a 10th of the compassion he deserved… for this, for my part, I’m sorry.

It was 2002 / 03, I guess, I went out from Toronto to check on the Aged P.’s (they were beginning to fail) dragging my unhappy Chinese wife unwillingly along; she attempted to describe, I guess, the problems with our deteriorating marriage; Dad got pretty exercised; my dad’s temper at full bore was not something you wanted to experience; she in the end burst into hysterics and he was all over himself with apologies having recovered his senses, but she loathed him for ever after…

And long after the breakup, and had I told her this it would have likely only sped up the process, still I wish now, that I had said it:

“Honey: You owe him a debt more that you or I, can begin to imagine. If it weren’t for him, and a few thousand young men just like him, and the actions they took on the other side of the planet a generation before you were born: You would have grown up, speaking Japanese, and having never known your parents.”

Other thing I wanted to mention on the same vein is recalling our stalwart political dissident Noam Chomsky saying or writing (can’t remember now which) some disparaging things about Winston Churchill… of all people, Dr. Chomsky, you’re the last one with any business criticizing: Weren’t for Churchill — or my dad, come to think of it — you’d wouldn’t be here. And the rest of us would be speaking German.

Ever read about The Battle of Thermopylae, gentle readers? World War II was on a par. Dad may not have been one of The Few, but… plenty close enough.

“Take care of those medals, Roy” said my close friend and former Lt-Col, John… “They’re important.”

PS: If anyone’s interested in a copy of Spitfire Pilot.. I’ve got about 2 dozen left.. send me your name and address in a comment, I’ll mail you one.


Posted February 5, 2012 by Capt. Roy Harkness in Uncategorized

One response to “My Dad’s Medals

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  1. Who was your father?
    Kind regards
    John Engelsted

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