Honour from afar, to Port Coquitlam
Grant MacKimmie's big brother was always protective.
Even when Allan MacKimmie was in harm's way himself, as an airman stationed in England during the Second World War, he would write to his mother, "Be good to Grant."
Now, Grant, who was a Port Coquitlam resident for 37 years, is hoping to return the sentiment to his deceased older sibling with the help of a British historical society.
Four years Allan's junior, Grant said he was "just getting to know him" when the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) came to their town of Beaver Lodge, Alta., looking for recruits. Allan got permission from their father to sign up but he was just shy of the required enlistment age of 17.6 years old.
On July 19, 1943, Allan got his wish and was sent for basic training for a month in Edmonton. Another six months were spent near Montreal, where he learned to be an air gunner, and his high marks earned him the rank of sergeant. Less than a month afterward, he was on a two-week boat ride to England.
There, he shot down explosive drones from the air above England and northern France.
But on June 29, 1944 — 11 months after he joined the war effort — Allan and five other Canadians in his unit took off from Wellesborne, Warwickshire lost their lives during a navigational exercise in the skies above the village of Roade, Northamptonshire.
In an email to The Tri-City News last week, Ron Johnson of the Roade Local History Society said it was a “gloomy, thundery, dark, foreboding late afternoon” when the Wellington bomber was struck by lightning, killing all six onboard. One society member recalls being a seven-year-old girl when she and her brother saw the plane disintegrate and heard an explosion.
“Her father, who had experienced bombs falling in the London blitz, thought it was a buzz bomb and the family dived beneath the table,” Johnson wrote. “However, when it became apparent that the village was not under enemy attack, father and son ran over to the field to see what they could do to help.”
War records show Allan MacKimmie died of “multiple fractures and lacerations.”
News of his death came, via a CP telegraph on July 5, 1944, to Thomas and Gena MacKimmie, who by then were living in Edmonton.
“I still remember walking into the room. Mom looked at me and I knew, from that point on, what was going on,” Grant said, adding, “It’s such a short life.”
A year later, the MacKimmie family — including 15-year-old Grant — moved to PoCo (which the federal government recognizes as Allan’s hometown because of its ongoing correspondence with his parents).
Grant, who moved to Penticton and Maple Ridge after almost four decades in PoCo, said his mother was invited by the PoCo Legion to place a wreath at the cenotaph on Remembrance Day; each time, she wore her silver cross on her lapel, the medal bestowed to mothers of fallen soldiers.
Grant has that cross and another of Allan’s medal tucked away — as well as the CP telegraph and the wings badge taken from his uniform on the day he died — as keepsakes for his grandkids. He is deeply proud of his brother’s heroism and “greatly honoured” the Roade history society wants to pay respects, even 70 years later, to Allan and sergeants John Sollie and William Clark, flying officers Robert Andrews and Paul Tokar, and pilot officer Charles Stephen.
The society has written to Royal Canadian Legion branches, newspapers and other groups in the men's listed hometowns of PoCo, Toronto, Montreal, Fenwick, Washgo and Bentley to look for family and friends. Johnson said the society wants to know the personal stories of the six men who died above their village and are now interred — side by side — at Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey, England.
In November, the society plans to install a memorial plaque with their names, either in the vicinity of the village war memorial or on the roadside near the area where the planed crashed.
“These boys were so young and so far from home," Johnson said. "We should remember what they gave up for our freedom."