Former bomber pilot of famed WWII squadron passes away

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By Claude McIntosh
CORNWALL, Ontario - The last surviving member of a Lancaster bomber crew that was part of RCAF/RAF Bomber Command 9 Squadron during the Second World War was laid to rest Thursday.

Bob MacDonell, right, shares Lancaster stories while at the controls of the famed plane. Photo: Vintage Wings of Canada/Charles Dumaresq

A funeral service for Robert "Bob" MacDonell was held at St. Andrews Roman Catholic Church. He would have turned 91 in February.

MacDonell was the pilot of a Lancaster bomber nicknamed "Lonesome Lola". MacDonell and his crew flew dozens of dangerous night-time raids over a heavily-defended Germany and miraculously came through it all safe and sound.

He had some close calls and on a couple of times, but brought the crew and damaged plane safely back to their base in England.

The odds of surviving were horrendous and would be unacceptable by today's standards. Of the 125,000 airmen who served with Bomber Command during the war, 55,573 were killed - a death rate of 44.4 per cent. Out of every 100 Bomber Command airmen, only 27 finished their tours unscathed; of that 100, 55 would be killed.

MacDonell enlisted in the RCAF as a teenager looking for excitement and within a short time found more terror than excitement while dodging heavy flak and Luftwaffe fighters.

While training in western Canada he met a young member of the women's corps, Norma Monson. It was love at first sight. It became a long-distance romance when the young pilot was shipped off to England. Soon after each was discharged from the military they married - a union that would last 68 years and bring 10 children into the world.

Shortly after marrying, an airline expressed interest in signing him as a pilot.

"I think my mother intercepted the letter," laughed one of his daughters, Kathy Mitchell.

Instead, he became a succesful businessman. He and a brother built and operated MacDonell's Inn at Eamer's Corners. He also launched MacDonell Garden Centre.

He took a keen interest in local politics, serving several years as a councillor in Ward 4 for the City of Cornwall. He had two unsuccessful mayoral bids, finishing second each time. He also helped found RCAFA Wing 424.

"He was ahead of his time," said Mitchell. "Some of his ideas for the community were adopted years later."

A man with a keen sense of humour, strong worth ethic and deep religioius faith, he seldom talked about the war. His medals included the prestigious Distinguished Flying Cross.

She said her father was a proud but humble man.

"He never wanted to be known as a war hero," said his daughter. "He was proud of his service but didn't want to glorify war."

Mitchell said it was only in the last 10 years or so that her father started to talk to his family about his war experiences.

Organizations: Andrews Roman Catholic Church, MacDonell Garden Centre

Geographic location: England, Lancaster, Germany Canada Cornwall

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  • Suscriber:Douglas A Wright
    December 27, 2013 - 21:10

    Thank you for the sad article on Rob MacDonell DFC.My late stepfather Flight Lt.Donald Hepburn also was awarded the DFC.His nickname was Mitch in the RCAF after the then Premier of Ontario.I grew up on his stories.It is through Canadian Military/Esprit de Corps magazine that eventually I understood what these men went through.I understand that Canadian Aircrew are forever the best Canada had to offer. Thanks Douglas Wright WGC234361

  • Eleanor Eastick
    December 26, 2013 - 17:15

    My Dad died this year. He was armaments officer of 143 Wing, the only wing in Bomber Command flying Typhoons. He never said anything about his war service until the last few years. He was awarded the MBE for his valour.

  • Barbara Armstrong
    December 16, 2013 - 14:38

    Thank you Claude for the article on my father. We all thought of him as a hero, not just for his war efforts, but as a man. Like he said, the war was only 4 years of his life. It did help define him as a father, husband and friend. Proud. I didn't realize the statistics you mentioned. I knew we were lucky to have him, just didn't realize quite how lucky we were.

    • Richard Diedo
      January 04, 2014 - 12:27

      Barbara, would you contact me on rdiedo@yahoo.com? I have a photo of your Dad from the war with the crew of his plane Lonesome Lola that I would like to share with you. I did swap emails with John Chorny , the son of your Dad's navigator Mike Chorny, a few years ago but have lost touch with him as his email address seems to have changed. I understand you might be reluctant to email a complete stranger but this is a very genuine message. I have a document relating to Lonesome Lola from the war which you might be interested to see, as well as the crew photo. They are often in my thoughts and I am very sorry for your loss, but I am gladdened to know that your Dad went on to have a long, full and rewarding life. This obituary is a wonderful memorial to him. Regards, Richard UK