MAC'S MUSINGS: Former pilot of famed squadron passes away

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Claude McIntosh

Tom Brokaw in his best-selling book The Greatest Generation called the young men who fought in the Second World War genuine heroes.

Flying Officer Bob MacDonell, contrary to all the evidence, didn't want to be called a hero.

Bob, as 20-year-old, piloted a lumbering Lancaster heavy bomber called "Lonesome Lola" over enemy territory dozens of times in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with anti-aircraft fire and menacing Messerschmitts,

"He was proud of serving his country and bringing his crew home safely each time, but he didn't want to be regarded as a hero," said his daughter, Kathy Mitchell. "He said he just did what he had to do."

Nor did he want to glorify war and his combat missions by entertaining folks with war stories.

"It was really only in the last 10 years that he started talking (about his experiences)," said his daughter.

A teenager looking for some excitement, Bob enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force shortly after war broke out. Instead of excitement, MacDonell found himself involved in the violence and brutality of the Second World War.

Years ago, in a magazine article on Bomber Command, Bob talked to the author about how as a young person not yet of legal drinking age in Canada, he would sit in the cockpit of his bomb-loaded Lancaster ready to take off for a raid over Germany.

He talked about the fear and how he had trouble swallowing because his mouth was bone dry. Anybody who has been to war understands the meaning of near-paralyzing fear. It has been said that anybody who went to war and wasn't scared probably had an office job.

For the brave, young souls in Bomber Command, the odds of making it through the war were not good. Of every 100 members of Bomber Command in the Second World War, only 27 came through it unscathed. The hard, cold fact was that every successful mission increased the odds of being shot down. They knew the odds, but they went. Many were just kids - 18 and 20 year olds.

Bob and his crew had some close calls and he often credit his strong religious faith in getting him through it all. One one mission a Luftwaffe fighter shot off two engines and a bigh chunk of the wing of his Lancaster. Somehow, he managed to bring the badly damaged plane back to England. Then there was the time their mission was scraped and they were forced to bring the Lancaster back to base and land with a five-ton Tall Boy bomb still sitting in the belly of the plane, and how they all held their breath during touchdown.

Among Bob's war medals, is the prestigious Distinguished Flying Cross given for acts of valour and courage.

"I don't think we (younger generation) realize and appreciated what they did (for us)," said Allan Wilson of Wilson Funeral Home after reading Bob's bio.

While training, the Cornwall native went to a dance in Calgary. A young member of the women's corps from Lethbridge caught his eye. He asked her to dance. It was love at first sight. Soon separated by thousands of miles, the two corresponded for two-and-a-half years. With the war behind them, in 1945 Norma Monson became Norma MacDonell and set up housekeeping in Cornwall. They raised 10 children.

During the early years of the marriage, a letter arrived at the MacDonell home from a commercial airline expressing interest in hiring Bob as a pilot.

"I think my mother 'intercepted' the letter," laughed Kathy.

Bob and his brother purchased the Graveley burger stand at Eamer's Corners and built MacDonell's Inn, which became a north Cornwall landmark. He also got into the gardening/landscaping business with MacDonell's Garden Centre on Pitt Street. HIs 90th birthday party was held at City Limits on the site of the former MacDonell's Inn. The family expected about 50 people; 250 showed up.

He helped establish RCAFA Wing 424, got involved in politics as a Ward 4 city alderman and twice ran for mayor. He also served as a city building inspector.

On Sunday, Dec. 8 Flying Officer Bob MacDonell passed away, two months short of his 91st birthday. He was the last surviving member of his seven-man Bomber Command crew that came through the war unscathed.

REAR-VIEW MIRROR When folks mailed out dozens of Christmas cards and to handle the spike in business the Post Office hired students for twice-a-day Monday-Friday and Saturday morning mail delivery. ... The Queen's Christmas Day message on radio. ... Long line-ups at the liquor store on Dec. 24. The lines stretched out the store and down the street. This was when customers had to fill out a slip, hand it to the clerk who disappeared into the back room and returned with the bottle. ... The office Christmas party. One of the biggest was in the S-F newsroom. Even the mayor of the day and some councillors would put in an appearance. One of the staff members was a pretty good musician and around 3 p.m. somebody suggested he go home and get his accordian. He knew if he went home his wife wasn't going to let him come back so a scheme was hatched. The circulation manager, a free spirit called Joe Menard, was dispatched to the home with the story that he was going to buy the accordian and her husband said he could try it out during the holidays. Minutes later Joe was back at the office with the accordian.

ONE LAST THING Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.

Organizations: Canadian Air Force, Garden Centre, Post Office Queen's

Geographic location: MacDonell, Cornwall, Canada England Calgary Pitt Street

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Recent comments

  • Stellabyestarlight Stellabyestarlight
    Stellabyestarlight Stellabyestarlight
    December 25, 2013 - 19:24

    I would be willing to bet Mr MacDonell would join other Veterans in wishing our local MP Guy Lauzon would stand up for the troops that are committing suicide in record numbers.