I can still picture it as if it were today, not years ago: it was at the South Lancaster Tim Horton’s. Around the table were Louis Geoffrion, Bob Haverstock and Bruce Burgess, all friends, and, because of my passion for aviation, my friends too. Louis was a WW II Hawker Hurricane pilot who was shot down over the Mediterranean. Bob was an F-86 Sabre pilot during the Cold War. Bruce also served in the RCAF during that era.
Those guys had more than military aviation in common. All three were self-effacing, soft-spoken gentlemen. No bar room bravado marked their conversations. I remember one day when a person new to the group asked Bob, “Are you a pilot?” He replied with, “Guess you could say that. Yes, I’ve done some flying.” Bob made no mention of his years as a military instructor, time spent acting as part of NATO’s defence against the Soviet Union’s expansionist ambitions and doing patrols over the Canadian Arctic.
Whenever I visit that Tim’s these days, words from Les Miserables come to mind. “There’s a grief that can’t be spoken. There’s a pain that goes on and on, empty chairs at empty tables. Now my friends are dead and gone.” Louis died on December 26, 2009, Bob on April 7 in the same year, and Bruce March 29, also in 2009. That was a sad year for me.
Most of my aviation friends who took me under their wings were at least ten years older than me. They have taken the place of honour in their memorial service: the climbing aircraft in the missing-man formation flypast. Without a doubt, they are occupying a deserved place far beyond us earthlings.
Every time I fly with a young Cessna pilot, on final approach he silently goes through his check list (“…flaps down, power 50%, rate of descent…”), I can hear Bob follow the routine that was drummed into him at CFB Gimli, “Do your check list out loud: gear down and locked…”
Whenever I had to do some aerial photography, Bob would enthusiastically volunteer to be my pilot. On final, he would still call out. “Gear down and locked.” (Cessna 172s have no retractable undercarriage, just a fixed undercarriage.)
Old habits don’t die, but old friends do. I remember them, especially on Remembrance Day.
This week’s illustration was done in 1987, by my son who died in a hang-gliding incident off ‘The Chief’, a mountain that overlooks Squamish, B.C