September 12th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 37
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Looking Back - John Kinnear
Daniel Revie Walker,
Operation Manna and a Wall
Looking Back
John Kinnear photo
Revie Walker's son John, wife Amy and daughter Kenzie
In my last article I promoted, with great enthusiasm, the Nanton Bomber Command museum’s 75th anniversary commemoration of the Dam Busters raid. It was held August 24th/25th at their expansive hangar and was an absolutely marvelous event from beginning to end. From the special displays to the talented Cold Lake Band to the commemorative talks, it left me somewhat overwhelmed.

The fact that 41 Canadian family members of the former Dam Buster 617 squadron came from all across North America to be there was profoundly moving. Ted Barris, author of “The Dam Busters: Canadian Airmen and the Secret Raid Against Nazi Germany”, transfixed a crowd of several hundred for over an hour as he walked us through the stories of the Canadian participants. The Saturday afternoon events were capped off by the running up of the four Rolls Royce Merlin V-12 engines of the Lancaster AJ-M bomber. It was a moving moment as those four powerful engines that carried Lancasters on thousands of deadly missions systematically roared to life. The crowd was in awe of AJ-M’s power and beauty.

As I stood there with that massive crowd, listening to the Merlin’s settle into a steady drone, I tried to imagine what it was like for those crews to fly into a place as deadly as the heavily guarded Ruhr Valley at night. The almost overpowering noise, the constant vibration, the numbing high altitude cold, the continual flack bursts and the constant weaving the pilots did to try and avoid being “coned” by huge spotlights. That coning allowed the ground antiaircraft gunners to hone in on their location. It could be deadly and was.
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It filled me with pride to know that 30 Canadian airmen were hand-picked because of their training and abilities to be among the 113 that flew into that night of hell. And it saddened me to know that 14 did not come back.

Earlier in the day, as the 41 special guests took their reserved seating for the speeches, I spotted the name John Walker on a family member’s name tag. John is one of five children of Daniel Revie Walker who was the navigator on AJ-L Dam Buster Lancaster and eventually guided that Lanc to a successful drop at the Eder Dam. John sat proudly in the front row with his wife Amy and daughter Kenzie.

Daniel Revie Walker was born in Blairmore in 1917 and eventually went to work for the Alberta Forestry Service before enlisting in the RCAF in 1940. Revie completed three operational tours and was the very first Canadian of the Second World War to be decorated by the Queen with the bar to the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) and the DFC itself was presented to him by King George VI. Walker did the navigational planning for 617 Squadron when it attacked and sank the monster battleship Tirpitz on November 12, 1944 in Norwegian waters. That attack used 12,000 pound “Tallboy” bombs. Tirpitz was the sister ship to the Bismarck, had fifteen inch guns and was a formidable threat that the Allies spent over a year mounting large scale air raid attacks on until she was finally sunk.

Revie Walker was repatriated to Canada in 1945 and held assignments in Calgary, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Alaska, Alabama, Ottawa, Washington State and Prince Edward Island. He retired from the forces in 1967 and made his last trip to England in 1977 to honour a then 90 year old Sir Barnes Wallis the designer of the bouncing bomb. When he looked back on his wartime career he believed he should have been killed, and counted every day afterwards as a gift. Revie’s uniform is on display at Bomber Command Nanton.
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The dedicated museum areas at Bomber Command are full of amazing interpretive panels and displays of artifacts, uniforms and of course those nineteen very moving pieces of artwork of Lancaster’s in action. I was pleased to come across a painting depicting the loading up of a 12,000 pound Tall Boy bomb in preparation for an attack on the Tirpitz at Tromso, Norway. Wallis designed it and Walker helped deliver them.

As I worked my way through the displays I came across a remarkable painting entitled Operation Manna. It was of a Lancaster flying very low over a windmill in Holland. As I read the interpretive panel on this painting I knew I had to find out more. It depicts a very special operation of Lancasters and other bombers that occurred in late April and early May of 1945 over Holland. Their delivery was life giving not life taking.

The scenario that resulted in the need for this mission goes as follows. The winter of 1944-45 is referred to by the Dutch as Hongerwinter (hunger winter). That is because the occupying Germans had blockaded all shipments of food and fuel from the farm towns. About 4.5 million people were affected and only survived because of soup kitchens. People were starving and dying.

Prince Bernhard, then Commander of the Dutch Armed Forces, appealed directly to Churchill and Roosevelt to intervene in this looming tragedy and in short order Eisenhower authorized the mission. On April 23rd negotiations between the Allies and German officers determined that participating aircraft would not be fired on. Our very own Farley Mowat was part of that negotiation.

There was a test flight of two Lancasters on the 29th, one of which was nicknamed “Bad Penny”. (a bad penny always turns up!). They flew in as low as fifty feet and made their drop and so began the life saving Manna rescue. In all RAF Lanc’s flew 3,146 sorties dropping gunny sacks of food in strategic spots. It was somewhat nerve wracking as a ceasefire had not been signed. Although over 11,000 tons of food were dropped in the ten days of the operation, some 20,000 people died of starvation.
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The testimonies of those on the ground are extremely moving to read and it was noteworthy to learn that five of Bad Penny’s crew of seven were Canadians from Ontario. The interpretive panel next to that painting contains this moving recollection by seventeen year old Arie de Jong. It reads: "There are no words to describe the emotions experienced on that Sunday afternoon. More than 300 four-engined Lancasters, flying exceptionally low, suddenly filled the western horizon." Arie's diary recorded, "One could see the gunners waving in their turrets. A marvelous sight. One Lancaster roared over the town at 70 feet. I saw the aircraft tacking between church steeples and drop its bags in the South. Everywhere we looked, bombers could be seen. No one remained inside and everybody dared to wave cloths and flags. What a feast! Everyone is excited.”

It was no small irony that standing with me if front of this dramatic artwork that day were three brothers of the Vander Linden family; Casey, Art and Peter. All eleven children of the Vander Linden family emigrated from Holland with their parents to Canada in 1950, travelling by boat. And is that ever a story unto itself.

Art, who lives in Coaldale, recalled to us that day having talked to a founding member of Bomber Command many years ago. His name was Joe English who was an exceptional man who flew thirty missions with Lancaster 625 Squadron. Joe told Art a mind blowing story of talking to a man who was cutting his grass for him some years later. As Joe told the man about his first flight over Holland the man, Ron Groeneveld from High River, told him he was one of the recipients of the food drop and was standing on the windmill when he flew over. Go figure!
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The Bomber Command Museum of Canada does an important job presenting the story of Canadian airmen and their contributions to the war effort. If you haven’t stopped there do it! You won’t regret it.

Author’s Note: There was one more defining moment for me at Nanton. It came when I beheld their beautiful polished black granite memorial wall on the south side of the hangar. It has a heart breaking 10,673 names engraved on it. Names of Canadian airmen lost in that war. Think about that number for a minute! There is a George Publow Kinnear on that wall. He was 23.

The Memorial is forty one feet long and made of five panels (eight feet wide and four feet high) which are three inches thick. It came to me right there and then that Fred Bradley’s recent suggestion that we consider commemorating every single coal miner lost in Canada at Hillcrest is doable. It would, like Nanton, make Hillcrest a national commemorative site that acknowledges the thousands of coal miners lost across Canada. I can see it clearly now.

Be sure to check out the on-line post for dozens of additional pictures!
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September 12th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 37
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