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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembering the crew of the Mt. Bolduc Plane Crash - A National War Memorial WWII

In December 1941, during WWII, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour and later occupied the Aleutian Islands off Alaska.  This dramatically changed the role of the Canadian Armed Forces by switching priorities to then focus on Western Air Command.  RCAF 115 Squadron, based out of Tofino, BC, was formed, re-equipped, and employed on anti-submarine duty from then until the end of WWII.   On Tuesday, April 25, 1944, a Lockheed Ventura Coastal Patrol plane with a crew of 6 R.C.A.F. members left from Patricia Bay, BC destined for Tofino, BC.  It never reached its destination.  It took several days for R.C.A.F. personnel, BC Police, and Lake Logging Co employees to not only locate the crash site but to reach it as well.  There were no survivors and it was decided, due to the remoteness and difficulty in transporting the bodies off Mt. Bolduc, to bury them beneath a cairn at the mountain top.  May they forever rest in peace.


In the past, I have used outdoor adventure to express meaning or purpose to myself, my children, and to others through this very blog. This year I wanted to emphasize the meaning of Remembrance Day rather than just treating it like another day off school or work because it is far more than just that.  A while back I read about the fore mentioned plane crash site that is located in a remote area in Vancouver Island’s backcountry.  Visiting the crash site would fulfill so many reasons as to why we adventure.  Exploring new wild spaces, discovering unique stories, challenge in finding the remote crash site, be active together outdoors, and provide not only myself with some Canadian history but also my children.  I was careful in making sure the adventure would tie in the history of Canadian war, honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we enjoy today, and offer myself, my family, and close friends a memorable outdoor experience exploring the rugged beauty of Vancouver Island.


Getting to the vicinity of the plane crash site is not for the light hearted.  I have learned over the years that all logging roads lead up, are narrow, rough, have steep banks, and make my heart pound.  I have also learned that once you reach your destination, the vistas are worth it.  Getting to the summit of Mt. Bolduc requires both time and effort.   From Nanaimo, travel time to crash site, or thereabouts, is almost 2 hrs.  This adventure consisted of three components - the adventure of getting there, enjoying our time on Mt. Bolduc, and honoring the men who lost their lives on the fatal night on April 25, 1944.

Achieving the first two components of this adventure was as expected.  Finding the plane crash site and trailhead was a whole other story.  We set up base camp at what we thought to be a 2 km walk up a logging road where we would then find the trailhead that leads us 100m into the forest where the site was located.


Here is where the wild goose chase began and we were not the only ones playing the game.   We met up with four young at heart men on dual sport motorcycles, who for the second day now, had been searching for the crash site.  We shared out intel with them, they shared theirs and we determined that the information we had was the same but clearly we were in the wrong area.  We broke for lunch, discussed our options and decided it was worth a shot to explore the forest just down from where we parked.


Our efforts turned up nothing but all nine of us had fun bushwhacking through the forest, searching for any signs of debris.  Our spirits were lifted every time we stumbled across blue and white flagging tape only to be disappointed with no discovery.  With time not on our side and thankful for the adventure we had thus far, it was time to call it a day.
 
Piling back into the vehicles, we began our bumpy ride down the log road.  Joel, on one more last ditch effort, decided to take a right at what looked to be a fairly new logging road.  The description we used to where the crash site was located was from a blog that was written 3 years ago.  The challenge with traveling on logging roads is never knowing what has been logged since.  It seemed as though we were just pulling at straws and Joel finally admitted it was time to go and would turn around at the next opportunity.
 
Then, as if it was meant to be, there was a pullout and next to it some flagging tape and what appeared to be a well-defined trail.  Joel stops the truck, our friends following behind park and come running up to the truck holding a note that had been left on their windshield, only discovered when they turned on the wipers moments ago.  The note was from our fellow motorcyclists, they too had finally found the crash site and had kindly gone back to our vehicles, leaving us directions.  We all had heard a bike while we were tromping through the forest and never made the connection that it was them returning with news.  I wish we could have said Thank you.  

So here we were, standing at the trailhead that we had been searching for all day.  We were given our chance to pay respect to all the brave men and women who have lost their lives standing up for our country.   So many emotions were felt; excitement, sadness, gratefulness.  With utmost respect to those buried there, the nine of us, four children and five adults, entered the war grave.

Seeing the plane debris spread out among the forest floor was unbelievable and was obvious as to why there were no survivors.  Parts of the plane were identifiable; two of the engines, a seat, and pieces of the fuselage.  Broken glass and pieces of metal were behind every tree. 




The area is a National War Memorial and several years ago a plaque honoring the men who died was added to the site as was a sign with some historical information.


After half an hour of taking in the whole scene, all nine of us gathered around a tree that is decorated with poppies, near the memorial plaque.  We added our poppies to the tree, said a few words and then paid our respect with a moment of silence.  Far off in the distance the familiar sound of an aircraft flying high above was heard and I would like to think it was the crew of that ill-fated flight acknowledging our respect.  Lest We Forget.


The 2218 Crash Site Trail is located near the top of Mt. Bolduc on Vancouver Island, BC.  Access south off of South Shore Road (Cowichan Lake) via Gordon River Main logging road, Harris Creek Main (Truck rd 7) and Mt Bolduc Main.  4x4 vehicle required.  The area is a National War Memorial site.  All six crew men have been laid to rest at the site of the crash and removal of aircraft debris is strictly prohibited.  Take Nothing.  Leave Respect.


3 comments:

  1. What a moving, timely story, especially on this day after the terrorist acts in Paris by misguided individuals seeking to destroy freedom - an inherent right of all born to this world. The brave young soldiers on this ill fated flight were attempting to protect just that - the right to freedom - civil liberties - and the protection of our homeland. Such a precious gift and born by sacrifices in many forms. May we all know world peace within our lifetime, and may we come to appreciate our differences and find a way to celebrate them - rather than live in fear and misunderstanding of those differences which breeds acts of violence and terror. May we always honour those who defend freedom and stand up for it - and may these brave men be forever remembered as they rest in peace in this beautiful spot.

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  2. Thank you for the pictures. My uncle was Lawrence Kerr, one of the crew members on the plane. He, along with the others, are also remembered on the Ottawa Memorial (Commonwealth Air Force Monument), which is a little closer to home for me.

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  3. Greetings from the "young at heart men on dual sport motorcycles!"

    Nice work on the write-up and images, it was a great day.

    The cairn and plaque were the work of 808 Wing Nanaimo around 1993, and initiated by Frank Murphy.

    Murphy was a former Flying Officer stationed at Pat Bay during WW2.He also led the same memorial projects at several other plane crashes and war graves on the Island.

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