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January 20, 2012

Plane Crash Remembered on Chisholm Centennial

With 2012 Chisholm Township’s Centennial Year a fascinating story is worth repeating .As I write this article on January 6, 2012 I note that  seventy years ago today in 1942 a Bolingbroke Bomber crashed in Chisholm Township.. I wrote about it in 2002 in Community Voices and it bears repeating here 70 years later to the day, with some updates. The article is also in my recent book Voices from the Past. 

During one of the worst winter storms in years in the North Bay area, seventy years ago, on Tuesday January 6th, 1942, the people of North Bay, who could barely see across the street, heard the roar of a large low-flying plane over the city in mid-afternoon.  The airport was deluged with calls, and it was soon learned that three Royal Canadian Air Force Bristol Bolingbroke Bombers with four-man crews from the Rockcliffe Airbase near Ottawa were caught in the storm. Bolingbrokes were used exclusively for bombing and gunnery training, and as target tugs. 

A Nugget reporter rushed to the airport, where a report eventually came in that one of the planes had made it back to Rockcliffe and had landed safely.  A second report indicated that the second plane had crash-landed without casualties.  There was no sign of the third plane, and it was assumed that it was the one flying extremely low over North Bay. 

The third plane, #702 under flying officer Sgt. T.C. Warrender, was in trouble circling North Bay, trying to find the airport.  LAC J.G. Graham, the wireless operator, could not make radio contact with the North Bay Tower.  A nugget reporter later described the radio operator at the airport repeatedly calling “Bolingbroke 702, please come in.- Bolingbroke 702, please come in.”  The plane’s radio operator later reported that he could “hear the beam through my earphones, and I figured by its sound that we were within twenty-five miles of North Bay.” 

The Bristol Bolingbroke bomber that crashed in Chisholm township in 1942.  Chisholm Women’s Institute History Book.

But the plane was in bigger trouble than the radio – their left engine was failing, and they couldn’t get enough power to rise above the storm.  The plane was flying south of North Bay toward North Bay, following the CNR rail line just above the telegraph wires, when the pilot decided to ditch the plane in a farmer’s field.  He circled two or three times, realizing they had little room to manoeuver.  They dropped several unarmed bombs into the adjoining fields.  They also had several barrels of machine gun cartridge straps on board.  With the flaps down and the wheels retracted, they skimmed over the farmer’s barn and bellied their way across the field.  The weak engine caused the plane to veer to the left.  After ripping out a fence and knocking down a telephone pole, they slid with a thud against the elevated CNR rail bed and came to a sudden halt. 

Meanwhile,nearby  farmer George Girard’s son Maurice headed for the plane with the farm’s team.  All of the four-man crew were dazed, but okay.  They went back to the Girard farmhouse and called the airport.  Mrs. Girard served coffee and cake left over from Christmas.  In short order, Nugget reporters and photographers were on the scene with their panel truck.  The truck was later used to bring the duffel bags and other items of the airmen back to North Bay.  The phones at the North Bay airport rang until midnight with people wanting to find out what had happened. 

One of the Nugget reporters described how the airmen were busy salvaging what they could at the crash site when Flying Officer W.J.Wilson, the medical officer from the RCAF recruiting office in North Bay, reached the crash site.  He reported that, as Wilson approached, “up went the cold-numbed hands of the four crewmen in a smart salute – discipline was not forgotten.” 

In the aftermath of the event, the word “miraculous” was used to describe the survival of the men, and the word “brilliant” to describe the pilot’s work.  People came from near and far to the Girard farm (later Giroux Meat and Abattoir) on river Road in north Chisholm township to see the plane over the next few days.  A salvage crew of fourteen men, with a twenty-ton crane and seven floats camped at the Girard’s for a week, removing the plane which was beyond repair.  Mr. Girard later found the bombs while ploughing his fields, and had them carefully removed by the RCAF. 

Sixteen years later, almost to the day, a CF100 Jet interceptor from North Bay got in trouble and the two-man crew ejected over the Girard farm, droping the cockpit canopy into their field. 

As a footnote, I had a conversation with Yvonne Buckner, who lived in Chisholm Township at the time of this crash. When a knock came at the door, they opened it to find Squadron Leader Burnette bleeding and shaken.  The brought him in and got him comfortable, and let him call the airbase.  The two oldest sisters still have laminated copies of the Nugget article describing the adventure.  Squadron Leader Burnett returned a couple of weeks later and gave  the children a nice gift.   

For more information on the  Bolingbroke Bomber and the CF100, check the Department of National Defense website: www.airforce.dnd.com.  They also have the National Aviation Museum at Rockcliffe and have a Bolingbroke and CF100 on site.  The Canadian Warplane Museum at Mount Hope, near Hamilton, has a North Bay Black Knight Squadron CF100, and are restoring a Bolingbroke (www.warplane.com). To visit the North Bay Air Defense Museum go to the airport and turn right at the black CF100, and take the first left, any Sunday from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m., except holidays.  The plane on the North Bay Lakeshore is also a CF100. More Chisholm memories in the year ahead 

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