Search for the Sole Survivor
My parents married in August 1944 and I entered the picture in January of 1946 - named John in memory of my uncle. During my childhood and formative years I often wondered of the whereabouts and welfare of the sole survivor. It was not until I had completed university that I had the time and resources to start a search. In 1974 I posted queries to the Air Historical Branch and Public Record Office in London, England. Mr. Hugh Tours from the Public Record Office rewarded me with handwritten notes from 625 Squadron after individual crew debriefings. This augmented the details from my uncle’s logbook but gave no information on the whereabouts of Frank Magee.
Between 1982 and 1987 my efforts waned and the trail grew cold. Then during a visit to my parents in the summer of 1987 I perused a copy of my father’s “Legion” periodical. This lead to a last ditch effort with a search request in the next edition'’s “Lost Trails” section. Two months later I had a chance to review my father’s July/August edition featuring Hampton Gray’s heroic attack in a Corsair. A glance at “Lost Trails” on page 61 revealed my search in print.
On returning home that weekend we were surprised to find a letter in unfamiliar handwriting in the mail slot. My heart raced - I knew that this was a missing link in my quest. Sure enough the letter was from “Chuck” Laidlaw of Kamloops, a boyhood chum of Frank’s. The contained information was a little vague but proved invaluable. Their last contact was in 1965-67 when Frank was employed in a municipal hall in Mission or some other Fraser Valley town. Armed with this information I had to strike while the iron was hot. Through the B.C. Tel Directory Assistance Operator I obtained the only listing for a Frank Magee in Abbotsford. My fingers trembled as I dialed the number - intuition told me that if a man answered the phone I would be able to tell if I had finally succeeded. To the best of my recollection, the conversation went like this:
“Is this Frank Magee?”
“Is this Warrant Officer Frank Magee, R.C.A.F. retired?”
“Yes” - suspiciously.
“Did you fly with 625 Squadron in March 1944 with a pilot named Jack Owen?”
“Yes” - more suspiciously. Bingo!
After identifying myself and describing my tangential association through my uncle the tension melted away but I still had trouble controlling my tremor. After all these years and he was almost living in my backyard!
Two weeks later I met Frank and his effervescent wife, Vera, at their home in Abbotsford. Over lunch I learned of more intriguing pieces in the puzzle: After bailing out Frank parachuted to safety between Amelo and Hengelo near the Dutch-German border. He was immediately taken in by the Dutch Resistance and spent several days on the farm where Henk van Guens worked to avoid conscription to Germany as a slave labourer, before being moved by car and train to Belgium. After six months in the spartan life of an evader he was liberated when their town was overrun by the allies. On returning to England his first task was an unpleasant one - to tell Vera that her husband of three months, Percy Simpkin, had not survived their last mission. After the end of hostilities Frank returned to Canada. Vera followed two years later and they married in 1947. They have been soulmates ever since, raising their family in the splendour of the Fraser Valley. In appreciation of his heroic assistance, Frank sponsored Henk van Guens to immigrate to the Okanagan Valley after the war. Their friendship has continued to flourish ever since.