John Albrecht
Two Caterpillars and a Goldfish
1. The Parachute

After a barrage of telephone calls from friends and relatives, I received a parcel by registered mail from Joe Sweeney of Crescent Valley, BC. It contained a photo album and documents describing the 50 year history of Frank Magee’s parachute and harness.

After landing in a farm field, just after midnight, in Albergen, Holland, he was ushered into a farmhouse with his bundled parachute. Frank was conscripted on the spot to feed the farmer’s infant children boiled milk - before being taken under the wing of the Dutch Underground. In war torn Holland, his silk parachute was a rare commodity. The farmer’s wife did not hesitate to use a portion to sew communion dresses for her four daughters. The remainder was set aside and transformed into an ornate chasuble for her seminarian brother - Father Hermann Engberink was ordained on March 24, 1946, two years after the crash of ND 641. Father Hermann was assigned to a mission in Gold Coast. En route, his ship collided with a French Liberty vessel in the English Channel and he was forced to abandon ship - sans personal belongings. After rescue by a Royal Navy Destroyer, he continued his journey to Gold Coast. Several months later, an unexpected parcel arrived containing his personal effects including the indestructible vestment.

He eventually immigrated to Canada to become the priest of St. Rita’s Church in Castlegar, BC. On March 24, 1996, he celebrate the Jubilee Year of his priesthood wearing Frank Magee’s parachute cum chasuble.

Father Hermann’s nephew, Bernard, was the infant fed by Frank in the early hours of March 25, 1944. He grew up to become a Social Studies teacher. Each year he introduces the lesson on the Second World War wearing Frank’s parachute harness. He uses this artifact to embellish Frank’s adventure with the Dutch Underground safe houses through to his liberation near Liège, Belgium.

In a recent telephone conversation with Joe Sweeney, he informed me that Father Hermann is still alive and returned to Holland for his retirement years.

On October 14, 1944, Warrant Officer F.B. Magee received a congratulatory letter from Leslie Irvin inducting him into the Caterpillar Club. Membership was automatic to allied air crew whose life had been saved by an Irvin Chute. Frank still proudly displays his Silver Caterpillar pin on his RCAF wedge cap! I find it amazing that a single parachute could have such long lasting and far reaching impact - from the ravages of war to the serenity of peace, religion and education.

Before his departure for Holland, the Castlegar Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion was instrumental in initiating a liaison between Father Hermann and Frank Magee. Father Hermann was able to express his gratitude and enlightened Frank of the durability of his silk canopy.

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© 2004-2013 John Albrecht