Two Caterpillars and a Goldfish
The next surprise came as a letter from Mrs. Joan Berry forwarded courtesy of Dan Black at the Legion Magazine. After reading her letter, the significance was obvious - in March 1944, she was married to Sgt. Bill Broadmore, my uncle’s flight engineer. His loss left her a devastated widow with an eight-month-old son, Peter. She could vividly recollect her last visit with Bill, her mother and sister, as well as receiving his daily letters for three days after he was reported missing. She subsequently remarried and immigrated to Canada with her husband and Peter. Joan was kind enough to forward a photocopy of an October 1944 letter from my grandfather that captures the tragic atmosphere of families coming to grips with the sudden loss of young lives during wartime. In corresponding with Peter, he informed me that my article had brought him closer to a father he had never known. I would later learn that my Legion article was instrumental in Joan and Peter reestablishing ties with the Broadmore clan in England after a 20 year hiatus. It also gave me closure to the puzzle of the epitaph inscribed on Bill Broadmore’s headstone in Tubbergan, Holland - “In memory’s garden, my darling you always will be”. Joan admitted authorship of this touching line.
A week later, I received a telephone call from John Munro of Chilliwack, BC. He informed me that Frank Magee’s story was not unique. He also participated in the March 24/25, 1944 raid on Berlin as a rear gunner of Lancaster ME 684 piloted by Flying Officer “Nobby” Clark. Their aircraft along with ND 641 and ED 317 (all from 625 Squadron) failed to return, falling to night fighters or flak. ED 317, piloted by Flight Sergeant Jamieson, was lost with all crew members. John had vivid recall of that fateful mission many years ago. On the return leg, they were forced to abandon a flaming Lancaster riddled by flak. After “assisting” the mid-upper gunner, frozen by fear to exit via the rear escape hatch, John sought the safety of his parachute. All seven crew members survived - three evaders and four POWs. Like Frank Magee, John successfully evaded capture until liberated by advancing Allied forces. Despite this misfortune, he still had the appetite to fly a final combat mission in 1945.
At war’s end, he returned to Thunder Bay, raised his family, worked as an electrician and learned to fly. He moved to BC and retired with his wife in Chilliwack, BC.
I was fortunate to meet John on several occasions after flying into Chilliwack Airport. Short in stature, he compensated with an energetic friendly personality. After a near miss, driving to his home, I was assigned to chauffer duties for future visits. He admitted that his vision was not what it used to be. At his home, he had a den dedicated to his war years and aviation adventures. This included Resistance photographs, forged documents, and identity papers from his escapades as an evader. After a visit, he would load me up with fresh produce from his vegetable garden.
Sadly, his health took a sudden turn and he departed on his last mission on Friday, September 13, 2002. I spoke to him the day before and knew that he was at peace with his fate.
I am still incredulous that Frank and John could survive bailing out of aircraft from the same squadron on the same night, evading capture, the next 50 years, and then live within ten miles of each other unaware of their celestial connection - in the end they did know.