VICTORIA - Four lost airmen have finally been laid to rest — 72 years after they disappeared while on a Second World War training mission on Vancouver Island.
A single coffin draped with the Canadian flag contained the remains of the four airmen — a Canadian sergeant and three servicemen from England — as they were honoured at a military service on Monday.
Family members, veterans and members of the 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron and the West Coast's operational Sea King squadron gathered to pay tribute to the men whose remains were discovered last year in the wreckage of their plane.
"We come together with thanksgiving and sorrow," said Royal Canadian Air Force Rev. Major Angela James.
Pilot Officer Charles George Fox, Pilot Officer Antony William Lawrence, Sgt. William Baird and Sgt. Robert Ernest Luckock disappeared on Oct. 30, 1942, James told mourners at Victoria's pastoral Royal Oak Burial Park on a crisp, sunny fall morning.
"We gather to honour these brave men today and to offer our condolences to their families," she said. "Asking God to have mercy upon their souls, we return them to the earth that they may rest in peace, their place known and their memory secure."
Calgary-born Baird was 25 and an avid athlete who served as a wireless operator and air gunner.
Luckock, born in Ilford, England, was 21 and had received his pilot's flying badge on June 19, 1942, four months before he and the others took their last flight.
Thirty-one-year-old Fox was born in London. Awarded airman of the year by the Royal Air Force, he was sent to Canada for further training as a navigator, a duty he was performing when the aircraft disappeared.
Lawrence, 21, was born in Croydon, England. He was recommended for pilot instruction and his first posting as an officer was in Patricia Bay, B.C.
The men's names have been listed on the National War Memorial in Ottawa as missing, along with nearly 800 people who died in service, transport or training accidents during the Second World War and who have no known grave.
They were on a routine training mission in an Avro Anson plane when they vanished.
A trio of logging engineers came upon the wreckage in October 2013 while working on a remote mountainside near Port Renfrew, B.C., on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The site is barely 50 kilometres west of where the aircraft took off.
Tom Burdge, a Second World War pilot, said his stepson was one of the engineers who found the wreckage and the two of them went to the site to help identify the aircraft as an Avro Anson.
"My stepson realized it was part of a training aircraft and he got in touch with me," said Burdge, 91, who attended the service.
"I was able to go in with my stepson and two or three other people to get some identification just to corroborate that it was the actual aircraft that had set course years before."
Department of National Defence officials also went to the scene and discovered human remains in the wreckage, which prompted a call to the BC Coroners Service.
Winter weather prevented the two agencies from mounting a recovery mission until last spring, when a coroner and a forensic anthropologist recovered and identified the remains as those of the four men listed on the flight's manifest.
"It's very emotional for me," Burdge said. "They should be honoured. They gave their lives for us."
He said he recalled standing at the wreckage site in the forest feeling "very, very sad to know that there were four people there somewhere, buried."
During the service, retired Capt. Gary Brown, a member of the Victoria Branch of the Vancouver Island Aircrew Association, read a stanza called The Act of Remembrance from the Laurence Binyon poem, "For the Fallen."
"They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old; age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them."