Remembering Canada's forgotten veterans
Handout; Dave Brunner for National Post
Flight Officer Donald Urquhart, left and Cadet Sargeant Darlene Barkley are just two Canadian military members that were left out of a book of remembrance.
Kenyon Wallace, National Post · Friday, Jan. 28, 2011
It was a clear July day, in 1952, when Donald John Urquhart climbed into the cockpit of his P-51 Mustang bomber at the airfield at Watson Lake, Yukon.
With a pair of 500-pound bombs tucked under each wing, the 27-year-old pilot, a reservist attached to the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 402 City of Winnipeg Squadron, deftly steered the aircraft onto the runway, guided it into the air and headed west for a practice bombing run with a dozen other Mustangs, as was the plan.
When the target came into sight — a raft floating in the middle of Teslin Lake, about 250-kilometres west of camp — Flight Officer Urquhart brought his Mustang to 9,000 feet, tipped the aircraft toward the ground, and began a vertical dive, as he had done many times before.
But when the aircraft reached the bombing altitude of 2,000 feet, instead of releasing its bombs and pulling out, as was procedure, Flight Officer Urquhart kept going straight down, plunging into the lake.
“I think he was mesmerized by the target,” said Herb Spear, a pilot with Calgary’s 403 Squadron who was part of the bombing runs that day who remembers Flight Officer Urquhart well. “Don was the life of the party in the officer’s mess at night. There was piano in the mess and we had a pretty good piano player and Don was always entertaining.”
What Mr. Spear, now 87, can’t understand is why Mr. Urquhart is not included in In the Service of Canada: The Seventh Book of Remembrance, the official record of those whose deaths are attributable to military service since the Second World War.
The young pilot is just one of several Canadians who died while serving in the Armed Forces whose names are missing from the official record, omissions that veterans advocates say illustrate a lack of commitment to the commemoration of Canada’s military dead.
The book lists 1,700 Canadian Forces members who have died since 1947 while serving their country, but Veterans Affairs Canada concedes there are still names missing, a result of staff hindered by a lack of funds and a system that relies on voluntary submission of names from the public.
“Should the Minister of Veterans Affairs be aware of any omissions in this sacred and most honourable book of remembrance, it is his duty to prioritize the correction of this error,” said Michael Blais, a former soldier and founder of the group Canadian Veterans Advocacy. “It is vital that those names are included with all due haste, for they have earned this in blood and sacrifice. To delay or to make excuses when an inappropriate amount of time has passed is unacceptable.”
The Seventh Book of Remembrance sits in the Memorial Chamber in the Peace Tower. The Department of National Defence determines if a member’s death was attributable to military service by convening a board of inquiry. Whether or not the death occurred in battle, during training, off base or while off duty, if the the death is ruled attributable to military service, the member’s name is supposed to be included in the book.
Yet after years of research, there are names still missing. More than 4,200 files have been reviewed, of which about 1,700 deaths were found attributable to military service.
Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn conceded there is more research to be done, and encouraged any Canadians who believe they know of Canadian Forces personnel whose names are worthy of inclusion in the book to contact his department.
“We imagine that it will probably never be finished,” Mr. Blackburn said. “We may always find new names.”
Canada Remembers, the division of Veterans Affairs responsible for the book, has just one salaried employee tasked with researching names, and relies primarily on tips from the public.
The department is aided in its efforts by John Stuart, a retired Gulf War veteran who has dedicated countless volunteer hours to tracking down missing names — a difficult task given the long history covered by the book, spotty record-keeping, and the tendency for many fallen Canadian Forces personnel to share the same name.
He is currently working on 14 names for inclusion in the book, including Donald Urquhart.
Military historian and former Canadian War Museum Director Jack Granatstein says part of the challenge faced by Veterans Affairs when trying to track down the names of dead Canadian Forces members is dealing with the Department of National Defence. “DND, in my experience, knows very little about anything except what’s happening now,” Mr. Granatstein said. “It’s the biggest department in government, it’s dealing with people who go into the service, leave, are killed in action or killed in accidents, and who are somehow lost in the files because records aren’t kept properly.”
All inquiries to DND about the process of tracking down names of dead military members were directed back to Veterans Affairs. The ministry says there are now systems in place with DND to provide the names of any soldier who dies in the line of duty.
Pat Stogran, the former Veterans Ombudsman, is more blunt in his assessment of the situation: “The system doesn’t give a s--t.” said the retired colonel.
“The commitment of the person who puts on the uniform today is every bit of that of the service person going off to World War One and World War Two. You go where you’re told, you do what you’re told to do, you die for your country. We don’t have that sense of empathy for the sacrifice.”
Col. Stogran says Veterans Affairs should be actively hunting down names for inclusion in the book.
“These are our loved ones.”
Other forgotten veterans:
On August 5, 1977, Stephen Jenuth awoke at 5 a.m. to do his daily inspections of the gliders belonging to the regional cadet gliding school at the Rivers, Manitoba air base.
After inspection, the then 17-year-old took to the skies with the rest of his squadron, returning before noon to ensure the next squadron had ample time to conduct their exercises.
Not long after he returned to the barracks, Mr. Jenuth learned one of the gliders had been involved in an accident and crashed.
“That led to the worst hour of my life because I had done the inspection of the glider in question,” said Mr. Jenuth, now a Calgary lawyer. “I thought, good lord, did I miss something? Was I careless? I was sure at that point that I had caused a death. I was mortified.”
The cadets were later to learn, however, that the glider was functioning perfectly and had in fact collided with the tow plane, a Piper Super Cub, killing the pilot, reservist Lieutenant David Joseph Stamp, 21, and the cadet, Paul M. Trach, 16.
Mr. Jenuth said the cadets were supposed to fly their gliders in a large, rectangular circuit that would eventually bring them back to the runway. Instead, Paul Trach had been blown out of the regular circuit and was making a long, wide turn when his glider collided with the tow plane.
Veterans Affairs has no record of Lt. Stamp’s death in the Seventh Book of Remembrance, despite the fact that it occurred while he was on duty.
Cadet Trach is not eligible for inclusion in the book because he was not a full member of the Canadian Forces at the time.
Mr. Jenuth believes Lt. Stamp’s name should be included in the official record, not only because the pilot appears to meet the criteria for inclusion, but because of Lt. Stamp’s last act.
“The last thing he did was to reach up and pull the emergency lever to release the glider he was towing, saving the life of the cadet flying it,” Mr. Jenuth said, his voice cracking. “I think that was an incredible act of bravery. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t be in the book of remembrance.”
Darlene Leona Barkley joined the military the day she turned 17.
The teenager with a wide smile had always been interested in the Canadian Forces. She joined her local Airborne Cadet Corps in Edmonton at age 12, later attaining the rank of Cadet Sergeant and becoming a qualified ground-trained parachuter. In 1977, she joined the reserves, choosing the military police platoon of the 15th Service Battalion at CFB Griesbach, an army base in the north end of Edmonton.
That summer, after obtaining her military driver’s permit in Ontario, Darlene was sent to CFB Dundurn in Saskatchewan, about 40-kilometres south of Saskatoon.
Sharon Barkley-Clark, Darlene’s younger sister, was home alone on July 27th, 1977, when a military police officer phoned asking for her step-father.
“I knew it was something bad,” she recalled.
They were told that Darlene, who was by now a private, had been put on duty immediately after arriving at the base. In the middle of the night, an order came down for a roadblock to be set up following a report of a stolen vehicle containing guns and ammunition. Pte. Barkley was the only one on duty with a valid military driver’s licence, so was tasked with driving three other soldiers to the site of the roadblock along the dusty dirt road leading south from camp.
While the quarter-ton jeep she was driving was in good condition, Pte. Barkley was inexperienced. The poor condition of the road and the pitch black didn’t help.
The jeep began listing, Pte. Barkley over-corrected, panicked, and pressed the gas pedal. The jeep flipped into the ditch.
The three passengers were thrown from the jeep, but Pte. Barkley held onto the wheel; her body was crushed in the wreckage.
She was still alive when the military ambulance arrived, but later died of a ruptured spleen. She had only been in the Forces, legally, for seven days.
The military paid for the funeral and burial at Evergreen Memorial Gardens in Edmonton.
Library and Archives Canada records obtained by Calgary-based military historian and retired reservist Darrell Knight indicate that the accident occurred “2 miles south of CFB Dundurn Camp Boundary on road going from camp to town of Dundurn, Sask.” The records also show the date of Pte. Barkley’s death as July 27, 1977.
Earlier this week, the National Post contacted Veterans Affairs to ask why Pte. Barkley’s name was not included in the Seventh Book of Remembrance. Her name was added to the book on Thursday.
“It certainly took them long enough,” said Ms. Barkley-Clark. “I don’t know what they’ve been doing for all this time. But it’s better than nothing.”