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When a plywood Mosquito buzzed our village

This is the direct route taken by the mosquito the afternoon it dashed across Mary Lake in 1945. Rocky, Crown, Forest and Snowshoe Islands can be seen in the back ground. Donald McClure photo

The afternoon sun scorched the roof and we could sense the heat through the bottom of our work boots.
It was late July — the summer of 1945.  The war in Europe had been successfully concluded.  Conflict in the Pacific was winding down to its mushroom-shaped climax.  A certain euphoria had gripped the village as people started to believe that the nightmare would soon be over.

Perhaps we could again lick our considerable wounds  and start adding up the incredible price we had paid for peace.  (Wilfred and Harold Green; Gilbert and Ronnie Dent – two sets of brothers from our tiny school alone).

Writer's uncle the late Sgt. Walter Dubois was a bombing and gunnery instructor at Fingal near St. Thomas in 1942 when this picture was snapped. In civilian life he was a school teacher.

I was standing on the flat roof of the McClure family homestead looking down on Mary Lake in Port Sydney Muskoka.  Beside me was the tall, lean figure of my uncle, Sgt. Walter Dubois, on weekend leave from his instructor’s post at RCAF Fingal No. 4 Bomber & Gunnery School) near St. Thomas in Western Ontario.

My grandmother had passed away the summer before.  Now Walter was using his weekend to add much-needed insulation to her stately old house which he and Aunt Beta had inherited.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) he was too large to lower himself into the roof access port and crawl along on his knees to jab insulation bats into spaces which had kept the house pretty draughty.  So he enlisted my gangly 14-year old frame to do the job.   It was sweaty, uncomfortable, itchy work but I liked the idea of giving him a hand.  Kids were awfully proud of their family members in the service.

Walter had always been mindful of the interest his nephews had in the air force and would bring home little souvenirs on his visits.  Things like — a de-commissioned 20mm shell, bits of burned parachute, a piece of a scrapped Harvard, a tracer bullet, tunic buttons– neat stuff   which made brother Bob and I the envy of our school buddies.

Anyway at about 4 pm that day I crawled out of the heat box for a drink of cold water from a thermos jug when I heard an unusual drone coming from the south side of the lake.  Now we were accustomed to hearing the telltale whine of a Harvard and the low purr of an Anson – but this was different.

I could see the silhouette against the sky heading to the East. “Is that a Mosquito?”  I asked excitedly.  Walter stared at the speck but he didn’t answer — just kept staring.  “It’s got two engines,” I offered.

“Couldn’t be” he said “There are no Mosquitos stationed anywhere near here.”

Tabbed the "Wooden Wonder" because of its plywood construction the deHaviland Mosquito was fast, and multi-purpose. More than 1300 of these sturdy planes were built in Canada during the second world war. Power was from two 1600 hp Merlin engines.

The plane kept heading east down to the end of Mary Lake five miles away,    Then it banked sharply and seemed to be coming back in our direction.

“It looks like its aiming right for us!”  I shouted in delight.

Walter never said a word.

The plane dipped down until you could see the white water flying from below the props.   It  swept past Deadman’s Island, past Snowshoe.  The plane seemed to be almost on the surface of the water when it reached Forest, then passed Crown on the left, it rose slightly as it passed Rocky Island and headed straight as a die in our direction.

People on the town dock and on the beach in front of us were on their feet in total shock.   I was sure it was gong to knock us off the roof and fell flat on my face with my eyes glued on the plane.  I think I had a panicky thought of hurling myself off the roof, but rejected the notion.

Walter stood his ground and never moved a muscle.

In an instant it was right over us and climbing to rise above the granite hill behind us.  My ears were ringing with the roar of its engines and I could feel the powerful gush of air.  As it passed out of sight I saw the plane’s wings wag in a cheeky salute.

And that was it.  Over in seconds. A wartime prank executed in a flash.

Walter was stamping his feet and shaking his fist at the sky.  “Now I know who that was” he said. “They knew I would be here this afternoon.  Just wait until I get back to the base on Monday — there’s going to be hell to pay.”

The war ended in a couple of weeks.  Walter never spoke of the incident again.  I never heard that anyone got busted for the stunt.   Within a few more weeks many servicemen were back in civvies — except for some trainers who reportedly accompanied a shipment of Mosquitos to aid struggling Nationalist China.

I suspect the show-off gig was hatched by a couple Walter’s ex-students.  No matter how you slice it was a well-executed stunt and certainly showed both pilot and navigator had truly learned their individual skills.  A credit to people like Walter who turned out an enviable list of top-notch graduates.

Perhaps the upside incident for me anyway, was to have my teen-aged senses impressed by how suddenly an individual can be caught up in a sea of frightening noise  and confusion over which there is no control. And if it were a real war-experience, I thought how helpless a person is when overtaken by technology.  That was 66 years ago and it sticks in my memory banks to this day.

Sobering to think that things happen a lot quicker in today’s world.

House where the "dastardly deed" took place is on the left of the picture on Mary Lake. Note the high granite hill behind the houses in Port Sydney. Herbert L. McClure photo

Filed Under: Local News

About the Author: He can tickle your funny bone or tug at your heart strings. County people may know him as a chronicler of everything that happens (or should happen) in the garden, but his interests stretch across the natural world. His unique sense of observation takes in a wide expanse of living and may even point out some truths about our own condition as managers of the world around us. With Loyalist antecedents in his family tree his roots go deep into the Ontario countryside.

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  1. Donald says:

    Good to hear from you Doug. Hope you are feeling stronger every day. Isn’t it fortunate that we both had Uncle Walter’s in our life. My uncle later in life gave me a pep talk when I needed some new initiatives. I think he played an impotant role
    in building up my self-confidence. Best wishes.

  2. Doug Quinn says:

    I should also have mentioned Don that I read the whale story you sent twice a day every day

  3. Doug Quinn says:

    Enjoyed your last two blogs Don, First reminded me of a abandoned building we came across on the back roads of New Brunswick many years ago. Then uncle Walter who took us fishing despite being told this lake was fished out with Walter we never returned with less than three or four large mouth Bass.

  4. Donald says:

    Thank you Kelly. I always thought it was a great priveledge to grow up in such a beautiful setting. Canadians I think are among the most fortunate people on earth. The important thing is that we leave behind this shining legacy to the generations to follow

  5. Donald says:

    Thank you Chris. The loss of so many fine young Canadians in the recent
    Afghanistan mission, brings into sharp focus the sacrifices still being made by Canadian families to help maintain world peace. It is the duty of all Canadians to remember why we are able to wake up in the morning each day in a peaceful
    and free land.

  6. Chris says:

    The World Wars saw the average guy lifted out of his average world and thrust into a situation that can only be understood by the men who served. 11 hour 11 day 11 month.

  7. kelly says:

    Amazing story Donald!I have stood on that very dock in Port Sydney myself! Let us never forget November 11!

  8. Donald says:

    Thank you Andy. My heart goes out to all of the parents who had to let their loved ones go off to was. We can only begin to imagine their distress. Of the four boys from Port Sydney mentioned, who never returned, both Gilbert and Ronnie Dent were bright lads with inquiring minds and always ready to lend a hand around the village. Wilfred Green used to carry me around on his shoulders and was like a big brother.

    Harold Green wanted to learn radio repairs from my father. Both were killed witnin a week of each other near Caen, France, I understand. The Dent boys were
    lost in bomber command.

  9. Andy says:

    A great story. A good reminder of all the stories that have never been told, all the unsung heros and pranksters that lived and laughed and sometimes died in all the far flung corners of the world at that time. Thank you for remembering. Uncle Walter would be proud.

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