The future of the Air Force is built upon the service and sacrifices of the past

News Article / March 2, 2021

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By Captain Sarah Harasymchuk and Lieutenant (Navy) Melanie Aqiqi

It was a grim day nearly eight decades ago when 426 Bomber Squadron, known as the Thunderbirds, received a new mission order. They were tasked with bombing the rail-yards at Louvain, Belgium as part of a 120 aircraft raid on May 13, 1944 during the Second World War. There were 14 Thunderbirds on the battle order, carrying nine 1,000-pound bombs and four 500-pound bombs.

The eight-person crew onboard Halifax LW682/OW-M never reached their objective. Instead, they were shot down by a Luftwaffe night-fighter ace, Hauptmann Martin Drewes of III / NJG1. They crashed into a bog near the River Dender at Schendelbeke and all eight crew members were killed. The muddy terrain quickly engulfed the aircraft with three crew members still inside.

When the Halifax Bomber was finally recovered in 1997 by a Canadian-led excavation team, the recovered aluminum took on new meaning for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and its members. Metal recovered from the crash site was melted down into ingots. Fragments of that metal are being incorporated into the enamels of new metal flying badges and serve as a visible reminder of past sacrifices.

“The designs of the full-wing and upswept wing metal flying badges, worn on the summer dress uniforms of qualified aircrew, were modernized under the Flying and Occupation Badge Update Project. Aluminum grindings, obtained from the ingots of LW682 metal, are incorporated into the clear enamels used in some of the badges and in the red enamels used in the laurel wreaths of all of the badges,” describes Major John Meurling, the Project Director.

Major-General Michel Lalumiere, Chief of Fighter Capability, says the new metal wings symbolize the crucial history of the sacrifices made by the pioneers of today’s modern Air Force: “On my wings you see the gold maple leaf, which on the new wings are being replaced by silver… What is being carried through in the new design is in fact the 95 years of history the RCAF has from its birth in 1924, but also its roots in the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force where some Canadians started flying in World War I.”

It took 53 years before the Halifax LW682/OW-M and final three crew members were fully recovered. The crew members were Pilot Officer W.B. Bentz (Belgian Croix de Guerre avec Palmes), Flying Officer T.W. Taylor, Flying Officer C.S. Phillips, Pilot Officer J.E. McIntyre, Sergeant R. Ellerslie (RAF), Pilot Officer J.E.J.G. Arbour, Pilot Officer F. Roach, and Pilot Officer J.W. Summerhayes. In July 1948, the crew posthumously received the Belgian Croix de Guerre with Palm.

The new full-wing metal badges, rendered in a silver finish, will replace the current gold-coloured wings. The badges produced so far include: Astronaut; Pilot; Air Combat Systems Officer; Flight Engineer; Airborne Electronic Sensor Operator; Search and Rescue Technician; and Loadmaster. Production of the remaining flying badges will be completed later this year.

MGen Lalumiere says members wear their badges above the heart as a source of courage and moral compass. “Those that made the ultimate sacrifice before us that now we reflect on in our history and often we seek those examples when we are facing some of the challenges today. We source our courage, our dedication, our energy in those examples from the past.”

The Halifax LW682 aluminum ingots were smelted from the wreckage of the aircraft and used to create several memorials: the roof of the Bomber Command Memorial in London’s Green Park; a memorial wall with engraved aluminum ingots at the Wing Commander Sedley S. Blanchard Air Mobility Training Centre and the base of the Thunderbirds’ totem pole at the Air Mobility Training Centre in Trenton. Parts of the Halifax LW682/OW-M were also used in the restoration of a Halifax NA337 in Trenton, Ontario.

The largest Canadian contribution and sacrifice during the Second World War was the RCAF’s participation in the Royal Air Force Bomber Command. More than 10,000 RCAF aircrew were killed and thousands were injured or taken prisoner of war while serving in Bomber Command, which was the most dangerous role for the Allied forces. Their legacy will be honoured and cherished as part of these new metal flying badges.

Since we first posted the article and videos detailing the production and history of the new metal flying badges, we have received questions and comments from members of the RCAF, veterans, and the public. We have pulled together several of the most common questions in order to share the answers with all of those interested in these unique symbols of our history.

Q1 - I am in one of the trades eligible for a new metal flying badge. When will I be receiving my badge?

A1 – The first seven metal flying badges have been produced, and the remaining flying badges will be developed this year. Timing of distribution to eligible serving members will vary by occupation. A CANFORGEN will be issued shortly outlining the details. Members will be encouraged to check for their individual badge availability using the Logistik Unicorp Clothing online website.

Q2 - Will all badges with full outswept and upswept wings be updated with remnants from LW682?

A2 - All metal flying badges, both outswept and upswept wings, are being updated. In addition to the badges already announced, this includes: Airborne Warning and Control; Aircrew; Flight Surgeon; Aeromedical Evacuation; Flight Test Engineer; Tactical Helicopter Observer; and Tactical Aviation Door Gunner.

Q3 - Will single-wing trades and half-wing trades get updated badges with the remnants?

A3 - The metal from LW682 is only being incorporated into metal flying badges with full outswept and upswept wings. There is no plan to create new metal occupation badges.

Q4 - Will retired RCAF members be able to receive the new badges?

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