On Sunday afternoon, a crowd of local residents and enjoyers of literature from across the country gathered at the Record’s headquarters in Kitchener for the launch of Amazing Airmen: Canadian Flyers in the Second World War, a book written by the paper’s editorial writer Ian Darling.
The England-born journalist – who has also taught writing courses at Laurier in the past – produced a book that contains the incredible stories of 19 Second World War veterans: Canadian men who served in the air force overseas.
With several of these men attending as honoured guests, the event was a truly appropriate and memorable celebration of their survival.
The book comes out at a fitting time, as Remembrance Day approaches. In the words of John Roe, the Record’s editorial page editor, it provides readers with “a poignant reminder of how much we owe to the young warriors of so many decades ago.”
Following introductions of the veterans in attendance – Frank Cauley, Wilf Renner, Harry Denison, Wally Loucks, Gordon Stacey and Tom Lane – the men received a standing ovation from the crowd packed into the room.
“I regard myself as more of the editor of this book than the writer,” said Darling as he regarded the panel of veterans seated to his left.
“This is their story,” he continued.
Amazing Airmen began as a single article published in the Record; an account of the author’s uncle, George Darling, and his experiences as an airman during the war.
Following the publication of the article, Darling began receiving suggestions from the newspaper’s readers that he should write a book of similar wartime stories.
The project took six years to fully complete; Darling travelled around Europe and Canada to speak with air force veterans about their experiences.
He joked to the veterans in attendance on Sunday, commenting, “They see me as an interrogator.”
Darling’s uncle died before the book project began, but a fellow member of George Darling’s air crew, Tom Lane, was one of the honoured guests at the launch. Lane was pilot of the bomber crew, and captivated the audience with his story of the night their plane was shot down over Germany.
The entire crew survived the crash, but became prisoners of war for two years.
The crowd was left in suspense when Lane abruptly cut off his account, saying that the rest could be found in Darling’s book.
Harry Denison, another of the veterans in attendance, was only 18 when he joined the air force.
He returned to Canada a 20-year-old young man, a flight sergeant and survivor of a plane crash without a parachute.
He explained that at the time of his return, he was not yet old enough to buy a drink in a bar.
Listening to the accounts of these men, it was difficult to comprehend that they are true stories and not fictional action sequences from a harrowing war movie.