Citizens for a Livable Cranbrook Society provides grassroots leadership and an inclusive process, with a voice for all community members, to ensure that our community grows and develops in a way that incorporates an environmental ethic, offers a range of housing and transportation choices, encourages a vibrant and cultural life and supports sustainable, meaningful employment and business opportunities.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Michael's Musings

They Shall Grow Not Old

By Michael J Morris

Rotary Park in the very heart of Cranbrook's downtown core has been one of my favourite places in the city ever since I arrived here 24 years ago just about now.

Over the years I have often stopped there to rest when on a walkabout of that part of the city, but this time I had a special reason for a visit. The cenotaph and Wall of Honour are located there, and for me it was the place to go and spend a few moments in quiet reflection on a long ago incident that affected me and my family and the lives we have led.

Seventy years ago, on July 16, 1943, a Wellington bomber took off from an air force base in England. It was to be a short height test flight around the airfield only.

The last entry in the pilot's log book written later by the squadron's wing commander was, "Aircraft exploded in air."

The usual telegram was sent by the war office, expressing regret that Flying Officer James E. Morris, my father,  was killed while on active service in the Royal Canadian Air Force, July 16,1943. Similar messages would have been sent to the families of my father's crew who were on the flight with him. The crew members were five Canadian boys, from Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan, brought together  because of Canada's participation in World War II.

Upon arriving at Rotary Park, I stopped at the cenotaph located in about the exact middle of the park, and read the inscription: "To the honour and memory of OUR BOYS from Cranbrook district who gave themselves for liberty." Every one of those inscribed on the cenotaph, like me, had a family and friends, and I shared a moment with them.

I headed over to the Wall of Honour, a project spearheaded by the Cranbrook Firefighters and Branch Number 24 of the Royal Canadian Legion where the names of those who served their country in the Boer War, World War I, World War II and Korea are inscribed.

As I stood looking at the wall with the Canadian Ensign, Maple Leaf and Union Jack flags fluttering above me, I thought what a truly amazing project it was to have undertaken and to all those who made it a reality -- thank you.

On the other side of the Wall of Honour is  a mural entitled Valour Remembered and a plaque says it was done as a Millenneum Project from the time Cranbrook and district had people involved in the Boer war in 1900 to 2000. The mural was painted by the distinguished internationally acclaimed Canadian artist Joseph Cross, who lives in Cranbrook.

The latest addition to the site is a Garden of Remembrance opened in June 2011.

I sat down on a park bench for some reflection.

Although I didn't know it at the time, July 16, 1943, was destined to be the most significant turning point in my life, and I wasn't even two years old when my father's plane exploded in air and crashed over the English countryside during World War II. In fact, that date had a profound effect on my entire family. Nobody was ever quite the same again. Of course, in 1943, I wasn't really aware of what life was like for my mother, Muriel E. (Hunt) Morris, my grandparents Harry and Lil Morris and George and Edith Hunt, my father's sister Marion, and the close relationship they all had. 

My grandmother Hunt was in England at the time working as a war nurse and my father had visited her the weekend before he was killed. She attended his funeral and burial in Ripon Cemetery, Yorkshire, England. Grandpa Hunt was with us in Chapleau.

My father, like so many who joined Canada's armed forces during World War II was an ordinary Canadian from a small town, in his case, Chapleau, Ontario where he was born and raised, called upon to perform the exceptional. There was absolutely no doubt in their minds whatsoever that it was the right thing for them to do. I am sure there are many here in Cranbrook who felt the same way.

After his death, The Evening Telegram of Toronto reported that my father took to flying in his early teens and became associated with several of Canada's early bush pilots who were operating in the Chapleau area. Actually he was going down to the waterfront and getting rides and learning to fly planes, thinking that my grandmother didn't know what was going on. But she did. Mothers always know!  

In 1940 my father enlisted in the RCAF at Moncton, New Brunswick. He became a flying instructor and was posted to No. 10 Elementary Flying Training School at Mount Hope. He was among the first instructors in the Commonwealth Air Training Plan. In 1942 he went overseas.

On November 11, Remembrance Day, we pause for a moment, and for some of us, for much more than a moment, to remember all those who died in war. For those of us affected so profoundly by war, we live with a day of remembrance each day of our lives.

My mother who likely never missed a Remembrance Day service, once told me that "Every day is remembrance day."  I thought of my mother's words before I headed off to Rotary Park and knew it was the right thing to do.

Stephen Hayter, the executive director, of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum in Brandon, Manitoba, has agreed to include my father's  RCAF material in a display there.

In an email to me, Mr. Hayter wrote: "It is your father's story that we wish to preserve for future generations...Your father's name is also listed in our memorial book They Shall Grow Not Old which also states that he was part of #432 Leaside Squadron (Saevitir Ad Lucem), and that his Wellington aircraft #JA 119 crashed one and one half miles west of Malton, Yorkshire."  

As I was leaving the park I noticed another plaque in memory of Soren Johnson, a horticulturist who was instrumental in tree selection for  Cranbrook Rotary Club in 1928 that created the beautiful urban forest in the downtown core.

What a beautiful place it is and what visionaries the members of the 1928 Rotary Club were to create it. And thanks to Cranbrook Firefighters, Branch Number 24 of the Royal Canadian Legion and all the rest who were involved in creating the Wall of Honour. 

They shall grow not old, not at all, for you will always remember yours as I remember mine. My email is

Full disclosure: I am not now and never have been a member of the Citizens for a Livable Cranbrook Society; however, I did conduct a workshop for its members for which I was paid.

1 comment:

  1. Michael, thanks for sharing the story, and your personal reflections.