Documenting in brushstrokes, history comes alive through the skillful hands and watercolour vision of Sault Ste. Marie artist, Doug Bradford. Doug and Sharon Bradford recently returned to The Sault, having been on a 17 day cruise in The Netherlands with Journeys River Cruises, April 14-29, 2016. The story of how that trip took place, is very much woven into the journey of ‘The Crew. M is for Mother’, a commissioned watercolour painting and homage to the Royal Canadian Air Force Crew (RCAF) of HR864 LQ-M, a Halifax MKII-B bomber, which flew during WW2.
Saultonline spent an afternoon recently with Sharon & Doug Bradford at their beautiful home in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to learn more about this remarkable story.
“Frank Moore, (pictured in an April 30,2016 Toronto Star article), is from Tillsonburg Ontario. He’s a retired Royal Bank executive who discovered RCAF articles inside a suit case he acquired through an auction.” said Doug Bradford. “The suitcase was full of RCAF medals, and letters from mothers, concerned for their sons wellbeing. It took about a year of research by Frank Moore to learn that all of the individuals represented by the medals, had perished except for one guy. That was Alexander Sochowski.”
“Frank Moore and Jeremy Vandyke, (Journey River Cruises), are friends, and share a mutual appreciation for Canadian history, especially the role of Canada’s military in WW2. “The man who commissioned ‘The Crew’, is the owner of Journeys River Cruises, Jerry Vandyke.” he said “His son Jeremy, is a person who is particularly knowledgeable about Canadian history, and envisioned some way to commemorate the treasures found within the suitcase.”
From this friendship, a commissioned work of art was born. ‘The Crew. M is for Mother’, is a painting by Doug Bradford, which now hangs in the offices of the travel company, ‘Journeys by Jerry Vandyke’, Cambridge, Ontario.
A presentation of a signed print was made to the Town of Ten Boer, the Netherlands, on April 26th,2016 ‘In honour of THE CREW of HR864 LQ-M and of the town of Ten Boer for their support during the war and for safeguarding our CREW for eternity.’ Doug and Sharon Bradford were part of the event.
“The painting that was featured in the photograph for the Toronto Star article (April 30,2016), has since been tweaked a little. It wasn’t quite finished at that point. The insignia was wrong; having to do with ‘under the King’ when it should be ‘under the Queen’.” he said
“Out of the crew of seven, one guy survived, and he ended up in a prison camp. Alexander Sochowski was the only crew member to survive. He was in the prison camp that was featured in the movie, ‘The Great Escape’, (1963) starring Steve Macqueen. All these guys are buried in a cemetery in Ten Boer, (except one) The Netherlands (formerly Holland).”
The Messerschmitt pilot, Paul Zorner (PZ), was also included in the painting. “I recently learned that one of the (Canadian) guys who shot at the German plane did hit the Mezzerschmidt, rendering it out of commission.” said Doug.
The following is an excerpt from jerryvandyke.com
‘On the night of July 25th, 1943, the crew on the Handley Page Halifax 11 bomber, registered as HR 864 with the 405 squadron departed Gransden Lodge England en route for Essen Germany when attacked by a night fighter over Ten Boer, Groningen Holland at 23:56 PM. Two engines were hit and caught fire. F/O Alexander J. Sochowski, Bombardier, bailed out before the aircraft exploded and crashed on a farm just west of Ten Boer. He became a P.O.W. and was interned in Stalag Luft 3 and had a part in the Great Escape.
Fatalities included W/O 11 Clifford J.V. Kettley Radio Operator , P/O Michael S. Smyth Tail Gunner , F/O Marcel E. Tomczak Pilot, F/S Edward White Air Gunner, Sgt. Albert Wood Flight Engineer, and F/O Alexander P. McCracken Navigator. The crew is buried together at Ten Boer Protestant Cemetery in the Netherlands.
The suitcase was acquired in 2008, through an EBay auction and contained a treasure trove of material on F/O Alexander McCracken including his service medals, along with his father’s from WW1. Also in the suitcase were exchanges of letters between “The Crew’s “mothers and various notifications from R.C.A.F. authorities. Rarely do you find so much information which led to detailed research on the crash of HR 864 LQ-M on the night of July 25th, 1943.’
Doug Bradford has developed a reputation as one of Canada’s foremost painters of WW2 and Canadian armed services history. He has 15 paintings hanging in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario. In 2004, he was selected to participate in The Canadian Armed Forces Civilian Arts Programme and has been featured in The legion magazine
In return for the commissioned painting, Sharon and Doug Bradford received a 17 day Cruise with Journeys River Cruises.
“I signed 395 prints, and all of the money from the prints goes to charity, including service dogs for the military.” said Bradford.
In the final painting, are Bradford’s personal reflections of love. “Our youngest daughter Sarah, who passed away in June (2015) can be found in the northern lights. I put her name in the sky. And my other daughter Cindy’s name is in one of the propellers, and my son’s name, Sean, is in the other propeller.” Bradford shared “Only if I told you where to look, would you find them.”
Doug and Sharon visited the cemetery where all but one of the men are buried. “It was really humbling when we got to the cemetery where 6 of the guys are buried. It was really something to behold.” said Doug, as he and Sharon reflected on some of the photographs taken during the recent trip.
“To see the graves of these boys; It is very powerful. They had a Colour Guard behind the six headstones on the day we were there. It was so beautifully kept up. It was a very emotional day.” said Doug
In return for the commissioned painting, Sharon and Doug Bradford received a 17 day Cruise with Journeys River Cruises, which started in Amsterdam, and finished in Arnhem, Netherlands.
“The boat was beautiful. We ate like kings and queens the whole time.”
“The weather ranged from sleet, to snow, to rain and then to lovely. The whole country is spotless.” said Sharon. “Everything is so beautiful there. Flowers in fields as far as you could see.”
“We handed out little Canadian pins while were away. One couple with two little girls, were so excited to get the pins. They called to us from down a street and said ‘Look..Look’. We’re wearing our pins.”
“War is a terrible thing. It was quite moving to be part of the event, which took place on the second last day of our trip. The town received the ‘first’ print. Representing the Canadian Air Force, was Major Terry Wong, who is a helicopter pilot, and served in Afghanistan. It was so nice to have a member of the Canadian armed services there.” adding “The mayor of Ten Boer was there, Frank Moore, was there; The Vandykes as well.”
“Jeremy Vandyke’s in-laws were in Holland during the 2nd World War.” shared Sharon Bradford. “They were protected by the Canadian soldiers, and that really impacted them. It is a very profound story.”
A profound story indeed. Thank you Doug and Sharon Bradford for sharing the story of ‘The Crew. M is for Mother’; A story written in history, and remembered in watercolour brushstrokes with honour and love. A gift in memoriam.
To research Doug Bradford’s vivid watercolour painting (2004) which shows a Sea King helicopter on the deck of the patrol frigate HMCS Calgary, and is part of The Canadian War Museum collection, visit: warmuseum.ca
‘Journeys by Jerry Van Dyke of Cambridge Ontario have in the past supported many initiatives involving Canadian Veterans. All proceeds from the sale of prints (‘The Crew’) will be donated to the National Service Dogs Program and targeted to the special needs of our veterans suffering with PTSD.’