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British Columbia history that informs readers while entertaining them.

Mount Bolduc bomber wreck a WW2 Tragedy

For the better part of an hour, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2003, they weren’t alone.

For almost an hour that Remembrance Day, six young airmen who died for their country on a lonely mountain peak west of Cowichan Lake, April 25, 1944, were saluted in a special graveside service by military personnel and civilians.

It was a deserving and moving tribute for FOs John Ernest Moyer and Ambrose Moynagh, W01 Lawrence Kerr, WO2 Brimley George Henry Palmer, Sgt. Harry Arthur Maki and LAC Murray Thomas Robertson, who are buried at the crash site.

The inspiration behind the special Remembrance Day memorial service actually dated back to another tragedy of Sept. 15, 2001 when William Thomas MacFarlane suffered a fatal heart attack while visiting the site. Among the emergency crews who responded were members of the Honeymoon Bay Volunteer Fire Dept. Aside from the issue at hand, Fire Chief John Rowley, who hadn’t been to the site before that day, was “quite moved by what we saw”.

Ventura bomber struck the mountainside at high speed

He began researching the tragic story behind the loss of Lockheed Vega-Ventura bomber V2218 which, perhaps lost in clouds, struck a tree at an estimated 200 miles per hour and literally disintegrated. The 200-foot-long debris trail, despite a resulting fire that burned for days, and 60 years of forest growth show the force with which the two-engine bomber hit the ground, only two of its crewmen being found within its shattered body.

A massive search for the plane from No. 115 Squadron (‘Beware’), which had been en route to Tofino from Patricia Bay, included a U.S. Navy dirigible and loggers from Rounds Camp. When David Beech, a skidder engineer, and J.G. Pappenberger, head loader, saw smoke and notified police, the RCAF’s Aircraft Detection Corps led by FO Godwin landed by seaplane at Honeymoon Bay. Subsequent flying conditions were so bad that one wireless operator became airsick.

On Sunday, the fourth day, with the wreckage being marked by the hovering American ‘blimp,’ airmen, police and Lake Logging Co. employees William Crapo, William Green, Arthur Wayment, Peter Kachnia and Rayond LeFleur scaled a steep mountain face.

“Often clinging like flies to the steep cliff,” a news report states, they finally arrived at the still-smouldering wreck. By the extent of the damage and the distance between the bodies it was believed that all had died instantly. The next day, an RCAF team and acting coroner Dr. Joseph Tassin decided that it “would be practically impossible to remove the bodies for burial” and interred them on the site.

Airmen are still on Mt. Bolduc

They’re there today, hence the 2003 memorial service with Honeymoon Bay’s Chief Rowley, wife Shelly Ogden, Rick Swanson, Dean Metzler, Jim Fitzmaurice, members of the media, a group of hunters who’d arranged to meet at the site, and 12 officers from 407  Marine Patrol Squadron at 19 Wing Comox.

These airmen, who perform the same duty as their ill-fated predecessors, “surveillance in support of Canadian sovereignty” off the west coast in a CP 140 Aurora, were commanded by Maj. Alistair MacKay. They’d visited the site with Chief Rowley in October to begin planning for the Remembrance Day service.

Present that Tuesday were Maj. MacKay and Leblanc, Capt. Vaino, East, Lamb, Wright and Faulkner, Lt. Lanoie and Sgt. Corkery and Jackson.

At precisely 11:00 a.m., the detail came to attention alongside the common grave. After a moment of silence Sgt. Steve Jackson, standing atop a knoll, piped Amazing Grace, its haunting strains drifting through the trees and across the valley in eerie tribute.

Capt. Faulkner read a prayer

Capt. Brent Vaino read the names of the dead: Moynagh, Moyer, Kerr, Palmer, Maki and Robertson. Capt. Randy Faulkner read a brief prayer: “We pray that as their successors, as fellow airmen, we would be found worthy of their sacrifice. We know almost 60 years have passed since the tragic accident which claimed these lives. But we pray that You give us the strength to ensure that their memory will continue on, to ensure that they will not be forgotten.”

 Lt. Pat Lanoie and Sgt. Tim Corkery placed a wreath at the foot of the grave which today is marked by a bronze plaque. After several Scottish ballads by Sgt. Jackson, the airmen came to attention and were dismissed, and the media gathered up their camera gear. Before all filed down the steep, winding trail to where the vehicles were parked on a logging road, one serviceman after another stuck his poppy in the rotting tree stump at the head of the grave.

Back at the vehicles, as the airmen again stood at attention, one of the hunters fired an impromptu three-shot rifle salute.

Minutes later, the V2218’s tragic crew was again alone in the 10-acre tract of old-growth forest which has been preserved as their cemetery.

Those who attended that unique service will never forget Remembrance Day 2003.

26 Comments

  1. Thank you for posting this information. Through my recent geneology research, I have discovered that I am related through marriage to one of the lost airmen, sgt Harry Arthur Maki. Do you know if any photos were taken during the service?

    • At the site there is the remnants of an old picture laminated onto a piece of wood. An there’s a small brass plaque on the bottom engraved with “Sgt. H. A. Maki 1925- 1944.”

      It looks like a fairly recent addition to the site. I wonder if one was made for each airmen when the cairn and plaque were added to the crash site in the late ’80s (that’s another story).

      It’s even more moving to wonder if a family member had it made and brought it to the site in recent years.

      • HI, Darrell:
        I know the signboard. I don’t know who undertook to do it and, likely, for the others in years gone by. The sign’s deterioration suggests it was a long time ago.
        If memory serves, the Maki family relations were only brought into the Bolduc story in recent years through newspaper coverage, meaning that it’s unlikely they commissioned the sign.
        That said, I can’t see anyone having acknowledged but a single airman of six. There was a small, homemade signboard made by the family for the man who had a fatal heart attack while visiting the site in recent years, however.
        Your email reminds me of my project for a memorial for all the airman (well over 100) who were killed while flying out of Pat Bay Airport, etc. during WW2. –TWP

      • I was up at site with a couple of friends over a year ago and found the site vandalized and the pictures and plaque gone.turned what I found to the honeymoon bay cafe.

        • Hi, Ron: I’ve not been there for 5 years or more so can’t vouch for its present state. It certainly was in good shape when I last visited. What can we possibly say about sickos who’d vandalize a grave site? One for men who died for their–our country–to boot!
          This reminds me that there should be a proper memorial for the 125+ airmen who were killed flying out of Patricia Bay Airport during the war. But there isn’t. Only in Canada, eh? –TWP

      • I’m pretty sure my family made the plaque for harry maki. My grandfathers brother they visited the crash site after years of searching.

        • Thanks, Darrell, for passing this on. A visit to Mt. Bolduc, as I’ve written, is a moving experience and one that I’d recommend to all who are capable to reaching the site. I continue to research the ‘lost airmen’ of Patricia Bay Airport, to make a small book of it in tribute to these men, so many of whom have been overlooked by other historic researchers.

      • Kerri, do you mean pics of the service when they were buried, if so, I have some. Harry Arthur Maki was my husbands brother. We visited the grave site in June of 2005. Harry was born in Sudbury & went to school here. Barb. Maki
        Harry’s brother (Bob Maki wife Barb. & daughter Laura-Lee ) brought the laminated picture up & laid it on the grave site in 2005

        • Hi, Barbara Maki: Darrell Ohs passed on your email to him re: photos of the Mt. Bolduc plane wreck of which I’ve written about, not just on my website but in one of my books and in the ‘Cowichan Valley Citizen,’ a newspaper published in Duncan, B.C.. I’m hoping to write a small book about all the ‘lost airmen’ who flew out of Pat Bay Airport during WW2 only to be lost without ever getting overseas. They need to be remembered. –TWP

  2. Keep this going please, great job!

  3. myself and some friends visited the site on july 11 2014…very humbling…

    • Very humbling, indeed, Richard. I’ve not been back to Mt. Bolduc for several years but am determined to visit the wrecksite again. –TWP

  4. Hello,

    I am the niece of Sgt. Harry Maki. We made the climb a few years back and left the picture of my Uncle on the piece of wood at the site. It was my father’s wish (Robert Maki), that he visit the site of his brothers resting place. My father, in poor health at the time, made the climb with us, the military, and a group of wonderful geo-cachers who had located the site previously. It was my understanding that family members of one or two of the other airmen had been to the site in previous years. My father has now since passed away, but I remember clearly that day on the mountain when we paid respect not only to my Uncle, but his fellow airmen that never made it home!

    • Thank you, thank you, Laura-Lee!
      You’ve no idea how much joy it gives me to receive a letter from a descendant of one of the brave airmen who died on Mt. Bolduc.
      Or how much joy it gives me to be able to write about them and thus to honour them and the 125-plus airmen who were killed during WW2 while flying out of Pat Bay Airport.
      I’ve been to Mt. Bolduc several times and want to go back. In the meantime, I’ll continue to research and to write about them and their comrades for an e-book which, in its modest way, will be another small memorial. It’s almost done but I keep having to deal with other projects…
      Ultimately, I’d like to see a proper memorial made for them at Pat Bay (now Victoria International Airport). Thank you again for dropping by. And please come again! –TWP

    • Hello Laura-Lee,

      If you could send me another photo of your uncle I would be happy to recover the brass nameplate and build a more weatherproof plaque to protect the photo. I’m thinking that laminating the image between Plexiglass panes would preserve it for years to come.

      • Hi. I’m just seeing this now…can you send me your email and I’ll send you the picture. lauraleemaki.green@gmail.com

        • Please check your email; I’ve answered you personally as I don’t give out my email address here. –TWP

  5. Hi TW,
    Thank you for your writing on this bit of history.
    My uncle was FO Ambrose Moynagh. During my work on our family history I came across the details of the tragedy on Mt. Bolduc in newspaper clippings from 1944 and then later descriptions and pictures from various websites. I have not been to the crash site but it is nice to be able to read the stories of those who have.

    • My pleasure, Ted. Last month I spoke to the Nanaimo Historical Society to a ‘sold-out’ audience on the Lost Airmen of Pat Bay Airport. As I continue my research into their deaths and disappearances I keep hoping that I can inspire a proper memorial at today’s Victoria International Airport in their memory.
      Here’s hoping. Thank you for commenting.
      Would you have a photo of FO Moynagh that I might use to further tell the story of the men on Mt. Bolduc? –TWP

      • Sorry to be so tardy in replying. Yes I have a picture of FO Moynagh that I could send you. Do you have an email I could send it to?
        Ted

  6. just this past weekend I visited the site for the first time. Its humbling to see the grave and the tree overlooking it covered in poppies. There is a fairly new looking sign with details about the plane and a info about the men who rest there. My dad who had been to the site 4 or 5 years ago said it wasn’t there the last time he had been there. With recent logging activity its an easy 2 minute walk from the road into the site. The plaque with Sgt. Maki’s picture is still there, although very weathered and a little difficult to read.
    we did also spot some urns in the base of a tree nearby the cairn, they don’t look very old, does anyone know the story of those?

    • As you say, it’s humbling to visit the wreckage at Mt. Bolduc-and at other wartime aircraft wreck sites, for that matter. It always strikes me as particularly sad that these men died in the service of their–our–country without ever getting overseas. We must never forget them. –TWP

      • We tried to find it. Drove to the end of the road at the top of the mountain and couldnt find the trail. Was there supposed to be a marker or how do we find it?

        • It’s been so long now,I’d have trouble finding it myself. And it wasn’t marked when I was there. Today, I’d ask at the Honeymoon Bay store, for starters. I hope you persist; it is well worth a visit. You’ll never forget it. –TWP

  7. Such a tragedy should be remembered in a similar manner to those memorials of the war dead. Moynagh is not a common name. I do believe that the name is originally ancient Scottish and was spelled Moyna. The name Moynagh is an Irish derivation. Many scots moved to Ireland to escape a famine in their own country.

    • I don’t know the origin of ‘Moynagh’ but it is an interesting name, be it of Irish or Scottish descent. I would like to see a memorial established to all the airmen who were killed flying out of Pat Bay Airport during WW2, including, of course, the tragic crew on Mount Bolduc.

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