Second World War veteran revisits the Halifax bomber

News Article / June 3, 2019

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By Makala Chapman

It’s been more than 70 years since Flight Lieutenant (retired) Stuart Vallières last sat in—and felt the roar of—a Second World War-era Handley Page Halifax four-engine heavy bomber. It was during that time that he was shot out of the sky, taken as a prisoner of war, and lost his leg.

More than seven decades later, the 96-year-old veteran was reunited with the wartime beast. On May 15, 2019, with his family in tow, he made his way from his home in Montréal, Québec, to the National Air Force Museum of Canada in Trenton, Ontario. There, they were treated to a special tour of the aircraft. Having been offered the opportunity by commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger, the Vallières family climbed aboard the Halifax on static display–an honour extended to very few.

Seated in the heart of the British bomber, surrounded by his grandchildren, the former aircraft gunner spent the afternoon recounting tales of his flying career, often pausing to smile as if he were speaking of an old friend. “The inside of this aircraft is a lot tidier than what I was used to getting in and out of,” he joked. “But it is kind of reminiscent of old times, and certainly enjoyable.”

During his service, from 1941 to 1944, Flight Lieutenant Vallières flew more than 33 missions in the Halifax. While he had his share of time with the heavy-duty aircraft, he noted it was a pleasure to see it on display for future generations to enjoy. “I think it’s very important because, the fact is, it was Bomber Command that won the war,” he said. “The only striking force the allies had, until the army landed, was the air force. Bomber Command did a remarkable job.”

When asked to reflect on his time as a gunner in the Halifax, he smiled, saying it certainly had moments he does not miss. “Since we did most of our flying in bad weather and at night, those search lights could be pretty annoying.” He chuckled, and added, “But that’s just the way it was.”

Lieutenant-General Meinzinger spoke about how pleased he was to have met Flight Lieutenant Vallières in April at the official opening of the International Bomber Command Centre in the United Kingdom. A few months later, when Lieutenant-General Meinzinger took command of the RCAF, he invited Flight Lieutenant Vallières to be his special guest at the ceremony.

Having been inspired by his story of service, the RCAF commander said it seemed fitting that the Second World War veteran be offered the chance to reunite with the Halifax.

“He’s an incredible Canadian,” he said. “Whenever I see the Halifax, I think of Stuart and his service. I’m delighted that he brought so many of his family members so he can share stories that I’m sure they will cherish for the rest of their lives.” He added that he had also asked Flight Lieutenant Vallières to take the time to speak with students enrolled in the air power course at the Royal Canadian Air Force Aerospace Warfare Centre in Trenton.

Pausing to reflect on his friend’s service, Lieutenant-General Meinzinger said he had been most humbled by Flight Lieutenant Vallières’ actions following his return home to Canada those many years ago. No longer able to serve in the military due to his amputation, Flight Lieutenant Vallières dedicated his life to helping other amputees by joining the Canadian charitable organization War Amps. Since its establishment in 1918, the charity has worked to improve the quality of life for those living with amputations.

While its original focus was on war amputees, the organization has broadened its beneficiaries to include children and other non-military amputees. To this day, Flight Lieutenant Vallières works with the War Amps and serves as the Montréal branch chairman of the board and national director.

“When I look at his career, as magnificent as it already is, that’s a pretty monumental contribution to Canada,” Lieutenant-General Meinzinger said. “He has probably made so many people’s lives better . . . those who have suffered amputations.” As for his thoughts on having a fully-restored Halifax on display for the public to view, he said it was priceless.

Robert Vallières accompanied Flight Lieutenant Vallières, his grandfather, to Trenton. Getting up-close-and-personal with the aircraft he had heard so much about while growing up had been a surreal experience. “I think it was only in my later years that I realized what my grandfather had to go through, and what he had to accomplish at the age that he was,” Mr. Vallières said. “It makes me incredibly proud and happy to have his blood running through my veins.”

Makala Chapman is editor of The Contact, 8 Wing Trenton’s base newspaper, where this story originally appeared.


 

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