New grave marker for Leading Aircraftman Hollis Eugene Howard

News Article / November 7, 2017

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By Captain Christian Déry

We will soon observe Remembrance Day, when we pause to remember those who have fallen in the service of Canada. One airman, who died in November 1940, was not identified when his body was recovered and he was buried in an unmarked grave. His name has now been returned to him, and an appropriate headstone placed on his grave. He symbolizes all those who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and especially those who never returned home. Lest we forget.

On September 22, 2017, at the Mount Hermon Cemetery in Quebec City, the RCAF and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) held a ceremony to unveil a new grave marker for Leading Aircraftman Hollis Eugene Howard before seven members of his family. For 77 years, his grave had been unmarked.

Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Babin, commanding officer of 430 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, based in Valcartier, Quebec, and Chief Warrant Officer Michel Trudel, squadron chief warrant officer, had the honour of representing the RCAF at the ceremony. Dominique Boulais, Commemorations and Public Relations Manager, represented the CWGC.

Leading Aircraftman Howard was born in Waterville, Nova Scotia, on July 8, 1919, and joined the RCAF in 1938 at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

Leading Aircraftman Howard, along with five other airmen, disappeared on November 17, 1940, coming back from an anti-submarine patrol above the Atlantic onboard a Douglas Digby Mark I from the RCAF’s No. 10 Squadron, based at the Halifax station. Weather conditions were deteriorating quickly, and the aircraft could not land at the Halifax station. The crew tried to reach Montreal, but found the aircraft short on fuel due to strong winds. The six airmen decided to parachute to the lac de l’Est sector in Quebec, near the Maine border.

Searches revealed Leading Aircraftman Howard’s parachute and three of his improvised shelters when his footprints were followed, but his trail was lost in a snowstorm after ten kilometres. Extensive searches ended in December 1940, due to other snowstorms and intense cold.

In May 1944, Leading Aircraftman Howard’s body was found near lac de l’Est. He was buried in Quebec City, but because  his body could not be identified at that time, he was buried in an unmarked grave.

Seventy-seven years after the serviceman disappeared, the Directorate of History and Heritage at the Department of National Defence, together with the CWGC and Eric Howard, Leading Aircraftman Howard’s nephew, identified Leading Aircraftman Howard’s remains through historical research.

The airman’s grave now has a marker bearing his name, rather than being a nameless, faceless tomb like those of so many victims of conflicts in which Canada has been involved in the last century.

Leading Aircraftman Howard’s family finally knows for certain where their loved one lies. The unveiling ceremony of his new grave marker is an eloquent reminder of the sacrifice made by tens of thousands of Canadians who gave their lives for their country and for freedom.

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