By Lyn Westfall
I always knew from a young age that my father was killed in WWII. But, I confess, it wasn’t until I was in my mid-forties, that I began to research his story. A well-loved children’s book was to become the trigger.
While in a French Children’s Library with my bilingual girlfriend and her three young boys, I casually picked up the only French book I could remember – Histoire de Babar by Jean de Brunhoff. As I began to turn the pages, I realized I often knew the page ahead – even before I came to it. After signing out the book, I wrote my mother a letter asking her why this book would be so familiar to me. She wrote that my Father’s family gave me a copy when I was just two years old! (I was only three months old when my father was killed). I then realized that I knew very little about my father, as my mother later remarried and I became the eldest of eleven children.
Once my husband and I began our research, no stone was left unturned. We contacted Veteran Affairs, RCAF Archives, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and any other military archive that might provide information. My father’s death is listed as September 10, 1942, on which he took part in a night sortie in a Wellington Bomber flying over Dusseldorf Germany. No plane or crew members survived. The plane’s disappearance is described as ‘without a trace!’ However, we did learn that his name is recorded with the names of over 20,000 Commonwealth aircrew at the Runnymede War Memorial near Windsor England. All have ‘no known grave.’ But there, when I visited, I was able to see my father’s name and those of his fellow crew members – carved in stone.
Now as a retired Visual Arts Highschool Teacher and a full-time painter, images of WWII, Wellington Bombers, along with pictures and text from the book ‘Histoire’ – including my childhood friend Babar – often appear in my paintings.
Needless to say, November 11 is always a sad day for me, but a day in which I feel immensely proud of my father, Flight Sergeant Wildfrid W. H. Lavers RCAF – age 23 years.