By Mike Pearson, News staff
Barbara Raphael knew her father was a pilot in England during the Second World War. She had her father’s old flight log tucked away in her basement and some old photos to document his wartime service.
But aside from some old papers, Raphael had few details about Harry Wellington Wilkie and his role with Squadron 138.
Then on May 1, 2012 after a busy day away from home, Raphael checked her messages. She found a strange voice mail from a man named Ole Christian Dalby. He was calling from Norway and was hoping to locate Wilkie’s daughter.
Raphael spoke about the phone message during a recent meeting of the Rotary Club of Ancaster AM.
When Dalby called back later that evening, Raphael picked up the phone.
Dalby asked the same question he had posed in his voice mail and Raphael provided the confirmation.
“His voice broke with so much excitement,” Raphael recalled.
Dalby spoke about the evening of Feb. 23, 1945, just before midnight. His research showed Raphael’s father piloted a Short Sterling aircraft that flew over his father’s village and dropped 6,000 pounds of weapons to the resistance forces.
Dalby’s father and two of his uncles were part of a platoon who received the weapons, which helped turn the tide to liberate Norway. The massive cache of supplies was transported by sleigh through an area occupied by German forces in poor weather and treacherous terrain.
Dalby, a lifelong military man who teaches at a military academy, was planning to speak about the air drop at a public event. He asked Raphael for any information about her father or photos she could provide.
For several days, Raphael and Dalby exchanged a flurry of emails, as Dalby continued preparations for his May 8 lecture.
Raphael went to her basement to retrieve the flight log book. When she turned the page to Feb. 23, 1945, sure enough, there was an entry called Operation Norway.
Raphael’s father was just one year out of high school when the Second World War began. He enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940 at age 21. After completing pilot training in Brandon Manitoba, he graduated flying school Vancouver on Aug. 9, 1941 and sailed across the Atlantic, arriving in England on Sept. 1.
In December of that year, Wilkie began his war duties in the Middle East. In October of 1944, he was posted with Squadron 138 special duties in Tempsford England as a squadron leader. Tempsford was a secret airfield that had the appearance of an abandoned airstrip surrounded by farmland.
Squadron 138’s mission was to send arms, ammunition, radios, food and other supplies to the resistance movement in German occupied countries. The squadron sent secret agents by parachutes, always at night, usually before a full moon. The unit became known as the moonlight squadron.
Hitler was well aware of the airfield. He wanted it eradicated, but couldn’t pinpoint its exact location.
As a boy Dalby remembered a painting that hung in his parents living room, painted by his uncle. It depicted the Feb. 23, 1945 airdrop, with a Sterling flying low over a winter’s night with large parachutes falling from the sky. The painting is now located in Dalby’s home.
Like Raphael’s father, Ollie’s father and uncles rarely talked about the war.
While conducting research for his lecture, Dalby made it his mission to find the pilot, the crew, and the airfield where the event unfolded.
He had numerous military contacts at his disposal, including a former army officer and Second World War air drop expert. Dalby found an air transport operation report for Feb 23, 1945 that listed Wilkie’s name and squadron number. It was a secret mission, listed with the code name curb 4. The Sterling was slated to drop 8 packages and 14 containers, in a predetermined location in central Norway.
Using online research, Dalby found that Wilkie was Canadian. He discovered a reference to Wilkie’s name in the London Gazette in England, when Wilkie was presented with a Distinguished Flying Cross. Dalby then uncovered Wilkie’s death notice in an RCAF publication.
Wilkie passed away on May 17, 2004 which happens to be Norway’s independence Day.
Dalby then found Raphael’s name and located her through a newspaper in Guelph, where Wilkie once lived.
More than 60 years after the celebrated air drop, the moment still carries a profound meaning for Dalby and his family.
His mother fashioned a christening gown using silk from one of the parachutes. Dalby and his siblings wore the gown, along with Dalby’s children and grandchildren.
At Dalby’s May 8 lecture, two elderly ladies who were young girls during the 1945 air drop reflected back on the event. Several audience members were moved to tears after seeing photos of the pilot and crew.
Of the 35 pilots in his squadron, Wilkie was one of only five who came home safely.
Captain David Moore, who helped Raphael prepare a power point presentation on her father, encourages people to research the stories of their family’s wartime service and create a permanent record.
“If you don’t write down that story, it’s lost to you,” said Moore.
A plaque at the former site of the Tempsford airfield now stands to commemorate those who supported the resistance movement in France, Norway, Holland and other countries from 1942 to 1945.
Looking back on her experiences, Raphael is grateful for Dalby’s interest in her father, which has opened her eyes to the true meaning of his wartime service.
“It’s amazing that he wanted to find the pilot and the crew and that he wanted to identify them,” said Raphael… “So now our lives are connected and intertwined.”