Gathering of the Lions Report - 2009

A report by Dick Dunn

Arriving late at Ottawa airport, I picked up my rental car and booted north to Petawawa for the Gathering of Lions, on this the 67th anniversary of the squadron's formation. After a 1 1/2 hour drive, and only about 100 metres before the base entrance, red and blue flashing lights illuminated behind as I was pulled over for speeding by the O.P.P. I was clocked at 127 in a 90 km zone, but that is only because I had slowed to read the road signs searching for the Petawawa entrance.

Mercifully, the officer recorded my speed as 115, thereby reducing my fine from $250 to $118.

Arriving at 10 p.m. at the Warrant Officer & Sergeants mess, I had missed the festivities, with only a few remaining Lions patronizing the bar. Driving back to the Pembroke Best Western Hotel at a sedate 90 km per hour, I found our stalwart Lions in Walt Piries room, as Honorary Colonel Bob Middlemiss, Ted Hessel, Wayne MacLellan, and Dale Horley conducted a post-mission debriefing. Bob unveiled a handsome, newly designed 427 flag: RCAF roundel against blue at the canton (upper left,) and rampant gold lion against a green maple leaf on a white field.

At breakfast next morning, Suzi and John Shute advised that they were finally able to sleep in the adjacent room at 3:10 am.

With blue skies and unseasonably warm temperature of 10 C, Walt, Dale and I set off for a nearby golf course. On our return and somewhat tardy, we joined the 427 Association Directors meeting in John and Susi's room. A number of items were discussed which would no doubt be outlined in the next edition of ROAR. At approximately 1815 LCol Whale arrived to escort Bob to the cocktail party in the lobby.

At 1900 a piper arrived to lead the assembly to the dining hall below. After the Padre recited the Airman's Grace, the PMC Major Michael Ward introduced the head table, comprising the aforementioned Commanding Officer Kevin Whale,and his spouse, Squadron Chief Warrant Officer Joe Burns and his spouse, Honorary Colonel Bob Middlemiss, ROAR Editor Wayne MacLellan and Cpl. "Chad" who was being honoured for being chosen as the Lion of the Quarter. Also introduced was former Commanding Officer Christian Drouin, who was about to depart for Afghanistan as the first Canadian Wing Commander to fly on combat operations since WWII. Following the introductions a new Keeper of the Lion, Lt. Jacques Cyr, was invested by HCol Middlemiss. His vigilence in carrying our his new duty probably did not allow him to enjoy the dinner served by the Best Western staff

A very fine meal of chicken or beef was accompanied by the delightful classical music of a local string trio. On a large screen, a slide show courtesy of Squadron historian Capt. Michael Dias displayed photos encompassing the entire history of the squadron. Periodically throughout the dinner the PMC would bang his gavel, and a Lion would arise to recite excerpts from the Squadron Operational Diary.

Following the Loyal Toast, Bob gave a fascinating discourse of his time in Malta during WWII, including his ferry flight off HMS Wasp, the downing of three Germans, and his own shoot-down in which he end up wounded in the drink. Afterward the youthful danced to the hot music provided by our very own 427 disco Sergeant.

Following Sunday breakfast, I met former Wellington tail gunner Art Barker who allowed me to photograph his  original MGM coin  of red plastic. He related the time on leave in London when he and his crew tested the coins reputed ability to garner free entry to any MGM theatre:

We went to the girl where they sell the tickets, the little glass enclosure. She did not know what we were talking about. I said, "Do you want to give us a ticket, to get in?". She answered, "Not without paying". I replied, "Well this is our payment here". I think I was the spokesman at this point and everyone had their coins out.

She was all flustered and she didn't know what to do. I said, "Its OK honey, forget it" and we started to walk in. She notified the manager that some guys were barging in without paying.A big guy confronted me and tried to stop us. We did not hit him or anything; we just brushed him aside and continued to walk in.

So then we had to decide where we wanted to sit; where are the best seats? And one of our guys said, "I know, up in those box things". So we all ended up in this box with our feet hanging out, just joking around. We quickly got tired of sitting there, we weren't really looking at the movie anyway and so we left. That was the only time I tried to use it.

Returning home to Vancouver bound, I reflected on what a great experience it was to share recollections across the entire span of Lion Squadron operations. Hopefully next year we will see more of the Starfighter contingent, notably absent this year, save for Bob Middlemiss.

Dick Dunn

November 2009