The Lions at SPAADS 2012- Hamilton

Early September 48 Lions gathered at Hamilton, Ontario for the SPAADS 2012 reunion. SPAADS is an organization of pilots who flew the Canadair F-86 Sabre with one of the 12 squadron stationed in Europe during the 50’s and early 60’s. As in previous reunions, 427 Lions comprised the largest contingent.

A large array of Sabre models lent a whimsical touch to the Meet-and-Greet, held at the grand ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel. Once a grimy and gritty steel town, the city is in the process of redevelopment with a new Convention Centre just across the street from the Sheraton. Lions made their way to a variety of restaurants in the area, after which the stalwarts gathered in the Lion’s Den, once again hosted by Dale Horley and your humble scribe, with generous contributions from several Lions.

Friday morning buses departed for a tour of Niagara Falls, followed by afternoon visits to selected wineries of the Niagara peninsula. My wife Danielle does not do box lunches, but she was enthralled with our private lunch at the Peninsula Winery, which very much reminded her of her native France. As the Lions assembled in the Den, I listened with disbelief as our newly appointed sommeliers spoke of “swishing, swirling, sniffing, nose, rim, whiff, flavour, finish and balance.” A far cry from our fighter pilots days when we merely quaffed any plonk available.

Ted Hessel had done a sterling job in organizing our 427 dinner at Shakespeare’s, reputedly the finest restaurant in Hamilton. They did not disappoint, for restaurant staff efficiently served all 48 delicious meals in a timely fashion. In the absence of our AWOL Secretary-Treasurer Sask Wilford, I took it upon myself to introduce former Officer Commanding Doc Payne, special guests Brian Hull, son of Chester Hull, deceased Zweibruken C/O, John Laidler, son of Don Laidler deceased Officer Commanding, and Dorothy Mayberry, faithful Lioness having repeatedly made the long journey from Australia.

Needing no introduction, our Honorary Colonel Bob Middlemiss invited all to the forthcoming 70th Anniversary of the Squadron at the annual Gathering of Lions at Petawawa November 2-4. He then presented the Lionheart Award to Wayne MacLellan in recognitions of his outstanding contribution to the Association as Editor of ROAR newsletter and Website Manager.

Wayne responded by giving thanks for the unexpected honour and asserted that his wife Beth deserved much of the credit. Returning to the Lion’s Den, my iPad projected nostalgic photos from the archives of Ted Hessel, Bud White, Nell Lakins and Keith Rattew.

Saturday morning we boarded buses for the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. Viewed from afar as we approached the museum, what appeared to be a Bomarc missile pointed skyward proved on closer inspection to be a Starfighter-on-a-stick.

A good selection of books, clothing and aviation related material was on display in the brightly lit gift shop as the cash register hummed. Stepping into the main gallery, volunteers were busy restoring a Bolingbroke, a work in progress since 1980. Beyond lay the remarkably varied collection of Canadian warplanes ranging in size from a Tiger Moth to the mighty Mynarski Memorial Lancaster, one of only 2 flyable Lancs in existence.

In his short welcoming speech, SPAADS 2012 organizer Paul Hayes gave the disappointing news that the planned flypast of the Vintage Wings Sabre would not take place due to inclement weather at the departure airport. We then tucked into the tables laden with sandwiches spanning the area in front of the Lancaster. After a photograph of the gaggle in front of the Golden Hawk Sabre, it was akin to herding cats as I assisted the Vintage Wings photographer in marshaling pilots for individual squadron photos.

The cancellation of the flypast allowed an early departure and time to open the Lion’s Den prior to the Gala dinner at the nearby Convention Centre. Once again Kathy Dickin had decorated our tables with balloons and miniature lions to ensure that 427 stood out distinctively.

Our illustrious Lion Walt Pirie, Chairman of SPAADS National Committee gave his brief remarks, and presented the SAM, or Special Achievement Medal to George Miller, and Paul Hayes for their respective efforts in organizing the 2010 and 2012 reunions. Vice-Chair Clair Gleddie then stepped up to present the same award to Walt.

Music of the Sophisticated Swing Big Band was well appreciated by throngs of dancers. Personally, I found it too replete with Sinatra for my taste, and retired to the Lion’s Den to await Lions and visitors. As is the tradition, visitors were invited to don the silly Lion Headdress, after which they were free to imbibe. As John Shute remarked, “It is amazing what a pilot will do for a free drink!” In recognition of his dedication as a Vintage Wings’ Sabre pilot, Bob Middlemiss presented Dan Dempsey with a “Sabre Scissors” limited edition print.

After farewells at breakfast it was up and away and to home. General consensus is that SPAADS 2012 was splendid affair for which Paul Hayes is to be commended.

Dick Dunn
September 2012

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