SPAADS Lions at Penticton - 2010

“SPAADS?” “Where did the extra ‘A” come from?” asks Colonel Bob Custer (USAF ret’d.) Bob assumed a reference to the SPAD, the legendary French fighter of World War I. The answer to his question lies years ago when western democracies formed NATO to counter the Soviet threat. In the early 1950's Canada deployed 3 squadrons of Sabres to North Luffenham, England. Subsequently, they re-deployed to Marville as part of the Canadian Air Division comprised of 12 fighter Squadrons at 4 bases or “Wings,” 2 in France and 2 in West Germany.

At the height of the Cold War in 1961 the Soviets erected the Berlin Wall, triggering the activation of Bob’s unit, the 197th Fighter Squadron of the Arizona Air National Guard. Transferred from sunny Phoenix to the American Base at Ramstein, 30 kilometres northeast of Zweibruken, their F-104 Starfighters often tangled with the Sabres of # 3 Wing. In a time-honoured aviation tradition, the 197th were invited to a party at Zwei. It was a most memorable party!

Syd Burrows of 434 coined the name for the 1988 reunion of the Sabre Pilots Association of Air Division Squadrons, hence the “extra A.” Three years ago, a number of us attended the USAF F-86 Association reunion at Las Vegas. Dale Horley was standing at the bar, and a chap asked him "What squadron were you with?" Dale replied, "I’m just a visitor, from the RCAF." Then the chap asked “Where,” and Dale replied "Zweibruken." "Wow- that was the party of the century!” And that exclamation led to Bob and his wife Kay’s presence at SPAADS 2010 as Honorary Lions.

For the 12th biennial SPAADS reunion at Penticton, BC, Lions descended from all over North America and abroad, including Dorothy Mayberry, all the way from the “Land of Oz.” Registration at the aptly named Lakeside Resort proceeded very quickly and smoothly thanks to the tremendous pre-planning and efforts of Bud White. Each identification placard, colour coded by wing, included the squadron insignia, the pilot’s name, city of residence, years with the Air Division, other squadron affiliations and his OTU photo. The welcoming kit included the current SPAADS directory, a vest and a miniature RCAF wing. Following the “Meet and Greet,” Lions made their own arrangements for dinner. Some of us, including our Honorary Colonel Bob Middlemiss, and former C/O Doc Payne dined at the restaurant on the dock.

Friday morning dawned bright, and much like standing Zulu alert, 64 golfers arose at the crack-of-dawn for a round at the Summerland Golf Course. Tucked behind the hills, the flat front nine gave way to a challenging elevated back nine bounded by a deep gorge. The weather, scenery, and companionship were superb, even if the golf scores were pitiful. Meanwhile, other SPAADS spent the morning and afternoon strolling the city, with none taking up the offer of the preeminent attraction, the canal float from Okanagan Lake to Skaha Lake.

Immediately upon returning to town, I set off to procure supplies for the Lion’s Den. As is the custom, Dale Horley and myself hosted the hospitality suite, supported by generous contributions from Walt Pirie, Sask Wilford and Wayne MacLellan. John and Susi Shute decorated the spacious salon with the Lion Banner, a Sabre Scissors print, and the Lion Squadron pennant. A screen displayed Ted Hessel and Bud White’s photos of Lion activities on the ground and in the air, ranging from Morocco to Norway; as well as Keith Rattew’s photos of the 1986 Vancouver reunion. Also on display was the 427 Wartime Log. A formidable project, Col Ed Haskins had composed a series of slides illustrating all 427 bomber missions throughout the war. Each slide showed the date, number and type of aircraft, route in and out, the losses on the mission, as well as cumulative losses. Half the screen of the last slide was overlain with aircraft losses, a poignant reminder of the immense sacrifice of our wartime Lions.

A newly contrived ritual required all visitors partaking of Lion hospitality to don a tacky “Lion” headdress and be photographed in front of the banner. As John Shute remarked, “It is amazing what a pilot will do to get a free drink!”

At 6:00 p.m. the Grand Salon opened for the Gala Dinner & Ball. I had taken the liberty of reserving 8 tables in the 3 Wing section for 427, each marked with the Squadron crest and a small lion anchoring red and yellow balloons, courtesy of Kathy Dicken. Walt Pirie, our newly appointed SPAADS President gave a short address thanking the organizers, and presented a bottle of bubbly to the 3 members, including our own Bob Middlemiss, who had reached the exalted age of 90. Walt also announced Hamilton, Ontario as the venue for SPAADS 2012.

After dinner the Bruce James Swing Band led off with the iconic Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood,” continuing with tunes ranging from those of Vera Lynn, Louis Armstrong to Elvis Presley. Serious imbibers gravitated to the Lion’s Den, where as Orderly Officer, I was confined until the last departed about 3:00 am.

Arising late due to the aforementioned duties, I missed the wine tour; but from all reports it was a grand success. Jack Frazer acted as a wrangler “herding cats” on and off one of the 6 buses, each of which visited 3 vineyards along the Naramata Bench overlooking Lake Okanagan. After strolling amongst the grape-laden trellises of the Red Rooster Winery, the lads trooped directly to the tasting room, whilst the ladies chose the path to the artist compound to fondle “Frank,” the controversial nude sculpture hitherto banished from the Penticton roundabout.

Following a buffet lunch in the Grand Salon and on the adjacent lawn, we drifted toward the shore to view the “Air Salute,” scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Blessed with a blue sky day and dead calm, the show commenced bang-on-time with an Aurora from Comox, bomb bays open as it demonstrated antisubmarine maneuvers with 45 degree bank turns, albeit at a much higher altitude than their operational 100 feet. The Granley family and partners wowed us with their audacious aerobatics with Yak and Harvards. As a finale, the Fraser Blues gave an awesome demonstration of precision formation maneuvers in their multi-liveried Navions. Few watching knew that George Miller, Chairman of the SPAADS 2010 committee was leading this team on their “Swan Song,” for they are ceasing aerobatic demonstrations after 12 years, although they may continue with more sedate fly-bys.

At 6:00 p.m. the Lions assembled at the nearby Villa Rosa, Elli and Beau Warrian’s excellent choice for the squadron dinner. The 5-course meal, ambience, and service were outstanding, with all 80 Lions served in a timely fashion. Bob Ayres’s capacious album of Sabre and CF-104 photos was displayed at the restaurant entrance for perusal. During the cocktail hour, Beau gave a brief address welcoming Bob and Kay Custer, and the 4 families attending: Vincent 4, Guizzo 5, Both-Gardiner 2. and White 4. Sask Wilford conferred the “Lion Heart Award” to Bob Middlemiss which read: “In recognition of his outstanding military career, his tour of duty as Commanding Officer of 427 Squadron, his current status with the Squadron as Hon. Colonel, and his leadership as Chairman of the 427 Squadron Association.” Thence to the Lion’s Den for a last burst of camaraderie.

Sunday morning, it was brunch and farewell; all in agreement that it was a most memorable and enjoyable re-union.

Dick Dunn
Sept 2010

Ferte Manus Certas

Dick's photos are:  here