A Week To Remember

by Andy Thomson on March 24, 2020

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After Write Soon and Often was printed, my publisher Friesen assigned a publicist to assist me in my marketing plan. He outlined  the various ways to promote my book but I did little except to change my website address (from pogamasing.com to andythomsonbooks.ca) to one that indicated I was more than a one-horse author. I was going to wait until late October to do my promotion when the reading public’s attention was more receptive to books on war and remembrance.

Accordingly, this October, I sent out promotional material to a few museums, such as the Warplane Museum in Mount Hope and the two major museums in Ottawa. As well I tried to contact two Sudbury newspapers and the CBC radio where I had done an interview with Markus Schwabe with my Pog book six years ago. I felt buoyed when an order for six books came from the Warplane Museum and an order from the Museum of History in Ottawa. With no word from any Sudbury media, I called Bill McLeod, a friend in Sudbury and a more successful author at promoting his own books, for some advice. He said he would call a friend connected with CBC and would get back to me. Shortly afterwards, he called and gave me the name of a reporter with CBC radio and told me that I needed to contact an individual rather than wait for a response to my emails. CBC get too many requests from self-published authors to answer to them all.

Consequently, I called Olivia Stefanovich on Friday  October 27 to inquire whether CBC might be interested in my story. Olivia’s interest and questions gave me hope that maybe I’d made a breakthrough. However, she was leaving for Regina that weeknd for a year stint, but  she would pass on my story to her colleagues. And she promised, “I’ll get back to you.”

I awaited the following week, now into the first of November, but no response from CBC. I had talked to John Richer at the Parkside Centre in downtown Sudbury and arranged a meeting room to give an overview of the book in case I got a lucky break. As well, I followed up with another of Bill’s suggestion and talked to Rob Wood, the manager at Coles book store, and Rob placed an order for ten books for each of my two books.

Then, on Monday, Nov. 6, I received an email from Olivia asking me if I’d heard from CBC in Sudbury. “Not yet,” I replied. But she added: “I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch. I just moved to a senior role in Saskatchewan and now I’m back in Toronto to fill in for another reporter.” What luck! The following day Markus emailed me that he was interested in an interview on Sudbury radio for Friday and would be in touch. The next day Olivia also got back and  told me she would inquire if the CBC News Network down here would be interested in doing a story and if I would be available. It was now November 7, four days before Remembrance Day. How could all this get completed by then?

Then a note from Markus, asking me if I was available Friday morning, initiated a roller coaster of a ride. I now was definitely going to Sudbury, so called John to arrange a room at The Parkside Centre for a presentation on Nov. 10. Then Olivia called to ask if I could go to Hamilton on Wednesday as the CBC wanted to include the Lancaster as part of the story. This was the plane the uncle of my story, Write Soon and Often, had piloted  It was flying back from Trenton that morning and they wanted to get a photo of its landing with an opportunity for me to meet the captain of the incoming Lancaster who was also president of the Warplane Museum. Wow, I couldn’t believe it. I was ready for take-off.

Wednesday morning I met Olivia, Maria Morrissey, the CBC producer and Chris Dunseith, the photographer and driver at the CBC centre on Wellington Street. The pleasant drive through busy west-bound QEW traffic gave me a chance to get to know my three collaborators. Once at the  Hamilton Airport we were met by  the marketing manager for the museum who took us to the tarmac to await the landing of the Lancaster.

 

It was a moving experience to watch the World War II bomber come into view and land on that bright and sunny morning. I began to imagine my young uncle, only 20 years old in the pilot’s seat, but in a very different context. Instead of bright blue skies, he had flown his bomber at night time loaded with bombs into a very unfriendly war zone under darkened skies. I took a deep breath.

Once the crew deplaned I met the captain, David Rohrer. We had a brief chat and he then took me aboard to do a tour of the cockpit. It is the only flying Lancaster in Canada; although there are two others in Alberta, one in Calgary, and another one at the Nanton Bomber Command Museum.  Although the Lanc looks huge, once inside you need to keep your head down as you move through the narrow fuselage to the cockpit, and then crawl over the spar box that connects the two wings. Once in the cockpit, Dave and I chatted about the war time experiences of young pilots . They were his heroes he told me. He recounted his experience flying this Lancaster over to England three summers ago (2014) for the Queen’s Jubilee and the almost mystical experience of flying the Lanc, telling me he felt it was if all those aircrew who lost their lives were flying with him and his crew. I replied with my similar experience about my uncle that somehow we had a very special bond that sometimes made it awkward for me to talk about my uncle.

After descending from the aircraft I showed him my binder of his letters that my grandparents had saved. He told Olivia that he had never seen such an extensive collection of documents, photos and letters as had been saved by my grandparents. They had saved every trace of their beloved son, along with these 150 letters he had written to his family. It was they which  gave me the opportunity to get to know Uncle Donald, and to tell his story.

After Olivia interviewed David we left Hamilton Airport to beat the rush hour traffic. The following day, Olivia, Chris and Marie returned to our home to interview me and get some shots of Donald’s letters and my photo collection. After Olivia asked me additional questions we chatted over coffee before they left for the CBC studio. What I didn’t know then, was that this was just a thrilling beginning to an amazing couple of days in my uncle’s home town.

Mandy and I left for Sudbury soon after the CBC crew had departed. We expected some winter weather up the highway but it was good driving most of the way except for  some wet snow flurries near Parry Sound. We had a relaxing and pleasant dinner with Robin, Lou and Michael.  I was up early and met Markus Schwabe, host of Morning North, at the CBC studio on Elm street at 8:00 Friday morning. It was an enjoyable interview as Markus is a real pro at his craft. For the first time I didn’t choke up. I breezed through his many question about my connection to my uncle and about his life in the Air Force. It ended all too short.

After the interview I dropped off some books with Rob Evans at Coles in the New Sudbury shopping centre. I decided it would a good time to drop off a copy of my book at Alexander P.S, where both my uncle and I had attended – he was the first student through the doors when it opened in 1930. Unbeknownst to me, the school was in the midst of their Remembrance Day program and the principal, Denise Goodmurphy invited me to attend. I also ran into a former canoe tripping friend, Jenny Martindale and her husband, Jim Little, who were attending as well as their kids attended the school. It was a most impressive experience. From Junior Kindergarten to Grade Eight the student assembled, sitting quietly on the gym floor. I was even acknowledged as a ‘special guest’ who had brought a biography of the school’s first student. For 30 minutes the students listened to a few brief talks, sang a special song in French, listened to their school band play a few pieces and stayed silent during the playing of the Last Post and Reveille. Then to top it off my great niece, Haddy Dunn, the 31st member of the Plaunt family to attend Alexander, and I had our photo taken. It was totally a serendipitous moment.

Then lunch with my Sudbury friends arranged by cousin Guy Mahaffy at the Idylwyld, along with some of our wives as well.

An appointment with Dino Rocco and Sandy Dembek with Robin at BMO Nesbitt Burns was followed by my book presentation at The Parkside Centre. About 20 people attend, a few that I knew (Sam Tobin and Olwyn Plaunt) who had heard my interview on Morning North and many of our family: Misty and Claude Macmillan, Mary Lee and Bill Irwin, Wendy Mahaffy and of course, my core supporters and Sudbury promotion team, siblings Kathie, Judy and Robin. After a rest we had a most enjoyable dinner of Kathie’s fabulous pork pie at the Thomases.

Coffee at Jennifer and John’s Caruso the next morning and then Robin and I attended the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Sudbury Arena. We sat with Rusty Tate and his granddaughter, Marina. Rusty is named after the two uncles that were killed in the Second World War who were both in the Air Force.  Marching pipe and brass bands, solemn music, rifle salutes, sargeant ‘s thunderous orders , and an unique duet of trumpeters playing the Last Post and Reveille gave the attendees and good sampling of our Canadian military traditions. I noticed Haley’s son, Kobey Kai accompanying the colours of his cadet corps.

Then Robin and I drove to the Sudbury Art Gallery to see if I could drop off a book for Linda Finn who was presenting a collection of her art with the theme of letters from the home front. As we came in the door an Aboriginal film maker persuaded me to watch a virtual reality movie that had been made by a groups of his friends. It was truly an interesting experience that allowed me to turn 360 degrees while watching the short film. I almost lost my Lancaster hat Robin had given me but fortunately I got it back. The curator did not expect Linda to return as she had been here on Thursday night for the opening. So, we looked at her show, and low and behold Linda and her husband turned up.Then Mandy and I hit the road for an easy drive to Orillia where we dropped in to visit Alex and Erica – it was like winter with a clean white covering of snow everywhere – and then to Theo’s for an enjoyable dinner, and then home to Toronto.

What a week. I can only imagine how my Friesen publicist would have reacted when I received all the national publicity,  all due to some fortuitous events.  It would never have happened if  Bill McLeod not got me a contact with CBC and Olivia had not been in Sudbury when I called on Friday afternoon. My good fortune occurred when she happened to move  to Toronto after a week in Regina. Another one of those unusual coincidences that accompany this moving story of Uncle Donald. He just won’t let us forget! And we won’t.

A week later I heard Olivia on the National doing a report and last night while driving to my tutoring class I heard her give a report on the World at Six on the Missing and Murdered Women from Saskatoon. She’s back out west. An upcoming reporter on the move.

Olivia’s story on-line  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sudbury/lancaster-bomber-pilot-letters-1.4398327

Remembrance Day, 2019

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Letter to Globe and Mail, Nov. 13, 2018

by Andy Thomson on January 25, 2020

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Letters to the Editor should be exclusive to The Globe and Mail. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. Try to keep letters to fewer than 150 words. Letters may be edited for length and clarity. To submit a letter by e-mail, click here: letters@globeandmail.com

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LOSS, OH SO FINAL

Re 100 Years Later ( Nov. 13): Nancy McLean’s 100-year-old Armistice Day letter prompted me to share similarly poignant correspondence that speaks of a more painful ending for thousands of families during wartime. It was written by my grandmother, Mildred Plaunt, to her mother after confirmation that her son, Donald Plaunt, had been killed as a result of a 1943 bombing mission. It reflects the harsh acceptance of loss that would continue to echo in places they once shared.

This will just be a short note, with not very happy news. We had a wire from Ottawa on Sunday evening saying that Donald had lost his life on the night of March 12, so reports the German Red Cross.

So that’s final. I never did have much hope, if any, that he would have landed safely. The area is too well fortified and Essen is one of their best manufacturing cities. That’s all the news we got, so if he died that night he didn’t suffer long.

Don’t feel too badly. He lived a happy, full life and perhaps accomplished more in his almost 21 years of living than some people do in a lifetime, and if he and other lads before him were not ready to go and die where would we all be? He chose to do this and he did it in his own way.

We could have done lots of things to dissuade him from his training but he would have none of it … he got what he wanted, which was to be a pilot on a Lancaster bomber. He was one of the first Canadians to fly a Lancaster …

WB and I went up to Wye Saturday and home Sunday. Awful lonesome. I would see Donald tearing up the path and shouting “where do we eat …”

Love to all, Mildred

Andy Thomson, Toronto

 

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