After a half century rusting at the bottom of a Belgian swamp, Canadian Halifax bomber LW682 will shine again, but this time atop the Bomber Command memorial in London. Aluminum from the vintage warplane will be formed into sheets and used to make the memorial’s roof.
A uniquely Canadian contribution to the grand new memorial — the largest built in London in 200 years — the edifice’s history-soaked roof holds special meaning for Karl Kjarsgaard. “There’s Canadian blood in that aluminum,” he said. “We know that wreckage contains (the crew’s) essence.”
A director of the Bomber Command Museum of Canada — located near his home in Nanton, Alta., 98 kilometres south of Calgary — Kjarsgaard has made it his personal mission to recover and restore downed Halifax bombers wherever they may be. Shot down over Nazi-occupied Belgium in May of 1944, Halifax LW682 crashed into a swamp. All eight crewman — seven Canadians and one Briton — perished. Five bodies were recovered and buried by German troops while the remaining three were lost to the bog when the plane sank.
In 1997, with a grant from Heritage Canada, Kjarsgaard led a group called Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) to Belgium to recover the bomber. After draining the swamp and digging down almost eight metres, they struck pay dirt. “We found all of the airplane, and the three Canadians still inside,” he said. “They gave a full military honours funeral to these guys, so the families were happy.”
While a few parts were in good enough shape to be used in Halifax bomber restoration projects, most of the plane was twisted and rusted beyond repair. “We thought this is a historic airplane; eight men died in this,” Kjarsgaard said. “We can’t just give this up to the scrap man.”
So the “mini mountain” of aluminum scrap was brought to a foundry, he said, where it was melted into ingots totalling some 680 kilograms. The ingots were then shipped home to the Bomber Command Museum, for use in plaques, statues and monuments.
About five years ago, some Britons who were raising funds to build the new Bomber Command Memorial approached Kjarsgaard, asking him to help raise funds in Canada. “I thought about what we could we put into this memorial that would be special,” he said. “Then I thought wow! What if we give them some ingots . . . and we gave them half of our precious metal.”
Once it arrived in London, the ingots were melted down and rolled into large sheets. These will soon be fastened to the exterior of the memorial — which is nearing completion — to serve as its roof.
Kjarsgaard said most Canadians don’t understand the symbolic value of the Halifax, a four-engine heavy bomber widely flown by Canadians in the Second World War.
“We’ve forgotten there…