Speaker Introduced: by Chris Willard – Jim Fox
Jim was born in Guelph, raised in London, attended University of Guelph studying Economics and Business. He spent 31 years as a teacher with the Waterloo Region District School Board. On retiring, he ran a consulting company focusing on event planning and conference facilitation for 10 years before accepting his wife’s endorsement of full-time retirement.
Why Not Me? – Charley Fox WWII Victory Cross Winner
Thanks for the kind invitation to speak to the Rotary Club of Guelph, the welcome extended to Cheryl and myself, and the chance to relive some of my past days as a member of the Rotary family.
In the interest of time, I will stick to my prepared script. I think it wise however to clarify one point in my CV that Chris has just shared with the membership. It is true that Cheryl and I did spend a week in Iceland this past August which coincided with the celebration of our 50th anniversary. I must emphasize, the choice of Iceland was not a reflection on our 50 years of marriage but rather an opportunity to support our daughter who was running a 1/2 marathon in Reykjavik.
In honour of my father, Charley Fox, I have titled this presentation “why not me?”, a tagline which I hope becomes evident to you as I proceed over the next few minutes. The material you see on display and prepared by Dad himself, tells part of the story of his military service during World War Il, but not the full story of the man himself.
Charley Fox and his two brothers Ted and George were raised by father William and mother Jean on a rural property near Arkell. Dad attended GCVI, but since he preferred to concentrate on athletics and social activities, he struggled to graduate prior to his enlistment in 1940. Charley met my mother Helen while attending GCVI and jointly participating in summer camp experiences. While Dad was enrolled in early flight training, the bond between them survived the early challenges of a distant relationship, and Mom and Dad were married at Dublin Street United Church in 1942
Dad’s early training to become a pilot in the RCAF took him through programs in Brandon and Rivers, Manitoba, Regina Saskatchewan, and then Mount Hope, Ontario. Charley’s first flight was in a Fleet Finch on January 5th, 1941. Graduating from the Elementary Flying Training School, Dad was transferred to Dunnville to train on Harvard aircraft as part of #6 Service Flying Training School. Dad graduated 2nd in his class and was eager to get into the action overseas.
Dad’s overseas plans were derailed however, when told he would remain in Dunnville as a flight instructor. This was common thinking at the time – to keep top notch instructors at home training others, rather than risking their loss in an air skirmish over Europe.
Dad continued to push for permission to go overseas and in May 1943 was granted his wish. He was sent to Bagotville Quebec for combat training on Hurricanes and Spitfires. In August, 1943 he boarded the Queen Mary in Halifax and headed to the ‘big show’ in Britain and his first posting at an airfield in Bournemouth. After completing his tutoring on Spitfires and practicing combat strategies he joined 412 squadron in Biggin Hill. Fellow pilots, ground crew and support staff with ‘412 would become Dad’s family until the end of the war in Europe in 1945.
Flight Lieutenant Charley Fox’s official war record included the destruction of 22 enemy locomotives, 34 military vehicles, and 97 other vehicles for a grand total of 153 ground targets damaged or destroyed. Dad was also credited with four enemy airplanes destroyed, and five damaged. Later records would confirm that one of the aircraft listed as ‘damaged’ was also ‘destroyed’— unofficially then, Dad could be designated as a World War Il pilot ‘ace’. Among other awards including being given the nickname ‘trainbuster’ by his 412 comrades, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar which is the equivalent of a second DFC.
Two incidents of note from Dad’s time in Europe are depicted in the paintings by Waterloo artist Lance Russwurm and on display today.
Late in the afternoon of July 17th, 1944 (about 6 weeks after the DDay landings in Normandy, France), Dad and his flight of four spitfires were patrolling the skies just beyond Caen looking for targets of opportunity. Dad caught sight of a large, shiny black car moving fast along a tree-lined country road. This type of vehicle was often used by high-ranking German officers as their personal transportation.
Charley signalled his wingman, Steve Randall, and they scooped in to take a closer look. Identifying the vehicle as a German Staff car, Dad opened fire causing the car to go off the road and into the ditch.
It was a day or two later that Allied Intelligence reports confirmed that Field Marshall Erwin Rommel (The Desert Fox) had been seriously wounded by an Allied fighter in a strafing attack. For weeks following, controversy surrounded credit for the attack, but suffice to say that Dad’s log book and eye witnesses put him in the right place at the right time. In fact, German Intelligence reports that have surfaced over the years validate it was a spitfire that attacked the staff car, and there is a high probability that it was Guelph native Charley Fox and his wingman that did the damage. Expand on Rommel
The second painting tells a different story! On May 4th, 1945 Wing Commander Geoffrey Northcott, walked into the officers’ mess and made the following announcement “all hostilities on the western front will cease at 0800 hours tomorrow, May 5th, 1945.” After six long years, the war in Europe was coming to an end. Commander Northcott decided there should be one more combat mission and ordered representatives from 3 of our Canadian Squadrons to take to the air at 6:30 am on the morning of May 5th to patrol the skies but to avoid, if possible, any active engagement with the enemy … Lance Russwurm has captured that moment in history in his vivid depiction of the Last Patrol. Tail-end Charlie the name commonly given to the aircraft that brings up the rear of a formation is indeed Charley Fox flying his aircraft with the call letters VZ-F. Quite an honour for Dad, who was the first to admit he was flying with a Wing Commander, and 2 Squadron Leaders only because, his own 412 Squadron Leader,
Dave Boyd was unfit to fly – he had partied too much the night before!
I was almost two years of age when Dad returned home in late August, 1945, We had never met. In fact, when my mother Helen asked, as this man walked up the stairs of our Woolwich Street home, ‘little Jimmy – where’s your daddy?”, I immediately ran into the living room and pointed to Dad’s framed picture on the coffee table … to a two-year old it was hard to make the connection between a visual image in my young mind and the reality of the moment. I was fortunate however to have 86 years after this initial encounter to foster a strong father-son relationship.
So to the real part of the story “Why Not Me”?
One of the pictures on display shows “four young men from Guelph, Ontario” posing for a photo in Bournemouth England in late 1943. In addition to Dad, one of those young men was Andy Howden, who piloted an RCAF Mosquito fighter bomber, and who along with his navigator, was killed in action in April of 1944.
When Dad arrived back in Guelph after the war, he returned to employment at Walker Stores, a retail department store on Wyndham St. One day while at work the mother of Andy Howden came into the store, began crying, approached Dad and started to pound on his chest saying, “Why my Andy, Charley Fox and not you?” … All my dad could say was ” I don’t know why not me, Mrs. Howden”. That encounter would have a profound effect on Dad and influence many of his actions for the rest of his life. Why was he one of the lucky ones when thousands of other young men/women did not survive the war?
How did he escape reprimands and possible grounding before he even went overseas when, for instance he buzzed my mother’s house near Exhibition Park knocking plaster off the ceilings of a number of houses, or for landing on the ice at Puslinch Lake and having some refreshments in what at the time was called the Swastika Inn, or for the decision to land in Jamestown New York for a coffee when it was strictly forbidden to fly across the border into the U.S. which had not as yet entered the war.
Why was he not one of the young men killed during training at Dunnville, and other training sites across Canada? Why did he survive a mid-air collision while in Bagotville Quebec, when the other pilot, who was at fault, was killed? How has he able to return safely to Allied airbases in more than 10 aircraft he was piloting that were badly damaged by air combat, or ground fire? Why not me? A haunting question which would surely leave a veil of guilt on many of those who would return. We see this even today in our young men and women who have seen peace-keeping or combat assignments around the world as members of our Canadian Forces.
I suspect that question prompted Dad to try and make the most of the life he was given, and to try to give back through community service at every opportunity.
Moving to Smith Falls in 1948 he joined the local Rotary Club and was active in a number of regional fundraising and community initiatives. After relocating and opening a new store in London in 1952, he spent time with the East London Businessmen’s Assoc. the RCAF Reserve, became active in our community church, raised funds for such organizations as Heart and Stroke, and enjoyed working along with my mother as counsellors for a number of youth groups.
During these years however Dad rarely talked about his experiences in World War Il. On a few occasions I had the opportunity to accompany Dad to #6 reunions in Dunnville. Although I was welcomed by his band of brothers, when I watched their interactions, it was as if I was looking through a window on a world I would never fully understand. It was not until the mid-eighties when he was invited to join the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association, which operates from an airfield near Tillsonburg, Ontario, that Dad started to open up and share his stories. I believe the Iwhy not me’ directed his thinking at the time. Did he not owe it to Andy Howden and the thousands of others who did not return from the war, to enlighten others as to their personal sacrifices and the horrors of warfare on land, sea or air?
Dad put together the display boards present here today. He took his travelling road show and talked to members of service clubs, youth groups, military crowds, air shows and secondary history classes. He particularly enjoyed discussions with young people and continued to challenge them “why not me”. Why not get involved in your school government, environmental activities, or community projects, designed to help the disadvantaged. He encouraged them to carry the torch by supporting activities on Remembrance Day. It was fitting in some ways therefore, that when he was killed in an automobile accident at age 88, he had just finished a presentation to air cadets at the Tillsonburg airport, Dad was on his way to lunch before giving a second presentation that afternoon.
Charley Fox, the World War II fighter pilot from Guelph was recognized in numerous ways, both when he was alive, and after he was killed in 2008. He was, in 2004, made Honorary Coronel of 412 Squadron in Ottawa, an honour bestowed upon him by the Minister of National Defence and the Governor General. His name and picture is on the wall of fame at Guelph Collegiate. He has a parkette at London Airport and an overpass in the city of London named in his honour. Recently, the City of Guelph and the Downtown Business Association created and hung a banner featuring Dad in their celebration of Canada’s 150 year anniversary. In each case I believe the honour was bestowed on Charley Fox the young fighter pilot, and as a family we hope, to also recognize the man he became and the causes he championed.
I think Dad’s proudest moment came in 2006 when the staff and students at Clarke Road H.S. in London (my old alma mater) insisted that he be granted a Secondary School Graduation Diploma at their annual graduation ceremony. He had been waiting for that moment for 70 years.
Dad was a humble man but if he wanted a legacy and if he was speaking to you today, it would be his wish that more young people serve as Torchbearers, leading the efforts to recognize and honour the sacrifices by those of previous generations, and that they, as well as his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren continue to ask of themselves and others “Why Not Me!”
Mohamed Shabib guest of Tim Mau
Ron Hearndon guest of Mahmood Hussein
Jim Fox, Waterloo Rotary & wife Cheryl
Dr. Dan Vitale
Marva Wisdom announced that the City of Guelph has invited Rotarians to share our vision of Guelph for the next 10 years. Send your ideas to Guelph.ca/communityplan #makeyourmark firstname.lastname@example.org
Terry Van Dreumel announced that our Rotary Christmas card sales totaled $1100 – enough to inoculate over 1,000 children against polio.
Tracey McGrath mentioned that the Canada Day committee is looking for help with their website for July 1, 2018
New Member Introduction: Matthew Webster by Proposer Tom Funk
Very pleased today to introduce our newest member, Matthew Webster. Matthew is a delightful young man with a great desire to integrate into the community and serve the community in which he lives.
While in university he took a part time job at Future Shop where he learned he was very good at sales and really enjoyed customer interaction. This lead to an early career in the big box retail industry in Toronto where he held a number of positions of increased responsibility.
After five years of living and working in Toronto, Matthew and his wife, Melissa, settled in Guelph and Matthew began a career in residential real estate with Home Group Realty.
Matthew’s wife is employed in marketing research with Nielsons and able to work from home on Gowdy Avenue in Guelph.
Both Matthew and Melissa have a passion for the outdoors especially hiking and fishing.
I am sure Matthew will make a great Rotarian and we will all benefit from getting to know him over the months and years to come.
Helmut Slisarenko tried to give away an important sign which has been stored at his home for some time (his wife wants it gone) but no immediate takers. Then he announced that his curling term was running first at the latest bonspiel until very late when the opposing team snuck in a rock and Helmut’s team lost 5 – 4. Better luck next time.
Hal Jackson was celebrating the fact that 38 years ago he began working at the corner of Elmira Rd and Woodlawn Rd. in Guelph at Mcneil Consumer Healthcare. He was welcomed at that time by Paul Truex who brought him out to join Rotary. When Hal retired he and his wife moved back to the family farm in Ilderton (just north of London). Hall still arrives faithfully at meetings regularly and is active in many facets of the club.
Dave Latreille announced that he is grateful that he has been able to move his Mom back to The Eliott in Guelph from Meaford as she needs extra care.
Chris Willard announced a bit ruefully that his retirement has been set back a bit due the fact that both of his daughters are now enrolled
Ab Moore was happy to share that on Ground Hog day he celebrated his 87th birthday. He gave a happy buck to share that he had a successful meeting with Sue Ricketts, Tracey McGrath and Hal Jackson to learn about the Global Grant sent off to District and Rotary International for the Dindigul Dairy Project.
Sue Ricketts thanked Ab for his kind words and gave a donation because she and Nanita Mohan personally inoculated 100 children in Agra, India after doing due diligence for our project in Dindigul, India.
The 50/50 draw this week was won by Marva Wisdom
Ab Moore – February 2nd