Today, as many of you know, is the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of the beaches of Normandy. I have been following the coverage all day with the CBC, our national broadcaster. Peter Mansbridge just had a segment on the Avro Lancaster bomber which was instrumental, under Bomber Command, in destroying German wartime infrastructure.
My neighbor and dear family friend, Mr. Peter Lushington, was a tail-gunner in a Lancaster in the final years of WWII. He grew up in downtown Dartmouth (in what was Masonic Hall which was destroyed to make way for the building that now houses Two If By Sea) and was from a very large and well-known Dartmouth family.
Mr. Lushington, as my sister and I affectionately called him, was one of the nicest people in the world. Period. For years and years, he joined us at Tim Hortons every Sunday after Mass, chatting with my Grandfather, his very good friend. These two pals could be seen at the Dartmouth Sportsplex watching a certain hockey prodigy by the name of Sidney Crosby who played for the Dartmouth Subways Major Midget team. Mr. Lushington had the most wonderful personality which might not have been obvious from his tiny stature. He was always complimenting my mum and slipping five or twenty dollars, for my sister and me, into the food containers that he'd return to us after eating a nice meal of chili, beans or macaroni and cheese.
Fortunately, Mr. Lushington allowed me to chat with him about his war service on several occasions. He showed me his medals (which he was polishing for Remembrance Day) and even put on his flight gear to give me a sense of what it was like to step into his open air turret in the very back of the plane. He sounded a lot like Darth Vader when talking through his flight mask and he was enthusiastic to show me everything in his collection. He even saved a button (that would be sewn onto the fly of his pants) that had a discreet compass which pointed south. Why south? If he was shot down, south pointed to Spain, where there was a chance to be picked up by people on the Allied side of the conflict. Mr. Lushington also showed me his daily journal which kept track of his many dangerous missions over Occupied Europe. He was involved in the bombing of the Kiel Canal (bordering Germany and Denmark) and flew many missions over Germany (remember, he was flying near the end of the war). He told me that the night sky was almost as bright as the day from the lights that were pointed at the bombers from the ground. They even trained for this in England by looking into very bright lights. It took five hours to fly to the target and five hours (if you were lucky) to fly back. Mr. Lushington's crew was awarded a citation for bombing accuracy. When you would land back in England, you'd be given a shot of rum to calm your nerves and you'd be separated from your crew so that you could give an independent account of what you saw (for intelligence purposes); how many planes were shot down, how many parachutes did you see deployed, etc. Mr. Lushington acknowledged that the men and boys fighting against him were like him in many aspects. They were both fighting for their country and trying to stay alive. However, he felt no sympathy for Hitler.
Sadly, Mr. Lushington passed away this winter. I am honoured to have known him and I am grateful that he shared his stories with me. He also told me about his childhood in Dartmouth and I will close with two beautiful anecdotes. According to Mr. Lushington, there was a part of Lake Banook (by Graham's Grove) that was called Sandy Bottom. He and his siblings brought a wagon all the way from downtown Ochterloney Street to Sandy Bottom to gather up sand so that they could make a beach at Dartmouth Cove for swimming. Imagine how many trips it would have taken! When Mr. Lushington was in his 80s, he decided that he should go skating one last time on Lake Banook. He took his stick and skates down to Birch Cove (just below his house which was by Crichton Park School). Everything was going great and Mr. Lushington found himself cruising down to Banook Canoe Club. Once he got there, however, he realized that a huge tail wind had provided him with extra speed down to the end of the lake and that he now had a daunting task ahead of him to make it back to Birch Cove. Even though it took him nearly forever, he was glad that he went down there to enjoy the beautiful scenery and the youthful skating. What a great guy! Thank you for your contribution to our country, Mr. Lushington. We miss you very much.
Peter Lushington's Obituary, Chronicle Herald: