ALFRED ELLIS FEATURED IN THE EDMONTON JOURNAL JUNE 20, 2016
Like many of Canada’s air force units, the early years for 408 Squadron were a difficult and deadly trial by fire.
Alfred Ellis was part of it, working long hours in English airfield hangars to fix up Halifax and Lancaster bombers that had returned from runs over Europe.
“There were a lot of disasters. Planes coming back short of fuel, or shot up and that,” Ellis recalled of his 1943-45 experience. “There was one situation where a plane crashed into a meadow and killed seven cows. One came back with 52 holes in it. Another one came back with a hole blown in the wing that must have been eight feet in diameter.”
By the end of the Second World War, the squadron had collectively flown more than 4,600 sorties, while suffering 936 casualties.
Today, at age 93, Ellis is one of the few remaining veterans from that era who can tell the stories of the squadron’s early days of bravery and sacrifice.
On Sunday, he was on hand at the Edmonton Garrison to do just that as his former squadron — now renamed the 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron — concluded three days of celebrations to mark its 75th anniversary.
The event included marches conducted by current members of the squadron, along with a group of about 20 veterans and old guard, including Ellis. O Canada was played, followed by a fly past of four Griffon helicopters — the squadron’s current aircraft — in diamond formation.
“Anniversaries are a time for us to connect with our history, and history inspires for what we have to do in the future,” 1 Wing Commander Col. Scott Clancy told about 200 people gathered on the tarmac outside Hangar No. 2.
He remarked on some of the squadron’s accomplishments as it underwent different homes, assignments and aircraft types since Ellis’ time.
In addition to its work photographing and mapping much of Canada’s North, the squadron has deployed to a number of war zones. Most recently, it played a pivotal role in Afghanistan, operating Chinook and Griffon helicopters that kept Canadian troops off roads laden with improvised explosive devices.
The unit has also assisted in the response to various natural disasters around the world, including last month’s Fort McMurray wildfire.
Despite all the changes over the decades, the squadron has maintained its original patch, a Canada goose, which was championed by the unit’s first commander, Nelles Timmerman.
Timmerman was also responsible for the squadron’s motto: For Freedom.
“When asked why that motto, (Timmerman) answered with a simple question,” Clancy told the crowd. “Why are we here?”
Clancy said that remains good advice for the current members of the squadron, which has just been placed in a state of high readiness for a potential deployment to Iraq in January.
Lt.-Col. Trevor Teller, the current commander of 408, said the details of any mission are still being determined.
“But I see it being as very much as we did in Afghanistan,” he said. “Supporting the ground forces. Command and liaison. Enabling movement over great distances and avoiding the danger that is obviously on the ground.”
As for Ellis, who followed his time in the military with careers raising tropical fish and restoring antique cars, he said he is proud to be part of a unit that continues to do important and dangerous work on Canada’s behalf.
“I pray for them,” he said, staring at a black-and-white 1943 picture of himself sitting atop a Halifax bomber surrounded by other mechanics. “Keep it up.”
Alfred Ellis was also featured in the Edmonton Sun. Below is a picture of Alfred Ellis being interviewed by Pastor Max Solbrekken at Community 10 TV in Camrose. You may see the interview on Max Solbrekken on youtube. - Donna SolbrekkenAlfred Ellis and Dr. Max Solbrekken on T.V. Camrose, 2014