78 – Peter W. Bickford age 24 (July 16, 1920 – September 16, 1944)
By RON PAGLIA (Ron Paglia is a resident of Charleroi, Pennsylvania in the United States. He has worked in newspaper- and pr- professions, and as a freelance writer, for 60 years).
Missing 16/17/Sept. 1944. That brief but somber line was the final entry on the Flight Log of Peter William Bickford. It is unknown who wrote the ominous message in longhand, most likely a clerk at one of the air bases at which Bickford, a flight officer with the Royal Canadian Air Force, was stationed during his military service. And it wasn’t until nearly 10 months later that the MIA designation was changed to confirm the deaths of Bickford and six other crew members – Peter Lawrence Dooley, Arnold Ney Johnson, Wilfred George Scanlan, Uriah Bernard Butters, Douglas Dawson and Donald George Flood. The tragedy occurred as the Royal Canadian Air Force Lancaster aircraft crashed on its way back from a bombing mission over positions held by Nazi troops at Moerdijkbridge in southern Holland. Peter was born in Bristol, England on 16 July 1920, He was still a British citizen at the time of his death. He had lived in Monongahela, Pennsylvania in the United States for several years and graduated from high school there 1939. He took a job as sports editor of The Daily Republican newspaper and served there until he entered the military in April 1942, He attempted to enlist in the U.S. Army but was rejected twice and went to Canada to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. Bickford, who was only 24 when he died, He was on the 29th mission of his commitment to 30 missions with the RCAF. He may have had a premonition about his fate and expressed deep thoughts about death in a July 19, 1944 letter to his former boss and mentor, Floyd M. France, the longtime managing editor of The Daily Republican. That poignant essay read in part as follows: “Death no longer seems to me the strange and forbidding thing that it once was. Yet even now, though I see it so frequently, I must still ponder its ‘cause and effect,’ and its real necessity, for it seems to often to claim the very best of men. “I have noticed this consistently: that those whom I like and admire most are the very ones to go. I sometimes find it hard, in the light of this, to acknowledge the unfailing ‘benevolence of God.’ But it’s convinced me of one thing, at least – that God (and I think He must exist in some manner) chooses his new companions with a discriminating eye. “Death is of course no hardship to the one it claims, and if we
could but look at it through His eyes we would see little cause for sadness. Certainly those in this service who think about the matter fear much less for themselves than for the pain their deaths will cause others. But we mortals, being by nature a selfish lot, must grieve; and it seems to me that when we do we grieve chiefly for our own loss – not really for the one who has gone. “I, myself, have asked ‘why?’ many times now, and just as often found no answer. At any rate I must believe that life and death are more than accidents – that nothing is created without a purpose … some object in some greater master plan.” Bickford, who had taken part in the aerial bombardment before the Normandy landing on June 6, 1944, also draws attention on another detailed website, www.lancasterdiary.net, The site, which is the copyright property of and administered by Bruce Johnston, Mark Johnston and Scott Johnston, refers to Bickford as “a friend and colleague.” He said Bickford’s plane collided with one from 90 Squadron and crashed into the Dutch countryside with no survivors. Peter W. Bickford was the oldest of three children born to William C.S. Bickford and Elsie Chapman Bickford, who came to the United States in the early 1930s. Peter’s younger brother, Barrie Spence Bickford, left school to join his brother in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1943. Peter W. Bickford and his crew were buried at the Strijen Cemetery by villagers who removed their bodies afther 9 days from the wreckage of the Lancaster bomber after receiving permission from the German soldiers who had commandeered the village. “The memorial, how is on the other side of the street, is a lasting memory for everyone about the sacrifices one has brought, so they who gave their lives will always be remembered.” “Our generation and those that followed us and those who follow in the future must always honor the memories of the brave men who fought for our homeland and the countries that they did not return to.” Those sentiments are echoed long and loud by his countrymen throughout The Netherlands.
Peter (in circle ), the Queen in front.
Proclamation Monongahela (USA)
A candle every year …
On Christmas Eve candles are lit all over the Netherlands at war graves. In the Hoeksche Waard this has been done since 2016, at the Canadian cemetery in Holten this tradition has persisted for more than 25 years. It gave Dick Jansen from Burgum the idea to draw national attention to this campaign via Facebook. Through his efforts, candles are burned at the graves in hundreds of places in the Netherlands every year. The initiative is seen as a wonderful gesture at an emotional moment, for those who gave their lives for our freedom in World War II.
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