Wilbert Richard McBurney 2,51
- Born: 8 Nov 1914 2,51
- Marriage (1): Edna Mae Andrews on 5 Sep 1949 2,51
- Marriage (2): Lillian Iris Shore
- Died: 25 Oct 1991, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada at age 76 143
- Buried: Oct 1991, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada 25
Other names for Wilbert were Bert 2 and Burt McBurney.
Bert was in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was in a prisoner of wa r camp for one year. At one point he was stationed in Trenton, Ontari o.
Who was Lilian Iris (Shore) from The Pas, Manitoba??? Was this Bert' s first wife (married January 17, ????, probably in The Pas, then wen t to Calgary to live.)???
The following article from the Lethbridge Herald Nov. 11, 1 988 by John Grainger describes Burt's experience as a Prisoner of war.
The implications of the Second World War have touched everyone on th e planet - even if today's generation has a tough time keeping reason s in mind why Canadians celebrate Remembrance Day.
For many, war is something they hear about in stories from parents o r grand-parents, read in school books and "remember" once a year.
Yet the Second World War, which involved thousands of Canadian men an d women, doesn't seem real for some people.
The idea of war for Canadian youngsters has no real meaning today, sa y some veterans.
Some may think wars only happen in the Middle East and other countrie s not as sophisticated as Canada or in a country which doesn't have su ch high living standards with which we're blessed.
The Second World War was very real for most Canadians at the time, inc luding Lethbridge resident Burt McBurney.
When the war broke out, he was like many others across the countr y - a young man filled with dreams and ambitions.
And when he enlisted in 194O, he knew the possibility of being a priso ner of war existed, but never dwelled on possibility.
McBurney took part in 13 flying missions for the RAF. Each time he an d his crew had that thought in the back of their minds.
For many youngsters today, the only idea of such a PoW camp is watchin g reruns of the popular 19605 television series Hogan's Heroes.
But there were no Klinks and Schultzes guarding McBurney. These soldie rs took the war very seriously.
Thanks to Hitler and his ideals, Germany was a country enveloped in a n emotional frenzy trying to establish itself as a superior race.
"The Germans (soldiers) didn't have a sense of humor, " says McBurney.
McBurney, now 74, kept a diary of his days of internment at various ja ils throughout France before ending up at Luckenwald, a PoW camp abou t 35 miles south of Berlin.
The memories of his plane crash April 1, 1944 remain vivid .
The 28·year·old McBurney, the crew's flight engineer, was on board wit h six others to make a supply drop for the French underground.
Il was a different life in England for McBurney. He was born and raise d in Gull Lake, Sask. and the English coast was a setting most unfamil iar for him.
That fateful night, the crew reached its destination near Tours, but d idn't see the customary ground lighting signifying a drop point.
Spotting no lights, the pilot spun the plane around and headed for hom e.
Supplying the undergound was a major aspect of the RAF's existence. F ifty or 60 aircraft a day were used to make drops, says McBurney.
About an hour into the flight back, the pilot banked sharply after see ing a light thinking perhaps it indicated the drop zone.
As it turned out, it wasn't.
The plane was hit by a blast of gunfire which knocked one engine out.
It lost altitude and all of a sudden, a huge tree appeared on the hori zon.
The plane hit it and crashed.
"We were carrying dynamite, gasoline, shells, food - things for the un dergound."
McBurney was propelled headlong through the aircraft nose, banging hi s body from head to toe.
He was in relatively good shape, but received a nasty knock on the hea d and a two-inch-deep cut on his leg plus bruises all over his body fr om the impact.
The tail gunner and fellow Canadian, Lloyd Brown, was trapped but unhu rt in the turret and the plane was in flames and close to the point o f exploding.
Knowing he had to do something, McBurney used his fists to pound throu gh the turret.
"I don't know how I did it. I've tried to do it since then and haven' t been able to," says McBurney.
Three of his crewmates managed to get out of the .wreckage. The other s weren't so fortunate .
The bomb aimer, Eric Keep, had his body severed at the waist.
The radio operator, Ron Thompson, had been "squeezed flat" by the radi o sets.
Air gunner Ernie Wilkinson and pilot Knobby Clarke were both unhurt.
Another Canadian, navigator Kit Carson, sustained a broken ankle and a rm with a nasty cut extending across his head.
The survivors knew they had to get away quickly from the wreckage as t heir volatile load could explode at any time.
"As soon as we realized the situation we were in, we just took off," s ays McBurney.
They walked for about 15 hours and finally took refuge in a farmer's s hed.
The Spanish border was not too far away, they thought, and hoped to re ach it unscathed and safe.
After some convincing, the farmer and some friends decided to help McB urney and his mates.
After hiding for a few days, they took the three Canadians and four Br its to an abandoned mine where they stayed another five days.
The crew started fighting and bickering among themselves - almost comi ng to blows a few times.
Finally, one of their French contacts told them of a plan for the Fren ch underground to get the. crew out of France.
They were to walk the 20 miles to Tours. They reached their destinatio n and stayed at a residence for another few days.
Most of those days were spent drinking wine - the only thing plentiful .
During their third night, the RAF descended on Tours and hit the are a with one of the heaviest bombings McBurney had witnessed.
Only a short distance away, 12 German soldiers were holed up in a shel ter. It was hit and all were killed.
It was time to make their run for it.
McBurney and his mates were to board a train bound for southwestern Fr ance.
Hundreds of German soldiers and Gestapo were at the station, causing p lenty of anxiety for McBurney and his companions while they waited fo r the train. They weren't bothered - maybe because of the civilian clo thes they were wearing.
They finally boarded the train - two hours late.
They stayed on it through Bordeaux and disembarked at Dax.
One of their underground friends tried to find a guide for the soldier s to take them over the Pyrenees Mountains in Spain. He didn't.
They hopped on the train once again continuing to Boucou - about two m iles from the Bay of Biscay.
Walking into Bayonne, they came upon a small village and "walked boldl y down the main street, when much to our surprise, we found out that i t had been taken over as a German army camp," McBurney wrote in his di ary.
With, luck on their side, they strolled through unbothered.
But luck was a commodity running out for the crew.
After sleeping through part of the afternoon, the crew ate a quick lun ch and decided to move on.
Mcllurney and Clarke were about 200 yards ahead of the other fellows a nd came upon a very steep hill:
As they were to begin their ascent. a group of German soldiers on bicy cles came rolling over the top.
McBurney stopped dead - there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide; not hing to do but hope.
The Germans requested proof of identification - something they were no t able to produce.
Since the Germans' use of French was even worse than the crew's, .the y were able to get away - until the fellows trailing were noticed lurk ing behind.
McBurney maintains, even today, those men had a chance to get away b y hiding in the brush alongside the road.
Chances for escape were gone once a German identified an RAF tunic o n Wilkinson.
Now McBurney's future was in the hands of the Germans.
For the next while, he stayed at a prison in Bayonne before going t o a larger jail at Paris.
McBurney was surprised to find the German soldiers friendly.
"You could put him in a different uniform and he could become a frien d ," McBurney believes.
Paris would also provide the first look for McBurney of some of the at rocities committed against the Jews.
"A group of Jews, mostly old people' and very young children, were bei ng herded along by German soldiers." he says. "They were the most bedr aggled and forlorn group of people imaginable. They were being take n to Germany to a concentration camp for extermination, I presume, a s they were not in any physical condition to do much work.'
This is where McBurney learned firsthand of Nazi interrogations.
At one point after McBurney would not divulge details of exactly wher e his plane went down, he was forced into solitary confinement for 2 6 days.
Once out, McBurney says he was treated with more respect because of hi s standing as a military prisoner instead of a civilian prisoner.
"I was well treated and well fed, considerably better meals than we at e in the sergeant's mess in England. We were given a Red Cross parce l once a week. I actually put on weight during the time·1 spent (in j ail)," McBurney wrote in his diary. .
He did see the results of beatings Nazis administered to some soldier s for various reasons and counted his lucky stars he wasn't touched.
Now it was time to move. This time to Germany and its prisoner of wa r camps.
After a long train ride - which had been interrupted by British fighte r planes spraying the train with bullets McBurney arrived at Frankfurt .
The city had just been nailed by a devastating Allied air raid and th e soldiers were not the most popular people around.
Guards threatened to shoot anyone who moved out of step or had the sli ghtest notion to make a break.
Five days later, McBurney moved to a transient camp called Wetzlar bef ore getting to Bankau - a PoW camp four miles from the Polish border.
He stayed there until early November when he was transferred to the Lu ftwaffe PoW camp. This was going to be home for him until early 1945.
It was here McBurney became active in trying to keep morale high for t he 900 or so interned flyers.
He organized a softball league - and even led the league in batting wi th a .771 average and was named all-star player of the season.
It was here also where the Germans attempted to coerce British flyer s into joining the "British Free Corps."
Its premise was to take part in the "European struggle against Bolshev ism."
None of the soldiers had heard of this group and ·decided it must hav e been a propaganda move by the Germans. No one signed up and the Germ ans finally gave up.
The new year came and by Jan. 15, 1945, McBurney was on the move onc e again.
The Geneva Convention Rules of War stated PoWs were not allowed to b e within a battle zone so McBurney and 1,224 other PoWs marched to a n ew home.
And what a march it was.
The 12-day, 240-mile trek left 84 men in hospital and another 25 disap peared, presumably escaped.
They arrived at a town named Goldberg where a freight train was to tak e them on.
"Dirty, unshaven with a variety of non-descript clothing, towels wrapp ed around our heads to keep our ears from freezing, feet wrapped in sa cks or parts of blankets to keep them warm, ... we loaded into the sma ll boxcars with up to 84 men to a car... The boxcars were locked . . . but remained there for three days," McBurney wrote in his diary.
"Lavatory facilities were non-existent and the guards would not open t he door. But with large cracks in the wall and the aid of empty mea t cans, we managed."
Finally they got to their new home Luckenwald. He was able to showe r and estimated his weight at 130 pounds. His normal weight was 165.
All nations involved in the war in Europe were represented here; 3,50 0 PoWs called Luckenwald home.
Rations were tight. They were given a loaf of bread to share among sev en men, a cup of oatmeal and one tablespoon of sugar a day.
The bread they were given was not the usual bread most North American s eat.
McBurney thought the main ingredient of the bread they ate was sawdust "
About 1/2-inch from the bottom of every loaf there was a layer of unco oked black dough about the consistency of a stale gumdrop. The outsid e was hard and had small particles of wood 'embedded in the crust."
"A real good meal would have killed anyone of us, but I am sure ther e was not one man among us who would not have jumped at the chance t o kill himself by overeating," he says.
It was also here McBurney encountered huge mounds of earth - rumored t o be communal graves.
Each of the seven mounds was about 100 yards long and 50 yards wide, s ays McBurney.
He believes the mounds covered the bodies of Russian soldiers who wer e dying at the rate of two a day.
They were very badly treated, he says, because the German PoWs in Russ ia were treated very poorly by the Russians.
The camp was filthy and dysentery raged.
The camp changed command from the Luftwaffe to the army - which prove d to be a boon of sorts; as all prisoners were treated alike.
They received another boost when they heard the Americans had crosse d the Rhine March 9. The" knew it was only a matter of time before th e war would be over.
Russian soldiers entered the camp April 22 and the German soldiers lef t in a state of confusion.
They were being freed - or so they thought. The senior British office r told them to stay put while all Russian soldiers walked away.
Heavy fighting accompanied these days.
"There were thousands of bodies laying around, in all types of conditi on - from a simple hole in the head to blown to bits from a direct hi t from a large shell," he says.
After two days, bombing . moved slowly In the direction of Berlin..
"The Germans had put up a real fight and we had a grandstand seat," Mc Burney wrote.
But he had had enough and decided to make a run for it.
He walked the next 24 km through the brush, refusing to slow down.
" ... (I) came upon hundreds of dead bodies. Most of them swollen up , smelling very foul and starting to decay," he wrote.
He came upon a highway with a parked convoy of American trucks waitin g to pick up escaped prisoners.
He was given a bed and a meal.
The American commander apologized for the paltry dessert - canned peac hes.
McBurney was given white bread something that tasted "like cake."
He arrived back in England May 8 and returned to Canada July 13, 1945.
Even though McBurney's mother had received a letter from the federal g overnment saying he was missing and presumed dead, "she said she kne w I was all right."
After a six-months absence from the armed forces, McBurney made the mi litary his career, living in Calgary before moving with wife Joanne t o Lethbridge.
. He retired in March 5, 1965 with the rank of Flight Officer.
McBurney realizes Remembrance Day is missing some of the importance i t once represented.
"I think we should remember what happened. If you don't history ha s a habit of repeating itself."
The annual parade to the cenotaph in· Lethbridge and the memorial serv ices are an effective teaching method to many school children now, h e believes.
But in another 10 years, the number of veterans will have dropped subs tantially. Remembrance Day events help to leave reminders of the sacr ifices made by Canadians in the two world wars.
Event Description: Mountain View Cemetery - Block 16 Lot 12 Grave 11E
Noted events in his life were:
• 1916 Census of Canada (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta): Wilbert, age 1, with father William, age 45, mother Rose, age 35, an, 1916. 90 d siblings Ruth, age 12, Lawrence, age 10, Audrey, age 5, and Alma, ag e 3.
Gull Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada
Saskatchewan, Gull Lake, p. 7, lines 1-7, household 65;
Wilbert, age 1, with father William, age 45, mother Rose, age 35, an d siblings Ruth, age 12, Lawrence, age 10, Audrey, age 5, and Alma, ag e 3.
• Military: Canadian Air Force, Between 1940 and 1965.
• Family History: Article taken from the History Book "Gull Lake Memories," 1989. 138 Gull Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada
The McBurney family originated in Annalong, County Down, Norther n Ireland. They emigrated to Canada in the early 1860's.
William, the oldest of nine children of Richard and Priscilla McBurney , was born in Teeswater, Bruce County, Ontario, October 8, 1870. He an d his wife Rose and two children, Ruth and Lorance, arrived in Gull La ke during 1908. He began a builder
. and mover business and continued as such until his death in Gull Lak e December 8, 1941.
Additions to the McBurney family in Gull Lake were Audrey, June 14, 19 10; Alma, (Babe), July 12, 1912; and Wilbert, November 8, 1914.
Ruth married Ken Riddell, whose picture appears on the History Committ ee Bulletin driving the Co-op Model T delivery truck. Ruth is now livi ng in the Crowsnest Pass Nursing Home at Blairmore, Alberta. Son Bob l ives in Palm Springs, California.
Lorance married Tina Fehr of Saskatoon; he died in 1968. Tina and thei r daughter Colleen now live in New Westminster, B.C.
Audrey married Harold Hastings, and she and her daughter Maureen are l iving in Vancouver. Alma (Babe) married Tim Nelson of Gull Lake, and s he now lives in Edmonton, as does her daughter RoseAnn. Son Richard li ves in Vermilion, Alberta. Wilbert (Bert) married Edna Andrews of Clar esholm, Alberta and they now live in Lethbridge. Their only daughter , Lynda, married Glenn Schuler, and they and their three children ar e farming in the Claresholm area.
Bert left Gull Lake in 1937 to work as a carpenter for Pioneer Grain C o. He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1941, was shot down on hi s thirteenth operational trip in 1944, and after three weeks evading c apture, was apprehended by the Germans and interned; escaped from pris on camp in May, 1945 and made his way to the American camp at Schonebe ck, Germany. On cessation of hostilities, Bert re-enlisted in the R.C. A.F. Permanent Force and served until 1965. He retired in 1965 to Leth bridge, where he and his wife now live.
• Grave Marker: Mountain View Cemetery - Block 16 Lot 12 Grave 11E, Oct 1991. 25 Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
Wilbert married Edna Mae Andrews on 5 Sep 1949 2.,51 (Edna Mae Andrews was born on 25 Feb 1914,2,51 died on 17 Aug 2008 in Claresholm, Willow Creek, Alberta, Canada 144 and was buried in Claresholm, Willow Creek, Alberta, Canada 144.)
Wilbert next married Lillian Iris Shore.