Wilbert Richard McBurney 2,48
- Born: 8 Nov 1914 2,48
- Marriage (1): Lillian Iris Shore
- Marriage (2): Edna Mae Andrews on 5 Sep 1949 2,48
- Died: 25 Oct 1991, Lethbridge, , Alberta, Canada at age 76 135
Other names for Wilbert were Bert 2 and Burt McBurney.
Bert was in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was in a prisoner of war camp for one year. At one point he was stationed in Trenton, Ontario.
Who was Lilian Iris (Shore) from The Pas, Manitoba??? Was this Bert's first wife (married January 17, ????, probably in The Pas, then went to Calgary to live.)???
The following article from the Lethbridge Herald Nov. 11, 1988 by John Grainger describes Burt's experience as a Prisoner of war.
The implications of the Second World War have touched everyone on the planet - even if today's generation has a tough time keeping reasons in mind why Canadians celebrate Remembrance Day.
For many, war is something they hear about in stories from parents or grand-parents, read in school books and "remember" once a year.
Yet the Second World War, which involved thousands of Canadian men and women, doesn't seem real for some people.
The idea of war for Canadian youngsters has no real meaning today, say some veterans.
Some may think wars only happen in the Middle East and other countries not as sophisticated as Canada or in a country which doesn't have such high living standards with which we're blessed.
The Second World War was very real for most Canadians at the time, including Lethbridge resident Burt McBurney.
When the war broke out, he was like many others across the country - a young man filled with dreams and ambitions.
And when he enlisted in 194O, he knew the possibility of being a prisoner of war existed, but never dwelled on possibility.
McBurney took part in 13 flying missions for the RAF. Each time he and his crew had that thought in the back of their minds.
For many youngsters today, the only idea of such a PoW camp is watching reruns of the popular 19605 television series Hogan's Heroes.
But there were no Klinks and Schultzes guarding McBurney. These soldiers took the war very seriously.
Thanks to Hitler and his ideals, Germany was a country enveloped in an 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 jails throughout France before ending up at Luckenwald, a PoW camp about 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 with six others to make a supply drop for the French underground.
Il was a different life in England for McBurney. He was born and raised in Gull Lake, Sask. and the English coast was a setting most unfamiliar for him.
That fateful night, the crew reached its destination near Tours, but didn't see the customary ground lighting signifying a drop point.
Spotting no lights, the pilot spun the plane around and headed for home.
Supplying the undergound was a major aspect of the RAF's existence. Fifty or 60 aircraft a day were used to make drops, says McBurney.
About an hour into the flight back, the pilot banked sharply after seeing 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 horizon.
The plane hit it and crashed.
"We were carrying dynamite, gasoline, shells, food - things for the undergound."
McBurney was propelled headlong through the aircraft nose, banging his body from head to toe.
He was in relatively good shape, but received a nasty knock on the head and a two-inch-deep cut on his leg plus bruises all over his body from the impact.
The tail gunner and fellow Canadian, Lloyd Brown, was trapped but unhurt in the turret and the plane was in flames and close to the point of exploding.
Knowing he had to do something, McBurney used his fists to pound through 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 others 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 radio sets.
Air gunner Ernie Wilkinson and pilot Knobby Clarke were both unhurt.
Another Canadian, navigator Kit Carson, sustained a broken ankle and arm with a nasty cut extending across his head.
The survivors knew they had to get away quickly from the wreckage as their volatile load could explode at any time.
"As soon as we realized the situation we were in, we just took off," says McBurney.
They walked for about 15 hours and finally took refuge in a farmer's shed.
The Spanish border was not too far away, they thought, and hoped to reach it unscathed and safe.
After some convincing, the farmer and some friends decided to help McBurney and his mates.
After hiding for a few days, they took the three Canadians and four Brits to an abandoned mine where they stayed another five days.
The crew started fighting and bickering among themselves - almost coming to blows a few times.
Finally, one of their French contacts told them of a plan for the French underground to get the. crew out of France.
They were to walk the 20 miles to Tours. They reached their destination 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 area with one of the heaviest bombings McBurney had witnessed.
Only a short distance away, 12 German soldiers were holed up in a shelter. 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 France.
Hundreds of German soldiers and Gestapo were at the station, causing plenty of anxiety for McBurney and his companions while they waited for the train. They weren't bothered - maybe because of the civilian clothes 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 soldiers to take them over the Pyrenees Mountains in Spain. He didn't.
They hopped on the train once again continuing to Boucou - about two miles from the Bay of Biscay.
Walking into Bayonne, they came upon a small village and "walked boldly down the main street, when much to our surprise, we found out that it had been taken over as a German army camp," McBurney wrote in his diary.
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 lunch and decided to move on.
Mcllurney and Clarke were about 200 yards ahead of the other fellows and came upon a very steep hill:
As they were to begin their ascent. a group of German soldiers on bicycles came rolling over the top.
McBurney stopped dead - there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide; nothing to do but hope.
The Germans requested proof of identification - something they were not able to produce.
Since the Germans' use of French was even worse than the crew's, .they were able to get away - until the fellows trailing were noticed lurking behind.
McBurney maintains, even today, those men had a chance to get away by hiding in the brush alongside the road.
Chances for escape were gone once a German identified an RAF tunic on 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 to 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 friend ," McBurney believes.
Paris would also provide the first look for McBurney of some of the atrocities committed against the Jews.
"A group of Jews, mostly old people' and very young children, were being herded along by German soldiers." he says. "They were the most bedraggled and forlorn group of people imaginable. They were being taken to Germany to a concentration camp for extermination, I presume, as 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 where his plane went down, he was forced into solitary confinement for 26 days.
Once out, McBurney says he was treated with more respect because of his standing as a military prisoner instead of a civilian prisoner.
"I was well treated and well fed, considerably better meals than we ate in the sergeant's mess in England. We were given a Red Cross parcel once a week. I actually put on weight during the time·1 spent (in jail)," McBurney wrote in his diary. .
He did see the results of beatings Nazis administered to some soldiers 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 war camps.
After a long train ride - which had been interrupted by British fighter planes spraying the train with bullets McBurney arrived at Frankfurt.
The city had just been nailed by a devastating Allied air raid and the soldiers were not the most popular people around.
Guards threatened to shoot anyone who moved out of step or had the slightest notion to make a break.
Five days later, McBurney moved to a transient camp called Wetzlar before getting to Bankau - a PoW camp four miles from the Polish border.
He stayed there until early November when he was transferred to the Luftwaffe 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 the 900 or so interned flyers.
He organized a softball league - and even led the league in batting with a .771 average and was named all-star player of the season.
It was here also where the Germans attempted to coerce British flyers into joining the "British Free Corps."
Its premise was to take part in the "European struggle against Bolshevism."
None of the soldiers had heard of this group and ·decided it must have been a propaganda move by the Germans. No one signed up and the Germans finally gave up.
The new year came and by Jan. 15, 1945, McBurney was on the move once again.
The Geneva Convention Rules of War stated PoWs were not allowed to be within a battle zone so McBurney and 1,224 other PoWs marched to a new home.
And what a march it was.
The 12-day, 240-mile trek left 84 men in hospital and another 25 disappeared, presumably escaped.
They arrived at a town named Goldberg where a freight train was to take them on.
"Dirty, unshaven with a variety of non-descript clothing, towels wrapped around our heads to keep our ears from freezing, feet wrapped in sacks or parts of blankets to keep them warm, ... we loaded into the small 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 the door. But with large cracks in the wall and the aid of empty meat cans, we managed."
Finally they got to their new home Luckenwald. He was able to shower and estimated his weight at 130 pounds. His normal weight was 165.
All nations involved in the war in Europe were represented here; 3,500 PoWs called Luckenwald home.
Rations were tight. They were given a loaf of bread to share among seven men, a cup of oatmeal and one tablespoon of sugar a day.
The bread they were given was not the usual bread most North Americans 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 uncooked black dough about the consistency of a stale gumdrop. The outside 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 there was not one man among us who would not have jumped at the chance to kill himself by overeating," he says.
It was also here McBurney encountered huge mounds of earth - rumored to be communal graves.
Each of the seven mounds was about 100 yards long and 50 yards wide, says McBurney.
He believes the mounds covered the bodies of Russian soldiers who were dying at the rate of two a day.
They were very badly treated, he says, because the German PoWs in Russia 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 proved to be a boon of sorts; as all prisoners were treated alike.
They received another boost when they heard the Americans had crossed the Rhine March 9. The" knew it was only a matter of time before the war would be over.
Russian soldiers entered the camp April 22 and the German soldiers left in a state of confusion.
They were being freed - or so they thought. The senior British officer 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 condition - from a simple hole in the head to blown to bits from a direct hit 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," McBurney 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 waiting to pick up escaped prisoners.
He was given a bed and a meal.
The American commander apologized for the paltry dessert - canned peaches.
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 government saying he was missing and presumed dead, "she said she knew I was all right."
After a six-months absence from the armed forces, McBurney made the military his career, living in Calgary before moving with wife Joanne to Lethbridge.
. He retired in March 5, 1965 with the rank of Flight Officer.
McBurney realizes Remembrance Day is missing some of the importance it once represented.
"I think we should remember what happened. If you don't history has a habit of repeating itself."
The annual parade to the cenotaph in· Lethbridge and the memorial services are an effective teaching method to many school children now, he believes.
But in another 10 years, the number of veterans will have dropped substantially. Remembrance Day events help to leave reminders of the sacrifices made by Canadians in the two world wars.
Noted events in his life were:
• 1916 Census of Canada (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta), 1916, Gull Lake, , Saskatchewan, Canada. 83 Saskatchewan, Gull Lake, p. 7, lines 1-7, household 65;
Wilbert, age 1, with father William, age 45, mother Rose, age 35, and siblings Ruth, age 12, Lawrence, age 10, Audrey, age 5, and Alma, age 3.
• Military Service: Canadian Air Force, 1940-1965.
• Family History: Article taken from the History Book "Gull Lake Memories," 1989, Gull Lake, , Saskatchewan, Canada. 131 McBURNEY, William
The McBurney family originated in Annalong, County Down, Northern 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 and his wife Rose and two children, Ruth and Lorance, arrived in Gull Lake during 1908. He began a builder
. and mover business and continued as such until his death in Gull Lake December 8, 1941.
Additions to the McBurney family in Gull Lake were Audrey, June 14, 1910; Alma, (Babe), July 12, 1912; and Wilbert, November 8, 1914.
Ruth married Ken Riddell, whose picture appears on the History Committee Bulletin driving the Co-op Model T delivery truck. Ruth is now living in the Crowsnest Pass Nursing Home at Blairmore, Alberta. Son Bob lives in Palm Springs, California.
Lorance married Tina Fehr of Saskatoon; he died in 1968. Tina and their daughter Colleen now live in New Westminster, B.C.
Audrey married Harold Hastings, and she and her daughter Maureen are living in Vancouver. Alma (Babe) married Tim Nelson of Gull Lake, and she now lives in Edmonton, as does her daughter RoseAnn. Son Richard lives in Vermilion, Alberta. Wilbert (Bert) married Edna Andrews of Claresholm, Alberta and they now live in Lethbridge. Their only daughter, Lynda, married Glenn Schuler, and they and their three children are farming in the Claresholm area.
Bert left Gull Lake in 1937 to work as a carpenter for Pioneer Grain Co. He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1941, was shot down on his thirteenth operational trip in 1944, and after three weeks evading capture, was apprehended by the Germans and interned; escaped from prison camp in May, 1945 and made his way to the American camp at Schonebeck, 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 Lethbridge, where he and his wife now live.
Wilbert married Lillian Iris Shore.
Wilbert next married Edna Mae Andrews on 5 Sep 1949 2.,48 (Edna Mae Andrews was born on 25 Feb 1914,2,48 died on 17 Aug 2008 in Claresholm, , Alberta, Canada 136 and was cremated in Claresholm, , Alberta, Canada 136.)