Each year in Canada, we lose veterans who helped protect the way of life we so greatly cherish today.
March 6, 2013 By Rob Seaman
Each year in Canada, we lose veterans who helped protect the way of life we so greatly cherish today. Some of these veterans we know via stories and other exploits. Books and movies have recorded their efforts immortalizing them for future generations. But there are many others who live in quiet reflection, their dedication, history and achievements filed away, never to be uncovered.
|Stewart relays what he knows in bits and pieces . . . and only
if he thinks you might find it of interest. PHOTO: George Stewart
George Stewart is one of these men, typical of so many Canadian pilots. A private person, he is well spoken about his service to King and country . . . but only if you ask. Like most from his generation, he does not openly seek the spotlight. If you inquire, however, you will get an impressive stream of stories and history; but it will not come all at once. Like many of his peers, Stewart relays what he knows in bits and pieces, as something reminds him, and only if he thinks you might find it of interest.
In our case, these stories have been – and continue to be – rendered over many years. A lot were delivered through a headset while he acted as my sometime instructor. Others came over lunch at the airport as he played the role of mentor. Still others came out over the course of a meeting as my employer.
To meet Stewart, you’d never think of him as an accomplished flyer with a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). Born in January 1924 in Hamilton, Ont., he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in March 1942, graduated as a pilot, and was “commissioned” a year later. He served with No. 23 Squadron Royal Air Force (RAF), as a low-level, “Night Intruder” pilot, and flew an extended tour of 50 sorties in the MKVI Mosquito fighter-bomber with his navigator, Paul Beaudet. The pair did not have radar at that time, and from July 12 until Dec. 8, 1944, they did some amazing things together.
In 1945, Stewart was awarded his DFC. His citation reads: “This officer has completed a period of intensive operations . . . Flying Officer Stewart’s eagerness to operate against the enemy, his unflagging zeal and determination combined with his devotion to duty have won the admiration of all.”
After the war, in 1948, Stewart instructed Chinese Nationalist pilots during their 1946-49 “civil war” against the Chinese Communists. About a dozen pilots were sent for training in Canada, but our snowy winter rendered the effort a washout. As Stewart recalls, they wound up writing off about seven aircraft in the snowbanks at Downsview.
After returning home, Stewart became a reserve pilot for the RCAF. Back then in Hamilton, being a reservist meant flying P-51 Mustangs from Mount Hope. He once told me how for lunch he would break from work, leave the graphics shop he operated until he retired, head up the mountain to the airport and get in a short flight either on his own or with some other like-minded reservists. Quite the gentleman’s existence, but then again, he pursued it quietly, humbly and it was well earned.
Stewart has flown more versions of what we today consider vintage, high-powered aircraft, than most museum and private collection operators own. At 89, he continues to be a guiding influence and be the go-to-guy for input and help on anything related to flight ops in the aircraft he grew up on.
Over the past two years, Stewart and Dave Phillips, charged with flying a Mosquito under rebuild, streamed e-mails back and forth about “handling” the aircraft. Phillips was able to get some good tips from Stewart; no Mosquitoes have flown since the 1990s, so input from others was sketchy at best. Avspec Aviation – the group rebuilding the Mossie for U.S. owner Jerry Yagen – completed a nine-year rebuild of what is today the only flying Mosquito in the world. Stewart and his son, Peter, flew to New Zealand last October, where Stewart continued his mentoring to the pilots Phillips and Keith Skilling during their test flying. It was a resounding success.
Yagen will be bringing his Mosquito to the Hamilton Airshow on June 16-17. The Canadian Warplane Heritage (CWH) museum plans on having a “Mossie” night with Stewart among the speakers. This will also be one of the few chances to see a venerable “wooden wonder” in formation with the CWH Lancaster, two Spitfires and two Hurricanes. It will not only be a rare site, but also a great sound of 10 Merlins in close formation. Mark your calendars!
Stewart is one of many Canadians who served with honour and distinction, and live their lives in humble silence. Years ago, I read a line that stuck with me. “Every once in a while, have lunch with someone who has forgotten more than you will ever know.” If you get such a chance, don’t wait, do it today. You will never regret it.
Rob Seaman is a Wings writer and columnist.