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Warm Irish welcome for Canadian veteran

A message posted on the Internet by the son of a Royal Canadian Air Force veteran of the World War II has led to a remarkable series of events linking Canada and Ireland..

The Canadian veteran, Charles (Chuck) Singer, was a member of the air crew on board a Sunderland Flying Boat which crashed on bogland between Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal, and Belleek, Co. Fermanagh, on August 12 1944.

The story of that crash is vividly recalled by Belleek man Joe O'Loughlin, celebrated local historian who possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of the area, has published several books, and is the authority on its history.

Joe was a young boy that day in 1944 when Singer's aircraft crashed. In fact he went to the scene of the crash, and still has vivid memories of the occasion. The pilot and two crew members were killed. The nine other members of the crew escaped with injuries, some of them serious.

Sgt. Chuck Singer suffered a broken arm, but that did not deter him from pulling an injured comrade, Sgt. George Colbourne, from the wreckage of the flying boat. Colbourne had both his legs broken and was pinned beneath the broken-off tail section.

Chuck Singer, now 79, never forgot that day. In August 2002, fifty-eight years after the crash, he made his first return visit to the area where it happened.

To return to the role of the Internet which led to his return visit, a message had been posted by Chuck's son Bob seeking information on members of 422 Canadian Squadron who had served with his father. Many who saw it marvelled at the detailed recollection by Chuck, including a totally understandable reference to the "Sheild Hospital" in Ballyshannon where he had been taken for treatment.

His message was seen by one of the veterans of Squardon 422 in Toronto, and was transmitted by e-mail to Breege McCusker, a local historian in Irvinestown, Co. Fermanagh. Breege contacted the aforesaid Joe O'Loughlin in Belleek, Joe wrote to Chuck, and the result was that Chuck and his son Bob visited both Belleek and Ballyshannon last month.

It was a memorable visit for both. Among the many places they visited was the Sheil Hospital, where Chuck was cordially received, and got to meet the son of Dr. Daly, the surgeon who had treated his broken arm in 1944.

Chuck had joined the RCAF at the age of 18. He returned to Toronto after being invalided out of the air force, and found employment pushing a breadcart on Centre Island, work which he chose in order to strengthen his injured arm. It was on Centre Island that he met his wife Jacqueline.

After a number of years they moved with their young family to Florida, where his son Bob was born. In all the couple had five children, Barbara, John, and Jacqueline born in Toronto, and Bob and Greg born in Florida.

Before ending his visit to Ireland Chuck was presented with a memento, a fragment preserved from the crashed Sunderland aircraft.

The last word in this story goes to Joe O'Loughlin who recalls that help to those who had been injured in the crash was first provided by local men and women who were working in the bog on the Twenty-Six County side of the border dividing Donegal from Fermanagh, on that far-off day in 1944.

"One of them, Billy Donagher, was on the scene within minutes. Billy is one of the many witnesses who is still with us today," says Joe.

Joe rightly says that crashes were not unknown in those years along the "Donegal Corridor". Reference to other wartime crashes may be found elsewhere on this web site, in particular as part of The Vindicator Story.

The "Donegal Corridor" was a sixteen-mile corridor between Leitrim and Donegal, which was granted by the Irish government of the day so that flying boats from Lough Erne could quickly reach the Atlantic. It was also used as a ferry route for new aircraft being flown across the Atlantic from the United States. The Irish authorities, although strictly neutral, were strictly neutral on the side of the Allies. Downed Allied airmen were given medical treatment when required, and escorted back to the Six Counties to rejoin there comrades. Downed German airmen were interned.

Footnote: 422 Squadron of the RCAF operated from its base on Lough Erne, the same lough from which a Catalina Flying Boat, on air reconnaisance, spotted the German battleship Bismarck in the Atlantic as it attempted to escape from the British Navy.

The sinking of the Bismarck was one of the great stories of WWW II, and a film based on the event is regularly seen on television screens to this day.


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