Life after bomber command

Andrew Wagstaff
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Second World War veteran maintains active lifestyle

ATHOL – Arnold Blenkhorn won’t be marching on Remembrance Day this year, but the day remains as important to him as it was when he served overseas during the Second World War.
At the age of 92, the veteran continue to maintain an active life in his community, but standing for 20-plus minutes in what is often cold, miserable weather has become a bit too much for him.

“I still try to take part every year,” he said. “It still means a lot to me, to remember all the other fellows who went overseas, and those who didn’t come back.”

Although it was almost seven decades ago, Blenkhorn has vivid memories of wartime, from his training in Winnipeg, to his trip overseas on the New Amsterdam in June of 1944.

“We didn’t know what was ahead then,” he recalled. “The guys who went before me, their chances in air crew were less than 50 per cent. We lost nearly 10,000 Canadian airmen in bomber command in ’42-’43. I went over after D-Day, and the chances were better.”

Born and raised on a farm in Athol, Blenkhorn joined the Royal Canadian Air Force soon after graduating from Truro’s Nova Scotia Agricultural College in 1941.

“I don’t know why I chose the air force,” he said. “Most of my buddies that I went to school with joined the air force. Training planes were flying overhead at home. It was just something, I guess.”

His time overseas saw him make lifelong friends. Four members of his crew were Maritimers. Of the group, only Blenkhorn and pilot Al Huffman, who lives in British Columbia, survive. Although the war was winding down, they flew six missions over Germany.

Blenkhorn was one of a handful of veterans who received the new Bomber Command Bar in a recent ceremony at the Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum in Enfield on Sept. 16 from Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino and Justice Minister Peter MacKay.

The bar recognizes “the contributions and bravery of those who served in the air campaign that played such an important role for the Allied victory in the Second World War.”

“I could not be prouder to honour these veterans and all of the brave Canadians who served in Bomber Command operations during the Second World War,” said Fantino. “They courageously took the battle for peace, freedom and democracy to the seemingly endless skies over Europe, with many losing their lives. We are proud to recognize and thank them for their service.”

Blenkhorn returned to farming after the war. He and wife Catherine bought her father’s farm in Athol, which they worked for 20 years, before he took a job with the provincial department of agriculture maintaining dikes. He and Catherine had three children, and still live on the farm in Athol. On Nov. 8 they marked their 67th wedding anniversary.

He is also a busy volunteer, singing with The Travelers, who visit and perform at local nursing homes every month. Earlier this year, he was honoured by the Municipality of Cumberland County for his volunteering efforts.

“You have to get out and meet people,” he said. “At my age, if you don’t make new friends, you’re not going to have any.”

Twitter: @ADNandrew

Organizations: Nova Scotia Agricultural College, New Amsterdam, Canadian Air Force Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum Veterans Affairs

Geographic location: Athol, Winnipeg, British Columbia Germany Enfield Europe Cumberland County

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