Two Spitfire pilots reunite at the Museum: Jim O'Toole, left, and former Wing Commander James "Stocky" Edwards, right.
When Canada entered World War II in September 1939, Jim O’Toole had been 16 for just 46 days. Born on July 26, 1923 near Dollard, Saskatchewan, Jim, like many young men had a fascination with flight and aviation. He knew he would enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force as soon as he was old enough. In the meantime, farm chores and schooling would be his priority and he would share these priorities with his brothers and his one sister. Living in Saskatchewan in the dirty thirties meant everyone in the family pitched in and made the best of a very difficult economic situation. Between the drought, the dust and the Depression, rural southwestern Saskatchewan was only for the hardiest of Canadians.
Jim graduated from school in June 1941 and started working at a local pharmacy. The attack on Pearl Harbour in December was instrumental in his final decision to enlist. On February 1, 1942, at age 18, Jim went to Regina and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
He adapted to military life with ease and, after much training in various bases across Canada, earned his wings. Early in his training, it soon became apparent to flight instructors that Jim had an aptitude for flying single-engine fighters. At the time, Jim had no idea he would eventually be posted to one of the most famous of all RCAF Spitfire Squadrons, flying dangerous operations over Europe.
Posted to England in July 1943, Jim received further training and flew a number of different aircraft including the Hawker Hurricane in a variety of rolls with several different Squadrons. The ultimate experience took place on February 21, 1945 when Jim was posted to 443 Squadron RCAF (The Hornets) flying the famous Supermarine Spitfire under the command of Squadron Leader Art Sager.
Jim flew numerous combat sorties with his Spitfire and finished the war with that Squadron. He survived the vicious air war over Europe and logged his last flight in the Spitfire on September 4, 1945. He remembers it being a very sad day when the RCAF pilots gave up their beloved Spitfires; the war was over and those who survived had to get on with their lives. Jim arrived home for Christmas in 1945.
After the war, Jim enrolled at the University of Manitoba and graduated from the faculty of Medicine in 1952. Doctor O’Toole practised medicine in Winnipeg until his retirement in 1984 and, shortly after, moved to Vancouver Island with his wife Betty, where they built their dream home in Nanoose Bay.
With the help of Jim’s daughter Maureen, the Nanaimo-based, Vancouver Island Military Museum honoured Jim’s Air Force service by placing a scale model of one of the 443 Squadron Spitfires that Jim flew into its “Canadian Spitfire” display. The Spitfire display features 40 Canadian Spitfire models and honours the service of Canadian Spitfire pilots
The dedication ceremony was held on July 26, 2013, coincidently, on the occasion of Jim’s 90th birthday. The event was attended by such notables as Member of Parliament Dr. James Lunney, Nanaimo’s Mayor John Ruttan, Honorary Colonel Russ Burke, Chairman of the Nanaimo Port Authority Bob Bennie, Port Authority Board member and former news editor of the Nanaimo Daily Free Press and city council member Merv Unger, plus two officers from 443 Squadron, now a helicopter Squadron based in Victoria.
Jim’s eight children attended the ceremony from various points in Canada as well as one daughter all the way from Ireland and 50 members of his family. Special guest Retired Wing Commander James “Stocky” Edwards, who commanded the fighter Wing that 443 Squadron was part of also attended from his home in Comox.
Stocky Edwards led his Spitfire Squadrons on several sorties of which Jim was a part, and Jim remembers the pre-sortie briefings Stocky gave prior to take-off. He recalls them being very informative and carefully given; Jim was confident with Stocky’s leadership and experience.
During the ceremony, Stocky Edwards spoke of Jim’s dedication and his flying skills. Military traditions run deep in veterans even though 68 years have passed since Jim O’Toole and Stocky Edwards flew Spitfires together over Belgium, Holland and Germany. After the ceremony, Jim thanked Stocky for his kind words, still referring to him as “Sir!”
During the dedication ceremony, Museum Vice President Brian McFadden said, “it was such a unique opportunity to have these two Spitfire pilots reunited at the Museum, and that it is probably the only time it would ever happen.”
The O’Toole family donated a copy of Jim’s wartime flight log to the museum’s library and it is available for viewing.
For more information about Vancouver Island Military Museum including hours of operation, visit www.vimms.info
NOVEMBER 2013 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE
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