Canada’s last veteran of a deadly Second World War bombing raid has died at age 95.
Fred Sutherland of Rocky Mountain House, Alta., was one of two surviving members of Squadron 617, known later as the Dambusters.
The legendary unit dropped new high-tech “bouncing bombs” in 1943 on a German dam that was a key part of Adolf Hitler’s industrial war machine.
In an interview last spring, Sutherland said that day stuck in his mind for 75 years.
“I was scared, I was really scared,” he said. “But you can’t say, ‘Oh, I want to go home now.’ You made up your mind and you can’t let the crew down.”
Fifty-three of the 133 airmen were killed. At least 1,300 others on the ground died from the bombings and subsequent floods.
Sutherland, a front gunner, was honoured for his bravery in April 2018 with a portrait by renowned painter Dan Llywekyn Hall. It was donated to the Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton.
The Dambusters raid was considered a critical morale booster on the homefront, heavily damaging Hitler’s dams. But the legacy was complicated due to the civilian deaths, and the fact that the war continued.
That wasn’t lost on Sutherland, who was only 20 years old at the time of the raid.
“If you think something’s right, you’re going to fight for it,” he said at the portrait unveiling. “I don’t know the answer, but I know I’d do it again, even knowing what it was like.”
In a later operation, Sutherland bailed out of a bomber and spent three months trying to escape Nazi-occupied Europe.
Following the war, he remained in the air force another 12 years before studying forestry. He then worked in Rocky Mountain House, far south of his hometown of Peace River.
He was married to his wife Margaret for 73 years until her death in 2017. They had three children.
“Fred was a lovely man — friendly, courteous and generous with his time,” said a Dambusters Blog post marking his death.
“He never forgot that he was lucky to have survived the war while many of his comrades did not. He will be much missed by all who knew him.”