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Memorial service salutes Moose Jaw’s last WWII veteran

Two CT-156 Harvard II training aircraft from 15 Wing Air Base flew over the Moose Jaw Funeral Home on Sept. 7 after a memorial service for Al Cameron, who died Aug. 29 at age 98. 

The drone of military aircraft filled the skies as they flew over Moose Jaw to salute Allen (Al) Cameron, the community’s last Second World War veteran who died in late August.

The two CT-156 Harvard II training aircraft from 15 Wing Air Base flew over the Moose Jaw Funeral Home on Sept. 7 after a memorial service for Cameron, who died on Aug. 29 at the Dr. F.H. Wigmore Hospital at age 98 after a fall. 

Friends, family and members of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 59 and Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans (ANAVETS) Club No. 252 attended to say goodbye.

One of the final stories the Moose Jaw Express wrote about Cameron was in January when he learned new details about the death of his brother during the Second World War. 

A dream to fly

Cameron was born on May 18, 1925, in Saskatoon. He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 1941 and moved to Moose Jaw in 1943, where he performed basic training — and met his wife, Yvonne, with whom he shared 69 wonderful years. 

He dreamed of being a pilot, but eyesight problems kept him from that goal. So, he became an airframe mechanic, and on June 24, 1944, he went overseas to work on planes. His service took him to Italy, where he worked with the 417 Spitfire Squadron.

The mechanic returned to Britian right as the Second World War finished. 

He left the RCAF in 1946 but didn’t like civilian life, so after six months, he returned to the air force and served until 1969. That 26-year career included working under Col. O.B. Philp, who founded 431 Air Demonstration Squadron (Snowbirds) in 1971. 

It would be another 50 years before Cameron set foot on the air base, returning in 2019.

Heartfelt tribute

During the service, Chief Warrant Officer Marlene Shillingford gave a heartful tribute to Cameron. 

“There are many who loved Al,” she said, describing him as a storyteller who generated many laughs. She met him in 2019 after that year’s Remembrance Day service and developed a solid friendship.   

Shillingford remembers Cameron saying he received his airframe technician training in a downtown building that now houses Rexall Drugs — but formerly housed a dairy. There were planes in there that he and others could disassemble, repair and reassemble. 

“So he (later) went over to Italy to fight … (and) he told us the Spitfires were a technician’s dream … and pilots enjoyed them as well,” she continued. 

Another story Cameron told was of technicians sitting on the aircrafts’ tails as they taxied down the runway to ensure the propellers didn’t touch the ground and damage the machine. On one occasion, two mechanics forgot to jump off and one fell to his death while another survived.

“He really liked that story. I thought it was pretty cool, too,” Shillingford chuckled.

After the war, Cameron became an aircraft engineering officer — his call sign was “Spanner 2” — and worked at 15 Wing on newer fighters, including the CT-114 Tutor plane. Shillingford noted that Cameron was one of only two mechanics allowed to fix Col. Philp’s personal aircraft, a sign of the respect he had acquired. 

“He told me, looking back, he wouldn’t change a day in his life. He had a wonderful life and he was blessed by the good Lord,” she said. 

Cameron was thrilled to receive an appreciation letter from the federal government in 2021 thanking him for his service, she continued. He believes Ottawa recognized him for fixing a colonel’s plane in Italy and then joining the officer for a reconnaissance mission over German lines — twice. 

That commendation now hangs in the ANAVETS Clubhouse to honour all veterans who fought. 

“Al was not just a veteran; to me, he was my friend … ,” Shillingford added. “I’m forever grateful and I will forever love this amazing man.”

‘Promoted to glory’

Majors Clarence and Karen Ingram with the Salvation Army officiated the service. 

While giving a sermon, Mr. Ingram said it was OK to grieve Cameron’s death because that showed how much people cared for him. Furthermore, Cameron's soul had been “promoted to glory” and was now comfortably resting in his “heavenly home” with God, so there was nothing to worry about.

A son’s perspective

Son Brett Cameron spoke to the media afterward, saying the family was honoured to have 15 Wing perform the flyover to show its respect and care for him. 

“He was a special guy. You know, he certainly enjoyed the military. He certainly enjoyed the church and he enjoyed the Salvation Army and everything he did, especially his singing,” Brett said. “He sang with just about every choir in town and played in almost every band. So, music was very special to him as well.”

Cameron’s obituary indicated he played and sang in the RCAF Concert Band, the Lion’s Club adult band, the Shrine Military Band and the Oriental Band. He was also a founding member of the Bad Boys Sax Trio and sang O Canada twice for the WHL Moose Jaw Warriors. 

The younger Cameron acknowledged his father’s special status as the last Second World War veteran in Moose Jaw, pointing out there aren’t many such men still living. 

“I can remember him telling me every time he’d get his Legion book how many vets were dying on a daily basis because they have that in the magazine,” he said. “So he was aware of the situation.”

Cameron’s most vivid memories of his father are from the three years the family lived in Europe while Allen served in the RCAF and all the moves they made across Canada. 

The younger Cameron added that he appreciated 15 Wing making his dad feel welcome — especially during the pandemic — because he and his sister lived on opposite ends of the country and couldn’t travel then. 

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