I’ve written before about the Second World War Ventura bomber that crashed into Mount Bolduc, killing its six-man crew in the early hours of April 25, 1944. One square mile of forest surrounding the wreck site has been formally designated as a cemetery.
In recent years members of the RCAF’s 407 Marine Patrol Squadron, 19 Wing Comox, have held Remembrance Day services on this lonely and isolated peak that’s now the final resting place of these young airmen. Because of that loneliness and isolation, which only adds to the sense of tragedy and loss all these years later, Mount Bolduc has been called, “some bloody mountain in the middle of nowhere”.
The men on Mount Bolduc weren’t the only B.C. casualties. Almost 200 airmen of several Allied nations were killed or simply vanished while learning to fly at Pat Bay airport, one of several Commonwealth Air Training Program bases established across Canada between 1939-1945. At last report, 800 of them are still missing.
For several years Darrell Ohs, historical writer and president of the Nanaimo Historical Society, his son Jon and several friends have made an annual pilgrimage to Mount Bolduc. They did so again over the Thanksgiving weekend. When Darrell sent me photos of their latest visit, this time to fulfill a secondary purpose, I asked him if he’d share details of that visit and photos with readers of the Citizen, to which he graciously consented.—TWP.
Near the 3,500 foot summit of Mount Bolduc, southwest of Cowichan Lake, a piece of board, made from a modern composite and once laminated with an image — now unrecognizable — lies among aircraft wreckage scattered in a grove of old growth timber. Attached to it is a small brass engraving which reads: Sgt. H. A. Maki 1925-1944.
A cast memorial plaque, mounted to a stone cairn at the site, shows that the entire name of the young Sergeant is Harry Arthur Maki.
From a few scattered fragments still clinging to the board one can surmise that it originally framed a portrait — but the rains and snows on top of Mount Bolduc would have melted away the fragile image at first winter.
Harry is buried somewhere in these woods, along with the five other airmen aboard the RCAF Ventura Patrol bomber based at Squadron 115, Tofino. The Ventura flew anti-submarine duty between coastal air stations of the Western Air Command. It was struck off service April 25, 1944 after crashing through the treetops of a nearby peak, and falling from the sky onto the top of Mt. Bolduc.
The sad remains of the plaque evoke bittersweet musings. Basic elements of its backstory are discernible. Some six decades after this crash someone cared enough about Harry to have had this small memorial made, then undertook to locate his hidden resting place and find a route to the top of this mountain to place it at this isolated and lonely gravesite.
Harry was only 19 years old. He hailed from Sudbury, Ont. His family were probably relieved that he was posted on the west coast of Vancouver Island rather than overseas flying in raids over Europe. Regardless, Harry became a wartime casualty while defending Canada’s western coastline. The news of the young flyer’s fate would have gutted his family. His resting place, distanced from his mourners by thousands of miles, and further separated by a mountaintop inside a tractless wilderness, would have aggravated their grief.
A story in the Cowichan Leader, May 1, 1944, reported that five days after the crash a recovery crew made up of RCAF and B.C. police, led by several local loggers, finally scaled the peak to the wreckage. The next day the RCAF team and coroner determined that “it would practically be impossible to remove the bodies for burial”.
And so Harry and his fellow crewmen were buried where they fell (incidentally, a scene repeated at several other remote military crash sites on Vancouver Island during the course of the Second World War). Padres read the burial services and RCAF members covered the bodies under a cairn of stones before leaving their comrades to their final rest at their last flight.
For years visiting Mount Bolduc has been an annual event for our group of motorcyclists in Nanaimo. We launch our expeditions on weekends as close to Remembrance Day as practical. Usually, our contingent is four in number: my son Jon and I, and whoever joins us. This year our ranks climbed to 10.
Year after year, the sodden little plaque with the shiny brass nameplate lay on the ground next to a shattered stump covered with poppies left behind by other visitors. I always picked it up and vainly peered into the faded portrait looking for even a shade of an image, then rubbed the brass nameplate clear of forest debris before putting it down. I was always intrigued about the motives and emotions that compelled someone to establish an image of Harry in this wreckage-strewn forest.
Later, I discovered a T.W. Paterson article, “Mount Bolduc Bomber Wreck a WW2 Tragedy,” on his website, twpaterson.com. I posted in the comments section describing the plaque and my speculations on its provenance.
About 14 months later, Harry’s niece, Laura-lee Maki Green, read my queries and replied: “Harry was my father’s older brother. We placed the plaque on Mt. Bolduc in 2005, after we located the crash site via a group of geo cachers… My father (Robert Maki) needed closure, so we proceeded up the mountain — picture in hand to leave at the site. This allowed for others to see not just the name, but the person. All our (Harry’s) family is in Sudbury, Ont. to this day…”
Robert Maki was in poor health at the time he carried his brother’s picture up Mt. Bolduc, and has since passed away. A pilgrimage to his older brother’s grave was one of the last wishes of an ailing man with a broken heart.
With a small amount of effort on my part I thought I could do something meaningful for Harry and his younger brother Robert by returning Harry’s image to the mountain. Its return would maintain the legacy of Robert’s bond to his older brother that had endured more than six decades after his passing.
Through Laura-Lee and Barbara Maki (Robert’s widow), they arranged to send me a copy of Harry’s RCAF portrait so visitors could again see the person behind the name.
A friend of mine owns a print shop, so I asked him how a weather-proof image could be created. His solution was to print Harry’s portrait onto sheet vinyl with waterproof ink. My printer friend made three copies, two that I’ve filed for contingency purposes.
I then adhered Harry’s image to a vinyl floor tile left over from a construction project. To frame the image I sourced some vinyl edging and assembled the pieces with marine adhesive. I’m now satisfied that Harry’s image will steadfastly endure the harsh mountaintop climate for years to come.
I left a spot to attach a poppy and the brass nameplate — hoping that I would still find it there next time I go up the mountain.
This year our party of 10 rode up Mt. Bolduc, Harry’s portrait in my son’s backpack. Once at the memorial it’s always a relief that after another year there isn’t any obvious pillaging and/or vandalism.
Robert Maki’s original memorial to his brother was still resting at a spot at the bottom of the broken tree trunk. But the brass nameplate was missing! It looked like the wet and rotting board let loose the tacks that held it on.
After a few minutes of searching, and almost losing hope, the nameplate appeared from under some moss and tree needles at the base of the memorial cairn.
A bit of adhesive from a tube I carried in my pocket affixed the nameplate, and I hung the portrait onto a tree trunk.
As his brother Robert wished, Harry’s visage once again looks down from the mountain from where these six young airmen ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’.
FOOTNOTE: Sgt. Maki is interred on Mount Bolduc with his fellow crewmen: F/O’s John Ernest Moyer, 27, of Vineland, Ont., and Ambrose Moynaugh, 22, of Souris, P.E.I.; W/O1 Lawrence Kerr, 21, from Millet, Alta.; W/O2 Brimsley George Henry Palmer, 21, from Saskatoon, Sask., and LAC Murray Thomas Robertson of Patricia Bay, B.C.
A wooden cross has been placed at the crash site to honour W.T. MacFarlane, who died just a few hundred feet short of seeing the wreckage. It reads: “the best things in life cannot be seen, they must be felt in the heart.”