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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Monuments Men: Part 43: Virgil’s Jack Hutchison shot down by German fighters
A Wellington Bomber, similar to the one Jack Hutchison was trained to fly. (IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM)

 

It’s been a century since Niagara-on-the-Lake’s iconic clock tower cenotaph was erected. Then, in 1926, the Township of Niagara unveiled its own memorial in Queenston. In recognition of those who fought and died in two world wars and beyond, NOTL historian Ron Dale has been researching the stories of the people – all men – whose names are engraved on the two cenotaphs. This is one in a series of stories documenting and remembering the sacrifices of those commemorated on the municipal memorial in Queenston.

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Jack Hutchison of Virgil was meant to be a fruit farmer in Niagara but the Second World War ended that ambition.

He was born at the Cottage Hospital in Niagara-on-the-Lake on Jan. 6, 1917, to Lawrence Leon Hutchison and Florence Victoria Pendergast. 

Florence and Lawrence were married in St. Davids, the bride’s hometown, in 1912. The couple had two sons, Jack and his brother James, who had been born in 1915.

Lawrence died on Oct. 4, 1921, at the NOTL Cottage Hospital of a perforated ulcer at the young age of 34. Florence never remarried, raising the boys with the help of family members living in Niagara.

The boys attended Virgil Public School and the high school in Niagara-on-the-Lake, now part of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum. 

After graduation he worked on the farm of his uncle, Howard Lowrie Craise, who was married to Ethel Hutchison, sister of Lawrence. Howard and Ethel had daughters but no sons and Howard stated in a letter that he expected Jack to eventually assume management of his farm. 

Jack was an active man and enjoyed playing hockey, softball, tennis and badminton.   

With the Second World War raging, he decided to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force and applied to become a pilot on July 22, 1940. His application was eventually accepted and he was ordered to report to the number 1 Manning Depot in Toronto on Dec. 11. 

On Jan. 5, 1941, Jack was sent to the Air Navigation School in Port Albert on the shores of Lake Huron, north of Goderich.  

After completing ground school training in Port Albert, he was sent to the Initial Training School in Toronto on March 30. On May 5, he reported to the Elementary Flying Training School in London and, finally, to the Service Flying Training School in Brantford between June 22 and Sept. 2, 1941. 

He was trained to fly multi-engine bombers. Now a flight sergeant, he received his pilot’s wings on Sept. 1 and was ready to be sent to war.  

The day after completing his training Hutchison was sent to Halifax to await transport to Britain, finally sailing on Sept. 18.  Once there, Hutchison was briefly stationed at the RAF Personnel Reception Centre. 

On Oct. 6 he was “taken on strength” by number 20 Operational Training Unit in Lossiemouth, Moray, in northeast Scotland to train on the planes used by the Royal Air Force Bomber Command.   

Now fully trained, Hutchison was assigned to 115 Squadron of the Royal Air Force on March 25, 1942. Seven weeks later he was dead.

In 1942, Bomber Command was ramping up a strategic bombing campaign targeting German factories, rail depots, dockyards, bridges, dams and cities. They mostly bombed at night to deter interception by German fighter aircraft.  

To counter these raids, the Germans protected vulnerable points with arrays of searchlights and anti-aircraft artillery. They also formed “night fighter” squadrons, mostly flying JU 88 and ME 110 dual-engine aircraft. 

These fighters would be “scrambled” when a stream of bombers was detected. Once they got close to the bombers it was easier to see them at night due to the flames from their exhausts. 

Coming up behind and just below the Allied bombers, the night fighters would rake them with cannon fire, destroying or damaging a great number. 

Hutchison was the pilot of a Wellington 3 bomber, which held a crew of five. While he was an RCAF pilot, he was flying for the RAF. His other four crew members were all RAF sergeants.  

During an operation to bomb a submarine factory in Bremen, Germany, on the night of June 4, 1942, Hutchison’s Wellington bomber was one of 170 planes sent out.

His bomber was shot down by a German night fighter just off Vieland on the return from Bremen. Jack’s plane crashed into the North Sea and all five crewmen were killed.

Hutchison’s body was recovered and buried in the Den Burg Cemetery near Texel in the Netherlands. The bodies of his crew were never found. 

He is commemorated on the Queenston cenotaph and on the memorial wall at the Bomber Command Museum in Nanton, Alta.

 

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