Wilfred Jasper Burnett 1915-2007 (Top Left)
When Wilf finished high school in Fort Frances, he returned to New Brunswick and worked on his Aunt Stella’s dairy farm while learning to fly. He joined the New Brunswick Dragoons. In 1937 he worked his passage to England and joined the RAF (Royal Air Force).
Wilf went on to have a distinguished military career in the RAF. During the war he flew many clandestine sorties into France and Germany. After the war, he flew flying boats with BOAC to the Far East and on one occasion he was forced to divert to Hainan Island, then in Communist hands, where he found a supply of abandoned American fuel. He then spent three days transferring fuel into the aircraft using a felt hat as a filter and a saucepan. In 1956 he led his squadron into action during the Suez Canal crisis against targets in Egypt.
Retiring in 1968 with the rank of Air Commodore, during the course of his career he was awarded the DSO. OBE, DFC, AFC 7 CdeG(P) (Distinguished Service Order, Order of the British Empire, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Force Cross, Croix de Guerre with Palm(The French Flying Cross).
Wilf married his wife Elona (Joy) in 1939 and they had two children, David and Ilona.
Willis Gordon Burnett 1918 - 1984 (Bottom right) My Dad
Willis joined the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) during the second world war. A born pilot, his love of flying led him to become a well known and respected pioneer in Canadian north bush flying after the war and until his retirement in 1980.
A “country boy” at heart, in another era, my dad might have been a cowboy riding the range on a horse he loved with a guitar strapped to the saddle! But he was born to ride a horse of a different type! His love affair with planes started in the RCAF and he lived and breathed to fly any time, anywhere, to any place. It earned him the nickname “Spike”!
The people he met, the places he went and the “roughness” of the north from Baffin Island to Yellowknife in the North West Territories lured him back again and again. In the course of his career, he flew close to 30,000 miles accident free over some of the roughest, wildest and desolate northern terrain this planet has to offer. It didn’t matter whether the plane was on skis, wheels or floats.. he flew it with a grin on his face and a smile in his heart.
My Dad loved cold weather. He is the only person I know who would willingly spend a summer on an iceberg near Greenland... which he did... and his "excuse"... "too darn hot in the summer south of 60" ... meaning the 60th parallel on the map! The U.S./Canadian border is on the 49th parallel, so that gives you an idea of just how high up into northern Canada he meant!
My Dad became quite ill in 1980. I didn't know how ill he was until I stepped off the plane from Germany. I was shocked. He had lost so much weight, he had literally shrunk. If my mother and sister had not been with him, I would have barely recognized him.
He battled courageously with his health over the next few years. Diabetes and heart problems plagued him but he hung on against all odds. The loss of one of his legs ended any hope of ever flying again. We thought at the time it would kill him. But he stayed around because he had a purpose to fulfil.
In August 1983, my sister's husband David died unexpectedly of a cerebral hemmorage at age 34. My two nieces were mere babes at the time. Our family was devastated by the loss and especially my dad who was very fond of David (they were like two peas in a pod).
After Dave's death, my dad's health improved a great deal. The following spring, just before Easter, he and my Mom went to Hawaii on vacation... something they had always wanted to do.
That year, my sister had Easter dinner at her house. My Dad played with his grandkids as my mom, sister and I bustled about the kitchen getting dinner ready. I don't remember exactly what was said but whatever it was, it was funny! My sister laughed and it was the first laugh that rang true since David had died. I am sure that Dad heard it.
During dinner, I noticed my Dad watching her but didn't think anything of it at the time. He really needed to know that she was going to be okay. Dad was very protective of his kids, especially us girls. Today, I know that her laugh gave him the reassurance he wanted. It was going to take time, but she'd make it.
A few days later, my Dad and brother showed up at my house unexpectedly. It was a beautiful spring day and we sat outside chatting and enjoying the weather. It was a wonderful visit. As my dad and brother left, the thought crossed my mind that it was the last time I would see my dad. It scared me silly. I quickly erased it from my mind!
Two days later, my dad had a heart attack. I rushed to my Mom's when I heard the news just as the paramedics were working on him. My dad swore that he would never go into the hosptial again. I went down to my parent's bedroom to tell the paramedics not to say anything about transporting him to the hospital. As I poked my head into the room, I saw that the heart monitor was still registering a heartbeat. I was about to give the paramedics the message when one of them said "We'll have to transport him over to the hospital... we can't do much more here." In that moment, my Dad died. The heart monitor went flat. He kept his word. A value he treasured and had instilled in all of us kids from the time we were knee high to grasshoppers.
Guy Millard Burnett 1917 – 1999
Following high school, Guy decided to take up the trade of welding. A master craftsman, my Uncle Guy could build anything he set his mind to! He left for the U.S. in the latter part of the 1930’s and worked in Minnesota and Virginia before taking a job with Westinghouse Electric in Pennsylvania. He worked with Westinghouse for nearly forty years before retiring in 1980. After his retirement he moved to Harbeson, Delaware to be much nearer to the coast.
A warm, generous and quiet man with a wry, delightful sense of humour, Guy, like his brothers, loved the outdoors. A “farmer” at heart, his lush garden attested to his love of gardening. His green thumb produced tomatoes the size of softballs. He took great pleasure in creating and fixing “stuff”. He had every tool and gadget in his workshop you can imagine. Guy loved to go fishing. Many an early morning would find him tossing his rods and tackle in his “fishin’ jalopy’ heading for one of his favourite fishing spots!
I didn’t meet my uncle Guy until I lived in North Carolina. But I am so glad I did! I just loved him to bits… he reminded me of my Dad who died a few short years after I returned from Germany. It was amazing to me just how similar they were in so many ways… from the expressions they used to the way they threw their heads when they laughed.
One of my fondest memories of my uncle was a visit, with my aunt, to North Carolina for Christmas. As a special treat, I made him one of my famous B-52 cakes and told him the story about how it came to be named “B-52”.
One night, during the 60’s, my Dad had come to visit me while I was working for the summer in Labrador City, Newfoundland. We went out for a drink at the local bar to have a bite to eat and get caught up.
It didn’t take long before the conversation revolved around flying and talking airplanes (my father’s favourite subject). Somehow we got on the subject of B-52 bombers and laughed that there was even a “shooter” named a B-52.
Now, my Dad had a sweet tooth. He loved chocolate and dessert! I laughingly said that putting the liquor in a B-52 shooter into a cake would make one heck of a tasty dessert. Oh my daddy loved that idea as we talked about it and the Burnett B-52 cake recipe was born!
So how do you make a B-52 cake? It’s pretty easy. You make three layers… one chocolate, one orange and one vanilla. Once it is baked, you soak the chocolate layer with Kailua, the orange layer with Grand Marnier and the vanilla layer with Bailey’s Irish Cream. You let it sit for a day and then you put it all together with Whipped Cream. Totally sinful… yummy and delicious. When my Mom and Dad came for a visit while I was living in Germany, I made one for them. My Dad thought it was the best darn cake he had ever tasted.
Uncle Guy loved the story and could hardly wait to have a piece after dinner on Christmas Eve. His eyes rolled in delight as he bit into the first piece and he smacked his lips in true appreciation at the last bite.
Christmas morning arrived. I had prepared a wonderful Christmas morning breakfast (enough for an army) with all sorts of wonderful goodies… Christmas fruit bread, strawberry waffles with whipped cream, scones with Devonshire Crème to name just a few. I asked Uncle Guy what he would like for breakfast.
He looked at all the goodies on the table. “Honey that all looks so delicious,” he began. “But you know what I want most? More of that B-52 cake!”
My aunt rolled her eyes in amusement. My husband laughed and said “Told ya so!” and I served him cake!
He talked about that cake for years after.
Unfortunately he was diagnosed with bone cancer in 1998.On our last visit to see him just before he died, I sat down next to his bed for a chat with him. He tired easily and it was an effort for him to have a conversation.
We talked for a few moments and then he took my hand and said: “Honey, I was so touched when you made that B-52 cake for me. I felt so special that you would do that for me. When we (meaning his siblings) were growing up, we missed out on a lot of things. We didn’t have a mom who baked us birthday cakes or made us something special for Christmas. Baking that cake just for me made me feel really special. It was one of the kindest and most thoughtful gifts I have ever received. I love you sweetie.” Needless to say, it was a very touching moment for me and a lovely memory of my uncle's last words to me.
A few weeks ago, hubby and I had seats at a week long curling tournament. Sitting in front of us was a man who reminded me of my uncle. Even hubby noticed it.
Over the next couple of days we got to know him. He and his wife were visiting in Victoria from Prince Edward Island to cheer on their team during the tournament.
Having a conversation with him was downright déjà vu! He looked, dressed, talked and had the same mannerisms as my uncle Guy. It was a fun couple of days chatting back and forth with this lovely couple. My aunt Flo would have loved hearing that story! She missed her brothers so much after they all died.
Guy and his wife Lucille had three children, Carole, Linda and Darlene.
Florence Commela Burnett (Clendinneng, Fries) 1921 - 2008
Bright, attractive and personable, Florence worked for Northern Electric, first in Saint John, N.B. and later in Moncton, N.B. and Montreal, Quebec. In 1949, Florence married Stephen Henry Clendinneng, ten years her senior. They had two children, Debbie and Joni. In the 50’s they moved to Montreal, Quebec. Their two girls were still quite young when tragedy struck. Steve was diagnosed with a brain tumour and for much of their marriage was in a coma and on life support. Steve died in 1970.
Florence re-married and moved to the U.S.. She and her husband Jan lived in Walnut, Creek, California for over 30 years. After Jan’s unexpected death a few years ago, Florence decided to remain in Walnut Creek. All her friends were there, she was now in her 80’s and it was warmer there in the winter than eastern Canada where her girls now live!
“The thought of snow and those cold eastern winters just makes me cringe!” she said. “I’m staying put right here. So there!” Being fond of the warmer winter weather on the Pacific west coast, she wasn’t about to get any argument from me. I understood completely.
James Henry Burnett 1922 – 1990
Spike and Jim, both fond of the outdoors, often hired on as “fishing and hunting guides” at their Uncle Charlie’s fishing resort in Spring Lake before and after the war.
Jim, like his two elder brothers, joined the RCAF during world war two and served as an air gunner in Europe.
When he returned to Fort Frances after the war, he lived with his brother Spike and his wife Erma and began building towards what was to become a highly successful masonry business. He married his first wife, Olive and had two children, Jay and Kathy.
I was quite little when my uncle Jim married but I remember it to this day. I trailed around behind my uncle like a puppy dog when I was small. Wherever he went, I was right behind him. I adored him. He probably secretly thought I was a little pest (although he vehemently denied it when I was older and asked him!)
I was very upset the day he got married at my parent’s home. I clearly remember them leaving the house after their wedding. I was so upset. How could he possibly leave me for THAT woman! How dare she take my uncle away from me! According to my mother, I cried myself to sleep that night. Once I got to know my new aunt though, I liked her. Eventually I forgave her. LOL
When Jim retired in 1982, he passed his business on to his son Jay. Blessed with the Burnett charm, Jim was a well liked, community minded man who loved sports. Fond of golf, fishing, houseboating and curling, he died suddenly in 1990… a few hours after competing in a curling match.
Ina Bertha Burnett (Williams, Britton)
Ina adored “adventures”. One of Flo’s delightful memories of their adventures together occurred when they were still teenagers.
“Now you girls be home on time tonight”, said Aunt Belle as Ina and Flo left for “town’. Ina just laughed. She had no intention of coming home so early. Off they went for an evening “adventure” in town. It was after midnight when they arrived home. The door was locked! After a few minutes of wondering what to do, they went to the back of the house. Hiking up their dresses, they took off their high heels and climbed through the wood shed window into the kitchen. Stifling giggles, they crept up the stairs, past Aunt Belle’s bedroom. Her door was cracked open… just enough to see them when they came in! When they peeked through the opening, there was Aunt Belle sound asleep in her chair! When asked the next morning when they got home, Ina told a big fib. Aunt Belle… well she never did figure out how they got in the house that night.
Ina married Reginald Harry Williams in 1947 and had three children, Laurie, Greg and Ritchie. She and Reg eventually divorced and Ina remarried Douglas Britton in 1962.
Ina was naturally artistic and creative all of her life. She was a born interior decorator and loved to cook and sew. Many a day would find her huddled over her sewing machine creating some of her latest clothing designs.
Ina died prematurely and unexpectedly in April 1981, I remember it well… I was visiting with my Aunt Flo in Walnut Creek when the call came. Flo was just devastated by the loss of her sister. Much later, she would remark just how grateful she was that I was there at the time. The Universe, in its imminent wisdom, had ensured that she had “family” by her side to soothe and comfort her in her loss.
Next week, will mark the last story in this series. Be sure to drop by and hear the "rest of the story" as I travel to Walnut Creek to deliver my aunt's copy of our "hot off the press" family book.
Have a wonderful week…