Monday, June 28, 2010

Pilots dedicate aircraft to Island veteran

Pilots dedicate aircraft to Island veteran
Cliff Stewart gets a look at restored plane that took him behind the lines
Reprinted from: The Journal Pioneer
by Mike Carson

It’s a life that movies are made of. Flying into enemy territory under cover of darkness, leaping from a plane to the ground, setting up radio communications and then grabbing on to a strut of a moving plane to be carried to safety.
Ninety-year-old Charlottetown resident Cliff Stewart, one of Canada’s spies during the Second World War, was honoured over the weekend during the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) Fly-in event at the Summerside airport. More than 100 aircraft took part in the event.
“Part of what’s happening today is Vintage Wings of Canada of Gatineau, Quebec, they restore antique aircraft,” said Barry Martin co-chair of the event. “One of the ones they have restored in the last few years is a Lysander. It was a Lysander that flew during World War Two. One job for it was a spy taxi. It would take spies into occupied France at night, land in a field, a farmer’s field some place. The plane would slow down, but not land. A guy would either jump out of the plane if he’s going there or run out to the wheel pads, grab hold of the strut and take off again. Once he was airborne he would climb into the plane and fly back to England.”
This was the life of Stewart.
He was fully trained in all aspects of his work by staff at Camp X, east of Toronto, including parachuting.
Much of his work was carried out at Camp X and remains confidential to this day.
Stewart was a participant in the war planning conferences held between Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt.
The Lysander that was dedicated to Stewart was the same type of aircraft used to bring Stewart and his compatriots into areas during the war to set up radio sites and get them home safely.
Martin said Vintage Wings restores a plane and dedicates it to an individual.
“They found out about Cliff down here and they wanted to dedicate the plane to Cliff,” Martin said. “It flew last Friday for the first time in 64 years.”
Stewart is unable to detail any of his war activities because of an oath of secrecy he had to sign with the British that all of his activities would remain secret for life.
He did say he was involved in missions in Europe five or six times and fortunately “they dropped me off so I didn’t have to jump (parachute).”
“Needless to say, you’ll never find me skydiving for fun,” the 90-year-old veteran said. “I really didn’t like it.”
It was different time he said. He recalled sitting on the gas tank in the back of the Lysander next to a box of explosives being bounced around, but the thought of anything happening wasn’t on their minds.
He said with all of this the crew didn’t consider this dangerous.
“Everybody was smoking.”
When asked if he was smoking one of his famous cigars, Stewart replied. “I smoked whatever I could get my hands on.”
He said sometimes it would take more than one trip to get a communications system set up. He said on one pass they would drop the equipment and then have to come back to set it all up.
“After that, we worried about getting out,” he said.

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