Guelph-born war hero Charley Fox died in car crash last month

 A memorial service was held Sunday in Ottawa in honour of Charley Fox, the Honorary Colonel (HCol) for 412 (Transport) Squadron.

The Cana­dian Second World War Spitf­ire pilot and hero Fox spent a lifetime instilling in young people the lessons he learned in battle.

Fox, 88, was a World War II Spitfire pilot. He was killed in a car crash in Oxford County, on Oct. 18, shortly after attending a Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association meeting near Tillsonburg.

The Guelph born Fox was in the process of telling his story and those of other vet­erans in a book titled Why Not Me?, which his family hopes to finish.

Fox’s daughter, Sue Beck­ett, spoke at length and said she was sure her father was looking down apprecia­tively and would simply say “Wow.” She added that he would say that everyone of us had now “been thrown the torch to spread his work of remembrance and under­stand­ing.”

The ceremony, held at the Transport Canada hangar locat­ed at the Ottawa Airport where 412 (Transport) Squad­ron is based, and it honoured the significant contributions of this iconic man and passionate promoter of Canadian military history.

“Charley was an extra­ordi­nary Honorary Colonel for us at 412 (Transport) Squadron – not just because he was a legendary hero who flew Spit­fires with the 412 ‘Falcons’ in the war, but because he genuin­ely loved every one of us and our families and went to such great lengths to get to know us personally,” said Squadron Com­manding Officer Lieuten­ant-Colonel Eric Volstad.

HCol Fox was a D-Day veteran and double recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross,

Fox had a colourful career during the war. He was credited with injuring German comman­der Field Marshal Erwin Rom­mel, known as the Desert Fox, during a 1944 strafing run over France that July.

Fox also fought in the battle immortalized by Sir Richard Attenborough’s film A Bridge Too Far.

He was an active pilot in World War II. He attacked enemy locomotives and enemy vehicles 153 times during the war, which led to the Dis­tinguished Flying Cross honour and the nickname of Train Buster.

He flew into danger so often that 14 of his planes were no longer usable after being hit by enemy fire. He once bailed out of his Harvard plane after colliding with a Hurricane fighter plane over Bagotville, in Quebec. A fiery ball of lightning once hit the wing of his plane, then rolled across the canopy of his cockpit and bounced off the other wing.

After his narrow escapes and seeing many of his com­panions killed, Fox was deter­mined to make sure young people understood and remem­bered their sacrifice.

He lived most of his life in London, and spent a great deal of time on veterans’ affairs and he also worked hard to raise money to support the Torch Bearers program that kept young people aware of his companions’ sacrifices.

His activities put 70,000 kilometres on his vehicle each year.

Fox travelled to Ottawa at least once a month for veterans’ business and there was talk of taking him to the 2009 Grey Cup festivities in honour of the 100th anniversary of the first controlled power flight in Can­ada and the British Empire.

He also planned to travel with students overseas on mem­orial pilgrimages next year.

Radio commentators in the London area noted upon learning of his death that Fox was one of the few veterans who was willing to talk about what he had seen and done during the war. Many others simply wanted to forget it. He wanted to ensure other genera­tions remembered the sacrifices and also the horrors of such conflicts.

Fox travelled to Normandy in 2004 for D-Day anniversary events.

Family members said Fox spent his life wondering why he survived numerous dates with death and others did not, and he searched for a way to make sense out of what happened and to find a way to contribute through the life he felt was saved, and to honour his fallen comrades.

One friend noted Fox had just come from the Harvard Society when the accident hap­pened, and that the crash scene was directly on the Harvard flight path.

Fox had a number of post war accomplishments that dealt with veterans.

He pushed for recognition for Polish veterans, who work­ed closely with First Canadian Army personnel. He set up the twinning of Polish and Cana­dian towns.

He educated people about The Great Escape, a mass es­cape attempt from prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft III, located near the Polish town of Zagan. Fox knew one of the men killed during that Great Escape at­tempt. That story, of course, was immortalized in a movie that is considered one of the best war movies ever made.

Fox also regularly took on speaking engagements to keep veterans’ stories alive, and he fought with school boards. For many years, war was consid­ered politically incorrect to teach to Canadian students, who knew nothing about it. Fox was determined to ensure Rem­embrance Day ceremonies are held annually, and students should know all of their history.