14th January 2016. Clearwater and Winter Haven, Florida. Two proceedings, one on the evening of 11 January 2016 at The Royal Canadian Legion Post 144‘s annual Remembrance meeting in Clearwater, Florida, and a plaque acceptance ceremony held at Winter Haven Municipal Airport (KGIF) the following morning, were held to honor Florida’s Second World War Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and Royal Air Force (RAF) volunteers. One primary sponsor of the events was Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada), a Nanton, Alberta-based organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of Handley Page Halifax heavy bombers.
John Stemple, a pilot and military aviation historian, consented to relate the surreal circumstances surrounding the ceremonies. “Upon chatting with those in attendance afterward and once facts unknown at the time came to light, I could not but feel that something out of the ordinary had occurred,” he said.
Continuing, Mr. Stemple elaborated: “Two very timely acquisitions took place only days before the Clearwater and Winter Haven affairs.” It seems that, within 2 weeks of 11 January, John realized that since the forthcoming ceremonies were memorial in nature a religious angle would be appropriate. Thus, he began to search for appropriate items in earnest, all the while being aware of the fact that time constraints put this idea in jeopardy. “Amongst the deceased Floridians were men of the Jewish and Christian faiths. I desired something from both religious traditions,” stated John.
“I quite surprisingly and promptly located and purchased a few copies of the 1940 Prayer Book For Jewish Members of His Majesty’s Forces, a pocket-size publication that had been approved by the Chief Rabbi of England and issued by H.M. Stationery Office,” related John. “The seller of the first volume to arrive was appropriately, and ironically, I thought, located within Florida,” he stated. “The prayer book had belonged to a British member of the armed forces who listed a London address as his residence,” he noted.
Mr. Stemple continued, “To my pleasure and relief I also almost immediately located a Second World War RCAF New Testament that contained an introductory message from King George VI.” Notably, John added, “The online auction listing referred to it as a ‘Pocket Bible’ and included an image of the inscription contained within the tiny book. Inside a mother had handwritten an inspirational note to her son, RCAF Pilot Officer [P/O] George Kenneth Renaud, in July 1943.
Ironically, Mr. Stemple had just secured a period RCAF recruiting poster for display that featured a proud mother congratulating her RCAF son for serving.
Then, being overwhelmed with preparations for the approaching events, John Stemple created two small displays featuring the books and put the New Testament and P/O G.K. Renaud in the back of his mind and attended to many pressing issues.
On 11 January Mr. Stemple placed the two books in pockets of his sport coat, which he wore at both ceremonies. The names of the Floridians who were killed during their RCAF and RAF service were read aloud by Karl Kjarsgaard, a representative of Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) and Bomber Command Museum of Canada.
Shortly beforehand, noted performing artist James Blondeau of Dunrobincastle.com, who journeyed from Ottawa, performed several of his moving songs. “Blondeau’s lyrics and melodies certainly enhanced the atmosphere,” said John.
As the names of those Floridians killed during service were announced more than one attendee felt that the Floridians were somehow present and satisfied. A number reported chills and or goose bumps upon hearing the annunciated surnames and given names.
What transpired about two weeks after the events would persuade John Stemple and others associated with the memorial ceremonies to reflect even more deeply about the initiatives. He decided to research G.K. Renaud and was dumbfounded by what he discovered.
Upon thoroughly searching Canadian war records Mr. Stemple found data on G.K. Renaud. George Kenneth Renaud, was, in fact, the son of Harry and Ann Renaud and husband of Florence Mabel Renaud. He hailed from Edmonton, Alberta.
In 1939 the National Socialist Party (Nazi) under the leadership of Adolph Hitler of Germany was threatening to conquer much of Europe. England and her Commonwealth were all that stood in practical opposition to the encroachment of Nazi terror and tyranny.
Dave Birrell records on page 61 of Big Joe McCarthy: The RCAF’s American Dambuster that “[a]lthough hundreds of Canadians were serving with Bomber Command in the Royal Air Force at the outbreak of the war, the Canadian involvement was one that grew as the war progressed.”
Birrell continues, “Through the training of large numbers of aircrew in Canada by the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, the number of Canadians serving in all aspects of the air war increased dramatically. . . .” In fact, Mr. Birrell writes, “One third of all Bomber Command aircrew were Canadians.” George Kenneth Renaud was one of these men. He joined the RCAF and trained to become a navigator.
A few years later Ann, his mother, inscribed the RCAF New Testament. She proudly and lovingly wrote the following insightful thoughts inside the rear cover of the RCAF New Testament: “To my son Kenneth. From Mother. July 6 – 1943. Lord lead you to the task that lies ahead of you, to the labour of reuniting the nations of the earth, to the peace founded not on force but on the respect of free men. Amen.”
Mr. Kjarsgaard noted during his PowerPoint presentation that many “RCAF airmen, including American RCAF volunteers, crewed Halifaxes during the early years of World War II.”
After graduating George Kenneth Renaud received a posting to No. 415 Squadron, RCAF.
On 12 July 1944, 415 Squadron was officially transferred from 16 Group Coastal Command to 6 Group Bomber Command and based at East Moor, Yorkshire. The Swordfish Squadron (No. 415) re-equipped with the Handley Page Halifax Mk. III heavy bomber.
Canadians duly undertook flying Halifaxes. Renaud and the crew he flew with were assigned aircraft serial LW595, which was identified by the letters 6U-Q on the sides of the mammoth British-built flying machine.
Dave Birrell notes (page 33) that Bomber Command suffered grievous losses throughout the war” and Halifax crews were initially heavily impacted. Between March 1943 and February 1944 alone, writes (page 33) Birrell, “the average loss each night exceeded six percent of the bombers sent to the target. A tour of thirty operations was required and at this loss rate, the chances of surviving a tour was a mere sixteen percent.”
The Bomber Command War Diaries An Operational Reference Book: 1939-1945‘s entry states (page 552) that on this fateful night of 28/29 July 1944 Bomber Command, and therefore Renaud (now a Flying Officer [F/O]) and his mates were tasked with missions to Hamburg, Germany. A total of 307 aircraft (187 Halifaxes, 106 Avro Lancasters and 14 de Havilland Mosquitoes) from 1, 6 and 8 Groups comprised the attacking force. It was the first heavy raid on the city in a year and 415 Squadron’s initial combat utilization of their new Halifaxes.
Defending Luftwaffe night fighters intercepted the intrepid raiders when most were homeward bound. The casualty rate amongst the Halifaxes was 9.6%, and LW595 was one of the 18 Halifaxes shot down. F/O Renaud’s mortally wounded Halifax crashed near Stotel at or around 2229 hours (10:29 p.m.) on 28 July. Eventually his remains were interred in Germany at Sage War Cemetery, which is located 24 kilometers south of Oldenburg.
George Kenneth Renaud had given his life in the defense of freedom and Democracy. At the time of his death he was 27 years of age. He perished within a Halifax bomber, and the large RCAF Crest affixed to the marble plaque was forged from the recovered aluminum of a downed Halifax recovered in Belgium. The aircrew of the raised bomber died in the midst of a nocturnal operation.
“Thus, Bomber Command Museum of Canada members believe the Crest essentially has blood on it,” said John Stemple. “And as a result of the Nanton Lancaster Society/Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada)/Bomber Command Museum of Canada project Flight Officer Renaud, a Halifax crewman, was acknowledged,” noted Mr. Stemple.
John Stemple made the following comment: “I do not yet know if Kenneth was particularly religious. If so, the lure of flight expressed by the psalmist (Psalm 55.6: And I said: Oh that I had wings like a dove! then would I fly away, and be at rest. וָאֹמַר–מִי-יִתֶּן-לִי אֵבֶר, כַּיּוֹנָה: אָעוּפָה וְאֶשְׁכֹּנָה) may have been an influential factor. Alternatively, his primary motivation for serving in the RCAF may have been the defense of the Mother Country,” explained John. “Whatever George Kenneth Renaud’s reasoning(s) for enlisting were, I salute and thank him,” he added.
“His parents and widow must have been devastated upon learning of his loss. In the future I hope to learn more about Mr. Renaud. I wish they could know that F/O Renaud’s life and sacrifice continues to positively impact us 72 years after his death,” John said.
It has oft been said that people of faith tend to believe that what skeptics consider to be a series of mere coincidences are sometimes actually supernatural occurrences. Some would say that the securing of this particular RCAF New Testament just after obtaining a very appropriate recruiting poster and in the immediate run-up to ceremonies honoring men, some of whom were killed in Halifaxes, was beyond coincidence and rational explanation. John Stemple stated, “RCAF New Testaments from World War 2 are fairly rare in general, and to find one with such a fitting and applicable notation is simply, I think, extraordinary.”
Mr. Stemple’s final comment was, “This installment is likely not the end of the saga. I suspect there is more to be learned.”
The author (Susan Gale) thanks John Stemple for his assistance and cooperation during the preparation of this article. She is also grateful for the photos and images furnished by 20th Century Aviation Magazine and Ian Darling.
Sources and Suggested Readings
Birrell, Dave. Big Joe McCarthy: The RCAF’s American Dambuster. Nanton: The Nanton Lancaster Society, 2012.
Middlebrook, Martin and Chris Everitt. The Bomber Command War Diaries. An Operational Reference Book: 1939-1945. Penguin Books: London, 1990.
The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. London: Collins Clear-Type Press. 1939.
No. 415 Squadron RCAF