Focus on veterans

March 7, 2016 by Sharon Adams
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Veteran Charlie Walker kept mementos of his time with the Royal Air Force Bomber Command during the Second World War, including photos of his younger self (when he smoked a pipe).
LUDMILLA SCHNAIDER

Bomb aimer Charlie Walker
and dozens of other veterans
are the subject of one photographer’s labour of love

Photography by
Ludmila Schnaider

 

 

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A photograph of Charlie Walker smoking his pipe during his time with the Royal Air Force Bomber Command in the Second World War.
LUDMILLA SCHNAIDER


RCAF Flying Officer
Charles W. Walker flew 34 missions with Britain’s Royal Air Force Bomber Command during the Second World War—28 missions as a bomb aimer, four food drops and two trips bringing ex-prisoners of war back home to Canada. He signed up at 18, trained and went overseas at 20, in 1944.

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Charlie Walker in the leather flying helmet he wore on bombing missions.
LUDMILLA SCHNAIDER

“At that age, it was a great experience,” he says. “Fortunately we were not injured. We had some flak damage, but nothing serious enough to bring us down.”

After the war, he trained to be an accountant, married his high school chum, Betty, took advantage of the Veterans Land Act to establish their first home, and raised two daughters. Betty is gone now, the kids, grandkids and great-grandkids live some distance away and most of his wartime buddies have passed on. But Walker’s memories live on, spurred by the memorabilia scattered about his home near Roseneath, Ont., 140 kilometres east of Toronto.

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Bomb aimer: Walker displays a 25-pound practice bomb he picked up at No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School in RCAF Station Jarvis near Jarvis, Ont.
LUDMILLA SCHNAIDER

“My story is very dear to me,” says Walker. “I will never forget how a plane just like ours was blown up just before my eyes. We must remember this nightmare and prevent its reoccurrence.”

Walker is one of five dozen—and counting—veterans captured in portraits by Toronto art photographer Ludmila Schnaider for her project “My Dear Veterans,” a story of Second World War veterans in Canada, including some who fought and served for other countries.

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The leather flying helmet he wore on bombing missions . After the war, Walker painted on his flying helmet the names of the cities targeted by the raids on which he served as a bomb aimer.
LUDMILLA SCHNAIDER

They don’t have a future;
they have a past.
And their past is so
important.

 

“They all have a story,” says Schnaider. “I go to their homes for an interview with equipment, cameras, lights, umbrellas, and I talk to them, sometimes for more than five hours.” She refers to their collections of wartime memorabilia as home museums. “They keep all this equipment—it’s very important to them. They keep boots from World War Two; they have gloves they have kept for 70 years. They don’t have a future; they have a past. And their past is so important.”

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Flight crew : A young Walker straddles the .303 Brownings on the turret over the bomb-aimer’s position in an Avro Lancaster as crew members in the canopies mug for the camera.
LUDMILLA SCHNAIDER

But younger Canadians are unfamiliar with that past, says Schnaider. A 101-year-old veteran brought out his war medals during one hospital visit, and young nurses flocked around him to have their pictures taken. “He was just an old man minutes ago,” says Schnaider. “People don’t know their history. This is very much a pity.”

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Booking flights: A flight logbook brings back memories of Walker’s 34 missions for Bomber Command during the Second World War.
LUDMILLA SCHNAIDER

Schnaider was struck not only by Canadian veterans’ heroism, but also their altruism. “Veterans from the Soviet Union and Europe went because they had to go,” she says. “Canadians went because they wanted to. This is very important. They said to me ʻhow could we not go?’ I was shocked. You didn’t have to go, but you went.”

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Charlie Walker’s gloves and a miniature camera he took on bombing raids of Germany, and the helmet he wore during German air raids on England.
LUDMILLA SCHNAIDER

Shown side by side, Schnaider’s collection of portraits and stories reveals a dignified generation, but also captures the depth of their emotions—their pride, their grief, their fire. “I need to touch the soul, touch the heart, of the people who look at the pictures,” she says.

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Bomber prop: The undercarriage of a Vickers Wellington bomber returning from a training exercise collapsed and when the propeller hit the ground, it broke into pieces, one of which was destined for Walker’s collection of memorabilia.
LUDMILLA SCHNAIDER

Schnaider intends to continue collecting veterans’ portraits and stories and exhibiting them here and internationally, at least until Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017, depending on funding and availability of veterans willing to talk about their past. “I don’t have any date to stop,” she says.

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