Pilot William Kyle honoured at museum

Mayor John Gemmell
Hall of Remembrance Curator and Perth Deputy Mayor John Gemmell is shown in front the museum display, holding a model of the Dakota aircraft similar to the one piloted by Flying Officer William Kyle. Photo credit: Terry O’Hearn
Posted on: October 25, 2018

Terry O’Hearn

One of the most prominent exhibits at the Perth Legion Hall of Remembrance Museum commemorates Perth’s Flying Officer William Kyle and five other crewmen, who went missing during World War II over the jungle of what was then known as Burma, and is now Myanmar.

They were delivering supplies to allied troops in the northwestern part of the country, when the Dakota aircraft disappeared on June 21, 1945. Although the men were all presumed dead, nothing more was known about their disappearance until one fateful day in 1995.

For many of Canada’s warriors declared missing in action, the story would have ended with the initial report. However in 1995, a hunter walking through the jungle in what is now Myanmar, discovered parts of a man’s inscribed watch. Then in November of that year, Burmese Government officials reported finding wreckage from a Dakota in the general area where the Royal Canadian Air Force plane had been reported missing.

The watch was soon identified as belonging to Kyle, a farewell gift lovingly inscribed with his name by his parents. Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) organized teams consisting of both VAC and National Defence personnel to conduct a mission which would ultimately result in the recovery of the remains of the crew of the Dakota aircraft with the marking KN 563.

Experts concluded that the doomed Dakota had been flying in Monsoon weather, and had hit deadly “wind shear”, a force which can literally rip the wings from an aircraft. It had departed from Tulihal, India, on June 21, 1945, to drop supplies to the British 14th Army at Myitkyina, and would have dropped like a stone into the jungle below.

The Dakota was originally manufactured by Douglas Aircraft Company as the DC-3, and the military version became the C-47. The reality television documentary series “Ice Pilots NWT” about Buffalo Airways, an airline based in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, featured the DC-3, which is still used in some parts of the Canadian North.

A discussion on the militarian.com History Forum quotes from a VAC a statement at the time of the recovery mission in 1996: “Ottawa – On November 26-27 (1996), officials of the Government of the Union of Myanmar (Burma) reported that wreckage of an aircraft, marked KN 563, had been found in the jungle of northwestern Myanmar. As early as this weekend, Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) expects to lead a team comprised of VAC and National Defence personnel on a reconnaissance/recovery mission to the site in an effort to find the remains of the crew of KN 563, an RCAF plane that was declared missing over Burma on June 21, 1945.”

Once the wreckage was determined to be the missing Canadian plane, the primary mission was to recover the remains of its six crew members. Historians date the actual recovery as Dec. 1, 1996, but further details are not available.

Legion Magazine published an essay titled “Portraits of a Farewell”, by Jennifer Morse, which paints a poignant picture of the interment ceremony: “Almost 52 years later–on March 5, 1997–the remains of the six airmen were buried together in a teak casket in the Taukkyan War Cemetery on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar (formerly Rangoon, Burma). The funeral service was the final farewell to Rogers, Pilot Officer William Kyle of Perth, Ont., Flight Sergeant Charles McLaren of Campbellville, Ont., Flying Officer David Cameron of Oshawa, Ont., WO Stanley Cox of Beresford, Man., and Leading Aircraftman Cornelius Kopp of Duchess, Alta.

“Organized by Veterans Affairs Canada, the burial delegation was led by Secretary of State for Veterans Lawrence MacAulay. It included 26 next of kin and 23 veterans from the wartime 435 and 436 Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons.”

Further discussion about the recovery mission is found online at the website of “Community Memories, Boundary Museum Society, Grand Forks, British Columbia.” Here veteran Albert Talarico shares some of his wartime memories with a grade 11 Social Studies class in 2004: “The crash site was a ravine with a steep slope, and the plane had broken up into hundreds of pieces scattered over an area of about 30 square metres. … The team recovered much wreckage, none of it more than a half metres across, some human remains for burial and the plane’s propeller, identification number and roundel from the fuselage, … Because of the efforts of the recovery team, a group of Canadians gathered on March 5 of this year (1997) in Taukkyan War Cemetery, Taukkyan, Yangon, Burma, Plot: 14. F. 16, (35 kilometres out of Ragoon) to put these six young heroes to rest. … The service was very moving. … It was conducted in full military honour. … From the veterans marching in procession to the grave side, to the careful placing of Canadian soil on the casket, to the bugler sounding the haunting notes of the Last Post to the piper playing the Flowers of the Forest, from the moment … posthumous medals and a neatly folded flag were handed to representatives of each family, …”

William Kyle’s name is inscribed on a gravestone in St. John’s Parish Cemetery here in Perth: “F.O. William J. Kyle 1923-1945, Lost over Burma, Buried Rangoon 1997″. He is also commemorated along with other WW II veterans on a memorial at St. John Elementary School.

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