June 2, 1936 – December 13, 2001
Scroll to the bottom of the page to see a gallery of images of Douglas.
I always knew that my grandfather was a good and brave man who fought and died in the war, but it wasn’t until I was much older that I realized what a very great man he really was. When the war broke out in 1941, Douglas Eastham was 31 years old. At that time he had established a career as an accountant in the Bank of Montreal and was married with one daughter, my mother. Although he was older and didn’t have to go to war, he felt that he must. His own father and only uncle had both fought and died in the First World War and were buried in Rouen and Gallipoli. His wife’s father had also fought in World War I. He felt it was his duty to go overseas and was chosen as one of 100 men across Canada who were to be trained as flying control officers. To my grandmother’s great relief, he promised her that he wouldn’t fly.
In 2001, I set about to transcribe my grandfather’s letters to his my grandmother between December 1941 until just before his death in February 1944. His letters are full of observations about life in England and what little he could share about the war. But most of what he wrote about was how much he missed her and my mother June. He reminisced about the simple pleasures: smoking his pipe after dinner while my grandmother knit, and taking his daughter to the park. In one of his sadder moments he wrote:
The only benefits I can see from this war will be to make me appreciate all the more the little things I took so much for granted. The look in your eyes when you looked at me, the sight of you walking down the street, the smoothness of your cheek and the firm softness of your hands. The sight of you washing the dishes, the sound of your voice on the telephone, your laugh and your smile and a thousand other things which I loved about you. While I appreciated them, I took them so much for granted and thought I would have them with me forever. Now I know you can’t do that but must live and appreciate every moment.
As the years wore on, my grandfather grew weary of watching men who were much younger than he go off on missions. In 1943 they were very short of Air Gunners. In spite of his age, 35, and his promise to my grandmother, he took a demotion in rank from Pilot Officer to become an Air Gunner.
Finally, after 25 missions, he wrote that he was to be sent home. The crew had been chosen for the “Pathfinders” and they were to receive their DFCs and be sent back to Canada.
Sadly, that was not to be. On the night of Feb. 24, 1944, My grandfather’s Lancaster bomber was hit by anti-aircraft fire near the French-German border after a mission over Germany. Three of the four crew got out and four didn’t. My grandfather went down with what was left of the airplane.
In 2004, we received an invitation to visit Bermering in France to attend the unveiling of a memorial that had been made from the fallen fusilage of the plane my grandfather. Prior to that time, I thought I knew a lot about my grandfather and I had honoured him by choosing his surname, Eastham for my son Colin’s middle name. I realized when we were in France that I may have known about my grandfather, but it wasn’t until then that I came to love my grandfather. This ceremony has helped me, my brother and my sons to really come to know an incredible man who willingly chose to give up his career and ultimately his life for his country. An intelligent, kind and decent man who enjoyed simple pleasures and who loved his wife and daughter more than anything in this world. A man who could not sit idly by and let others die.
I will be forever grateful to the people of Bermering for the events of that day and their special tribute. The have ensured that the memory of my grandfather will never die and that his sacrifice will continue to inspire others as it has me and my family.
Scroll down to see more pictures from our trip to Bermering as well as a complete transcription of the letters my grandfather wrote to my grandmother.
Click here to access Letters from the War: Doug Eastham to Margaret Britton Eastham December 1941 to February 1944.
“While I appreciated [my family], I took them so much for granted and thought I would have them with me forever.
Now I know you can’t do that but must live and appreciate every moment..”Douglas Eastham