Paying homage – Remembering

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Paying homage –Remembering

In a previous article entitled “ Day of recognition ” for André Gaudet, I made reference to a group of 20 individuals visiting our region and attending on August 10, 2019, the ceremony organized on behalf of the Governor General of Canada to salute André Gaudet contribution to a particular cause. He received on that day the “ Sovereign’s medal for the (bénévoles) “
Their presence deserves an explanation. Let me first mention that each member of the group has a family tie with one the 24 airmen who died following the crash of a Liberator B-24 bomber on the night of October 19 on Black Mountain in Saint-Donat. The cause of this tragic event has never been established. The remains of the plane were found two and a half years later in 1946. The pilot of that plane was Stephen Andrew Sanderson and he is the link between all those visitors.
The first three members of that Sanderson delegation are Peter, son of the pilot and Steve, his nephew accompanied by his wife, Nancy.
The other 17 visitors are linked to the pilot through his sister Mary Sanderson-Lemire, now deceased. Her sons Michael and Joe attended, plus her daughter Sandra accompanied by her husband John Van Ray. Five of Sandra’s children accompanied by their spouses were part of the group : Mark, Maribeth, Anne Marie, Marisa and Paul who was accompanied by his three teenagers. It is worth mentioning that Paul’s family made the trip from North Carolina (U.S.A.).
It is Anne Marie, aforementioned, who organized what became some sort of a pilgrimage. Initially, a school research project undertaken ten years ago by her son spurred a lot of interest for this sad event of October 1943. The wife’s pilot, who was still living at the time, and his son Peter were contacted. Furthermore, one of the nephews, Joe Lemire had already collected a lot of information related to the accidental death of his uncle. The school project became in some way a family undertaking at the time.
Who was Stephen Andrew Sanderson (1921-1943) ? He was an experienced pilot who had been instructor in Aylmer (Québec). In October of 1941, a fire … aboard his plane. He ordered his student-pilot to jump overboard with his parachute and managed to land in spite of the fire. He was awarded the Air Force Medal for that act of bravery. Subsequently he was stationed in Gander with the North Atlantic Squadron of Liberator bombers. He was part of the various operations of surveillance and accompaniment in the North Atlantic of the convoys sailing from Halifax to the United Kingdom. The planes used at the time were Liberator B-24 bombers. It was reported that Steve Sanderson took part in two attacks on German submarines on the very same day, September 23, 1943.
The Liberator B-24, (3701), known as “Harry”, which crashed on Black Mountain was not part of the fleet that was used against the German Ubooths. It was used for the training of new pilots and the transport of military personnel. On the night of October 19, 1943, there were 6 aircrew men and 18 other members of the Air Forces who were on a leave. Among them there five members of the crew of a Liberator B-24 which had sunk a German U-Booth (U-341) sometime before.
In 1946, some members of the Sanderson family attended the religious ceremony commemorating the tragic event of October 1943. Georges Anthony Sanderson, brother of the pilot, stood near the graves that were still on top of mountain at the time. His father, Georges and his sister Mary Sanderson-Lemire did not make it to the crash site but were present at the foot of the mountain.
In the fall of 2018, on the occasion of the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the event, the son of the Pilot, Peter and his nephew, Steve, were among us.
In 2019, it is Anne Marie, remembering her son’s school project completed some ten years prior, pushed forward the idea of visiting the actual location where her great uncle had perished. Having contacted the municipality of Saint-Donat she was referred to Steve Sanderson. Coincidentally, Steve was preparing a project on his own : the presentation of a medal to André Gaudet…
On the weekend of August 10, thirteen of the twenty visitors went on a hiking trip to the top of Black Mountain, at the site of the crash. They were accompanied by two dedicated members of the “ Guardians of the Liberator ”, namely Daniel Juteau and Jacques Deguire. While attending the ceremony recognizing André Gaudet’s contribution to this cause and also by being part of the banquet organized at the Saint-Donat Country Club, these members of the Sanderson payed a valiant homage to André and also to his father, Joseph, who was part of the land-team which located in 1946 what was left of the bomber and its passengers.
It is undeniable that the Sanderson family, the whole family, has a direct link with us all living in Saint-Donat. We all have a “devoir de mémoire”, that is we must all remember Steve Sanderson and his companions who died while serving their country. Allow me to quote Anne Marie, initiator of the trip : “When we stood behind Steve Sanderson’s cross (at the top of the mountain)… we all had tears in our eyes… We can’t even describe with words how it felt to make this connection which we know would have brought our grandma (Mary Sanderson) such peace”.

Jacques Cotnoir
Saint-Donat (Québec)
September 2019