The Return of the Canadian Airmen, by Sam Gimes
In world war two York played host to Canadian airmen. Some died in the sky, some returned home and some of their spirits came back to York to take up residence in Rowntree Park. But not as they had been the first time they saw York as young airmen fighting a world war but as geese Canadian geese to be precise.
Finally, they discover how it feels to fly without mechanical aid. To soar, swoop and dive through the air for as long as they like to sweep, to carve the sky, to climb the paper white clouds. There is no enemy now, no one tries to shoot them down as they fly. They still gather and take off in formation, the commanding officer gives the call, now a very hoarse “aa-honk” sound and off they go.
They remember the old days, the empire answering the call to fight Britain’s enemies. Scratching their names on the mirror in the local tea rooms and fighting in the skies over Europe. The old days, some never came back their spirits arrived sooner to this new existence. Now they are reunited and doing what they do best. Old friends and allies now flyboys forever.
The airmen are still fed by the locals; bread is thrown by the young despite what is asked by the parks authorities. Their uniforms have changed, their wings made real. Now they are uniformed with a black head and neck, a white patch on their cheeks and chin, dark brown upper plumage with a paler underside all topped off with a white patch below their tails. They seem to like it and it makes them as recognisable as their old blue uniforms. No swagger sticks but they still have a definable swagger about them. The wings once on their chests are now flapping either side of their metre long bodies. Throwing them into flight.
The morning sun illuminates the park clearer than any search light. The airmen awake, the day is now theirs. “Aa-honk!” sounds the commanding officer, and off they go. Wings flap and the airmen take off formation flying, deep wing beats, and white tail bands visible. They circle their new territory, checking in with other commands and watching for threats and for food. The threats are simpler and the food is very different to the old fare.
They follow their officer down onto a body of water. Grounded for the moment they float and feed on what they can find. Some take to the shore for rest, putting their heads under their wings. They dream of their existences in the warm sun, of metal birds and dangerous skies. They fought for many reasons; freedom, peace, duty and honour. Against tyrants and madmen to stop inhuman acts and protect what they love, is it country, family or way of life they fought for? They probably told someone at the time but now they communicate in a different manner and we cannot understand them.
Whatever their reasons they fought and now their lives are peaceful and calm. Save for when something charges them, human or animal and they take to the sky to escape. Their memories make them slightly skittish. But who could blame them? After what they went through they know how to wheel and dodge even if there is a conspicuous lack of bandits engaging them.
This is where their memories are, not only as a part of them but in the city they are now so attached to. This park is their new squadron base. They run new styled drills and their bombing runs tend to take them over the car park. They´ve adapted to their new flying style and enjoy it immensely. Their bunks are now made of plant materials at the water’s edge. But are as comfortable as the old ones they had during the old days. They awake and take to the sky; formation is immaculate with the officer on point.
The day carries on and there is little more action. A dog let off its leash startles them and they scramble with little elegance. Once the night falls, they take to their bunks for the night and sleep. No night time raids, no air raid sirens pulling them up, no enemy attempting to take them by surprise. These nights are peaceful and serene, their war is over and their spirits are at peace in the park and their new forms.
A new day arrives. A morning flight to wake them up is followed by landing in a new territory in the park. They spread out to secure the area. Today is a weekend and so they know that they will receive food from young humans. They settle in and wait. Sure enough a group approaches four humans two big and two small. The bigger humans are old enough to remember the war. The smaller are clearly the grandchildren, bread is thrown and the airmen eat heartily.
The afternoon brings a patrol flight around the park to stretch their wings. Off they fly, the wind smoothes their feathers, their cry sounding out, their past lives a forgotten dream as they do what they always have. Fly not against an enemy or to cause destruction but just to fly, to soar, to sweep through the bright air with no fear of attack and for simple honest joy.
As the sky hurtles past the airmen´s national anthem rings in their ears. They all knew it off by heart, and still do.
“Oh Canada, our home and native land.”
They return to their native land in cycles with staying in this new home.
“True majesty in all thy sons command.”
The airmen are majestic as they soar, past and problems long forgotten. They are still sons of Canada sons even in this form.
“With glowing hearts we see thee rise.”
The airmen´s hearts glow as they rise from the park the ground shrinking beneath them.
“The true north, strong and free.”
The airmen are truly free now.
Copyright the author and first published by Friends of Rowntree Park 2015.