Many of us remember the movie, “Saving Private Ryan.”
Well, Jean-Maurice Pigeon is playing out his own version and it’s called Looking For Pilot Porritt. Actually, he knows where Pilot Porritt is. It’s his relatives he’s looking for.
Flying Officer William Howard Porritt was 25 years old. He was also a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, #6 Bomber Group, headquartered at Harrogate near York in England. These two sentences might not sound like much, but #6 Bomber Group was Canada’s first break from Britain’s Royal Air Force, the first independent fighting air squadron, the first element of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Founded at Base Borden.
Canadian soldiers established the Canadian Army at Vimy in the first World War.
Canadian fighter pilots established the Royal Canadian Air Force with #6 Bomber Group in the second World War.
And Flying Officer William Howard Porritt, unmarried, born in Cookstown and raised in Barrie, was killed in a flight accident less than a month before the end of the war. He died on April 16, 1945, in a crash. He was one of the Boys of Barrie.
His war medals would have been sent home to his mother, Ethel Blanche Miller Porritt, along with his Victoria Cross, the silver cross that marked so many mothers and wives in war.
The City of Barrie named a street after William Howard Porritt and Brad Rudachyk wrote about Porritt in his book, Streetwise in Barrie.
William Howard Porritt’s name is engraved on the Cenotaph in downtown Barrie. After he graduated from Central Collegiate, he worked for the CNR Express. He loved to ski and skate. He played hockey for Trinity Anglican Church team. He enlisted in the army in 1941 and transferred to the RCAF that September. He took his flight training in North Bay, Belleville, Aylmer and Ottawa and earned his wings on August 28, 1942. He reported to an operational unit in Halifax and went overseas.
His body is buried in the commonwealth war graves section of Harrogate Stonefall Cemetery. In fact, of the 988 military burials from the second World War, 650 are Canadian airmen.
William Howard Porritt’s mother and father (Howard Porritt) are buried at Barrie Union Cemetery, a world away from their son. His brother, John Allan Porritt died in 1977, the husband of Phyllis Skelly, who died in 1975. Jean-Maurice can find no record of any children born to John and Phyllis Porritt.
The trail is cold.
This June, Jean-Maurice will be at Harrogate Cemetery and plans to lay a wreath at the grave of Flying Officer Porritt. But he would desperately like to have a photograph, find Porritt’s war medals, locate family of any kind… aunts, uncles, cousins.
“Most Canadian armed forces personnel, whether they served in the Air Force, Army or Navy, had a formal portrait taken before leaving for action,” says Jean-Maurice. “We can find no photograph of William Howard Porritt.”
“His war medals, his Victoria cross… someone would have dealt with these things, and his photograph after his mother’s death in 1950. People are usually careful with passing along family artifacts, but suppose there is no family?”
Jean-Maurice wonders about John Allan Porritt, the airman’s brother, who was also a World War II air force veteran and what his life circumstances were at the time of his death. Was he a resident of one of the town’s two long term care homes? Did he live in his own home? Who would have dealt with his earthly belongings when he died, since his wife predeceased him.
And why does this matter?
For Jean-Maurice, it matters very much. A full time employee of Transport Canada, he’s also a reservist, a part time member of the Royal Canadian Air Force. He’s the Heritage Officer for 16 Wing and is in charge of historical research, history and heritage for the RCAF 16 Wing.
It matters a great deal. Jean-Maurice has devoted hours of research in an attempt to find relatives of this very young pilot who died so early in his life.
“We’d like to publish his portrait, put a face to his name, and put his war medals on display!” he says, at the very least.
Thanks, Jean-Maurice, for caring so much. Here’s hoping you’ll locate Porritt, Miller or Skelly family members who can help. (firstname.lastname@example.org)