The Full Story - Background & ROTO 1

First ... our commercial


400 Squadron Honour Roll member, F/O Dewar Lang's , headstone before and after cleaning.

We have to pay for this project – nothing is free including some headstone cleaning, materials, some photography costs, and especially the shipping.

The overall project cost is about $3,500 for 70 photos or about $50 for each headstone photo for both 400 and 411 Squadrons.
Your donation of $50 will support the cost of one headstone photo.  Otherwise, your donation of $25 can be paired with someone else for a headstone photo.
Please assist in the remembrance of these 400 and 411 Squadron members.

This is an outreach project not only to our Honour Roll members but to others including S/L Fowlow (France) who is the only deceased CO of 411 Squadron not buried in Canada and W/C Kerby (Germany) who is the only deceased CO of 400 not buried in Canada - both are included in the brass poppy photo project.
A short-duration fundraiser will assist us in getting this project completed in time for 11 November. 
With the donations so far, we need 60 more of you good folks to come forward with your generous $50 donations. 
It will take eight of you just to return the poppies from London to Toronto.

You may make a donation by Credit Card or PayPal by clicking the Donate button below.

You may make a donation by Cheque by mailing it to:

Len Neath
1344 Merrybrook Lane 
Oakville ON L6M 1T7
Cheques are payable to 400 Squadron Historical Society

This section is a work in progress.  We still have some photographs to add and, once fully edited, there may be some changes to the text, albeit nothing that will change the meaning of this article.

We will also be producing slide show videos of all headstones visited and touched by the Brass Poppys.  These will be done for each Roto (see write up below).

Thanks for your patience and understanding.



Based on the TV documentaries by the noted Canadian military historian Norm Christie, on the First and Second World War cemeteries in Europe, it was noted that although these cemeteries were kept in pristine condition there were few if any visitors.  It was considered that the brass poppies, if sent to each individual 400 and 411 Squadron casualty headstone site and photographed, would effectively reach out to all of the Honour Roll members at all sites and somehow form a virtual connection.
Although initially considered for 400 Squadron, it was instantly decided that the project would include the Honour Roll members of our military family of 411 Squadron and that this concept would also included all post-war sites of both squadrons in Canada.
The 400 and 411 Squadron history books respectively contained listings of Honour Roll members including MIAs, aircraft types, and dates.  The Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum book, “They Shall Not Grow Old” provided more information including cemetery locations.  More on-line searching provided headstone locations and even some photos.

Finding contacts and photogs at the distant cemeteries was time consuming and tricky.  The project is unusual and many were skeptical, at least at first.  It took multiple e-mails and a few attempts before there was alignment and reassurance.

The travelling set of 15 brass poppies, having ‘touched’ more than 70 headstones, are an icon in themselves and will retire in 2017.   Before they retire, they will continue to be photographed with the headstones of other squadrons that are nearby to Toronto, such as 420 Squadron in London and a few of the 431 Squadron ‘Snowbirds’.

You may click on any of these photos to view full size on a separate page.

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The 400 “City of Toronto” Squadron will reach its 85th anniversary in 2017 and this is an anniversary project by the 400 Squadron Historical Society in Toronto.

400 Squadron History

10 Squadron was formed in Toronto in 1932 and flew from the Trethewey Farm airfield (Jane & Trethewey Blvd in Toronto).  In 1935, it was officially recognized as the “City of Toronto” Squadron and in 1937 became 110 Squadron.   At Trethewey, the Squadron flew biplane aircraft including the Fleet Fawn, the deHavilland Gipsy Moth and Tiger Moth and the Avro Tutor.  When war was declared in Sept. 1939, the Squadron was called to war and in Nov. deployed to Rockcliffe to convert to the Lysander aircraft.  In Feb. 1940, 110 Squadron became the first RCAF Squadron to deploy to war.
For the first four years of the war, the squadron flew the P-40 Tomahawk and then the P-51 Mustang Mk 1 in the armed reconnaissance role.  For the last year, the Squadron flew the Mosquito Mk XVI and later the Spitfire Mk XI in the unarmed reconnaissance role.  The squadron was the first RCAF unit to operate on the Continent and the first to cross the Rhine River into Germany.  In early 1941, the squadron became 400 Squadron.  During the Second World War, there were 29 casualties including four MIAs.  These casualties are primarily interred in the UK but are also in Wales, Belgium, Holland and France.
After the war, the Squadron reformed at Base Downsview in Toronto with 411 Squadron and first flew the Harvard, Vampire, Sabre and T-33 aircraft (the jet era).  In 1958, the Squadron converted to the light transport role with the twin-engine Beechcraft Expeditor and the single-engine deHavilland DHC-3 Otter.  The Otter could be equipped with skis and floats.

In early 1980, the squadron was equipped with the light jet Kiowa helicopter.  In 1996, the Base Downsview was closed, the squadron moved to CFB Borden and also re-equipped with the twin-engine jet Griffon helicopter.  During the jet era (1950s) at Downsview there were eight casualties and these casualties are interred in Toronto, Windsor, Regina and Calgary with one pilot missing in Lake Ontario.
In Oct. 2017, the squadron will complete its 85th year of continuous service and is the oldest serving squadron in the history of the RCAF.
Based on the squadron history book by CWO Ron Wylie (1996).

411 Squadron History

In late 1940, the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) was well underway so that this part of Canada’s contribution to the Second World War and the Royal Air Force (RAF) was established.  Next, came Canada’s contribution to the air combat role with a clear Canadian identification.

In addition to the three squadrons already in the UK (including 400 Squadron), 25 more Canadian squadrons were established in the UK, in January 1941.  One of the five day-fighter squadrons that served in Europe and the Mediterranean was 411 Squadron.  Flying from RAF Stn. Digby in Lincolnshire, UK, they initially flew the Spitfire MkI and MkII for training and then switched to the Spitfire MkV for the first operational missions over Europe.
Converting to the Spitfire IX in October 1943, it then became a fighter-bomber squadron and a few days after D-Day was operating from France in the close-support role. Also operating armed reconnaissance flights with advancing troops, the squadron was soon based in Germany until it was disbanded on 21 March 1946.
Post-WW2, 411 Squadron was reformed at RCAF Stn. Downsview (Toronto) on 1 Oct., 1950 as the “County of York” Squadron and shared hangar space with 400 Squadron.  Both squadrons combined with the North American Harvard Mk II as the training aircraft and the de Havilland Vampire Mk III as the fighter aircraft until they were replaced in 1956 by the Canadair T-33 jet trainer and the Canadair Sabre Mk V.
In the fall of 1958, both squadrons joined Air Transport Command and were equipped with the Beechcraft C-45 Expeditor twin-engine light transport aircraft.  Soon after, in 1960, the deHavilland DHC-3 Otter arrived and the C-45 was withdrawn from service in 1966.  The squadron was involved in a significant search and rescue role and deployed to the Arctic.
In 1981, the Otter was retired and the squadron transitioned to the CH-136 Kiowa helicopter, which it operated in a reconnaissance and tactical support role.   When the Base Downsview closed in 1996, 400 Squadron was relocated to CFB Borden and 411 Squadron was disbanded.
During the Second World War, the Squadron suffered 28 casualties with10 MIAs and during the post-WW2 jet era at Downsview, there were three casualties.

Based on the squadron history book by Major John McClenaghan (1992).

400 Squadron Historical Society

The Historical Society is focused on the history and heritage of the squadron.  In the past, an historical book was published in 1996, a memorial monument was installed at the National Air Force Museum in Trenton, an aircraft poster was commissioned showing all 18 aircraft flown by the Squadron, the original 110 Sqn. Pennant (1940) was rediscovered and returned to Canada (from US), the original Standard was installed in the Hall of Colours (Ottawa), two original squadron aircraft have been located (in Ontario), and 200 of an intended 500 Ad Astra stones have been installed at the Historical Society’s memorial monument in Trenton (2015 & 2016).  Year Three (2017) of the Ad Astra project will begin in late 2016.
Three (2014, 2015 and 2016) of the 100th anniversary artwork commissions have been completed with the fourth (2017) in design, the first ever 400 Squadron artwork (1941) has been confirmed and located (in UK), and there will be an art exhibit in 2017.  Several articles have been published, two military-type headstones have been installed at previously unmarked sites (in Toronto), many family members have been located, and the brass poppies project is underway.



To determine types of materials and methods of design and construction, a prototype set of brass poppies was constructed.  This prototype was circulated to the museums at Trenton and Borden for review.  The prototype was then offered to Sunnybrook Hospital and was accepted for exhibit in the Veterans Centre.

Prototype donated to Sunnybrook Hospital - Toronto

Design and Construction

The poppy blooms, buds, leaves, and shards were all hand cut from five rolls of 5 thousandths inch thick sheet brass.  The sheets come in 12 inch x 30 inch size and must be unrolled, flattened, lightly sanded and washed.  Patterns were designed for each component with variations for different sizes of blooms, buds, etc.  All components were easily cut with ordinary scissors and were then hand-crafted into the various shapes for painting.
Brass screws and nails are used to secure the various components to the stems.  The stems are made of hollow brass tubing which also must be sanded and cleaned.  The tubing is then cut to the various lengths and hand-bent to simulate nature.  The paint was Tremclad spray – “Flat Green” and “Safety Red”.   All design and construction was completed in Toronto by the 400 Sqn. Historical Society.

Sophia Mills puts finishing touches on
the construction of Brass Poppies.

Cluster of 68 brass poppies


After The Prototype

Surprisingly, the design, construction, and outcome of the prototype went very well and was a success.   Before going to the Sunnybrook Hospital, it was sent to the National Air Force Museum in Trenton and the Base Borden Museum for review. 

It was decided that, in addition to the travelling set of 15 headstone poppies, two additional sets of 25 poppies each would be constructed.  One set would be placed at the 400 Squadron Historical Society memorial monument in Trenton and the second, identical, would be donated to the 100th anniversary of Base Borden (2016). 

National Air Force Museum - Trenton

The set of 25 brass poppies, mounted on a three-foot stained wood base, will reside at the base of the 400 Squadron Historical Society memorial monument during the summer season.  The largest poppies are 3½ inches (9 cm) in diameter with some stems as high as 20 inches (50 cm).  There are also numerous buds, leaves and blades of grass. 

To observe the initial installation of the brass poppies, a photo op. was held on 4 May 2016, at the museum, and several local and past-members of 400 Squadron attended a noon-hour hand-over with Col. Gilroy and Col. Colton.

On 4 May, 2016, a set of 25 crimson brass poppies was installed at the base of the 400 Squadron Historical Society’s memorial monument at the National Air force Museum in Trenton.

L/R ... LCol. David Miller (400 CO 42), Col (ret’d) Gerry Gilroy (400 CO 23), Maj Andreas Bolik, Maj. Robert Ames, Capt. Ray LaMarche – all past members of 400.

Base Borden Museum - 100th Anniversary Of The Base

A set of 25 poppies, similar to the Trenton set, was donated to the 100th anniversary of Base Borden (2016) by the 400 Squadron Historical Society on 19 July, 2016.
To observe the hand-over, several members of 400 Squadron and Base Borden attended a noon-hour photo op at the Museum with Col. Gilroy and Col. Beaton.
On 19 July, 2016, Borden received a special gift from the 400 Squadron Historical Society.  A set of 25 crimson brass poppies in celebration of Base Borden’s 100th anniversary – 2016.

L/R ... LCol. (ret’d) Stuart Beaton (Director Base Borden Military Mus.), Maj. Lyle Holbrook (400 Sqn.), CWO Michael Charette (Base Chief Warrant Officer), Col. Liam McGarry (CFB Borden Base Commander), Col. (ret’d) Gerry Gilroy (Past CO 400 Sqn. and Pres. 400 Sqn. Hist. Soc.), Maj (ret’d) David Wainwright (past 400 Sqn. Medical Off.), Maj. Glen Lovsin (400 Sqn.), WO (ret’d) Norm Marion (historian).


Honour Roll Headstone Photos

A set of 15 poppies, mounted on a two-foot wood base, was constructed to circulated to all Honour Roll headstones in Canada, the UK and Europe for photographing with each individual headstone.

Shipping box with the travelling set
The photographing of headstones in ten cemeteries in Canada was designated Rotation One (Roto 1), the UK and part of Europe was Rotation Two (Roto 2), and the remainder of Europe was Rotation Three (Roto 3).  After the return of the travelling set in late 2016, photography continued at the headstones of other squadrons “in reach” of Toronto and this was designated Rotation Four (Roto 4).

Photos were taken at Toronto cemeteries over the winter with some snow cover while other, some flat stones, were completed later in the summer.  There were six cemeteries in Toronto and all were easy to locate and reach.  One cemetery was mistakenly listed by Veterans Affairs which required a second attempt but this has been corrected and updated.  The headstone photos included both 400 and 411 Squadron Honour Roll members.

400 Honour Roll Member F/O G.E. Horrick's headstone

Cemetary's Memorial viewed from F/O Horrick’s headstone – Toronto

During this time, the travelling set was taken to the National Military Cemetery at Beechwood in Ottawa for photography and then shipped to the ancient Anglican Church Cemetery at Sandwich (Windsor), ON.  (see dialogue section for details).  
The headstone in Windsor involved other family military headstones and all required substantial cleaning which was accomplished by a contract provided by the 400 Sqn. Historical Society.  Photos were provided by a member of the Church Historical Society – Peter Berry.

Before and after headstone cleaning at Windsor

Upon their return to Toronto, the brass poppies were shipped west in a loop to cemeteries in Calgary and then Regina.  The managers at both locations were exceptionally cooperative and paid professional photographers were used at both locations.  At Burnsland Cemetery in Calgary, supervisor Gary Daudlin coordinated with photographer Jodi Oosterlee and at the Regina Cemetery, Erica Frank coordinated with photographer Dustin Crosby.

Headstone Set Available to Others

Although the primary duty of the “headstone” set of poppies is for the 400 and 411 Squadron Honour Roll members, they are fully available to anyone else who has a similar purpose.

Toronto 400 - 411 Reunion BBQ

The annual combined 400 and 411 Squadron’s BBQ was held on 11 June 2016, at the RC Legion on Lakeshore in Toronto and there was an opportunity for a group photo with both the travelling set (15) and the Borden set (25) of poppies.

Attendees at 2016 Reunion BBQ with Brass Poppies

Cross Of Sacrifice

The Cross of Sacrifice is a Commonwealth War Memorial designed for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) and it is found in many (but not all) cemeteries with war graves.  It is an elongated Cross whose shaft and crossarm are octagonal in shape.  It ranges in height from 18 to 24 feet (5.5 to 7.3 m) and has a bronze sword affixed to the front of the cross. It is usually mounted on an octagonal base.

Cross of Sacrifice taken from 400 Squadron Honour Roll Member F/L Brown's headstone - Calgary
Back in Toronto, the traveling set required some minor repairs and then was handed over to John Dalgleish for the trip to Europe and the beginning of Roto Two.

There were many interesting experiences during Roto (2), photography of many headstones in Europe, then on to the United Kingdom.  
The Full Story - ROTOS 2, 3, & 4