The torch passes (published in Forever Young, November 2008)
Second World War veteran Charley Fox, killed in a car crash Oct. 18,
has spent years carrying the torch for his comrades who did not return
by keeping the memory of their sacrifices alive, particularly with
(Ellen Ashton-Haiste photo)
By Ellen Ashton-Haiste
afternoon, Oct. 18, 2008, Charley Fox, decorated war veteran, took off
in his car from a Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association meeting near
Tillsonburg, Ont., heading to another engagement.
Sixty-four years earlier, on the afternoon of July 17, 1944, Fox
took off in his Spitfire from the air force base at Beny-Sur-Mer,
flying armed reconnaissance. Spotting a German staff car, he swooped
down, firing and sent the car plunging off the road. It wasn’t clear
until years later that the car carried German Field Marshal Erwin
Rommel, aka The Desert Fox, who was wounded in the attack.
It was just one of dozens of adventures Fox experienced during his
wartime flying career, many of them cheating death and prompting him to
ask, in later years, “why not me?” Why had he survived when so many of
his comrades had not?
On Oct. 18, that run of good fortune
ended. Fox, 88, was killed in a car crash on an Oxford County road as
he left the aircraft association meeting.
incident left family, friends and fans wondering who will pick up the
torch Fox has carried for the past two decades, as he honoured the
memory those who never returned from the war by talking about them,
about his experiences and about the realities of war to groups from
seniors to school children.
Fox was particularly dedicated
to making the country’s military history and wartime contributions and
sacrifices alive and relevant for young people, to make the history
live for them. “It’s so important to expose them to this,” he said in a
2005 interview with Forever Young.
As part of that, he
accompanied school groups to the battlefields in Europe. In 2005, he
participated in a youth conference in Apeldoorn, The Netherlands, with
59 students from nine countries, including 13 from Canada.
In 2009, he had hoped to take a group of 50 air cadets to Poland to
mark the anniversary of The Great Escape from Stulag-Luft 3, a piece of
history on which Fox was a self-made expert.
trips abroad, Fox believed there was much that could be accomplished in
the classroom. He actively promoted Torchbearers 2005, a project aimed
at making the wartime history resonate with the younger generations. As
part of that effort, he compiled a package of material for history
teachers, to complement the secondary school curriculum, including an
exclusive DVD – Peace and Freedom – a virtual tour of wartime combat
from the Battle of Britain to Dieppe and more, with film footage of the
conflicts. The package also included some of Fox’s own presentations
and his personal stories.
Fox was also actively involved
with the Harvard Aircraft Association and in 2004 was named Honorary
Colonel of 412 Squadron of the Canadian Air Force. He traveled
frequently to Ottawa on veterans business and had a schedule packed
with events in these days leading to Remembrance Day.
Fox is survived by son Jim, daughters Sue and Adrienne and 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Passing the torch (published in Forever Young, November 2005)
World War II flying ace Charley Fox is reaching out to young people in
an attempt to pass along Canada’s military history and stories of
sacrifice and heroism to young people
(Ellen Ashton-Haiste photo)
By Ellen Ashton-Haiste
Late in the afternoon of July 17 1944, Charley Fox took off in his
Spitfire from the air force base at Beny-Sur-Mer just inland from Juno
Beach in Normandy, where just a few months earlier Canadian and British
forces had successfully invaded on D-Day. Flying armed reconnaissance
above a tree-lined road in the rural countryside he spotted a German
staff car. Fox flew in a curving arc out of the blue sky, firing and
sending the car plunging off the road.
“I had no idea who it was… just a large black open car…
gleaming in the sun, without any camouflage, which was unusual,” Fox
says today. In fact, the car was carrying German Field Marshal Erwin
Rommel, aka The Desert Fox, who was wounded and sent back to Germany,
where he was eventually forced to commit suicide after being implicated
in the assassination attempt on Hitler.
Fox’s part in Rommel’s downfall was only officially confirmed a few
years ago, largely due to confusion about the time of the attack,
arising from the fact that the Allies and Britain were on double
daylight time and the Germans and Europe on single daylight time.
He never sought that credit and, even today, it’s something he’d
rather play down. “I never felt comfortable about the attack, because
of the man, the soldier that Rommel was. He was a general’s general, a
leader of men.”
But once released, the incident became a part of Fox’s heritage
and, as such, it’s one of the many stories he tells to audiences,
ranging from elementary school children to retired Kiwanians in a
presentation focused on raising awareness of Canada’s wartime history
and particularly of its unsung heroes, many who never made it home.
Fox never talked about his own wartime experiences for 40 years. Like
many returning veterans, he explains, he was plagued by the question
“why not me?” which is not the theme of his talks. “Most veterans who
came home felt guilty that they came home when their friends and pals,
that they joined up with, didn’t.”
But about 20 years ago,
he got involved with the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association and
became a “sort of colour commentator at air shows talking about the
planes (and the) fellas who flew them — and that way remembered them
and honoured them.”
He’s been telling the stories ever since
but, during the past year, it’s been with greater frequency as he
promotes Torchbearers 2005, a project dedicated to making the country’s
military history and wartime contributions and sacrifices alive and
relevant for young people.
“It’s so important to expose them
to this,” he says, acknowledging that for a generation who has grown up
in an age of computers, it’s critical to bring the history alive for
And, for that, there’s nothing like the real thing.
Fox participated in a youth conference in Apeldoorn, The Netherlands,
with 59 students from nine countries, including 13 from Canada (one
from each of the provinces and territories, including Nunuvut).
“That was wonderful,” he says, and something he’d like to see more of.
He hopes Torchbearers can promote cultural exchanges, such as one that
arose from the twinning of a Burlington, Ont. secondary school with one
The Dutch people, he says, are still so
appreciative of the efforts of Canadian soldiers during the war and
have passed that down to their children and grandchildren, who continue
to participate in anniversary ceremonies. “We need to expose our
students to students whose grandparents lived through the war and
passed down their experiences through the generations.”
even without actual trips abroad, there’s much that can be accomplished
in the classroom setting, especially now that Canada’s wartime history
is part of the secondary school curriculum, Fox believes.
Torchbearers has compiled a package of material for history teachers
to complement the curriculum. It includes exclusive aids such as an
hour-long DVD called Peace and Freedom, produced in the eighties by the
late Tom Charrington of CHCH-TV in Hamilton. The video takes a virtual
tour of wartime combat from the Battle of Britain to Dieppe and more,
featuring actual film footage of those conflicts. The package also
includes some of Fox’s own presentations, which in addition to his
personal stories include detailed information about the “Great Escape”
from Stulag-Luft 3 — a piece of history about which Fox is a self-made
expert. It includes support material in the form of books and other
videos and a music CD — Lest We Forget — A Salute to All Veterans — produced by Fox for Torchbearers 2005 and featuring London, Ont., native singer Michelle Iurman.
The package has a retail value of $500 and will be updated annually as
new material becomes available, Fox says. But schools can get it free
by becoming “Torchbearer Schools,” a designation achieved by selling
$1,000 worth of Torchbearer merchandise, including T-shirts, caps and
cravats with the unique Torchbearer 2005 logos plus the CDs and wrist
The merchandise is part of the fundraising strategy
to support the project which Fox has already sunk $47,000 of his own
money into, with little support from any level of government, despite
initial enthusiasm and promises from Veterans Affairs and London MP Joe
Fontana. Recently the Canada Remembers arm of Veterans Affairs has
committed to purchase 500 CDs to distribute to schools and libraries
in the London region, where the project has taken root with both
public and Catholic school boards supportive, Fox reports. But he’d
like to see the project spread across Ontario and even across the
Half of the proceeds from the CDs and wrist bands
are earmarked to fund annual seminars at universities around the
country for teachers, student teachers, university history students and
possibly high school students sponsored by a history teacher. These
would involve veterans as guest speakers, workshops and round-table
Fox knows first hand the value of this
education for the future. Following the youth conference in Apeldoorn,
where he was one of the speakers, he received an email from two girls
living in Bosnia, asking him “what can we do to counter the macho
attitude of young men in our country who only think about war and
“We have to look to the future while keeping the past alive,” he says.