Medal of Honour for Penticton man who flew on bombing missions

Tail gunner Lance “Lou” Benson still carries a painful reminder of the bombing mission which was almost his last.

Lance 'Lou' Benson of Penticton with the French Medal of Honour and a replica of the Halifax bomber like the one he served on in the Second World War. Benson will officially receive the medal at a special ceremony July 24.

Lance 'Lou' Benson of Penticton with the French Medal of Honour and a replica of the Halifax bomber like the one he served on in the Second World War. Benson will officially receive the medal at a special ceremony July 24.

Tail gunner Lance “Lou” Benson still carries a painful reminder of the bombing mission which was almost his last.

It was on a night raid over Emden, Germany during the Second World War when his Royal Canadian Air Force Halifax aircraft, as it often did, came under fire from ground-launched anti-aircraft weapons.

“I knew right away that I’d been hit, there was such a loud noise like hail outside the aircraft,” recalled Benson, now 91.

He still has the small piece of metal that pierced the fuselage lodged in his hip.

“What would happen when the anti-aircraft (shell) came close was it would explode and there would be big showers of shrapnel that hit the airplane and there were a few that penetrated the aircraft’s skin just luckily it didn’t hit anything vital. If it had we would have been done.”

Realizing he was bleeding from the wound, the young gunner decided to turn off his electrically-heated flight suit to avoid being burned.

“It was a chilly flight back to the base but it wasn’t that bad, just a flesh wound,” said Benson, who agreed he was lucky to have completed his 33-mission, bomber command of duty.

Fortunately on that flight, no other crew were hurt and none of the aircraft’s flight systems were damaged although a flak fragment did cut through a strap of the pilot’s parachute. Returning to base in England the plane, nicknamed Avenging Angel, was found to have 93 holes in it from enemy fire. Both crew members and the Halifax were soon patched up and returned to duty. But as he still sadly recalls today, many other men who flew on those missions were not as fortunate.

For Benson’s service the French government is giving him a medal in recognition of his contribution through Bomber Command to D-Day June 6, 1945.

“This (medal) brings back memories of the old chums I flew with who are buried all over Europe, they didn’t have such good luck,” he said. “I have a list called ‘they shall grow not old’ and I often think of them. I always say it was more good luck than good management.”

He previously received the Operational Wings of the RCAF in recognition of his “gallant service” during his tour of duty.

Benson is honoured to receive the recognition, however he added it seems: “ironic that I got a medal for being scared.”

“It was just quite an experience, it’s hard to explain what it was like flying over what was the target area, it was all lit up with search lights, kind of frightening.”

Also unnerving was sitting in the plexiglass rear turret staring down the gun barrels of a German fighter plane which happened more than once.

“If you let your guard down and let a guy (fighter) do that then you were going to go first because you were where the target is,” said Benson. “But the secret was I had pretty good eyes and wonderful night vision.”

After his tour of duty he returned to Canada and eventually his birthplace in Wilkie, Sask., and began working with CPR.

Before leaving the service he received his wings and after discharge a private pilot’s licence.

Benson met his current wife Dr. June Mills-Benson and helped her with her pilot training in Saskatchewan and maintained their aviation connection after she moved her medical practice to Penticton.

The couple married in 1999 and Benson moved here although he maintains he is “still a prairie boy at heart.”

The couple had a single-engine Cessna which they kept at the Penticton Regional Airport and used often.

Mills-Benson, who is in her 80s, only recently stopped flying the aircraft.

The award from the French government will be presented at 2 p.m. at the 890 Wing RCAFA, 126 Dakota Dr. at the airport. MP Dan Albas is expected to make the presentation.

 

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