Thoughts on 25+ years of friendship with a great gentleman and WWII RCAF Veteran: Mr. Lloyd Bentley
Respectfully submitted by: J.Scott Clare
On Feb. 10th, 2020, Brantford lost yet another member of what many people today refer to as: “The Greatest Generation”.
So how does one describe this quiet, 98year old gentleman, to a complete stranger?
Lloyd grew up in “the Soo” and upon Graduation from Gr. XIII (Honors marks) he worked in the Banking industry then signed up for the RCAF, intent on becoming a pilot. Lloyd trained in various BCATP (British Commonwealth Air Training Programme ) bases, including a stint in winter time right here in Brantford, at #5 SFTS. Eventually, Lloyd earned his ‘Wings’. Also, somewhere in 1943 Lloyd had time to meet, court and eventually marry his sweetheart, Doreen, before he was shipped overseas.
There he was attached to various RAF Transport Squadrons, flying the venerable DC-3 Dakotas, then later, the C-47 Military versions. He did training missions in Egypt and then was sent back to England, eventually being prepared for what we have come to know as “Operation Overlord”, the D-Day Invasions of the French Coast, on June 6th, 1944.
Lloyd was the second member of a “duo” of the last ‘active’ D-Day Veterans for Brantford and area. The other holder of this special title, Derek Pite, Lloyd’s good friend and fellow “Memory Project Speaker”, left us in October of 2018.
Lloyd did two flights over Normandy for “Overlord”: the first after midnight on June 6th, dropping a ‘stick’ of paratroops over inland bridgeheads; the second, after a return to base in England, some food and a bit of a nap, Lloyd was part of a huge wave of Dakotas who towed gliders over to the Normandy Beaches.
As an aside here, in 2009, when I drove Lloyd and some other Brantford Veterans to the Legislature grounds in Toronto for the 65th Anniversary of D-Day, I spotted a Veteran in a Polish uniform, spoke to him and then called Lloyd over to meet this chap. It turned out that they both had recollections of that day from the same base, the same runway and eventually figured out that Lloyd was the Pilot of the Dakota who pulled that Polish Glider Pilot over to a bridgehead in Normandy (Gold Section). Talk about a small world! Unfortunately, our visit was cut short by an announcement that the program was about to commence and I was unable to record that Polish Officers name.
Like many seniors of that era, Lloyd was fiercely independent. He lived on his own, after his dear wife, Doreen, died, many years ago, who did his own shopping, cooked his own meals and got around town to various events or his weekly game of Bridge, via a city bus or Operation Lift at times. He never turned down an offer of a ride from any of us whom he knew. Lloyd also accepted help from his family in town who were diligent with keeping an eye on Lloyd. Who else in their 90’s was able to plan, organize and execute almost annual “solo” trips over to Holland in the early Fall, to commemorate his participation in “Operation Market Garden”?
Here, in another aside, Lloyd made about 4 trips over Operation Market Garden, (Arnhem and Nijmegen) with one flight where he was hotly pursued by an enemy FW-190 fighter. Lloyd skillfully headed into a huge cloud-bank and upon exiting was please to find the German Pilot had given up on him. However, the a/c had taken some hits and he radioed for permission to land soon, being given coordinates for a former German base in Eindoven. The trick here was that the Canadians held the southern part of the airbase and the enemy was still entrenched in the northern element of the base. Luckily Lloyd and his crew managed to land safely in the “friendly” end!
Lloyd recalled just this past June that he had to sleep out in the open after a ‘spot-of-tea’, then next day he and his crew hitched a ride to another airbase, newly liberated from the Germans, eventually being flown back to England. After this operation Lloyd did more training in England and Scotland until cessation of hostilities in May of 1945.
Besides further training, Lloyd also flew wounded troops back to England from the continent.I remembered him telling me that he used to cringe at the sight of blood with a hangnail, …but… after walking on board up to the cockpit on one his early runs and seeing the types of terrible injuries those young lads suffered, he said he quickly realized how insignificant a hangnail was, compared to trials and tribulations of our troops .
Lloyd loved to recall the source of his 75 year battle with “dizzy-spells”. Lloyd was injured in 1944, just after D-Day, when he was riding his bicycle off base in a small English village when a large convoy of American troops came passing through. Due to an obstruction in the lane ahead of Lloyd’s position on the road, the lead American motorcycle, took a “shortcut”, which meant the entry back on the road for the convoy was a path crossing Lloyd’s and he was struck by that lead motorcycle, thrown about 20 to 30 feet in the air, only to crash into the wall of a building. Lloyd got up, dusted himself off and continued on his way. Later, he began to feel the effects of that crash, apart from some bruises and soreness, by experiencing “dizzy-spells”. He did NOT report this to his C.O. and continued to fly for the duration. Once the war was over, Lloyd knew he had enough training and had qualified to actually become a commercial pilot. However, he knew his flying days were over and he put those thoughts of a Commercial Aviation career to rest. Lloyd enjoyed telling people, “Oh I’m as drunk as a skunk today and I don’t even drink!”
To commemorate “Operation Market Garden” Vince Ball of the Expositor did an interview with Lloyd on Market Garden, a few years back and Lloyd mentioned a small village near Arnhem (or perhaps it was that town) two Dutch brothers who had moved here after the war, realized that what Lloyd talked about in that article, was close to them, personally. The Reyenga brothers were just small boys during that operation and vividly recalled watching Allied planes swoop down low over their home and watched paratroops coming out of the Dakotas, (could have been Lloyd’s?). They made some enquiries at the Expositor and made contact with Lloyd and all three became fast friends who loved to share their stories together. It was always and honour and a great pleasure to meet. these Dutch men when I happened to drive Lloyd to either a Remembrance Service, a Mayor’s New Year’s Levee at the Armouries , or perhaps a Thank-A-Vet Luncheon, etc, and see the real bond between these quiet gentlemen. These brothers will also be missing their good friend Lloyd Bentley.
Lloyd was a hero to we who knew him. Just ask the guys down at the 56th Field Regiment at the Brantford Armouries, or the many, many, High School students with whom Lloyd has interacted for more than 25 years in this tri-county area. For some folks who saw Lloyd as one of their heroes, it was on a November 11th day, at the Brantford Cenotaph, in all kinds of weather, as Lloyd waited his turn at the lectern, to recite, from memory, his beloved “In Flanders Fields”.
Lloyd loved to speak with people. Whether it was the Duchess of Cornwall, (Lady Camilla) on a sand dune at Juno Beach; or H.R.H the Prince of Wales (Prince Charles) also at Juno Beach during the 70th D-Day Anniversary; the Prime Minister or a Cabinet Minister, a Senator, or our own M.P. for Brant, Phil McColeman, who was on our Bus for the D-Day 75 tour, last June; Generals and ranking Officers in the service of Canada, Great Britain and France, to name a few, [one of his favourites being Lieutenant-General Richard Rohmer, whom we met of several occasions either in Toronto or overseas]; the Mayors of small French villages, near Juno Beach in Normandy; nurses, doctors, caregivers and especially, his fellow Veterans from at least three different Battlefield Tours we were on together; T.V. and radio hosts and newspaper reporters; students, teachers and staff at various schools in the region; to citizens in both Ontario and France, all for whom Lloyd had a story to tell.
Those stories never ‘changed’ over the years, as Lloyd prided himself with superb memory recall skills! Lloyd really enjoyed committing things to memory, maybe the reason why in his courses in Gr. XIII be obtained 100% in his Latin exam and high 90’s for almost all of other subjects! (An Ontario Scholar for sure!) One of the favourite ways to entertain folks in his midst, was for Lloyd to recite, from memory, in Latin, the Lord’s Prayer, albeit with a rather ‘Presbyterian’, rather than ‘Roman’ accent to the words!
Each year for ‘Remembrance Week’, Lloyd had a full docket of schools and / or groups for whom he would speak about his Wartime Service and his involvement with his family and the Insurance Business, where he was employed once he returned home from active duty.
We first connected in this regard when I was given permission by my own Principal at that time, to work with both North Park Collegiate and St. John’s College to develop a Remembrance Program which focussed on the 50th Anniversary of D-Day and then the following year to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Victory -in-Europe. We celebrated those beginnings of what has become at St. John’s at least, an annual event to honour our Veterans, complete with a Cadet Colour Party, under the leadership of the President or Sgt.-at-Arms from Branch 90 Legion, musical and dramatic components and followed up after a service involving the whole school, in the gym, a very tasty and well served luncheon, hosted by “Johnny’s Place” and the foods class at SJC. This past November’s Service was to be Lloyd’s last one and I am so glad that another fellow SPK member, fellow teacher and a good friend to both Lloyd and myself, Slawomir Dobrowolski had the foresight to ask me to assist in a tribute to Lloyd for ‘D-Day 75’ and as well to another of Lloyd’s good Veteran friends, SPK Veteran Paul Lojko for his participation at Monte Cassino in Italy, presented by Slav, (interestingly enough both events took place in a similar time frame, in 1944.)
The staff and students and guests at this last SJC Remembrance Service were truly in the company of two “Heroes” from WWII.
It was just prior to that event, at what was now to be Lloyd’s last Thank-A-Vet Luncheon, held annually at Assumption College, where through the help of a local Historian, Rick Shaver, the TAV Committee, led by Dave Levac, presented Lloyd with a framed set of “RCAF Pilot’s Wings”, which somehow were never actually presented to Lloyd, over 75 years ago! A very memorable moment for all present, for sure!
Lately, Tollgate Tech has also initiated their own Services of Remembrance involving a few Veterans, a student led programme, a Cadet Colour Party and Lloyd of course, reciting his beloved poem, “In Flanders Fields”. Another wonderful lunch is provided by the Foods Class right there at Tollgate Tech. One can always ‘hear a pin drop’, as the saying goes, in the Cafetorium of Tollgate Tech, such was the attention and respect shown to Lloyd and his fellow Veteran’s and guests,( the families of two of our Afghanistan casualties from Brantford), each year these Remembrance Services have been held.
One more comment, heard from many of Lloyd’s “Lady Admirers”. Lloyd was a consummate Gentleman. One never heard a cuss-word or a derogatory remark on anyone from Lloyd. Our fellow travellers, on the trips I’ve been on with Lloyd, always enjoyed speaking with him and especially ‘The ladies’, young and not so young who enjoyed his charm and wit as well as his good, old-time manners!
Although a “teetotaler”, Lloyd did break down and enjoy a shot of Calvados in Normandy twice! (Once on the D-Day 70th Tour, from a shop owner in Courseulles -sur-Mer, who called to us as we left his souvenir shop and offered to “Toast the Invasion’, with a shot from a very expensive bottle of “Calvados”; and again at Canada House, at Bernières-sur-Mer, last June for the 75th D-Day Tour, hosted by the family who owns the house, a dedication to the memory ‘Queen’s Own Rifles” Regiment, who liberated that building on June 6th, 1944.)
Obviously our Community has lost a great man: a caring, giving, dedicated and strong willed supporter of Veterans and the ideals entrusted to us.
I’ll finish by sharing a quote from a good friend, a fellow member of SPK (Polish Combatants of Canada) and local historian and author, Zig Miziak, who gave this quote as part of his response to the loss of our dear friend, Lloyd Bentley. This is taken from the very poem Lloyd loved to recite: John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields”. I feel this is Lloyd’s challenge to us:
“To you from failing hands we throw
The Torch; be yours to hold it high.”
We will all truly miss this ‘gentle man’. Many tributes have flowed in to my ‘in-box’ from fellow travellers and staff at Veterans Affairs Canada; from our local Politicians and to friends and family, on FaceBook, who also got to ‘know’ Lloyd from my postings of our journeys over the years Overseas, or from local events.
Fair weather flying, my friend and Godspeed.