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16 October 2014
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Chuck Singer

It must be a strange thing to read about yourself in a paper or a book and read that you are dead.

Article by Ernesider.

Fermanagh

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Chuck Singer
Chuck Singer

Flying boat accident near Belleek
Saturday 12 August 1944

It must be a funny thing to read about yourself in a paper or a book and read that you are dead - especially when you are hale and hearty. It came as a shock to Chuck Singer from Florida to read that the rest of his old squadron members of Royal Canadian Air Force 422 thought he was dead.

It all came about quite by accident. Chuck had been stationed in the flying boat base at Castle Archdale near Irvinestown during the second world war and had survived a terrible flying boat accident in the bog between the townlands of Cashelard and Corlea near Belleek on Saturday 12 August 1944. Three of his colleagues perished in that crash. Despite suffering massive injuries Chuck made a superhuman effort to go back to the blazing aircraft to rescue his friend George Colbourne when he heard him screaming for help.

Chuck never thought anymore about Belleek. He left Fermanagh and went to a hospital in London where he concentrated on getting himself back to health. Over the years he kept in contact with his old pal George. The young Canadian made his way to Florida, concentrated on his business interests and lost touch with his mates in the squadron. They presumed he was dead and hence a news sheet was never sent to his family.

Christmas a year ago Chuck's son Bob thought it would be a nice idea to give his dad a little gift of a model Sunderland and went shopping on the internet. That's when he read the story of RCAF Squadron 422 and realised that his dad was written off as dead. He contacted the webmaster, told him his dad was alive and well, and in fact had been up the previous week helping him to pick grapefruit and prune fruit trees.

Chuck Singer close to crash site at Corlea, near Belleek
Chuck Singer
close to crash site at Corlea
The emails started to fly across the Atlantic and, with a little encouragement from Joe O'Loughlin of Belleek, Chuck decided to come to Ireland and see for himself the scene of his youth. Chuck went to the crash scene and saw the memorial stone that had been unveiled two years previously by 422 Squadron when they had their nostalgic reunion in Fermanagh.

It was hard to believe that Chuck could have been forgotten. This was the man who despite a broken arm, a host of external cuts, and pulling his other arm out of its socket as he dragged George from the burning plane with bullets exploding all around him, had saved the life of his friend.

In the evening sun Chuck related the last moments of his plane's life. It was easy at the start - quite factual. The crew left Castle Archdale about 12 o'clock and were on a routine operation. They hadn't been together long but they were a fine bunch and highly skilled. And then the terrible moment when they realised they would have to make an emergency landing. There was no water around and they were in a flying boat. You need water to land.

Their pilot Flight Lieutenant Cam Devine was supreme. He paid the ultimate price. Only for him they would all have been killed. Chuck will never forget him.

Chuck Singer has sent the following e-mail about his time at Castle Archdale:-

The people of Ireland that I met were very nice. Although we were not encouraged to leave the base as I remember. For something to do I started making things out of leather when we were not flying. George Colborn smoked cigars, when he could get them, and I made him cigar cases out of the leather. Other guys spent their free time reading or socializing in the canteen. We all spent time shooting on the skeet range. On the range we shot disks that were discharged out of a sling, to keep our aim sharp.

We had more air crews than Sunderlands to fly. We were on rotation bases and sometimes we would have to go from one ship to another, sometimes as many as three, to find one that would pass our inspection so we could take off for our mission. Our treatment was great, meals as good as they could provide, lots of potatoes. Most of our flights were from our base in Inverness Scotland before we were posted to Ireland, that is where our socializing was mostly done. We were there longer.

The only other member of our crew that is still alive is our second pilot Cam Devine who lives in Pebble Beach California. While in Ireland two years ago I did meet a couple of fellow members of our flying boat days. One that I will never forget was a real nice guy that they called "Tiny" because he was so tall. Tiny lives in England and is 91 years old. He was a navigator on Catalinas that flew out of our air base in Castle Archdale. Tiny flew to Ireland to be there for the presentation they had cooked up for me, what an interesting man he is. They tell me he was the navigator on the Catalina that discovered the Bismarck and stayed on its tail until the RAF arrived and sunk it.

Not many of us left to tell the true stories anymore are there?

Chuck's son Bob has put together a wonderful web page about Chuck's visit to Ireland in 2002, which included returning to the Sunderland crash site. - Editor


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