Some 17,000 Canadian Jews fought in World War II; 450 of them lost their lives. Aron Heller tells some of their stories, including that of Wilfred Canter:
In April 1943, the Halifax bomber that Canter co-piloted was shot down on its way back from a mission over Stuttgart. Canter parachuted out into occupied France, breaking a leg when he landed. The only member of the six-man crew to evade capture, he was given food and clothing by a local family, then passed to members of the Resistance, who smuggled him to Paris, then Bordeaux, then over the Pyrenees by foot into Spain. From there he made his way to Gibraltar and then England. King George VI personally awarded Canter a Distinguished Flying Medal at Buckingham Palace, where he was cited for displaying “courage and tenacity of a high order.”
After less than a month of home leave in Toronto, Canter . . . deemed himself fit for duty and returned to England to resume his bombing missions, including one in which his plane took fire but returned safely to base. In April 1944, Canter was shot down again, on a bombing run over Düsseldorf, and was captured by the Germans. After a lengthy Gestapo interrogation, he was detained for nine months in Stalag Luft III, a German prisoner-of-war camp. . . .
As the Allies were closing in on Germany, the camp’s remaining war prisoners were marched west, away from the advancing Soviet army. Canter escaped and managed to connect with a British unit. Family lore adds that he was briefly recaptured by a German officer, but resistance forces shot the German dead, freeing Canter again and handing him the officer’s Luger pistol, which he kept as a memento.
In 1948, Canter was one of five veteran Canadian pilots who joined Israel’s nascent air force. He was killed a few weeks after he arrived when his plane’s engine caught fire during takeoff.