Walking up the side of a steep mountain pass in Os, Norway last month, Rick Firestone kept his head down most of the way making sure each foot was planted solidly on the soft ground while heading to a cabin in the rugged terrain.
For the former air force pilot who’s afraid of heights, the two-hour trek holds a special place in his heart that keeps him moving along the path despite his fear.
His father, Harvey Firestone, made the same hike, but in the dead of night, 75 years ago with five other Royal Canadian Air Force crew members. The crew’s disabled Wellington aircraft crash landed in Nazi occupied territory during the Second World War and with the help of 40 Norwegians who risked death to help them, all crew members survived.
The Norwegian ‘helpers’ sheltered, fed and clothed them in the cabin.
This is the only instance known of throughout the war, when an entire crew evaded German capture and was safely returned to Britain.
“The escaping evasion doctrine, at the time, says if you’re in a group … you don’t stay together, you split up,” said Rick.
“It’s easier to find a larger group … but in this case they made the right decision.”
Rick and his family made the trip to Norway along with about 50 other Canadians directly tied to the crew, to celebrate their rescue and repatriation.
More than 350 people turned out to the celebration, held at the beginning of October, to see the cabin for themselves.
With so many people waiting to see the piece of history for themselves, there was only standing room in the cabin — not leaving much room or time to contemplate the significance of the structure.
“But in it’s own way, that’s sort of remarkable … it’s an example of how special so many people in the area regard the cabin,” Rick said.
When then Warrant Officer Harvey Firestone, 97, along with Flying Officers Gordon Biddle and George Deeth, Flight Lt. Maurice Neil, Pilot Officer Ken Graham and Warrant Officer George Grandy made the hike it took them a lot longer. In the 75 years since, roads have been built to make accessing the cabin easier but the terrain hasn’t changed.
“Every step you’re walking, you had to be careful your foot didn’t disappear into the soft ground,” Rick said.
Harvey, who suffers from late stage Alzheimer’s, made several trips to Norway throughout his life — becoming good friends with some of the key Norwegian ‘helpers’ — and was able to see the cabin once again in 2004 with his son.
“He was just drinking it all in,” Rick said. “It was a really special experience for him and it made it even more special for the rest of us.”
Rick feels like Remembrance Day for most people is just a day they don’t have to go to work and wishes there was a better understanding of the history behind the day.
“Without [the people who served in the war] where would we be? The world would be a much different place,” he said.