It is with profound sadness that the family of Bert Cheffins announces his death on Friday, December 9, 2011 in Calgary Alberta.
Born in Montreal in 1924 Bert moved to Fort Erie, Ontario as a small boy. He graduated from trade school in 1941 and began an apprenticeship as an aircraft electrician. But in 1942, as an underage wide eyed lad he joined the RCAF and became a bomb aimer and observer in RAF Bomber Command. Known as “Zeke”, he flew 30 missions in Europe in the Halifax Bomber for 102 Squadron from Pocklington, and in the Lancaster for 635 Pathfinder Squadron from Downham Market. This military experience, with all the good and bad, shaped so much of who Bert was to become.
After the war he returned to Fort Erie where he met Thelma Pooler, who became the love of his life for 58 years and the co-manager of a busy household with 6 children. As an Immigration Officer in 1946, Bert began what would become a 35 year career in the Federal Public Service, moving to Prescott, Ottawa, Fredericton and finally Winnipeg, retiring there in 1980 as Chief of Industrial Development for the Western Region of Employment and Immigration.
In addition to family and career, Bert developed and maintained, at varying stages in his life, a wide range of pastimes – curling, biking, fishing, snooker, golf, and international travel with Thelma. But his biggest bragging rights belonged to seniors softball. Bert was a member of the Canadian All Star Team for 70’s and Over. He also participated in the Senior Softball World Championships in 2000, gracing the cover of the Program Brochure with a photo of his marvellous at-bat stance.
Bert was active in the community through a number of organizations: the Seniors Bureau of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce; the Winnipeg Youth Justice Committee; the Manitoba Aviation Council; the Canadian Immigration Historical Society; and the Junior Achievement Program. Following his near-fatal first experience with cancer he became a founding member of Cansurmount in Manitoba, an organization through which cancer survivors provide counselling to other cancer patients and their families. Bert’s kind ways and quirky sense of humour helped many people in and around Winnipeg through their difficult times.
But without a doubt, the activities which gave him the greatest sense of pride were those related to the military. His post-war service began in Fort Erie in 1945 in the RCAF Reserve. He then transferred to the Militia and his appointments included: Battery Commander, 57th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment in Fort Erie; Company Commander, Brockville Rifles; Staff Officer in the Militia Group HQ in Ottawa; and finally Training Officer, Ottawa Service Battalion. He completed his Supplementary Reserve service in 1976 as a Major.
His work as a volunteer included: responsibilities and a lifetime membership in the Royal Canadian Legion for 68 years; various activities with ANAVETS in Winnipeg; the Veterans’ Representative Director on the Board of the Deer Lodge Hospital; and a leader in the joint Legion/Veterans’ Affairs Canada project to assess the needs of vets in personal care facilities.
Bert was a great source of knowledge on the history of military aviation, and he strongly believed in “passing the torch”. He participated in the Dominion Institute Memory Project and organized a program for volunteers to assist with the Air Command Museums. He was a volunteer lecturer at the Air Force Indoctrination School at CFB Winnipeg and was a regular speaker for the Heritage and History Section of Air Command. He took particular pleasure in his November 11th discussions with countless numbers of high school students, passing on his wartime anecdotes and his pride in Canada. Two special volunteer projects in which Bert played a key role are worth noting. He received an award from the Premier of Manitoba for his work as a member of the Co-ordinating Committee of the Manitoba Commemorative Names Project, where over 4000 lakes and rivers were named after Manitobans killed in active service in World War II. And secondly, Bert was the initiator of the project to build a Memorial in Pocklington England in remembrance of all the men and women of 102 Squadron and 405 Squadron who served there. In 1985 Bert was present for the unveiling by Air Chief Marshall Sir Gus Walker.
But Bert’s dedication to the Air Force included much more. He was a member (1977-1995), President (1983), and Historian (1984-1995) of the Wartime Pilots and Observers Association (WPO) In 2005, Bert laid a wreath at the Ottawa Cenotaph on behalf of the WPO in honour of V-Day, and then proceeded to lead, with great pride and dignity, the hundreds of veterans through the streets of Ottawa and past the thousands of appreciative fans to the opening of the new Canadian War Museum. And, on a personal note, as Historian, it brought him great happiness to help reunite dozens and dozens of WPO members with their wartime colleagues. And last, but certainly not least, in 1999 Bert was named as the first Honourary Colonel (Group Captain) of the Canadian Forces Air Navigation School in Winnipeg, remaining in the position until 2007. He fully delighted in his time with the students and especially, as a 70+ year old, donning his flight suit and travelling with them on their training exercises to parts of Canada and the U.S. He established the Bert Cheffins Award to recognize one NCO from each Airborne Electronic Sensor Operator (AESOp) graduating class who made the greatest contribution to team building and course morale. Colonel Cheffins was awarded the Golden Jubilee Medal of Queen Elizabeth II in 2002. Bert felt that it was such a privilege to serve the CFANS – his time as the Honourary Colonel gave him tremendous pride and enjoyment. On his retirement he was wished “clear skies and fair winds for his new adventures”. Bert was predeceased by his parents, Eric and Louise, his brother Eric, his grandson Gavin, many in-laws, and in 2006 by his always loved Thelma.
There was a private family celebration of Bert’s remarkable life. Condolences may be forwarded through www.mcinnisandholloway.com or through McInnis & Holloway Funeral Homes, Park Memorial Chapel, 5008 Elbow Drive S.W., Calgary, AB T2S 2L5. For those wishing to do something special in Bert’s name, a donation to the Canadian Cancer Society can be made at www.cancer.ca or by calling 1 800 661-2262.
And now, a few things that we, Bert’s children, would like to say:
To the staff of Staywell Manor, and to Dr. Yolanda Kao, thank you for the wonderful care that you gave to Dad, particularly over the past few months. To all of Dad’s friends who worked, volunteered, played and laughed alongside him on his 87 year journey, thank you for whatever contributions you made to the enrichment of his life. He always acknowledged the value of friendship and the need to nurture it.
To you Dad, we thank you for:
• the example of love and devotion that you and Mom gave to us for all those years.
• the unabashed patriotism that you instilled in us for this beautiful country.
• the way in which you would often “stop and smell the roses”, and advise us to do the same, acknowledging that small moments matter.
• the balance of hands-off but always-there-for-us parenting that you practiced.
• the example of your sense of fulfilment in giving back to the community.
• the extraordinary pride you took in your grandchildren and your new great grandchild.
• your generosity of spirit and for making us so proud of all that you accomplished and all that you were.
We will ensure that some of your optimism and love of life will live on in us.
Love always from your family,
Carol, with Ross, Laura, Kenson, Laddia and little Mariama
Clint, with Debbie, Alice and Emily
Craig with Jocelyn and Sam
Curt with Lynn
Clyde with Danie, Steven and Sean
Cliff with Laurie, Jessina, Madison, Samantha, Lauren and Carmen