Finding ‘Blackie’: a lost Toronto WWII Jewish airman from Harbord Collegiate

Courtesy Ester Reiter, from “A Future Without Hate or Need”

I started writing this feature story to find out who “Blackie” was, after some former Camp Naivelt alumni told me about a wooden statute shaped like an airplane wing that used to sit in a place of prominence at the Toronto-area summer camp during the Second World War. The staff built it to honour the memory of a beloved sports director and camp counsellor — who everyone called “Blackie”. He had been a pilot serving with the British RAF, and was killed in action overseas during the Second World War. No one remembered his name, though.

I have spent years collecting the names and stories of the 17,000 Jewish Canadians who served in WWII for my book “Double Threat”, but I had no listing for anyone matching that name. In fact there was no Black in the air force listed in the official 1948 book published by Canadian Jewish Congress after the war, “Canadian Jews in WWII”.

It took a three months of research: internet sleuthing, emails to the Camp Naivelt listserv, help from the Jewish communities in Toronto, and Wales, the principal of Harbord Collegiate and the incredible museum maintained by the alumni at Harbord, and a 102-year-old Jewish Canadian war hero, Lorne Winer.

Canadian veteran
Lorne Winer, a Canadian Second World War veteran, in Toronto. (Dec. 31, 2014 Ellin Bessner photo)

The first part of the story, “Missing in Action”, has just been published by the Canadian Jewish News Wednesday Jan. 22, 2020.

https://www.cjnews.com/living-jewish/the-story-of-a-jewish-canadian-second-world-war-pilot-who-never-came-home

And as luck would have it, literally the night before the story was going to press, I found Blackie’s surviving family, including his little sister. She is now 89: she was 10 when he was killed in 1941. Too late to make it into the first story. But stay tuned! Part 2 is being published next week in the Canadian Jewish News.

Special thanks to British historian Martin Sugarman of London, U.K., “Joey Jacobson’s War” author Peter J. Usher of Clayton, Ontario, Morton Katz, Murray Rubin, Cynthia Abernethy, Neal Kerbel, Dr. Bev Freedman and anyone else I forgot!

Here are some photos that did not make it into the print or web edition:

Lorne Winer (top left, left side) with friends in England, in WWII. (Courtesy Lorne Winer.)

Winer took souvenir photos in Cardiff, including Black posing with their benefactor’s next door neighbours, the Hughes, a fire warden, and his wife.

Sgt. Harry Black, RAF, (centre) poses in Wales with next door neighbours the Hughes. (Lorne Winer photo).

We think Winer will soon be hearing from Blackie’s family, and what a conversation that should be, nearly 80 years since he last saw his friend Harry Black while on leave in Wales.

As always, you can contact me at ebessner@gmail.com.

1 thought on “Finding ‘Blackie’: a lost Toronto WWII Jewish airman from Harbord Collegiate”

  1. Appreciate the notes you have posted and have warm memories of your visit to Claresholm a couple years ago. Our airport still stands although a couple of the old hangers have been removed due to deterioration.
    Warmest regards,

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