Soldier’s story given new life at Remembrance Ceremony

Missing pilot to receive Empty Chair honour in Ladysmith

This year, Ladysmith will be remembering a brave young pilot who went to school here.

Tragically, Frank Burrill’s plane went missing in 1942 over the North Sea after a successful mission in Germany. His fate remains unknown.

David Walbank, the man who has been compiling as much information as he can on Burrill, said the story is one of success, heroics and tragic loss.

Burrill will be honoured at this year’s Empty Chair ceremony at the Eagles Hall on Saturday, Nov. 12.

Burrill was born in Southshields, England. His father died when he was only two years old, leaving his mother to raise Frank and his older brother Jack. The family moved to Saskatoon in 1929 where their mother remarried, then taking on the last name Burrill. Frank and his brother would later legally change their name from Rollerson to Burrill in 1941.

After moving to the U.S., Frank eventually ended up at North Oyster School in 1934. He went to Ladysmith High School in 1936.

“We know he was an avid sportsman,” said Walbank. “He was the president of the school’s Rod and Gun Club.” Burrill also enjoyed making model aircraft.

Frank left school in 1938 to work in a logging camp before soon deciding to join the Air Force with his brother, Jack.

“He was just over 18 years of age when he entered the Royal Canadian Air Force.”

Walbank said Burrill must has made a good impression on military officials.

“The interviewing officer immediately recommended him for pilot training,” said Walbank. He spent six weeks in basic training in Brandon, Man., and then it was off to Winnipeg for pilot training.

In 1941, Burrill did his specialized training on Wellington bombers in Saskatoon.

He sailed for England on Feb. 1, 1942, and arrived in Liverpool on Feb. 9.

Burrill joined the RAF in West Raynham were he assembled his crew but was later transferred that August to the famous 75 Squadron of the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Shortly after his arrival with the team in Sussex, Burrill took delivery of a Wellington Bomber BJ-985. His new crew was a mix of New Zealanders, Canadians and an American.

Pilots during World War Two were allowed to name and paint the nose of their aircraft. For reasons still unknown, Burrill names his plane ‘Rosaline.’

“We don’t know whether Rosaline was a girlfriend he left behind in Ladysmith,” said Walbank.

Walbank said based on the records, Rosaline only had two operational flights.

The first was on December 6, 1942, over Dirsburg, Germany. On the night of December 10, Rosaline joined 479 other bombers headed for Dusseldorf, Germany, where the planes destroyed 18 factories bringing the production of war materials to a grinding halt for several weeks.

“On the return journey it (Rosaline) tragically went missing over the North Sea,” said Walbank. No one knows if the plane was shot down or crash landed due to mechanical failure — 33 aircraft failed to return from the mission. Even after the war ended and prisoners were liberated, Burrill was never to be heard from again.

Walbank said there is still a bit of research to do before the mayor gives the speech on Remembrance Day. This year will also feature a tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives in Afghanistan.

The Rotary Cub is paying for the dinner for the annual event and said any veteran of the Second World War or Korean War can call for a free ticket. Please contact Walbank at 250-245-1431 or Sandra at 250-245-8078.