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  • Claire Jordan

Judith Fighter's Dad

A little tribute today to these dear, brave faces - Ralph, George, Ken, David and Jock at the front – and the families they had to leave behind.

At the gateway to the Ruhr, the German city of Duisburg was an important logistical hub for the Third Reich, its largest inland port, and a centre for the iron, steel and chemical industries which fed the Nazi War machine.

Duisburg was therefore a significant target for Bomber Command.

Shortly before midnight on 12th May 1943, beautifully-named 28 year old Canadian pilot Ken Fighter of the RCAF’s 426 (Thunderbird) Squadron eased his Wellington bomber into the air from RAF Dishforth in North Yorkshire.

Ken was the fifth child born to German-American Dad Frank and Spanish-American Mum Eva, who’d come to Canada from the US in 1906 with their eldest daughter Thelma. Once settled in Saskatchewan, Frank and Eva added to their family with Jessie, Wilma and David before Ken arrived in 1914, followed finally by little brother John (who perhaps was a bit of a happy surprise) in 1920.

Now here was Ken Fighter, a very long way from Swift Current, Saskatchewan, but no doubt carrying the love and the worry of everyone back home with him on his broad shoulders.

Ken’s four crewmates that night were fellow Canadians, Navigator George McMillan, Bomb Aimer David Maxwell, Rear Gunner Howard Ralph Drake (aged 23) and the only Englishman, Wireless Operator/Air Gunner Eric Betts, known as Jock (aged 21).

They were joining 571 other Allied aircraft on their way to hit the industrial complex at Duisburg.

Near perfect target marking by Pathfinders led to a highly concentrated bombing raid that night; the port and the centre of the city were compromised, including four of the Thyssen steel plants in the area.

But between the target and the North Sea coast, the brave bombers still had to run the horrific gauntlet they’d already faced down on the way in, that of the enemy’s ground defences and the deadly Luftwaffe night fighters with which the dark skies over the occupied Netherlands bristled.

34 of the 572 aircraft which took off for Duisburg that night would not make it home again.

Ken’s Wellington was one of them.

At about 3.28am on the way home and not far from the coast, a night fighter Messerschmitt Bf 109 flown by Feldwebel Karl Leopold of the 1st NJG1 out of Gilze-Rijen airfield, shot them out of the sky.

The burning Wellington hit the ground near Breda.

All five men were killed.

Originally buried as unknown airmen by the Germans, Ken now lies in a shared grave with his Navigator George (who sat behind him in the bomber), in the CWGC’s Bergen Op Zoom Cemetery; their crewmates are close by.

On Ken’s headstone are the words: “Gone But Not Forgotten. Dad, Mom, Brothers & Sisters”.

But Ken Fighter had left something else indelible in the world too.

Before he’d left for War, he had married his sweetheart Hilda, and on the night he died, their little girl, Judith Dale Fighter, was four months and four days old.

Feldwebel Karl Leopold could not take that away from him.

Tiny Judith Fighter would grow up in a better world, because of the men like her father who stood up to be counted when it mattered most.

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