Legion of Honour: Frank  Poole

RAdm Art McDonald personally awarded the Legion of Honour Medal to Frank Poole with wife Melodie was by his side. Inset: Frank Poole’s portrait taken during his military career.

RAdm Art McDonald personally awarded the Legion of Honour Medal to Frank Poole with wife Melodie was by his side. Inset: Frank Poole’s portrait taken during his military career.

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

Second World War and Korean War veteran Frank Poole admits the Legion of Honour medal recently bestowed upon him is perhaps the most precious he’s received to date.

Capt (Retired) Poole, 93, was presented France’s highest order of military merit by Rear-Admiral Art McDonald, Commander Maritime Forces Pacific, during a ceremony at Veterans Memorial Lodge at Broadmead.

A client of the Veterans Health Centre Day Program at Broadmead, Poole says all of the 14 medals he received for his 25-year military career are important, but the Legion of Honour holds special cultural significance for his entire family.

“This is so big and my family members are in awe,” says Poole. “I grew up in Cape Breton and can trace my family tree back to Normandy, and my wife of 59 years [Melodie] is of Acadian descent. So yes this is a truly great moment for the whole family.”

The Legion of Honour award was originally established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte  and has been awarded to approximately 93,000 veterans worldwide. In 2015 the French Government began honouring 1,000 Canadian veterans with the award to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Landing.

Veterans in line for the award receive a package containing a letter from Nicholas Chapuis, Ambassador for France to Canada, and their medal that signifies the rank of Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour. The award itself is a five-armed cross with a v-shaped cut out at the end of each point, and surrounded by a wreath of laurel leaves.

RAdm McDonald, who also hails from Cape Breton, presented the medal to Poole June 20 with the veteran’s beaming family members looking on.

It was a moment for the former aviator and air gunner to recall his role in the Allied air war over Germany during the Second World War, and tell one harrowing story.

Falling to the Ground
In January 1945, a young Sgt Poole was aboard a Royal Canadian Air Force Halifax Heavy Bomber, 18,000 feet over Hannover, Germany, when it was shot down.

Poole managed to survive by bailing out of the plane and landing in a snow bank. He was eventually captured and spent more than two months in a German prisoner of war camp until the prisoners were liberated in April of that year.

But it was the moments of madness over Hannover that Poole remembers most vividly. He was manning the top turret in the bomber. They were returning from a bombing run over Berlin when a German night flyer crept undetected below the plane.

It fired at the bomber and struck the starboard wing setting it ablaze.

Damage was extensive and the order was given to bail out. Shortly after the order the plane’s gas tank ignited. Poole says the blast blew the plane apart and sent both he and the wreckage hurdling towards the ground.

“The fireball blew off the wings and tail section of the plane,” he recalls. “I bailed out but was knocked unconscious by the explosion. I fell through the air a couple of miles but luckily the cold air revived me.

“I finally realized, as I was tumbling in midair, that these big white spots I could see passing before my eyes were actually the snow banks on the ground. I hadn’t pulled the ripcord on my parachute. I managed to grab it and pull it and the next thing I was sitting in a snow bank and the temperature was freezing, about -41 Fahrenheit.”

Avoiding Capture
During the fall Poole lost his right boot. He managed to fasten a makeshift shoe from materials in his parachute to avoid getting frostbite.

Then he set out through the dark countryside and found shelter in a barn. After a day going undetected, he set out again in a futile attempt to walk to safety.

During his journey Poole tried to cross a river on a makeshift raft but fell into the water. He emerged shivering with his soaked clothing quickly turning to ice.

He sought shelter in a nearby house where an elderly couple provided him with warmth and hot coffee. But he was eventually turned over to German soldiers and taken to an interrogation centre in Frankfurt.

The Germans used solitary confinement without heating as part of an unsuccessful effort to get him to reveal secrets about Allied bombing missions.

From there it was off to Moosburg in southern Bavaria and the infamous Stalag VII-A, Germany’s largest Prisoner of War Camp.

Thankfully Poole’s ordeal there was no more than 10 weeks before the prisoners were liberated.

“The solitary confinement wasn’t good and neither was the prison camp. The memories of it haven’t gone away to this day and I’m not completely over the experience,” he says, declining to share too many details about the living conditions or treatment of the prisoners.

Post-War trauma
The months after the war were the most difficult. When he returned to Cape Breton he couldn’t stand to be around other people or large groups.

He left his family and headed to the back country of New Brunswick where he camped in a makeshift tent for weeks in an effort to come to terms with his memories and thoughts of the war.

“There were only two who escaped the plane wreck that day and it was a miracle that I survived both the crash and the POW camp,” says Poole. “But the question I couldn’t get out of my mind was how come I was so lucky, and what was I being saved for? The guilt hung heavily because I had survived my ordeal and the war while so many others had died.”

Poole is certain he suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. What helped him through his trauma and depression was a chance reunion with an old friend whose cottage was located near Poole’s campsite.

When a brush fire raged through the forest, the pair worked together to dampen the ground and trees with a hose to save the cottage. Poole said the moment was big and helped ease his guilt and rebuild his self-esteem.

“It was a monumental turning point for me because I finally had a feeling of self-worth again, that I was part of the community, and had contributed something,” he said.
Poole enlisted in the armed forces again when war broke out in Korea. He completed an 18-month deployment as a Battle Instructor. That deployment earned him a Victory Medal.

Poole retired from the Canadian Armed Forces in 1971 and moved to Victoria.

His son Raymond Poole, a former Air Traffic Controller for the air force, and his daughter-in-law Sherry Ewacha-Poole, a talented artist, attended the ceremony at Broadmead.

“To get this form of recognition and have the award presented to him by someone currently in a command position with the Canadian military made my dad extremely proud,” says Raymond Poole. “We thought it was appropriate and very touching.”

Following RAdm McDonald’s presentation, the Poole family showed its own gratitude. Sherry presented RAdm McDonald with signed prints of her paintings of HMCS Winnipeg and HMCS Vancouver.

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