Medals still missing but war hero's faith is intact
Jack Miles is still hoping to be reunited with the medals and letter of commendation he earned in the RAF during and immediately after the Second World War.
The mementos of a distinguished service record were snatched from the wall of his den May 30 by thieves who ransacked the home of the lively 96-year-old Newton resident while he was out at lunch with his girlfriend, Pauline.
But the former flying officer said that, whatever happens, the outpouring of concern from people since the incident – including RCMP officers who spent hours searching his two-acre Highway 10 property to make sure the burglars had not dropped the medals on the way out – helped restore much of his faith in humanity.
Since appearing in various media following the robbery, Miles has been particularly impressed by the reaction of younger generations to the loss of his medals – including a woman in her early 20s who approached him after he and Pauline attended a recent Vancouver concert by trumpeter Chris Botti.
“She said ‘you’re famous – you’re going to get those medals back,’” he said. “Everybody is treating the loss of the medals – insignia of service to your country – as a very important thing.
“Everybody is proud of being a Canadian – and I’ve felt that. People so repudiate this action, and they’ve voiced it. It really compensates for my loss to see how we’ve come together as a group. If I get them back, I will have a lot of people to thank – including the RCMP, who’ve been superb.”
The missing medals recognize Miles’ wartime service in Canada as a pilot and instructor, a stint in Burma, helping repatriate former British POWs from what was then French Indo-China and lending aid to Dutch residents of Indonesia during uprisings after the war.
They include the 1939-’45 Service Medal, the Defense Medal, the War Medal, the Burma Star and the Southeast Asia Medal. Next to them, on the wall of his den, was a framed letter from the British Air Ministry, issued in 1946, commending him for his service.
They were all taken in the robbery, which also claimed a gold wristwatch, a stash of still-full liquor bottles he’d collected along the way and a small amount of cash.
Ironically, Miles’ residence has a full alarm system, but it wasn’t activated on that day.
He was still fortunate – the thieves, who broke in through his garage workshop, took a length of copper pipe he had there and left it in his ransacked bedroom.
“I suppose if I’d come back while they were still here, they’d have used it on me,” he said.
For Miles – who had wanted to settle in Canada ever since he was first posted here as part of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan in 1941 – the robbery is only the latest chapter in a long and exotic life history. It included post-war airline flying in Peronist Argentina, and then in Canada, culminating in becoming vice-president of operations for Pacific Western Airlines, before his retirement in 1978.
Born in Argentina in 1918, Miles grew up on a ranch near Buenos Aires, son of an Englishman.
He wanted to be a pilot from the time when he and his cousin, Dick Moreno (now living in Victoria, and also an RAF veteran), were both 11 years old and at boarding school there.
“(Famous American flyer) General Jimmy Doolittle flew over our school in his Curtiss biplane and did some aerobatics – he was visiting Argentina – and I remember turning to Dick and saying, ‘that’s what I’m going to do.’”
When war broke out in 1939, he was determined to go to England to volunteer for the RAF.
“We were very English – even my mother, who was Argentinian, said that going to England was like going home to her,” he said.
Injuries sustained in an accident with his Triumph motorcycle in 1940 sidelined him – just as well, as it turned out, since the freighter he’d originally booked passage on was torpedoed by the Germans with the loss of all on board.
He finally arrived in England in August of 1941, where he did his initial and supplementary navigation training, and then was posted to Canada in October 1942.
After training in New Brunswick and Alberta, he won his wings in Moose Jaw, Sask., doing so well that he was made an instructor.
Operational flying followed when he was stationed in Comox, B.C., flying twin-engined Douglas Dakotas on long-range submarine patrol missions. He was still flying Dakotas when he was posted to 96 Squadron in Burma, where he flew supply drops in support of the 14th Army.
Miles’ roughest flying experience of the era came in September 1945, barely a month after the war had ended. He was forced to crash land near Rangoon after both engines of his plane cut out while returning with a full load of former Commonwealth POWs from Saigon.
Nobody was seriously hurt in the pancake landing, he said, but he was surprised when he was commended for his handling of the situation.
“I thought I was ‘for it,’ for smashing up one of His Majesty’s planes,” he said.