Heroes of the skies
Comrades in arms, partners in business, friends for life.
Don Laubman, 91, and Doug Lindsay, 90, have known each other 70 years, their careers crossing repeatedly and leading them both, ultimately, to Red Deer.
Both enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in late 1939 after boyhoods in which they were fascinated by flight.
“I loved flying,” said Laubman, Lindsay nodding in agreement.
Born in Provost, Laubman grew up in Edmonton watching airport takeoffs and landings.
Lindsay, an Arnprior, Ont., native, had a flying neighbour who took him up and let him pilot often.
After earning their wings, they became flight instructors until they enthusiastically joined overseas fighter squadrons in 1943.
“We met in England as part of a group,” recalls Lindsay.
“My squadron was posted only eight km from Don’s. The air force did everything alphabetically back then and Lindsay wasn’t far behind Laubman for pay parades. We got to know each other well there.”
Getting to know the Germans wasn’t as easy.
“Ninety-five per cent of the time we didn’t see a damn thing,” said Laubman.
“Probably 97 per cent,” added Lindsay of their twice, sometimes thrice, daily patrols in Spitfires.
Laubman’s first encounter yielded “beautiful pictures” and no kill: he’d fired a camera instead of his guns. When superiors saw the film, they mistook glinting sunlight off the German’s wings for hits.
“I was awarded damage and never fired a shot!”
His contact with the enemy was sporadic until flying over Holland during Rhine River bridge battles, when the Nazis sent hundreds of planes to keep the Allies out of Germany.
In four September 1944 missions over two days, Laubman downed seven enemy planes, a feat earning him the Distinguished Flying Cross. By war’s end, he had destroyed 15 and damaged three, becoming Canada’s fourth ranking ace.
Lindsay shot down three planes in under two minutes on July 2, 1944, when his squadron and another faced the enemy over Normandy.
“I had quite a tussle with that third one. Eight of us had been mixed up with about 20 planes and then there was dead silence. I went home by myself.”
He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, finishing the war with eight destroyed and five damaged.
Neither man feels remorse for doing their duty.
“I was shooting at an airplane, not an individual,” Lindsay said frankly.
“I tried to overlook the fact there’s a human being in that machine,” said Laubman.
“You’re in another state. You’re just locked onto that guy. It’s an amazing sensation.”
On one patrol, Lindsay saw that intense focus turn fatal.
“A young American flying with us strafed a convoy and he flew right into it. It was his first mission.”
Laubman was briefly a prisoner of war before the war’s end in May 1945. He attacked two gas trucks and both exploded, damaging his Spitfire and forcing him to bail out. Hitler Youth brandishing Luger pistols captured him and in three weeks of captivity, he was briefly held with other Canadians who were captured at Dieppe.
Both men re-enlisted after returning to Canada to continue their military careers.
Lindsay was one of 22 Canadians to fly F-86 Sabre jets with Americans during the Korean War. He flew 50 missions, destroying two Chinese MiGs and damaging two more. He also led the RCAF formation flyover during Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation Review in 1953.
Now fast friends, both commanded squadrons through the 1950s and ’60s, and their paths crossed often.
“I took over from Don at the Pentagon (and) we were at staff college together.”
By 1972, now lieutenant general Laubman was chief of personnel at Canadian Forces headquarters, promoted from command of Canadian Forces in Europe. Lindsay was a colonel posted to Tacoma, Wash.
“Don called me and said, ‘I think it’s time we got out of the air force.’ ”
When Lindsay built his cottage on the same Ontario lake as Laubman, “All the materials I bought except the lumber came from Canadian Tire.”
Already expanding westward, Canadian Tire gave them a franchise in Thompson, Man. Lindsay credits his wife Anne and Don’s spouse Margaret for helping make the rundown store a success.
“They unloaded freight by hand, cleaned, whatever it took.”
They opened a new store in Saskatoon, then split so Lindsay could open another in Moose Jaw. Laubman opened Red Deer’s store in 1979 and before retiring, sold it to Lindsay in 1986. Lindsay retired himself in 1991.
They both now live in Red Deer.
Both veterans respond to student questions about their service, downplaying any exploits.
“They’re more interested in details like where did I sleep and what did I eat,” said Lindsay.
They praise the efforts of Sylvan Lake’s Allan Cameron, whose Veterans Voices of Canada non-profit group interviews veterans on camera about their experiences.
“It’s important to get that record for the kids,” said Lindsay.