Nicholas Stusiak was born May 19, 1920 in Bienfait, Saskatchewan to Alexander and Veronica (Pentalychuk) Stusiak both of whmo were from the Ukraine.*1
After leaving Saskatchewan, the family moved to Bonnyville, Alberta before moving to B. C. when Nick was six years of age 6* and where Nick attended school.
Times were tough for the family during the depression when there was little money for even new shoes needed to attend school. At the time there was some discrimination when one was from the Ukraine so help wasn't always available.*9
Life in small-town Canada was different for young people who were freer to go into the bush or play around water, as long as parents weren't aware of what they were doing and Nick and his older brother, Michael, were no exception. Michael "had a lot of growing up with Nick stories, some typical growing up stories" of that era. "The two brothers cut school to fish and then worried the whole time how they would explain the fish when they got home from school." *10
After school, Nick worked at the Powell River pulp mill as a grinder man.*1 That job was considered the hardest, back-breaking job in the plant.*3 Brother Victor said it was a hard job, but Nick needed work and that was what was available.
10 June 1941 Nick, service number J/35994, enlisted in Vancouver.*1 He trained on Harvards and twin engine craft.
Shortly after, on 1 November 1941, 111 Squadron was reformed in Rockcliffe, Ontario. Plans for their involvement in Europe changed in December when there was need for coastal protection from the Japanese.*2 Nick's brother said Nick was on a ship on his way to Europe when the men were removed and sent to the west coast to protect the area from a possible Japanese invasion.
Nick took part in the Commonwealth air training on the Curtis P-40 Kittyhawks, fighter aircraft, at Patricia Bay on Vancouver Island. He became a sergeant pilot *4 in 111 Squadron. It was during this time on 17 March 1942 that the Saanich First Nation chief gave a Thunderbird totem pole to the squadron. Thus they became known as the 111 (Thunderbird) Squadron. From January to May 1942 the squadron patrolled the west coast of the continent and tracked the nine Japanese subs seen offshore. *2
The U. S. began to secretly build an airfield on Umnak Island May 1942. The 111 Fighter Squadron transferred to Elmendorf Air Base in Alaska 1 - 4 June 1942 in order to reinforce the defence of Canadian and American coastlines, just as the Japanese occupied two Aleutian Islands 3 June 1942.*2 The squadron remained at Elmendorf until 30 October.
Nick was home on leave by 7 July 1942 and was thought to be stationed in northern coastal B. C. *4 While they were on leave, the planes were turned over to another squadron.
The first seven Kittyhawks left for Umnak on 13 July 1942, only five made it safely. When two replacements and five more planes left 18 July 1942, only one arrived safely. With the inclement weather, low cloud, fog and uncharted mountains, the pilots became disoriented. Four, including the squadron leader, crashed into the mountain and one was thought to have become lost and ran out of fuel over the water.
25 September 1942, in their first offensive, four of the Kittyhawks were fighter cover for the bombers attacking Japanese installations. It was also on this sortie their Squadron Leader Boomer was credited with being the only RCAF pilot to shoot down a Japanese plane, the Nakajima A6M2-N, a float-equipped-like "Zero". *2
Nick was in Alaska in November 1942. From stories of his time in the Aleutian Islands when the squadron was relieved, only two aircraft remained seviceable. His was one,....and an attest to his flying skills. Bad weather and fog being the worst problem. I recall hearing a statistic from an ex Air Marshal many years ago that 84 percent of all aircrew fatalities were the result of accidents. *3
2 March 1943, Nick became a Warrant Officer.
When the Japanese were pushed out of the Aleutians, Nick was among those who were home by August 1943. *4 Some of the squadron returned to Patricia Bay 14 September 1943 and some were transferred to Kodiak to defend the naval base.
Nick, after receiving his commission October 1943, visited his sister, Mrs. Joe Small, of Powell River Nov 1943.*11 "He was at the Paper Makers' New Year's Ball held in Dwight Hall. He looked strikingly handsome in his officer's uniform. That winter, before leaving for overseas duty, Nick and his wingman paid Powell River a last visit in the form of an aerial display in their P-40 Kittyhawk fighter. In the finale, they bid goodbye by flying between the paper mill's twin smoke stacks that were at that time a landmark of the town. I heard later they were reprimanded for breaking Air Force regulations.....indeed. It was quite a show!" *3
The squadron left Patricia Bay 15 January 1944 to join the European campaign. On their way to England, they learned their squadron had been renamed 440 (Beaver) Squadron, part of the RAF.
They arrived in Ayr, Scotland 8 February 1944 and Flight Officer (Pilot) Nick Stusiak was among them. *4. From February to April 1944, the squadron trained on the Hawker Hurricanes and, when they became available, the Hawker Typhoons, remaining with them until August 1945. The Typhoons were fighter bombers that carried 500 pound bombs under each wing and after improvements were made, they carried 1000 pound bombs. *5 The planes made steep dives, firing rockets at and damaging targets, but they, in turn, became targets for heavy flak.
The 440 Squadron joined The 438 and 439 Squadrons of the RCAF to become part of The 143 Wing stationed with the RAF at Ayr and Hurn, Dorset, England, near Christchurch. 30 March 1944 their operations in preparation for the D-day landing began.
Writing home, Nick let his brother-in-law, Joe Small, and others know he felt sorry for them with monthly rationing of liquor because that wasn't the case where he was in England. *6 March 1944, P. 2.
Nick spent time in the hospital due to ear problems as was indicated in an April 23rd letter to his sister. He had also had a chance to fly over enemy territory weeks before the accident. *6 He apparently had a broken ear drum and was no longer able to fly, but he talked to a doctor he knew and was kept in the program.*9
It was while practising low flying on Saturday, 27 May 1944, just 8 days after arriving, that Nick's training accident occurred. His Typhoon MN 342 stalled and spun in a crash killing Nick near Bansgore, Dorset. Another version was his plane clipped a church steeple. Word of his death was received on Monday when his sister received a wire containing the terrible news. *6
A year previously Nick's picture had been featured on the front page of the colored section of the Montreal Standard as a typical Canadian airman.*6 (See the picture attached.)
The RAF Operations Record on the 440 Squadron recorded Nick's service: The funeral for F/O Nick Stusiak took place in North Cemetery on the 31 May 1944 at 1500 hours. The service at the grave site was conducted by S/L Ashford, Protestant Chaplain. Officers from 440 Squadron were pallbearers and Escort Party. Wreaths were received from 143 Wing H.Q. and 438 and 439 Squadrons.
Nick was buried in the Bournemouth North War Cemetery *1 that is south of the main cemetery. The area is surrounded by a low yew hedge. Inside there is a war memorial, a plaque with the names of some of the casualties and 75 gravestones.
Nick's nephew, Michael, said, "My father, Michael, spent more time working in the woods with my grandfather while Nick spent more time with my grandmother. Their mother used to sing at home, but he never heard her sing again after Nick was killed." The unimaginable sense of loss felt when beloved family members were killed in tragic circumstances of war should be remembered by all Canadians because so much is owed to these young men, women and their families.
Victor Stusiak, Nick's younger brother, stated both he and Nick wanted to join in the fight for their country to prove they, too, were Canadians, even though their parents had been born elsewhere. For that Nick paid a high price.
At home in Powell River, missed by those who knew the pleasant young man and his friends lost to the community words expressed their feelings Jul/46, p. 13 - "How well we remember these lads, because they were first in battle and were in our minds and hearts for so long…(including) Nick Stusiak…- all youngsters, who were part and parcel of our community and athletic life, were sucked up in the tempest." *4
Flying Officer Nicholas Stusiak was remembered and honored by the Province of Saskatchewan with a geo-memorial, Stusiak Lake, located northeast of Black Bear Island Lake 55.6833 degrees N /105.3333degrees W. *1
Some years later in England, a man digging in his garden found a R. C. A. F. identification bracelet. Engraved on one side was Nick Stusiak and on the other, Nick from Ellen. The man's yard had been the crash site of Nick's plane. In an attempt to find the Stusiak family, his granddaughter wrote to Canada telling their story. Her mother, as a child, had witnessed the crash and never forgot the tragedy; she wanted the bracelet returned to Nick's family.*7
Nothing further was known about the bracelet or the unknown Ellen until August 16, 2014 when an e-mail arrived from California. The writer, daughter of Ellen Randle, originally of High River, Alberta, was inquiring about Nick and the bracelet Ellen had given him after she found Nick's story on Find a Grave. Ellen and Nick had met at a dance in High River where it is thought Nick trained on the Tiger Moth and they continued to date until he was transferred. *8
The R.C.A.F. sent his belongings, among which was a picture of Ellen found hanging in the locker to his sister, Mrs. Joe Small, of Vancouver. Mrs. Small returned the photograph to Ellen and so they became acquainted and corresponded with one another until Mrs. Smith's death.*8
Nick's bracelet is back in the possession of the Stusiak family *9 and has been since 2004.*8
Ellen, now 96 years of age, still affectionately and sadly remembers Nick as a nice young man who died far too young. The mystery as to Ellen's identity was finally solved, 70 years after Nick's death.*8
*1 Saskatchwan Virtual War Memorial
*2 Canadian Wings. The History and Heritage of the RCAF
*3 Tom Pearson, formerly of Powell River
*4 Powell River Historical Museum and Archives
*6 Powell River News "Glacier Media Group' Powell River June 1, 1944.
*7 Will Chabun, the Regina Leader Post
*8 Millie Anderson, Ellen's daughter
*9 Victor Stusiak, Nick's brother
*10 Michael Stusiak, son of Nick's brother, Michael Stusiak
*11 Powell River News, courtesy Grant Workman
Other information on Nick can also be found at the following sites:
Grant Workman's website Pruhoww2.weebly.com
Bill Eull's website http://www.rcaf111fsquadron.com/pilots.html
ROYAL CANADIAN AIR FORCE
27th MAY 1944 AGE 24
OF OUR BELOVED SON