Stanley and Loretta Hilchey were walking home from church on Mother’s Day 1945 when they noticed someone on the porch of their west Halifax home.
It was May 13, just six days after the city erupted in a two-day celebration that turned sour after Germany surrendered in World War II. More than 200 people were arrested after more than 200 stores were looted and 500 businesses damaged.
Three people died during what became known as the Halifax VE Day Riots.
The Hilcheys had three sons. Two had served in the war effort. With the war now over, they believed their sons were safe.
The person on the veranda was there to deliver a telegram. Stanley signed for it, opened the envelope, read it, and had a stunned look on his face.
“I regret to inform that your son, Flight Lieutenant Ray Bertram Hilchey, missing, believed to have been killed as a result of overseas air operations on May 9,” the telegram read in part.
Stanley and Loretta Hilchey were devastated, says their grandson, Bruce Hilchey.
“Most people would have thought the danger was over,” said the Dartmouth, N.S. resident.
Bruce’s father, Glyn Hilchey, is Ray Hilchey’s only surviving brother.
Ray Hilchey, 22, served as a navigator with Royal Air Force 514 Squadron. With the war technically over, on May 9 his squadron was in the skies as part of the effort to repatriate tens of thousands of POWs to Europe, the book says, Nothing Can Stop Us: The Definitive History of 514 Squadron RAF.
“Bomber Command’s massive fleet, now running out of things to bomb in Europe, was to be used to bring POWs back to freedom,” wrote co-authors Andrew Porrelli and Simon Hepworth.
“For 514 Squadron, unfortunately, there had to be a sting in the narrative of events.”
As part of Operation Exodus, the squadron’s first task on 9 May was for 10 aircraft to pick up liberated POWs from Juvincourt, France.
Hilchey, the plane’s six other crew members and 24 POWs took off at 12:15 p.m. local time for RAF Waterbeach, which is about 100 miles north of London.
Within 10 minutes, a message was sent indicating that the plane was going to have to make an emergency landing. It circled Roye-Amy aerodrome twice and then crashed.
Everyone on board is dead. Their bodies were buried in the northern cemetery of Clichy, in the north of Paris.
Due to the severity of the crash, individual identification could not be made of the bodies of Hilchey and two other crew members.
Hilchey flew 26 operational sorties during his time in the Royal Canadian Air Force, against targets in Germany and occupied France and the Netherlands.
Confirmation of Hilchey’s death would come in a letter dated June 11 from the Wing Commander of 514 Squadron.
Prior to joining the Air Force, Hilchey worked in the maintenance department of Maritime Tel & Tel. After enlisting in October 1942, he trained in Manitoba and went overseas in April 1944.
In his enlistment papers, Hilchey noted that his particular qualifications and hobbies that would be useful in the Air Force were photography and scouting, while the sports he enjoyed were soccer, hockey and tennis.
“I almost feel a bit deprived that I never had the chance to meet him,” said Bruce Hilchey.
He first learned 10 years ago how his uncle had died. Bruce’s uncle, Harry Hilchey, wrote a chapter on the tragedy in his book, Ministry in many places.
“Many of the tragedies of war were simply never spoken of by survivors or by servicemen who participated in them,” Bruce said.
His father, Glyn, served in the Merchant Navy during World War II, while his uncle, Harry, was in the Anglican ministry.
Bruce said the Russian invasion of Ukraine made him think more about Ray and his service.
“I think history is repeating itself… You have to protect your freedom,” he said. “You have to stand up to the bullies.”
A look at Ray Hilchey’s personal effects reveals some details about his final days. His last entry in his flight log on April 30 simply reads “food lets Rotterdam down”.
His diary is more detailed, noting that there were downpours over the Netherlands and that the country was flooded that day. The food was “dropped from 500 feet. The Dutch were waving like crazy.”
The following days included a dance, as well as the delivery of food and supplies to The Hague.
Hilchey’s last diary entry was May 6.
“Nothing to do today,” he said. “Go out with Dan and the boys tonight.”