Hamilton Jewish News
David Goldberg, circa 1940
As you walk through the grounds of any Canadian military cemetery, you come upon Òrow-on-rowÓ of uniform headstones, each one indistinguishable from the previous, or the next, except for the name and date inscribed thereon. There is no way by looking at these cold markers that you can appreciate the remarkable achievements of the brave men and women who lay beneath. But each have them. Tales of heroism in battle, of family, of lives lived, hopes, dreams, fears and tragedies. All now silent and often forgotten. It is true that the identically shaped stones cannot tell the tales of those who are buried in the graves. But every stone has a story.
In the new military section of Hamilton`s Woodland Cemetery you may come across the grave of the late David Goldberg. When you think about famous Canadian fighter pilots who have distinguished themselves in battle since the dawn of aviation, the names that readily come to mind are Billy Bishop, Will Carter and Roy Brown among others. But the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) designation on the stone after his name lays testament that Group Captain Goldberg is part of that elite group and the story of a young Jewish Hamilton boy who spent his life serving his country is no less captivating.
DaveÕs father Harry Goldberg immigrated to Cleveland from Poland at the age of about 10, with his family in the late 19th century. He eventually moved up across the border to Hamilton, and established himself in the hotel industry, ultimately owning the King George Hotel on the corner of NcNab and Market Streets. At one point Harry was in business with Frank Gerstein, who fixed him up with his younger sister, Sophia. The Gersteins had also immigrated to the U.S. when Frank and Sophia were young children. Harry and Sophia married and had four children born and bred in the Kent and Stanley area of Hamilton. David was the oldest, born in March 1917; Irwin followed fifteen months later; then a sister Ruth and finally William (Dr. Bill Goldberg Ð the now retired Chief of Medicine of St. Joseph's Healthcare).
After graduating Westdale High School, Dave went on to earn a degree in Business Administration at Boston University in 1939. When war broke out in Europe, he returned home and immediately went to enlist in the Canadian Army. After being refused, Dave joined the Royal Canadian Air Force a year later. He earned his wings at the Service Flying Training School in Saskatoon and the RCAF flight training base in Dunville, flying vintage style World War I era bi-planes. Dave quickly proved himself to be a talented and instinctive pilot. As his skills were recognized by his superiors he graduated to the newer fighters. Although Dave was anxious to go overseas, he was assigned to be a testing officer for other pilot trainees.
Finally in December 1942, Dave got his wish. He was sent overseas for advanced Spitfire fighter training in England. In the summer of 1943 he was attached to 416 Squadron and deployed to France.
Over the next eight months, Dave flew 79 missions with his comrades of the 416th and later the 403rd Squadrons. Together they wreaked havoc on the Nazi military machine positioned across France. On March 8, 1944, during his 80th mission, Dave was strafing a Luftwaffe air field near St. Andre-lez Lille just south of the Belgian border. Flying in at low altitude, DaveÕs plane was hit by German ground fire. Struggling to retain control of the plane he was quickly faced with two options Ð bail out or attempt a landing. Having run this scenario through his mind many times before, he had long ago decided that in such a case he would do his best to come down with his aircraft. Dave had a great level of confidence not only in the aircraftÕs construction, but also in his own flying ability. The thought of bailing out just never appealed to him.
Using all his strength and skill, Dave selected an open field out in the countryside and brought his crippled Spitfire in. As the plane hit the ground it overturned and caught fire. He scrambled out of the burning aircraft totally unscathed. He knew the Germans saw the plane go down and would quickly be on-site looking for him. Being Jewish, Dave was fully aware of what his fate would be if he was captured by the Nazis. He quickly buried his dog tags and made a run for it. Within less than an hour, German troops with dogs were scouring the area looking for the Canadian pilot, but by then Dave was long gone.
Never knowing who was friend and who was foe, Dave evaded capture for two days by hiding in ditches and haystacks along the Lille countryside. He eventually came to a farm where he observed a farmer and his son working the fields. Once he had watched them for long enough to convince himself that they were not in collusion with the Germans or the Vichy French, he approached them and asked for shelter. The farmer took him in, fed him and offered him their only bed to sleep, which he did for the next twenty-four hours. The farmer had connections with the French Underground and contacted the Maquis, a rural guerrilla band of the Resistance, who developed a plan to get Dave out of France and into neutral Spain.
Travelling by night, the Maquis hop-scotched Dave across the country. Travelling to Paris and down through Toulouse, he finally arrived in the southern reaches of the country and the foothills of the French Pyrenees Mountains.
There, the underground organized groups of escapees to climb over 2,400 metres across the mountains. They provided a highly skilled French guide to direct them through the rough terrain and worse weather, but who ended up deserting the group before they reached their destination. Luckily, they made it with the help of a young boy who knew the way into northern Spain.
Even though Dave was finally out of the grasp of the Germans, he was still in constant danger. Although formally neutral, the fascist General Francisco Franco maintained a close alliance with the Nazis. As Dave later recalled, he always felt that the possibility of being arrested in Spain was greater than anywhere else. In fact, Spain was the only country where he was ever stopped and asked for his papers.
Although he didnÕt know it at the time, the Maquis was in regular contact with British Intelligence, who knew that Dave had not only survived the crash, but was making his way to Barcelona. When he finally showed up at the British Consulate two months after being shot down, he was met by the mysterious Miss Collins who ran the entire intelligence operation in northern Spain. With typical British demeanour, she greeted him with, ÒItÕs delightful to see you. Would you like some tea?Ó Once back in British hands, Dave was spirited down to Gibraltar from where he was sent back to England.
Back in those days of war, because of the severe shortage of experienced men, fighter pilots had no defined service periods. They stayed overseas for as long as they could fly and fight effectively. As Dave recounted, depending on the type of bomber squadron you were attached to, you may have flown either 25, 30 or 50 missions. In fighter command, it was usually left up to the officer in charge to decide when a pilot had had enough Ð and thereÕs a time when you just have to say to someone, ÒI think youÕve had enough.Ó
However, Dave hadnÕt had enough at this point. After a monthÕs leave, he coincidently met up with a friend of his from Hamilton who asked if Dave would be willing to accept a posting in Italy. In late 1944, the RCAF only had one squadron in Italy Ð the 417 ÒWindsorsÓ of 244 Wing of the Desert Air Force Ð which was severely lacking in experienced pilots. Dave accepted, and with his effervescent personality and ever-present enthusiasm, the 417 under his leadership was transformed into a top performing unit in the final months of the war.
By this time the Allies ruled the skies and the German Luftwaffe had been pretty much decimated. The 417Õs flight operations mostly involved ground attack in the area near the eastern Italian town of Ravenna, just off the coast of the Adriatic Sea. In one notable mission, Dave noticed a team of three horse-drawn vehicles loaded down with hay. The way they ambled along the road just struck him as curious. Finally, after closely watching the odd manner in which the carts negotiated around a corner, Dave was convinced. He swung his Spitfire around and strafed the vehicles, destroying three German tanks camouflaged underneath the hay.
Dave remained with the 417 as Squadron Leader until the German forces in Italy surrendered on May 2nd, 1945. By then he had personally flown a remarkable 155 missions in Italy, for a grand total of 235 throughout the course of the war. Dave was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery, gallantry, and especially for his work with the 417. He often liked to point out that he was the only pilot with a DFC who never shot down a plane.
Returning home, Dave took care of some unfinished business. While earning his degree in Boston before the war, Dave met Alice Dickey, a Terre Haute, Indiana native who was studying English at Simmons College. After Alice graduated in 1940, she spent the next seven years working for a publishing company in New York City, until Dave showed up and whisked her off her feet. They were married in AliceÕs home town on June 3, 1947. The newlyweds then moved back up to Canada, and were eventually blessed with a daughter, Mary.
Upon his return from Europe, Dave studied law at Osgoode Hall in Toronto, where he was called to the bar in June 1949. He then embarked on a fifty year career practising commercial and corporate law, the last twenty of which was spent at Ross & McBride in Hamilton.
Even while practising law, Dave was not finished with flying or the Air Force. He joined the Air Reserves Squadron 424 flying out of RCAF Station Hamilton. There, Dave had the opportunity to maintain his piloting skills flying Vampires and American P51 Mustang fighters. On one flight, the engine on DaveÕs Mustang died and he just glided it in for a perfect landing using a very difficult Òdead-stickÓ manoeuvre.
His flying and aerial marksmanship skills were further exemplified in 1953 when Dave was part of the 424Õs five man team in the Air ForceÕs annual gunnery competition. The squadron defeated CanadaÕs best regular-force pilots to win the prestigious MacBrien trophy. Upon the retirement of Group Captain Murray Marshall, Dave stepped in as the Commanding Officer of 16 Wing, 424 Squadron until his final retirement from the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1958.
Dave continued to practice law until he retired from Ross & McBride in 1999. Sadly, his health began to deteriorate. He peacefully passed away on September 17, 2006 at the age of 89.
As one generation passes into the next; ÒlÕdor vÕdorÓ, we are slowly losing our World War Two veterans who forfeited everything in order to preserve our freedom, and to conquer the vilest regime the world has ever seen. While the legacies left by Dave and countless others are documented in the annals of our history, the greatest tribute we can pay to all our fighting men and women is to never forget the great sacrifices they have made on our behalf.