by David J. Bercuson
June 5, 2019
Each year, when the anniversary of D-Day comes around, I think of my father’s cousin, Bernard Bercuson, or rather, Pilot Officer Bernard Bercuson, who was killed in action just after midnight on Aug. 17, 1944. Bernard was a wireless air gunner aboard a Royal Canadian Air Force Halifax bomber, which means that he operated the radio aboard his aircraft and also manned a machine gun. He was one of three Bercuson boys who served in the military, the only one who didn’t make it home. With his death in battle, one ordinary Canadian family paid the blood offering alongside over a million Canadian men and women who fought the Nazis in the Second World War.
In the evening of Aug. 16, 1944, Bernard’s bomber took off from their base at Skipton-on-Swale in Yorkshire, England, and struck out east towards Denmark. Bomber Command was putting forward a maximum effort that evening attacking the port of Kiel, near the eastern entrance to the Kiel Canal, and Stettin on the north German coast. Bernard’s aircraft was assigned to drop mines in the Bay of Kiel. Airmen of the day called these missions “gardening” operations because they likened the mines they dropped to vegetables.
Several minutes past midnight, Bernard’s bomber was attacked by a German night fighter and was shot down. All seven crew members, six from Canada and the seventh from the United Kingdom, were killed. Today Bernard’s body is buried in a small churchyard in Magleby, a tiny village on the Danish island of Langeland, near where he washed ashore a month after his aircraft was attacked. He lies beside the body of his nineteen-year-old pilot, Joseph G.M. Savard of Montreal. Bernard was 28 when he was killed, Savard, 19.