The Story of M427 “BC Star”
During the buildup of the war effort on the West Coast many new remote early warning radar units were built and maintained. The RCAF requisitioned tugs and fishing craft that were then attached to the Marine Section to service these otherwise inaccessible stations. These vessels were the “work horses” that plied back and forth on their unscheduled runs moving construction crews, material, and heavy equipment up and down the coast of British Columbia. To help keep these radar unit units’ existence and location secret radio silence was enforced on these runs and all information regarding the movement of this type of marine vessel was classified and all communications were coded.
On July 23, 1943, M 427 BC Star was scheduled for one of these runs. She departed Bella Bella with her ten man crew and a cargo of forty-three tons of gravel and cement and five No. 9 CMU personnel assigned to the construction project. They were bound for the new radar site at Cape St. James in the Queen Charlotte Islands. No. 28 (RU) Cape St James had no way of knowing that the supply boat was on its way as they had not yet received the necessary cypher equipment to decode the movement message. Radio silence was enforced on the ship and no one missed her until 3 August when construction crews queried when their supplies were to arrive.
On the 4 August a Stranraer from 9 BR Squadron started the search, on the 5 August, Norseman #2470 was sent from Bella Bella to search area and on 8 August a search was carried out by the M.536 SKEENA MAID. An intense sea and air search covered a wide area during the next several weeks, but only two bodies were recovered and very little wreckage was found. On 3 September an unidentified airman’s body was found on Price Island. A tombstone was erected at the Meadow Island Cemetery, Bella Bella, to remember the unknown airman.
Speculation and rumours circulated about the vessel being attacked by a Japanese submarine, and this information was enhanced by crewmembers aboard another RCAF Marine vessel inbound to Alliford Bay. They reported that they were listening to a Ketchikan Alaska radio station when its program was interrupted by a strange and unidentified transmission “Star out of bread and water. Alliford repeat message. Thank you. Good Afternoon” However, no conclusive evidence ever came to light that explained why the Star went down. Evidently the hull had simply opened up under the weight of her cargo and the M-427 sank so quickly that no life boats were launched and no distress signals were sent.
This supply mission resulted in the largest loss of life in the history of the Marine Branch. The men are commemorated on panel 2 of the Commonwealth Air Forces Ottawa Memorial dedicated to air force personnel lost without trace in Canada, the U.S. and neighboring lands and seas during the Second World War. One month after the loss, marine craft procedures were revised to ensure prompt reporting of arrivals and departures.
BC Star crew/passenger list 23 July 1943
R128864 Cpl Charles Gordon Glover
R186865 LAC Harold Fredrick Dakenfold
R173910 LAC George Thornton Stead
R213870 AC1 Titus Vollhoffer
R220368 AC2 Maurice Daniel Onuski
R58625 Sgt Philip Eric Olsen
R87823 LAC Clarence James Sherlock
P4319 FSgt Roy Henry Drouillard
R146033 Sgt Jack Douglas Hearfield
R220720 AC2 Gilbert Campbell McFadyen
R151826 FSgt William Ernest Mitchell
R128695 Sgt Jonathan Charles Slater
R255739 AC2 Arthur Garnet Davies
R124630 Sgt William Murray MacNeill
R56918 Cpl Tadeusz Ledwig Polec
The dedication of the BC Star
July 6th 2013 was a beautifully clear, sunny day. Shearwater Resort’s crew boats and others brought in people from the outlying Central Coast villages. A charter aircraft brought forty family members and dignitaries from Vancouver, and a Buffalo from 442 Squadron brought in 888 Wing and 101 Squadron members and their CO Lieutenant-Colonel Todd Sharp, who spoke at the ceremony. In total, nearly 400 people showed up. The dedication of the War Memorial started at 1100 and took two hours. The Warriors pole and the Cenotaph were dedicated first, then a memorial service was held for those who served and those that lost their life serving which included the crews from Canso 9789 and “BC Star”. The RCMP and the Colour Party were warm by the time it was over as were the seventeen Chiefs in ceremonial regalia. 101 Squadron’s piper and bugler added to the solemnity of the occasion, as did the Chiefs welcoming dance and the defenders dance at the Pole dedication. The CO of 442 Squadron spoke of how the military has evolved and how it is still here to help residents of the Central coast. Two of the sons of the First CO of 9 BR Squadron Commander S/L Fred Carpenter spoke about their father’s experiences. A very fitting tribute to those who served at RCAF Stn Bella Bella and the First Nations members who served in Canada’s wars. Then the RCAFA and RCMP members retired for a debrief and some refreshments.
(The full dedication ceremony and a slideshow can be found here.)
52° 8’51.04″N 128° 5’22.16″W