Remembering William James Windeler

Photo: William James Windeler

The following is part of a continuing series of profiles of servicemen from the Glebe and St. Matthew’s Anglican Church who gave their lives to Canada and the pursuit of peace in the Second World War. We commemorate and remember their passing, 80 years ago.

By Kevan Pipe

William James Windeler was born February 19, 1919, the son of William and Edna Windeler of Ottawa, who lived at 588 The Driveway adjacent to the Rideau Canal. His sisters Lois and Doris were 13 and eight when he was born.

A scholar and an athlete, William attended Hopewell School from 1925 to 1933, then on to Glebe Collegiate, graduating in 1937. He certainly enjoyed his four high school years, playing on the basketball and rugby teams while also being a member of the chemistry club.

That gave him a clear interest in chemistry. In 1940, he enrolled at the University of Ottawa in both chemistry and mathematics, and he also worked as a chemistry assistant for the E.B. Eddy Company from late 1940 to June 1941.

On August 4, 1941, with war raging in Europe and Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany) in full battle mode, 22-year-old William enlisted in the RCAF, following a short stint with our military forces in Cornwall as a private and working in the chemistry lab there. A notation in his RCAF Attestation Paper stated he was just one year short of graduating from University of Ottawa with a degree in chemistry.

After nine months of intensive training, on June 5, 1942, at RCAF Station Uplands, he received his pilot wings and became a Flying Officer. His skills must have been exceptional as he then immediately enrolled in a flight instructors’ course at RCAF Station Trenton. Upon course completion, he was appointed as a flight instructor at RCAF Station Claresholm in Alberta for eight months. This base was a part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP), devised by the governments of Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand in 1939 as a means of training air crew for the war in Europe.

Flying Officer Windeler was a member of this ‘Plan’ until his transfer overseas in late 1943 to England. Assigned to RAF 263 Squadron at RAF Station Harrowbeer near Plymouth in Southwest England, his squadron was assigned the task of patrolling the coast to intercept low level attacks by German FW fighter-bombers as well as conducting attacks on shipping targets on the French coast, often near Brest.

The squadron was outfitted with the new single-seat Hawker Typhoon fighter bomber, heavily armed with four cannons and rockets. However, this plane experienced multiple teething problems as it was rushed into service. It was meant to be a high-altitude fighter bomber to take over from the aging Hurricane aircraft which was so prolific in the early days of World War 2, but the Typhoon never fulfilled its promise.

Windeler, a highly experienced pilot with over 800 hours of flying time, was flight testing his Typhoon near his station around on noon on June 15, 1944, just a week after the successful invasion of France on D Day. After just 18 minutes of flight, he radioed back to the tower that he had complete and catastrophic engine failure and was attempting to return to base. Witnesses saw him flying over the local wheat fields at under 1,000 feet altitude, trying to get his plane down in the largest landing area below.

Unfortunately, less than two minutes later, Windeler’s Typhoon flipped over while attempted a steep emergency landing at Stourscombe Farm in Launceston. The 25-year-old was killed on impact.

Subsequent RAF analysis and a formal accident report confirmed total engine failure that verified no pilot could have landed the Typhoon safely.

Willian Windeler is remembered at RAF 263 Squadron in England, at Glebe Collegiate Institute and at St. Matthew’s Church. He is buried alongside 2,400 other Canadians and many other Commonwealth servicemen, at Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey, England, 50 kms from London, the largest Commonwealth War Cemetery in the UK.

And like so many other families who lost their children in World War 2, his parents’ headstone (his father passed away in 1963 and his mother in 1972) in Ottawa’s Pinecrest Cemetery also commemorates the memory of their only son, with his name and rank, along with the expression: “Yea, in the shadow of thy wings, shall I make my refuge.”


Kevan Pipe is a Glebe resident and member of St. Matthew’s, The Anglican Church in The Glebe.

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