At first, you could hardly make them out. Then three little dots grew in the sky. The dots resolved into three ancient looking biplanes flying slowly toward us, engines droning throatily in the air.
Shouts went up, ranks of cameras swung to catch the moment, the three biplanes made a stately pass overhead, turned to do it again, then, one by one, touched down on the runway of our little local airport.
Hurrahs went up. Ghosts from the past were honouring us with visit.
The three biplanes are replicas of warplanes flown in the First World War. After hitching a ride in modern cargo aircraft, they made a emotional flypast at the Vimy memorial in France this summer to comemmorate the 100th anniversary of the battle for the high ground of Vimy Ridge that cost Canada so dearly. Now they were flying across the country at about the same speed as you could drive a car.
As soon as they lined up, the crowd swarmed them, peering into the open cockpits, staring into the engines behind the propeller, peppering the pilots with questions.
Quaint, slow and small as the aircraft look, they were killers in WWI. After overcoming skepticism about what possible use these newfangled toys could be, early planes proved themselves by bringing back vital recconnaisance. The next step was pilots tossing down hand grenades and dropping small bombs since the planes could carry very little.
Air to air combat began with pilots shooting pistols at each other and mostly hitting nothing. Then an enterprising French airman took a machine gun up and aerial warfare truly begun. Especially when they figured out how to fire the machine gun without also shredding the propeller.
The stop to visit us was entirely appropriate since our well preserved military camp was hurriedly built as a place to train pilots for World War II. It still has the watchtower against saboteurs, a great hanger now used by the flying club and rows of rickety barracks cabin where Commonwealth trainees must have frozen when the wind howled through in the winter.
Our visitors stayed for two hours at our before taking off again for their next stop which would take four hours, at their unhurried pace, in the air. Goodbye Vimy. Wouldn’t it be splendid to also say goodbye to war.