Belongings of celebrated RCAF airman found abandoned in attic

Click to play video: 'Abandoned box of celebrated war memorabilia discovered in attic'
Abandoned box of celebrated war memorabilia discovered in attic
WATCH: A box packed full of war medals, pictures and letters was discovered in the attic of a newly purchased home in BC earlier this year. After months of research, much has been learned about the life it contains. Jessie Weisner reports. – Nov 11, 2021

An unlikely discovery in B.C. has led to the recognition of a remarkable life lost in the Second World War.

A large wooden box containing war memorabilia, letters and files was discovered by Art Lagendyk when he purchased a new home in Agassiz, B.C.

The discovery in the attic was significant for Lagendyk and his friend Theo Ganzert, who are from a village in Holland that was liberated by Canadian soldiers when they were children.

They realized the box contained items from Maxwell Calhoun, a member of the Royal Canadian Air force.

Ganzert contacted Karl Kjasgaard, curator at the Bomber Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alta., with hopes of tracking down Calhoun’s family.

“This box is his entire life,” said Kjasgaard.

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Kjasgaard took on the task of trying to find Calhoun’s family members in Canada. As a retired airline pilot, he’s spent the last 15 years tracking down families of airmen lost in the war.

He managed to find Tan and Andy Calhoun, Maxwell’s nephews and sons of his twin brother, using ancestry records.

He contacted them a few months ago and they all agreed that Calhoun’s treasure would go to the museum.

“We’re just beginning to process it. Boy, did I find out a lot of stuff about Maxwell Calhoun, bomb aimer in the Royal Canadian Air Force,” said Kjasgaard.

An image of Maxwell Calhoun. Courtesy: Karl Kjasgaard. Karl Kjasgaard

Born in August 1923 in St. Lambert, Quebec, Calhoun was the youngest of seven siblings.

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He was training to be a chartered accountant at McGill University when he enlisted in the RCAF in 1942.

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“After he does his training in 1943, he goes overseas and he becomes part of the Charles Fisher bomber crew. That’s when he rises to the top as a bomb aimer.”

Calhoun flew 53 combat missions before the age of 21, a remarkable number according to Kjasgaard, who says most airmen flew about 30.

“I’ve researched three or 400 airmen for families. I know a standard combat tour and I know when something is highly unusual, and this box is one in a million. That’s how rare it is.”

Calhoun was a member of the 405 Pathfinder Squadron.

“He was flight lieutenant at age 20, which is unheard of,” said Kjasgaard.

Calhoun was on his 54th combat mission in August of 1944 when his Lancaster was shot down. It was just days before he would have turned 21.

“After dropping their bombs and markers, they got to the border of Holland and Germany and headed out onto the North Sea,” said Kjasgaard. “A German night fighter was following them and shot them down and their Lancaster crashed.”

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Five members of his eight-person crew were recovered when their bodies washed up onshore. Maxwell and two of his crewmates were never found.

A newspaper article written after Maxwell’s death reads: “Flt.-Lt. Calhoun, as air bomber, has completed numerous operations against the enemy in the course of which he has invariably displayed the utmost fortitude, courage, and devotion to duty.”

He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for excellence in combat.

Maxwell Calhoun was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Tom Reynolds/Global News

“They only awarded about 4,000 of those in all of World War Two, and we had over 100,000 airmen in our Air Force. So you see it’s a unique award,” said Kjasgaard.

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Tan Calhoun now resides in Fraser Lake, B.C. He said he never knew much about his uncle Maxwell, only that he was lost in the war.

“I was quite thrilled to know that this member of our family had done so much to contribute to our freedom and contributed to the war effort so significantly,” said Tan Calhoun.

Tan says he’s honored his uncle’s items will be on display at the museum.

“Certainly in the future, I plan to visit the museum and Karl, and to view the items in the box.”

In the meantime, Karl intends to continue going through the box of treasures, a learn more about the remarkable young man that was Maxwell Calhoun.

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