Saturday, November 4, 2023

Remembering the crew of R5695-EMC and ALFRED JOSEPH PARKYN




Alfred J. Parkyn was the beloved son of an immigrant carpenter and his Parisian wife. Coming of age during the Great Depression, Alfred enjoyed many of the American Dream’s promises. He competed in high school football and track; he counted swimming, skiing, and horseback riding among his activities as well. Proud parents photographed the handsome, well-dressed young man astride a beautiful English-saddled mare. In the photograph, he smiles confidently. His riding boots shine.

Alfred landed a job with the United States Lines, crewing on the SS Leviathan between his junior and senior years of high school. Working in the engine rooms of SS Leviathan and later the SS President Roosevelt, Alfred saw England, France, and Germany during peacetime. He would later see many of these countries from the air, at night, under fire.

If Alfred and the first American Parkyns thought they’d escaped the harsher side of life when they put London’s Mile End behind them, they were wrong. Alfred saw the impact on the family of his uncle’s Edward’s death in France at the end of the First World War. Memories of Edward must surely have faded in young Alfred’s memory by the time Edward became the namesake of his town’s American Legion post. Tragedy didn’t end with the end of war. Alfred lost his 11-year-old brother during Alfred’s senior year in high school. Two years later, Alfred’s 50-year-old father passed away. The successive losses left Alfred’s mourning mother and sisters reeling but undoubtedly grateful for his stabilizing presence in the family. By 1940, Alfred’s life was on a course that kept him close to home. At 26 years of age, Alfred had a steady but menial job in the Bronx. His elder sister had married, leaving Alfred at home with his mother and 13-year-old sister Renee, who adored the big brother she knew as Allie. Over the course of 30 years, the Parkyn family’s exuberance and success had, through family tragedy and economic disaster, given way to a grittier determination to persevere together.

Alfred harbored dreams of becoming a pilot, but he was both too old and lacked the bachelor’s degree required for military pilot programs. Opportunities in civil aviation were scarce, and flight training wasn’t cheap. With his spare income, Alfred had managed to accumulate a meager eight hours of flight time and was making payments on a ground school course he’d taken.

At some time during the summer of 1940, Alfred must have come across one of the recruiting advertisements posted at municipal airports by the Clayton Knight Committee. Replete with images of Spitfire fighter planes, the flyers sought men for the Royal Canadian Air Force, and steered applicants to Knight’s shadow organization at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The Waldorf was on Alfred’s route home from work, but Alfred’s workday clothes would not have been in keeping with the hotel’s splendor; he must have made a trip from home, in his best clothes, when he applied.

And he did apply. His move must have concerned family elders, who would have numbered themselves among America’s isolationist population after Uncle Edward’s death. Without a steady income or husband, his mother must have found Alfred’s decision to be alarming.

Winning his wings in November 1940, Alfred flew home for a brief visit. Once in England, he wasted no time in connecting with family in Surrey, which became his favorite destination during leave periods. He wrote dutifully to his mother and sister, sending photos of “his” room above a Surrey shop, and the Earl Beatty Pub, where he enjoyed a pint now and then.

Alfred must have seemed brash and outspoken to his British squadron mates, as many Americans did. He was fond of them, describing them in a 1942 interview as “hard to get next to, sometimes,” but noted “they have horse sense. These guys know their racket.” Little memory exists of Alfred’s relationships with his fellow aviators – of the 400-plus men he could have met while flying with 207 Squadron, half were dead within a year of his final mission. Bomber Command’s low attrition – 3 percent – equated to certain death for aircrew within 34 missions.

Mere months after arriving at his bomber squadron, Alfred failed to return from a mission. His death was the fourth tragedy to strike the Parkyn’s in 20 years. After the war’s end, those surviving family members worried about work and the future. They moved apart to the corners of the United States leaving Alfred’s fading story behind them.

Alfred’s sisters never got over their sense of loss. Years later, the family children would remember his sisters, Gladys and Renee, speaking of their beloved brother "Allie" still haunted by the vague nature of his fate – missing, presumed dead, with no known grave.


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