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Purity of Arms

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George (Buzz) Beurling  E-mail

George Beurling Born  December 12th, 1921 in Wiarton, Ontario, Canada and grew up in Montreal.  His parents were Hetty Florence and Friedrich Gustav Beurling, who brought him up in the strict observance of their Christian faith, a sect which believed more in the Old Testament than in the new one. This affected his childhood and education, creating a foundation of calmness and unity, providing a closeness to God and the Heavens, which also led him to learn flying at the age of 14.

Also loved music and all branches of sport, especially swimming, attaining a high standard in both music and sport.

In the very early months of World War II he tried to join the "Flying Tigers" fighting on the side of the Chinese against the Japanese.  Both the Canadian and the Finnish Air Forces would not accept him, in spite of his 250 hours flying time.  In the end he managed to reach England on a cargo ship and was accepted as a Pilot in the Royal Air Force.  Posted to the besieged island of Malta, where he shot down 27 German and Italian aircraft, who were attacking the island without respite, earning the title of the "Maltese Eagle".

In one of the aerial dogfights in which he downed three enemy planes, his Spitfire crashed into the sea.  Wounded, he was rescued.  While in hospital he was commissioned as an officer and awarded his third Distinguished Service Medal. He was sent back to Canada to recover, then joined the Royal Canadian Airforce and returned to active duty in the European area, continued with many heroic air battles and earned more decorations including the Victoria Cross.

He aspired to contribute to the best of his ability in the justified war against the Nazis, in the spirit of his education and personality, to help his brothers in arms.  His book, "Spitfire Above Malta", describes in a graphic and enthralling fashion, his deeds in the "Battle of Malta".

On his return home he was honoured by both military and civilian authorities of his city.  Because of his world-wide fame as a pilot, he was offered lucrative positions in many countries of Latin America, China and Arab but refused to sell himself because of his talents.

When he learned that his country of the Bible had been declared and was struggling for its very existence, he volunteered himself and his abilities to that nation he knew and loved from the Holy Scriptures. He made contact with Haganah representatives, flew as a passenger to Rome.  There at Urbe Airfield, together with a Jewish pilot, from Britain, Leonard Cohen, who had also distinguished himself in defense of Malta and other battles of World War II*, were preparing to ferry a light Norseman Transport Plane to Israel.  Soon after take-off on May 20th, 1948 the plane caught fire in mid-air and crashed engulfed in flames.  Both of them were killed.  Sabotage was suspected but never proven.

The Canadian Consul in Rome organized his burial in the Catholic Cemetery in Rome.   To honor him, the Jews of Rome closed their shops to attend his funeral.

The Israeli Airforce bestowed on him the posthumous rank of Flight Commander. With the approval of his parents his body was re-interred and transferred to Israel and laid to rest on November 11th, 1950 with a military ceremony in a special section for non-Jews at the Haifa Carmel Military Cemetery.

* Footnote
Leonard Cohen also became famous during the Malta air battles, earning the title of “The King of Lampedusa”.  During a dogfight over the Mediterranean Sea, his plane was hit and he was forced to land on the small island of Lampedusa, about 150 kilometers to the west of Malta.  On climbing out of the aircraft, the entire Italian garrison surrendered to him.

Prepared by Joe Woolf



Article in Ha’aretz (English) on
Monday April  19, 2010



By Yuval Azoulay

It has been a 62 year journey for the Israel Air Force to finally bestow an honor in memory of George Beurling, the legendary World War II pilot who volunteered to fly during the War of Independence and died in a plane crash in Italy.

Yet the long-awaited ceremony, which was put on hold due to the absence of available family members, finally took place yesterday at Sde Dov Airport in Tel Aviv.

Beurling’s younger brother, Richard Beurlilng, his wife Jean, and their two daughters  - Kristen and Janice – were honored by the commander of an IAF transport squadron.  During the ceremony, the Beurlings heard praise for a man whom they had never met.

Richard Beurling, a 78 year old Catholic from Canada, arrived in Israel at the invitation of the IAF and the Defense Ministry on the occasion of Memorial Day.  Yet, more importantly, Beurling arrived in Israel in search of closure to the tragic saga that unfolded just days after the State’s founding.

For over six decades, IDF officers who represent bereaved families did not know of any relatives left behind y the celebrated pilot whose name was uttered in every remembrance ceremony held by the transport squadron to which he belonged.

The turning point in the case occurred two years ago, when Beurling’s file came across the desk of Lieutenant Colonel Danny Shneidman, the officer in charge of the IAF’s Casualty and Loss Unit.

Shneidman found out that the IDF had never contacted Beurling’s family.

“I decided to locate his family myself”, he said, “So I randomly started calling families all over Canada with the last name “Beurling”.  I asked them if they had any connection to George Beurling, who died many years ago.

“I finally got hold of a family in Toronto”, he said “A man by the name of Richard answered the phone.  He told me he was (George’s) brother”.

Once the relatives were identified, the Defense Ministry paid for the family’s plane tickets to Israel and the IAF arranged for the family to tour its bases and behold its most advanced fighter jets.

“There’s no doubt that he would have been a bigger hero here than he could have been in Canada”.  Richard Beurling, who professes a deep affinity for Israel, said.

Beurling was a living legend by dint of his heroic exploits as a fighter pilot during World War II.  Yet a mysterious plane crash in Italy in 1948 took his life before he could come to the aid of the fledgling Jewish state.  Though he never set foot in Israel, he enlisted in the air force of the newborn state just days after David Ben-Gurion declared its independence.

Beurling, a devout Catholic, was a fighter pilot who wanted to fly. Israel was a nascent country that was looking for fighter pilots.  After he was killed, Beurling was interred in Rome.  In 1950 his body was brought to Israel and he was buried in a military cemetery in Haifa.

“I have no doubt that he didn’t die for something not worth dying for.  His death was not in vain”, his brother Richard, 78, said.  “He died for a proper cause”.