Daughter Retraces Fallen Airman's Life
by Barbara Simpson (Sarnia Observer)
When Lyn Westfall was just a babe in her mother's arms, her father was whisked out of her life forever.
Flying in a Wellington bomber, her father, Flight Sgt.-Observer Wilfred Lavers, and his crew were shot down over Germany on Sept. 10, 1942. He was 21 years old.
At the time, Westfall was only three months old.
She would never meet her father.
"It's a huge, huge loss," the now 71-year-old said from her Caledon home.
While Westfall grew up with a loving mother, stepfather and half-siblings, she still felt her emotions overcome her during the annual Remembrance Day service.
"I always, always attended," the Sarnia native said. "I always felt so sad and so sorrowful on that day."
However, it would take a chance encounter with a children's book decades later before she learned more about her father's death.
Sitting in a library with a friend and her children, a 45-year-old Westfall picked up a copy of a Babar book. She immediately knew the words.
"I had memorized it, but I didn't know I had, so I wrote my mother a letter about why I would know this book so well," she said. "It turned out my father's family gave it to me when I was two."
She immediately felt compelled to start filling in the gaps of her father's short life. She and her husband made her way to Runnymede Air Forces Memorial near Windsor in England.
"You couldn't stop me," she said. "It was the most important thing in my life."
She befriended a British war researcher who helped her learn more about her father's time in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Now the retired teacher uses her art to pay homage those who have died in service to her country. Her painting Dies Irae (Day of Anger) features 84 names from the Runnymede War Memorial and 84 names of those who died during the September 11th attacks.
Retired St. Pat's teacher Tom Slater came across a video of her painting and sent her an email. He was compiling an updated list of fallen soldiers who had originated from Sarnia.
"I was stunned at him doing this sort of project," Westfall said. "I gave him a lot of information, but he had researched even more than I had."
Slater's months of research have resulted in The War Remembrance Project, a coil-bound book listing the 264 names of fallen soldiers who originated from Sarnia. They served in either the Boer War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War or the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan. A total of 27 names listed in the book cannot be found on the Sarnia Cenotaph.
Slater said this situation isn't unusual considering these lists were once compiled by word of mouth. He also found some inaccuracies on the cenotaph making research more difficult.
"For a researcher that comes 70 years later, I'm looking for a J. Smith when it should have been a T. Smith," he said.
Families who shared stories and correspondence from their late relatives aided Slater's research. Those details can be found in the book, painting a fuller picture of these fallen soldiers' lives.
"It helped put a face to them," Slater said. "These kids would hang out on the streets. A couple of them even delivered The Observer."
Slater said he has learned a lot since he started the project in the spring of 2012. He was initially looking to create a war memorial for St. Pat's students who had served when he discovered there wasn't a complete list of fallen soldiers in the city.
"It became an obsession," he said. "I didn't want to miss anyone."
Copies of the book are available at several public institutions, including Sarnia City Hall, the Sarnia library and Lambton County Archives. Sarnia's Royal Canadian Legion branch contributed to printing costs.
Copies of the book can be purchased at The Book Keeper. Email for more information on the project.