On 20th December 1943, fate dealt a terrible blow to Flying Officer Robert Temple Pentland, of 403 squadron, RCAF.
His accident is mentioned in the squadron’s Operations Record Book..
“Today was sunny with very little cloud. The Wing went on two sweeps today. F/O Pentland damaged one FW 190 on the first operation and 421 Squadron destroyed four FW 190s, one ME 109 and damaged one FW 190 and three ME 109s. S/L Lambert of 421 Squadron is posted as missing. On the second sweep no enemy aircraft were seen………..F/O Pentland crash-landed on the edge of the aerodrome today after the second sweep. He was admitted to the hospital in a very serious condition, and action has been taken to have him posted non-effective sick to 127 Airfield HQ wef 20-12-43.”
However, the entry in the informal squadron diary gives more away…
“Another tragedy occurred today. Bob Pentland’s motor quit and he hit a tree landing. He broke his neck and apparently there is little hope for him: we hope he will recover.”
There was more news on the 23rd December…
“Bob Pentland is in pretty bad shape. Paralysed from the neck downwards. We hope he will recover. He is a great athlete, so if it is physically possible, he should pull through.”
W/C Hugh Godefroy and a group of Bob’s friends from the squadron went to visit him in hospital:
“Having remembered what a fine physical specimen he was, I was horrified to see how much the muscles of his arms and legs had wasted away in just these few weeks. His hands, like bony claws, lay motionless on towels at his side. His head was held in a nest of pillows and small beads of perspiration dappled his forehead. All he could do was follow us with his eyes, and he spoke so faintly that you had to get close to hear what he was saying.
‘You guys are the only ones that would understand, for God’s sake help me. Do something! Cut my throat, shoot me in the head! For God’s sake have mercy! I can’t stand it, this is a living death!’
As we stared at him in silence there wasn’t one of us who didn’t feel tempted to comply. Fortunately, they only let us stay for a moment.”
However, Bob’s life didn’t end there. One of his nurses devoted herself to him and gave him the courage to carry on. They got married and she took him back home to Canada, where he worked as a sports announcer, giving daily radio broadcasts from his electric wheelchair. He finally lost his life in 1954, aged around 35, in Col. Belcher Military Hospital, Calgary.
Robert Pentland was born at Lake Saskatoon, Grande Prairie Census Division, Alberta, Canada, in 1918, and, together with his brother Bill, had shown promise as a sportsman from an early age. Bob won the Calgary Men’s badminton title, aged only 15.
He was Alberta champion in 1935 and 1936 and the following two years he was a finalist in all three open events in the Canadian championships.
Bob held the Calgary and Alberta tennis doubles championships in 1938. In hockey he played with the New York Rovers of the eastern league and with Edmonton Athletic Club juniors.
In Rugby he was a teammate of Tony Golab with the RCAF Hurricanes when they lost the Grey Cup semi-finals in 1941.
Frequently, Bob and his brother Bill (who was also in the RCAF) triumphed together, forming an outstanding sporting partnership. S/L William Harry “Big Bill” Pentland DFC, was C.O. of 111 and 440 squadron, flying Typhoons, before he was killed in action on 7th October, 1944, three trips short of completing his second tour of operations. He is buried in Rheinberg, Germany.
Flying Officer Robert Temple Pentland was laid to rest in Union Cemetery, Calgary, Calgary Census Division, Alberta, Canada.
Calgary Herald 13th February 1954
403 squadron RCAF, ORB and Squadron diary.