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Decorated WWII RCAF pilot’s post-war death recognized by Commonwealth War Graves Commission

August 2019

For almost 73 years, the grave of Byron “Barney” Rawson, in the Rawson family plot in Woodland Cemetery in Burlington, Ontario, was only adorned with a small granite marker bearing “Byron 1922-1945”.

On 23 December 1945, Wing Commander Byron Rawson, a decorated WWII pilot, sat in his parent’s home on Robinson Street in Hamilton, pulled out his military service revolver, put it against his head and pulled the trigger. He was 23 years old.

A Lancaster pilot in Bomber Command, Rawson flew 51 missions and was twice awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Promoted to Wing Commander at the age of 21. By the end of the war, he was the youngest airman of that rank in the British Empire.

He came home after the war and returned to Hamilton in the summer of 1945. Although he tried to carry on with his life, he was a changed man, like a lot of returning servicemen and women.

A devout Christian, Rawson knew that the bombing missions he undertook resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians. Family members have recalled that Rawson was greatly troubled by this fact. Letters that Rawson sent to friends showed classic symptoms of someone suffering from PTSD.

Rawson’s death wasn’t treated as a war death because he died after the war ended. In September 2018, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) approved the placement of a veteran’s headstone on Rawson’s grave, officially acknowledging his death was as a result of his war service.

This new ruling came about as a result of research done by Toronto lawyer Patrick Shea, who worked on a Law Society of Upper Canada project to recognize law students who died in the First and Second World Wars, including conferring posthumous honorary law degrees.

Osgoode Hall has now added Rawaon’s name on Osgoode’s WWII memorial honour roll, something that McMaster University did for their honour roll in the immediate post-war years.

The CWGC headstone that now adorns the grave of Wing Commander Byron “Barney” Rawson, DFC and Bar, is inscribed with a Christian cross and the words: “A Brave Warrior A Son of Christ.”

It’s never too late to recognize the sacrifice of a war hero; even seven decades later.

Sources: https://www.thespec.com/news-story/8917736-the-private-war-of-wing-commander-barney-rawson, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/byron-rawson-1.4833163

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/decorated-wwii-rcaf-pilots-post-war-death-recognized-as/

2 comments

  1. Patrick Shea

    I can report that W/C Rawson’s name was added to the Law Society’s WWII Memorial….

    1. Bruce Forsyth

      Hi Patrick,

      Thanks for the information.

      Bruce

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