(March 20, 1922 – December 2, 2016) From Globe and Mail, Dec. 10, 2016
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Raymond Sherk on December 2, 2016 at the North York General Hospital in Toronto, ON. He died peacefully at 94 years of age, with his dedicated and loving wife, Heather; and beloved daughter, Alison by his side.Ray was born March 20, 1922 in Waterford, ON to parents, Claude and Julia Sherk. He grew up in Stevensville, ON with brothers, Donald, James and Benjamin, and spoke fondly of their adventures swimming and canoeing in Black Creek. As a baby, and again at the age of 9, Ray lived with his Uncle Harvey and Aunt Corena Gampp, and their daughter, Ruth on a bee farm in Baden, ON where he was loved like a son and brother.
Ray was survived by his wife of 46 years, Heather, whom he loved and cared for deeply. They shared many wonderful times together, whether salmon fishing, travelling, enjoying time with friends, or flying in his seaplane. He was father to daughters, Veronica and Alison; and loving grandfather to Frédéric, Seraphina and Geneviève, whom he always looked forward to visiting in Calgary, AB with parents, Alison and Simon Cheung-Bret. He was also survived by daughters, Marian and Joanne; their children and grandchildren; and predeceased by daughter, Jennifer.
An adventurer at heart, Ray joined the Canadian Army in May 1939, transferred to the RCAF in September 1940, earning his Wings in April 1941. He went overseas a month later, completed his operational training and then joined the 129 RAF (Mysore) Squadron at Tangmere in August 1941 as a Sergeant. Ray flew with this Squadron for 9 months until he was transferred to the Desert Air Force in April 1942 as a Pilot Officer. He flew Hurricanes and Spitfires in 73, 74 and 601 RAF Squadrons in the Middle East.
On September 29, 1942, while on a mission to intercept an ammunition train at an important rail junction known as ‘Charring Cross’ near Mersa Matruh, Ray made a forced landing over Northern Africa. He was captured the next day while attempting to walk home through the El Alamein front line. He was transferred to Italy, first PG75 Bari and then PG78 Sulmona where he was a POW for one year, and celebrated his 21st birthday in prison. With the capitulation of Italy in September 1943, Ray fled to the mountains with friend Don McLarty. They hid in a cave near the town of Roccacasale for several days before hiking through the Apennines disguised as shepherds. They came upon the Canadian Seaforth Highlanders 45 days later. It was during this escape that Ray met South African war correspondent Uys Krige, who later introduced Ray to Heather in 1968.
Ray returned to operations with the RCAF Squadron 401 in February 1944. On March 15, 1944, Ray’s Spitfire engine failed during a bomber escort mission over Northern France. He parachuted onto the Hawthorn Ridge, adjacent to the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial. With the help of nearby farmers, Ray was hidden in a haystack to evade German capture. He was sheltered by the French Resistance for 3 weeks, primarily in the village of Hébuterne, and then guided south by train. He was arrested in Amiens, but managed to slip away to catch a departing train. Ray walked the last 100 miles to the Spanish border, and found another guide to lead him over the Pyrenees. Once back in England, Ray sent a BBC radio message to his helpers: ‘The Sky is Blue’ signalling his safe return.
Ray was a founding member of the Royal Canadian Escaping Society, an organization dedicated to the recognition of the extreme efforts and risks taken by those families who assisted airmen escape or evade capture by the Germans during WWII. He felt eternally indebted to his Italian and French helpers, and he and Heather were honoured to host them in Canada over the years. He remained lifelong friends with his helpers and their families.
Following the war, Ray studied chemical engineering at the University of Toronto (Class of 5T2) and completed post-graduate studies in Commerce (Class of 5T7). He taught math and science at Vincent Massey Collegiate until recruited by Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in 1965 to teach finance. Ray was awarded title of Professor Emeritus in 2001 in recognition of his outstanding academic contributions. After his retirement, Ray continued working in real estate, primarily in the Greater Toronto Area.
Ray had an entrepreneurial spirit, starting a glass-blowing business after his second year of engineering in 1949. He also purchased and then later sold a successful business selling chemicals to the pulp and paper industry. While on sabbatical from Ryerson, Ray co-founded the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) in 1971.
Ray had a true passion for flying, and continued doing so after the war in the 400 Reserve Squadron. He also worked as a pilot and flight instructor at the Toronto Island Airport in the 1960s during his summer breaks from teaching, and flew 14 CNE Air Shows, some with demonstrations using live ammunition. Ray flew his yellow seaplane C-FIXD until 91 years of age, and float-trained many pilots, including his daughter, Alison. Ray was an avid fisherman and hunter, and combined these passions with flying on numerous trips to Northern Ontario and Nunavik. Ray was a proud member of the St. Catharines Flying Club.
Ray enjoyed remarkable good health, and at 79 years of age with daughter, Alison, was the only WWII veteran to complete ‘The Freedom Trail’ in 2001, a 3-day 60 km hike over the Majella Mountain in Italy, retracing the historic path taken by escaping Allied prisoners. Ray wore his WWII army issued boots for the hike, which fascinated his Italian hosts.
Ray appreciated and enjoyed the simple pleasures in life, and had a generous nature, always helping others in need. He was a modest man with many interesting and unique life experiences, and only when prompted would quietly share his stories with others. Amongst his experiences, Ray enjoyed high tea with the Queen of England, and a Heineken with Prince Bernard of the Netherlands in 1969.
Ray was a mentor and role model, and his remarkable life was an inspiration to those who were privileged to know him. His family will be hosting a memorial in the New Year. In honour of his generous spirit and his joy in supporting and encouraging youth, please consider a donation to the Canadian Red Cross, or the Ontario Branch of the Air Cadet League of Canada in lieu of flowers.
”Per Ardua ad Astra”