Bobby Waters was not quite 14 years old when he saved the life of a pilot whose aircraft had crashed and burned near the air force base in Comox in 1952. Two years later, former governor general of Canada Vincent Massey presented Bobby with the George Medal for bravery at a ceremony at the Jericho garrison in Vancouver.
The story — which appears on a blog on the Comox Air Force Museum website — drew the attention of a few relatives of Bobby’s who recently paid the museum a visit. “We call it one of our museum moments,” volunteer Corrine Bainard said.
Eileen Waters of Hornby Island remembers her late uncle as a funny, big-hearted guy who liked to entertain children by doing things like placing seaweed on his head. “He was always a very jolly man,” said Eileen’s daughter, Jenny Smith. “He told the best jokes.”
Despite her uncle’s young age, Eileen said Bobby was quick to take action when the Lancaster aircraft crashed while returning from a practice flight on Nov. 24, 1952. “He put the rest of the people into action — like what they teach in first aid,” she said.
After summoning assistance, a citation states that Bobby fought his way through heavy bush and swam in order to reach the flaming aircraft. Upon reaching the wreckage, he noticed the pilot trapped inside. Despite the heat and danger of an explosion, he entered the burning aircraft, and dragged the dazed and injured occupant to safety. “This young lad’s courageous actions under the most dangerous and harassing circumstances was undoubtedly responsible for saving the life of the pilot,” the document states.
Waters, who was born in 1939, grew up near the base. He worked as a longshoreman and as a crane operator. He lived for a time in Toronto but “came back quickly,” said Eileen, recalling her uncle was an avid skeet shooter who raised hounds. He was married with a daughter, Lalani.
After Bobby passed away in 2007, his widow, Anne — now a Chemainus resident — donated his medal to the museum. He was the youngest person ever awarded the George Medal, which at the time was the second-highest award for bravery that could be bestowed on a citizen of a British Commonwealth nation.
As chance would have it, the museum contains a second story about another Waters — of no relation to Bobby — who was also awarded a George Medal for helping save the life of a pilot who had crashed. Master Corp. Harry John Waters was nearby when a Royal Canadian Air Force Sabre jet crashed and burst into flames on an airbase in Marville, France, July 21, 1955. Disregarding his safety, he rushed into the flames to assist the semi-conscious pilot, who had a broken back. Like Anne, Marie Waters also donated her late husband’s medal to the museum.