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A Canadian shot down and saved in Slovakia

MORE than 60,000 Slovak soldiers and 18,000 partisans joined the fight against fascism during the Slovak National Uprising (SNP) that broke out on August 29, 1944. In line with the Slovaks, 8,400 foreign participants representing 32 nationalities joined the fray.
One of the foreign participants was the Canadian pilot Stuart N May, whom the German army shot down at Brunovce near to Piešťany on October 17, 1944. Early this summer, after 60 years abroad, he visited Slovakia.
As a flight lieutenant May took off for his combat flight in 1944 as the pilot of a Mosquito plane together with navigator Jack D Ritch in a two-plane formation of the 418th squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force. The second fighter carried flight lieutenant S H R Cotteril and navigator Flying Officer C G Finnlayson. On the afternoon of October 16th, 1944 they took off from the British air base Hudson. After a brief stop in St Dizier, France, the Mosquitoes continued on in the early morning of October 17th to meet the tasks of operation Day Rangers. At about 7:50 the planes approached the Piešťany airport from the south. They planned to attack and destroy Nazi planes stationed there. However, the planned surprise did not work out for the Canadians who were welcomed by thick German shooting. One of the shells hit the left motor of May's plane, which caught fire. In his effort to escape, he landed on the left bank of the Váh River near the village of Brunovce. Neither he nor his navigator suffered any injuries.


MAY surrounded by his rescuers.
photo: Peter Dovina

MORE than 60,000 Slovak soldiers and 18,000 partisans joined the fight against fascism during the Slovak National Uprising (SNP) that broke out on August 29, 1944. In line with the Slovaks, 8,400 foreign participants representing 32 nationalities joined the fray.

One of the foreign participants was the Canadian pilot Stuart N May, whom the German army shot down at Brunovce near to Piešťany on October 17, 1944. Early this summer, after 60 years abroad, he visited Slovakia.

As a flight lieutenant May took off for his combat flight in 1944 as the pilot of a Mosquito plane together with navigator Jack D Ritch in a two-plane formation of the 418th squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force. The second fighter carried flight lieutenant S H R Cotteril and navigator Flying Officer C G Finnlayson. On the afternoon of October 16th, 1944 they took off from the British air base Hudson. After a brief stop in St Dizier, France, the Mosquitoes continued on in the early morning of October 17th to meet the tasks of operation Day Rangers. At about 7:50 the planes approached the Piešťany airport from the south. They planned to attack and destroy Nazi planes stationed there. However, the planned surprise did not work out for the Canadians who were welcomed by thick German shooting. One of the shells hit the left motor of May's plane, which caught fire. In his effort to escape, he landed on the left bank of the Váh River near the village of Brunovce. Neither he nor his navigator suffered any injuries.


A PIECE of the downed aircraft.
photo: Pavol Vitko

Young shepherds found the Canadian pilots and took them to the local village. The Germans launched an intense search for the Canadians, but Podhradie locals hid and fed them, despite the threat of severe punishment. After five days, partisans from the group of Captain Kijevsky took charge of the pilots, who faced a demanding stay in the Slovak mountains. After six months, the Canadians finally crossed the front and fought their way to the Hungarian town of Szolnok on the side of the partisans.

May arrived with pneumonia and a high fever. The locals transported him to the Russian hospital in Budapest from which the allies took him to Italy and then to England where he recovered. In May 1945, he finally crossed the Atlantic to return to Canada.

The story of the downed Canadians has inspired amateur historian Bohuslav Ferianec from the town of Modrovka. Ferianec, a worker by his original profession, collected information from the locals and also parts of the crashed plane as he pieced together the fragments of the stories of the two Canadians who long ago crashed near his hometown. After a long search in 2002, he finally learned that May was still alive. He told May's story in his book Mosquito over Piešťany, which he published from his own pocket in 2003. Ferianec learned that Ritch also made it back to Canada and died several years ago.


AMATURE historian Ferianec with a few fragments of history.
photo: Pavol Vitko

May was born in 1921 in the Northern part of the Canadian province of Ontario in Weston. He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940 and in 1943 he was ordered to fly to Great Britain. He joined the 418th squadron City of Edmonton as flight lieutenant.

This year, on June 11, May finally returned to Slovakia and in the village of Modrovka he met his saviours after more than 60 years. He could not hide his tears when recalling stories of the past.

During the International Aviation Days held in Bratislava on June 12-13, General Jozef Dunaj, chief of the Slovak Air Force, received May and thanked him for his contribution to the liberation of Slovakia during World War II.

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