Thomson, Arthur (Art)

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                                      ART THOMSON
                       Top woman fighter pilot connects to Miramichi
                                 By Joanne Cadogan

Keren Cavaciuti is the first woman pilot to earn wings at the RAF Top gun course in North Devon, England. And an incident on the Miramichi years ago may help explain her accomplishment.

The 26 year old Welsh woman defied the odds to fly with the RAF at the University of Wales. In earning her wings in the 10 month combined fast jet training and weapons Top Gun course, she fulfilled her childhood dream of becoming a jet pilot.

Keren’s parents, Frank and Janet, trace their daughter’s fascination with planes to a holiday the family took when she was eight years old. “We were on a holiday flight to Yugoslavia and I took her and her sister onto the flight deck”, Frank is quoted as saying. “That was the moment she decided and she never really budged. “She said she was going to be a pilot and she wanted to fly fast jets.”

                                Story starts in Chatham

Ronald Matchett of Newcastle, Keren’s second cousin, thinks her passion for flying may well be in the blood – going all the way back to his uncle and her grandfather, Arthur Thomson.

Thomson caught the flying bug in 1941 when a CFB Chatham pilot was forced to make an emergency landing on the railroad tracks near his home. Art was the first person on the scene, and the pilot left him in charge of keeping everyone else off the plane while he went for help. Ronald and his friends were next on the scene but Art did his job, keeping even his nephew away.

Ronald could see Art’s eyes shine as he sat in the cock pit, waving away the spectators as he gazed at the exotic dials and levers. Matchett’s sure that’s the day Thomson decided he wanted to fly.

Thomson was 20 when he left Newcastle to join the war effort on Jan. 3, 1943. Matchett remembers the day clearly, though he was only seven at the time. “I remember going to Sunday school and coming home, then going to the train station. My grandfather, John W. Thomson, ran the restaurant at the train station for 43 years. That day, I saw him do something he’d never done before and, to my knowledge, never did again. He got out a pint of liquor there in the restaurant and poured a drink for himself and for Art. It was the first time I’d ever seen Poppa look so sad and serious.”

Art shipped out to England, where he became an air gunner on a Lancaster bomber. He was one of the famous dambusters who destroyed supposedly invincible dams by skipping bombs across the water and hitting them at the centre of the water mark base, where they were most vulnerable. Their story later became the basis for a movie.

On May 25, 1943, Arthur suited up to fly the last of his dambusting missions over Dusseldorf and the Ruhr River valley. Before boarding his flight he posted a letter to his brother Ellis, telling him all about a beautiful girl he’d met. He said he was quite serious about her and was thinking of asking her to marry him. That was the last letter the family ever received from Art.

That night, shortly after midnight, his plane crashed near a tiny village just inside the Dutch border. There were no survivors.

The death of Thomson was a bitter blow to his family on the Miramichi. The discovery he had left behind a son, Frank Cavaciuti, came as a complete surprise.

Within days of the crash the family was told he was missing in action. It took six months for the family to receive confirmation he was dead. With that notification came Art’s personal effects – his war medals, the watch he was wearing when his plane went down – complete with broken crystal – and a picture of his niece he carried in his pocket.

As the family was worrying and grieving, Art’s girlfriend, a beautiful young Italian girl, was trying desperately to reach him. But the air force would release no information. Left with no other option she wrote to Art’s parents asking for the name and address of his eldest sister. It was an odd request, particularly from a total stranger, but the Thomson’s complied, sending her Margaret’s address.

She was the first to learn Art’s girlfriend was pregnant. Art’s sister Audrey was in England, having left her job at a Montreal hospital immediately following Art’s death to volunteer in a burn unit at a major London hospital. Audrey went to meet the girl and see if the claim she was carrying Art’s baby could be confirmed. Within a week, Audrey was convinced and urged her father to sign the papers that would provide the baby with veteran’s benefits.

Frank Cavaciuti was born in the first week of December 1943. He was raised by his maternal grandparents but kept in close contact with the Canadian side of the family with frequent letters and in later years telephone calls. He visited the Miramichi in 1979. His daughter Keren came to meet the family in 1987.

Ronald Matchett travelled to Wales to visit Frank in 1979 and was amazed to find how much father and son had in common. “Art was a natural born fisherman. He was just a young lad but he knew all the rivers and all the best pools and he always got a salmon,” Matchett said. “The same with deer. Every season Art got a deer. Some people have to hunt a lifetime just to get one, but Art got one every time. And, you know, Frank’s the same way. I was sitting with him in an English pub and I looked up on the wall, and there was a picture of him with the biggest salmon ever caught in those parts.

“He looked the spit of Art. It’s almost as if he was Art’s clone”. Likewise, there is much of Art in Frank’s daughter, Keren, Britain’s first female top gun pilot. A letter Keren received from the London based Air Gunner’s Association seems to speak for Art.

Association vice-president Norman Storey wrote:

“Dear F/Lt. Cavaciuti:

I read with great interest the report in the Evening Standard of your being one of the first two females to qualify as a fighter pilot. I also noted that your grandfather was killed while flying as an Air Gunner in a Lancaster in 1943. I was flying as a rear gunner on Lancasters with 103 Squadron from 18th Nov. 1943 through 11thMay 1944.

Whilst reading this report I thought how proud he would have been had he been spared, to have seen his granddaughter achieve this great honor and distinction.

However, as small compensation, may I say how proud and pleased the members of the air Gunners’ Association are to think that it was the granddaughter of an Air Gunner who achieved this notable success.”

Source: Miramichi Leader – June 17, 1994

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