Remembering Clifford Horncastle

With Remembrance Day next week, November is a time for reflection for the Canadians who proudly served their country, and for the family and friends that were left behind.

This weekend, the Government House Foundation honours the story of one such family. Two plaques, one at St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church and the other in the dining room of Government House, will highlight the deep roots and connections of Edmonton as a community as told through the Horncastle family story.

Flying Officer Clifford Horncastle - photo courtesy of Chris Clarke

Flying Officer Clifford Horncastle – photo courtesy of Chris Clarke

Tragedy Strikes

In 1938, the decision was made to close Government House as it was no longer serving as the Vice-Regal residence. In October of 1942, the contents of the house were auctioned off. Leonard and Jessica Horncastle bought, among other things, a pair of ornately designed forged steel light fixtures, originally located in the dining room.

Original chandeliers hanging at Government House, circa 1913

Original chandeliers hanging at Government House, circa 1913

The Horncastles’ only son, Clifford, was a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot. Less than two weeks after the Horncastles purchased the chandeliers, on November 3, 1942, Flying Officer Horncastle was taking off in a P51 Mustang from an airfield in England when his plane suffered a catastrophic engine failure. The cause was inconclusive but it may have been a bird strike that caused the engine to suddenly lose power. Flying Officer Horncastle attempted to bail out of his aircraft but it crashed and was consumed by fire. Clifford died on impact. He was 24 years old.

Among Clifford’s squadron mates was his close friend, Flight Lieutenant Fred Clarke of Calgary. Fred and Clifford had met while training in Alberta and by coincidence, both ended up serving in 414 Army Co-Operation Squadron. They had formed a close bond and it had been Fred’s usual plane that Clifford had been flying that day. Even more tragically, Clifford was due to be Fred’s best man for his wedding just four days later on November 7, 1942.

Cliff Horncastle_FredClarke

FO Clifford Horncastle with squadron mates including L/Lt Fred Clarke – photo courtesy of Chris Clarke

A Forgotten Memorial

In their grief, Clifford’s parents donated the chandeliers to their church, St. John the Evangelist, in their son’s memory. No formal memorial was made for this donation, and over time the Horncastles’ story was forgotten. When the congregation moved from its original University Avenue location to its current home, the chandeliers moved with them.

It was several decades later, when the Government House Foundation began to track down the artifacts sold in the 1942 auction that the significance of the chandeliers became clear.

This Remembrance Day, Government House Foundation is proud to recognize Clifford Horncastle’s sacrifice and honour his memory by unveiling dual plaques. One will highlight the significance at St. John the Evangelist, where they can still be seen over the heads of parishioners while the other will hang in the dining room at Government House.

One of the chandeliers now currently hanging at the St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church

One of the chandeliers now currently hanging at the St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church

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