Rank & Name: Cpl Leslie Otto Shvemar (Canada)
Date of Death: 13/01/2007


Leslie Shvemar, born in Montreal, in 1924, only 17, convinced his high school teachers to let him matriculate early so he could join the RCAF. He did it, and was selected for training as "radar mechanic" and attached to the RAF.

He served with No 120 Squadron in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1943 and 1944 (as well as 524, 206 and 59 Squadrons) before he was badly injured in a crash that killed several crew members. He spent three days in a coma.

As a radar operator on a B-24, he took part in an action which led to damaging a german U-Boot (then captured by the R.N.) betweem Iceland and Greenland.

After the war. he fought a beaurocratic battle to have (together with the other Canadian radar technicians - who called themselves "the Secret 5,000") recognised the right to the "Atlantic Star" medal. This was not recognised to them because it is reserved for air crews, while them - even if actually servicing on board of airplanes - were officially classified as "ground crew". He did not succeed in this battle but, at least, managed to receive an honour certificate.

Here below are some more biographical notes about him, contributed by his daughter:

"My father was a member of a group called the Secret 5000 who were trained in secret locations under great security and then posted overseas wherever they were needed. Although he was officially ground crew, he flew many sorties as radar/ navigator including flying over the English Channel on D-Day. Only the brightest people were streamed into this special service. And my dad was brilliant!

After the war he trained as a pharmacist. He became fluent in Italian in order to better serve the community where his store was located in Toronto. After losing his eyesight due to diabetes at the age of 48, he learned to cane chairs, he continued using his power tools to build furniture and he mastered using the computer and the Internet. He read a book almost every 2 days in addition to communicating with people all over the world. He read several newspapers and listened to CBC radio and CNN television to keep abreast of the news. He lobbied for social justice and was an amazing, accomplished, well loved human being.

I want to honour my father's memory in any way I can. I hope this story will be of interest to others.


Here is the list of his wartime assignments, found amongst his papers:

My thanks to Ms Janet-Lee (Shvemar) Nadas for her contribution.


Leslie Otto Shvemar was born in Montreal to Malca and David Isaac Shvemar, May 13, 1924. His Hebrew name was Ari Yehoshuah and he grew up with his younger sister Barbara. As a young boy Leslie lived well in an upscale home with his parents until his father, David left. This was around the time of the stock market crash. Leslie was 4 at that time afterwhich the family went to live with his maternal grandparents. His childhood become more difficult and Leslie was forbidden to see the Shvemar family though he was able to stay close with a few cousins he went to school with.

At about 11 years old he took on a paper route in order to pay for schooling and other things he might need. He was considered a bright and kind young boy who always stood up for and protected the underdog. He spent a lot of time on his own. Leslie was often severely disciplined. He told a story of Jacob being directed to punish him with a belt and when he took Leslie into the bedroom he told Leslie to scream each time he whipped the belt against the chair. Leslie looked up to his grandfather who also taught him to use tools and though Jacob's response to Leslie's work was always 'not good enough', Leslie most often managed to avoid bringing this critical approach forward into his own family.

Leslie was a very clever young man, an avid reader with a desire to see the world. When WWII broke out, he had been an air cadet and with his father having been an officer in WWI, he persuaded his teachers to allow him to matriculate early in order to join the air force. He joined the RCAF, later served with the RAF as a radar technician and member of the Secret 5000. He still waits for the recognition and award of the Atlantic Star for his air crew service overseas including his air involvement over the channel on D Day.

Leslie met Bertha Grossman on July 12, 1942 on Centre Island. On one of their dates, they took a cruise of Toronto Harbor and danced repeatedly to a tune called "A Sleepy Lagoon" which Les decided would then be their song - and it always was! They continued to date until he went overseas after which they kept up an ongoing correspondence.

After intensive radar training, Les was sent overseas to Iceland. Although there were many hardships such as no hot water, poor diet, and dirty living conditions, Les thrived on the adventure. He skied and skated and played hockey with his mates. He wrote increasingly long letters to Bertha telling her every detail of his life in the service so much so that of his correspondence was censored. He was posted with 12 different squadrons during the war, moving around between England, Scotland and Ireland, servicing and operating radar equipment in the air in order to locate enemy subs.

As time went on he solidified his relationship with Bertha in their correspondence by asking for her hand in marriage. In June of 1945 while waiting for a 30 day leave before heading to the Pacific Les was diagnosed with diabetes. Treatment was in the experimental stages and Les was initially hospitalized. He wrote to Bertha and asked if she still wanted to go forward with him and Bertha said she would wait. At this point Vera Lynn's song” Coming Home, my Darling!" became his theme song.

When Les did return home, he had grown and matured. His war experiences had changed him but their love continued and they married in Toronto on June 16, 1946. Les had dreamed of studying to become a radio engineer but with his diabetes travel to such courses wasn't viable. Bertha had a degree in Pharmacy and Leslie chose to do the same. They took over Phillips Pharmacy in 1949 and Les graduated in 1950.

In 1951 the family moved into their Downsview home and Leslie began fixing up their home. He was always building and creating designing cabinets, shelving, tables, desks and bunk beds. He wired his home and created an intercom long before they were available for common use. Not long after moving in Suzanne was born followed by Janet-Lee in 1953. Once the children were born, Leslie ran the drugstore and became active in pharmaceutical organizations. He was the president of his Wilson Heights B'nai Brith Lodge providing leadership and fundraising support for underprivileged children. He also became an amazing public speaker.

Leslie loved to travel and took his family on many car trips to Ottawa, Montreal, Kirkland Lake, Philadelphia, the caverns of Lucerne and New York. His dream was to take his family to the places that he had been in the war. Each holiday was an adventure complete with Bertha's picnic lunches and Leslie's jingling car keys ... he taught his girls, much to Bertha's chagrin, all the soldiers songs including "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" ,"The Army Air Corps" and of course all the verses of "Captain John Mc Pherson".

Leslie was the one to teach his girls how to swim, to skate, to ride a bike, to ski and use his workshop. In his leisure time, Les enjoyed fishing, gardening and maintaining his home. He and Bertha collected Canadiana, loved auctions, attending theatre and opera and traveling. They also were involved in interfaith dialogue and vocally agreed to disagree on politics.

Leslie lost his eyesight in 1971 due to a diabetic retinopathy. This was a very difficult time for him and the family as he adjusted to blindness. Ultimately his positive attitude resurfaced and he learned to read Braille, use a talking computer and re-join the world. He remained an avid reader, an advocate of social justice and continued to travel and enjoy every day that he had. Les eventually trained at CNIB to cane chairs which became a paying hobby for him that he ran from his home workshop.

He did enjoy smoking his pipe tough he'd given up cigarettes in 1982. When Leslie saw his first grandchild, David, he determined that he would live to attend David's Bar Mitzvah which would coincide with his 50th wedding anniversary. Proud of his family and his Jewish heritage, Leslie made plans to take his family to Israel to celebrate both these events in 1996.

Above all, Leslie cherished his family and time with them. Every Friday night, Bertha made Shabbat dinner and Leslie sang the Kiddush and Moitze ... so beautifully with his mellow baritone voice. Everyone who knew him recognized that if a favourite tune was on the radio, he could break into song and take Bertha in his arms and dance around the room.

Husband, father, grandfather, there was nothing Leslie would not do for Bertha or his children. With the birth of his four grandchildren his world was then complete. The first time he held David Isaac, he melted! Whatever Grampa did, David did. And then came Sarah who loved to perform and make her grandparents laugh. Lauren had a special relationship with her Grampa and each week, she would come and spend time with her him to help him out. And finally Erin was a little sparkle who brought so much joy to him. He was so very proud of how clever each of the children were and he "kvelled" with each accomplishment.

Leslie lived a very full life. His most remarkable attribute was his attitude ... no matter what might happen he always believed he would get past it, come back and move forward. He left an impression on everyone who knew him and his children and grandchildren will continue to honour his memory.

Leslie died on January 13, 2007, after a brave battle with lung cancer. (source)


Further Information

The 59 Sqdn Crest - drawn by Leslie in preparation to create a mosaic table top.


Leslie's Squadron pin, worn by Janet-Lee every year on Rememberance Day.



Many thanks to Janet-Lee for sending in the photographs and extra information .




Rest In Peace