Robert 'Moose' Fumerton, 93; Canadian Ace

Robert "Moose" Fumerton, left, and Leslie "Pat" Bing hold up insignia they hacked from a German plane they had shot down. Bing often served as Fumerton's navigator. (Toronto Star)
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 27, 2006

Robert "Moose" Fumerton, 93, the top Canadian night-fighter ace of World War II -- credited with 14 aerial victories -- and a pilot who distinguished himself over Egypt and Malta, died July 10 at the Muskoka Landing long-term care center in Huntsville, Ontario. No cause of death was disclosed.

A brawny former lumberjack, Mr. Fumerton's tight squeeze into the cockpit earned him his nickname. However, he proved one of the most dexterous of pilots, once performing a flawless slow roll in a Beaufighter that prompted his commanding officer to remark, "He's a better pilot than I am." Wayne Ralph, an expert on Canadian wartime fighter pilots, wrote that Mr. Fumerton was known for an "aggressive competence."

Mr. Fumerton arrived in England in September 1940, fought briefly during the Battle of Britain and then trained for night flying in Squadron 406, the Royal Canadian Air Force's first night-fighter unit. The squadron's mascot was the lynx, a nocturnal wildcat, and its motto was "We kill by night."

On Sept. 1, 1941, Mr. Fumerton was flying his radar-equipped Beaufighter on a moonlight practice run over the North Sea when he was ordered to knock out a German Junkers 88 bomber heading toward northeastern England.

Assisted by his frequent navigator, Leslie "Pat" Bing, he spotted the bomber as it was silhouetted against the moon. They flew within 55 yards of the bomber and downed it over land. This was the first nighttime aerial victory by a Royal Canadian Air Force fighter pilot.

A day after the shoot-down, Mr. Fumerton and Bing scoured the wreckage. They cut away an Iron Cross marking from the plane's wing and gave it a place of honor in the squadron's crew room.

Not long after, he and Bing were transferred to another Beaufighter squadron in Egypt. In one nighttime engagement over the Suez Canal in March 1942, he attacked an enemy bomber, a Heinkel 111. Shot in the leg, and with his aircraft severely disabled -- one motor was out -- he shot down the Heinkel over the water and made a bumpy but safe landing.

That summer, Mr. Fumerton was assigned to the strategic Mediterranean island of Malta, which had suffered Axis bombings at high altitudes and under the cover of darkness. During the next three months, he was credited with nine hits against the enemy. This was a stunning record for nighttime engagements.

Mr. Fumerton twice survived being downed, and his demeanor was typically unflappable. Once, he and Bing were found floating in a dinghy and were picked up off Sicily by a military rescue launch. When the captain mistakenly poured the shaking airmen iodine instead of brandy, Mr. Fumerton spit it out with the reply, "It helped clean my teeth, I suppose."

Bing told Ralph that his friend was never overly talkative. The only exception, Bing said, was Mr. Fumerton's habit of singing rude ditties loudly while in the air. A favorite went, "They are removing father's grave to dig a sewer."

Mr. Fumerton was made wing commander and sent back to England to rejoin Squadron 406 in July 1943. He helped in the pre-Normandy invasion period by attacking occupied France.

His final kill of the war came in May 1944 when he shot down a Junkers 88 over the English Channel. Soon after, he returned to Canada to train pilots for the Mosquito night-fighter planes before his military discharge.

His decorations included the Air Force Cross and two awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross, with one of the latter citations noting that his "determination to destroy the enemy is outstanding."

Robert Carl Fumerton was born March 20, 1913, in Fort Coulonge, Quebec, where his father ran the general store. After some schooling, he worked as a lumberjack and a gold prospector in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. He also became a bush pilot.

In late 1939, soon after the start of World War II, he volunteered for the Royal Canadian Air Force.

After the war, he briefly trained Nationalist pilots in China for Gen. Chiang Kai-shek in 1948. This was short-lived, as the communists took over the next year.

Mr. Fumerton spent the rest of his life well grounded. He sold commercial real estate in Toronto and routinely fished and hunted in the Canadian wilderness. He also taught himself to play piano, guitar and violin.

His wife, Madeleine Reay "Bobby" Fumerton, a wartime flight controller in England whom he married in 1946, died in 2004.

Survivors include five children, Maureen Shipton of Huntsville, Richard Fumerton of Iowa City, Gail Sweeney of Barrie, Ontario, Patricia Fumerton of Goleta, Calif., and Debbie Brown of Orangeville, Ontario; 10 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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