Dal Russel, one of Canada's great Second World War fighter pilots, flew 286 operational sorties during the war, shot down five and a half enemy aircraft during the Battle of Britain and came home without a scratch. He was considered so lucky his ground crew nicknamed him DeadEye Dick and had the ace of spades painted on the fuselage of his Spitfire aircraft.
He died Tuesday at his home in Knowlton following a stroke, three weeks shy of his 91st birthday. "He was a very independent, very single-minded, of a very definite mindset. Right or wrong, he did it," said Jeffrey Williams, a distant cousin who considered Russel an uncle.
"He did not like to talk about what happened during the war. His brother, Hugh, who was also a pilot, was killed in 1944. Dal loved to fish, but once when I invited him to go hunting with me, he declined. He told me he had seen enough of shooting and would never again fire a gun.
Blair Dalzell Russel, the son of a family-owned steel finishing manufacturer, was born in Toronto, Dec. 9, 1916, moved to Montreal as an infant and went to Selwyn House School before being sent to Trinity College School in Port Hope, Ont. He learned to fly at the Montreal Light Flying Club in a Gypsy Moth single-engine biplane. Russel was working for Dominion Steel and Coal in Toronto in 1939 when the war began and he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
At 22, he was one of the youngest officers to go overseas with Fighter Squadron No. 1, and at 23, was one of the first Canadians to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross."