John Michael (Jack) Harris was born at Sarnia General Hospital on January 8, 1913, the youngest son of Michael George (born Arahova, Sparta, Greece) and Rosamond (nee Moore, born Chatham, Ontario) Harris of North Brock Street, Sarnia. At the time of John’s birth, the family lived at 182 ½ Front Street, Sarnia, and father Michael listed his occupation as theatre owner and manager. John had two brothers–George (born 1910) and James, who a few years prior to his death had become a partner with in the operation of Sarnia’s National Club. John was raised in Sarnia, attending school here, and he was interested in making model aircraft as a hobby. John later learned to fly in London, Ontario and he earned a civilian pilot’s license. John had some military training in the U.S. Army, serving as a member of the U.S. Marines as a young teen in Honolulu from 1928-1930.
John Harris enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in May of 1940. John married Stella Matilda Logan, the eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Robert E. Logan of South Mitton Street, Sarnia at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on December 17, 1940. At the ceremony, Mrs. George Harris served as the maid of honour, and John’s brother George served as the best man. After the ceremony, an informal reception was held at the home of the bride’s parents for immediate relatives; then the newlywed couple left on a short wedding trip. John and Stella Harris resided at 116 South Mitton Street, Sarnia.
John then went to the Toronto manning pool and later transferred to the RCAF #1 Wireless Training School in Montreal. He trained as a wireless gunner and later transferred to Jarvis Bombing and Gunnery School, graduating as a wireless operator/air gunner. Because of his civilian pilot experience, he was given a flying test at Rockcliffe airdrome, and then took a special course at Picton Air Base where he received his wings and graduated as a sergeant- pilot. At the #1 Wireless Training School, one of his duties was to fly new American built airplanes from Windsor to Montreal. Only several weeks prior to his death, John had spent a leave in Sarnia. At the time, he referred to his love for the air force and his work. When he returned to #1 Wireless Training School in Montreal where he was stationed as staff pilot flying out of St. Hubert’s airport, his wife Mrs. Stella Harris, went with him.
On April 7, 1941, piloting his Menasco Moth aircraft #4824 while engaged in a two-hour wireless exercise, his aircraft crashed into a bush between Caughnawaga and suburban Chateauguay, near Montreal. His flying companion, LAC R.L.W. Orchard, a New Zealander, escaped with bruises and was shaken up. John Harris was killed. His death was the first to occur in the ranks of Sarnians who were serving in World War II with the RCAF. Eyewitnesses reported that the plane had been stunting for about 20 minutes at 1000 feet when its engine stopped. The engine faltered twice and then stopped again at about 700 feet before the plane side-slipped towards the ground. It was gliding down quite slowly. Harris tried to start the engine again, but it stopped a few moments later before it came down into a 10-foot bush, burying its nose into the wet earth. A truck load of soldiers were first to the scene. LAC Orchard was able to walk away after soldiers removed him from the ship, but Sergeant Harris was pinned between the engine and the pilot seat. John Harris died a few hours later after being admitted to hospital, due to a fractured skull and other injuries. His death would later be officially listed as, Died in Notre-Dame Hospital, Montreal, as result of flying accident. John Harris had been scheduled to be overseas flying planes only weeks after the crash.
One day after the crash, the body of John (Jack) Harris left by train from Montreal for burial in Sarnia. His bride of less than four months, Stella Harris, who had gone to Montreal with her husband only a short time prior, also arrived in Sarnia accompanied by her mother. Recorded in the Sarnia Observer under the headline, “First Military Funeral of War Hero Held Here,” a funeral with full military auspices was held at the Stewart Funeral Home. More than a thousand friends of Pilot John Harris and his well-known family paid their respects. At the crowded Stewart Funeral Home, Rev. Captain J.M. Macgillivray, minister of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in his sermon said, Jack Harris was a clean living boy, a keen sportsman and a general favorite with all who knew him. He was among the first in this community to answer the call. He was an experienced airman and had flown planes before the war broke out, and he offered his services in the capacity in which he could be of most use. He thought not of the danger – he was eager only to serve the cause of liberty. He shall be missed by a large circle of friends, but our deepest sympathy goes out to his young wife, so recently a bride, and his father and mother and brothers in their bereavement.
As the casket draped with a Union Jack which upon rested a wreath of Flanders poppies was brought out of the funeral home, past an honor guard, a plane’s motor roared in the western sky. The Lambton Garrison Band, with muffled drums played a funeral march as the procession moved along College Avenue. The casket in a flower-filled hearse, was escorted by pallbearers along with officers of the 11th Field Company, the 26th Battery, members of the Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve, and veterans of the last war represented by Sarnia Branch 62 of the Canadian Legion and the American Legion, Port Huron. At the cemetery, a large throng gathered at the flower-banked graveside. As the ceremony concluded, the firing party’s three volleys rang out over the grave and “The Last Post” was sounded. Twenty-eight year old John Harris is buried in Sarnia (Lakeview) Cemetery, Sarnia, Ontario, Section E., Lot 176. On John Harris’ headstone are inscribed the words, Beloved husband of Stella M. Logan. Killed in service of R.C.A.F. ‘Per Ardva ad astra.’
SOURCES: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, J, L, M, N, 2C, 2D