Memorable Manitobans: John Milton “Mike” Downs (1918-2004)
Born at Carman on 8 January 1918, the second oldest of five children born to John “Jack” Downs and Jean Ferguson, he grew up on a farm near Homewood where he helped his father farm. In 1940, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and served as a flight officer with No. 3 Squadron. After his Tempest aircraft was shot down on 13 September 1943, he was a prisoner of war Stalag Luft III, Poland for 20 months. Here he helped with the ventilation system for escape tunnels as depicted in the film The Great Escape. He credited Red Cross relief packages for his survival at the camp, and lost 40 pounds after the packages stopped coming at the beginning of 1945. He was liberated in April of that year.
After the war, Downs returned home to help on the farm, and earned his Diploma of Agriculture from the University of Manitoba. In 1947, he married Nellie Irene Roberts (1927-1983) and settled on the family farm where they raised five children. He enjoyed gardening, and with his wife spent vacation time travelling to Australia, Spain, New Zealand, and various US destinations. He led a generally active social life with family and friends, but claimed that one of his greatest pleasures was connecting with his pals from the RCAF, especially his fellow POWs. Competitive in nature, he played hockey and baseball in his younger years and loved all sports, especially curling, golf, and cribbage in his later years. He was a life member of the Royal Canadian Legion for 59 years and at one time served Carman Branch No. 18 as representative for the Department of Veteran Affairs.
He died on 29 May 2004.
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 1 June 2004.
Legion Magazine: “Prisoners of War, Part II.”
Archives of aircrewremembered.com
Homewood Reunion 2018, commemorative publication.
This page was prepared by Lois Braun.
Page revised: 24 May 2020