Black Friday: An Amazing Coincidence

Written by Harold McNeill on June 30th, 2012. Posted in Biographies


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An Amazing Coincidence

Following is an observation for the math guru’s among you.

While completing the Black Friday story, I first met P/O Bert Ramsden who, in the 404 Squadron photo, is standing immediately below and to the right of the nose cone V3 painted on the Beaufighter. No big deal, he just picked a place to stand and there he stood very near the symmetrical centre of the photo, a modest 1 in 59 chance of occupying that position.

Later, while researching the article, the name of one other member of the squadron air crew still living was found to be P/O Miller Bryce. It was not until I was highlighting names in the photo I discovered P/O Bryce was standing just below and to the left of the V3, shoulder to shoulder with P/O Ramsden.

Now there is nothing unusual about just two members being left alive as that was bound to happen at some point. However, that the final two living members of the 59 members in that squadron photo were randomly standing side by side seemed highly coincidental. This will be further discussed later.

In an email exchange with Don Flynn, the son of P/O Pat Flynn, I was told I had missed his dad’s name on the photo name list. He told me his father was sitting directly above Ramsden and Bryce on the nosecone above the V3. Sure enough, I had accidentally missed the name the first time around. Now, of the three members coming to my attention, all are sitting or standing in a symmetrical position around the V3 nosecone!

Photo: Cropped section of the Squadron photo displayed in the introduction.  Link here to the full Squadron Photo. (Lead photo in the Black Friday Story)

During the Black Friday Ceremony held in 2008, in Naustdal, Norway, the two living members (and their families) along with the family of one deceased member, were represented.  Of course, the two living members were P/O Ramsden and P/O Bryce.  The third, represented by his wife and son, was, take a guess, P/O Flynn, the man who completed the Beaufighter nosecone triangle.

I spoke to P/O Ramsden about this coincidence and he was, of course, very surprised. He stated the photo was set up in completely random fashion with no particular position being selected or allotted either by rank or length of service.  He could not remember the significance of the V3 on the nosecone but stated there were a lot of Beaufighters attached to the Squadron and he could only remember one having had a V3 painted on the nose. Others had various other markings.  

The Probabilities

What is the probability of that symmetrical triangle of Ramsden, Bryce and Flynn occurring with 59 squadron members free to choose their placement in the photo?  With completely random positioning one would expect individuals to occupy any one of the 59 available positions.  The calculation would be:

P/O Ramsden 1 X 59 positions
P/O Bryce 1 X 59 positions
P/O Flynn 1 X 59 positions

The probability of the three standing together would be: 1 x 59 x 1 x 59 x 1 x 59 = 1 in 205,379.  A very slim chance, but it did happen as we can see in the photo.  But that does not speak to the probability that the final two living members being side by side in a picture taken 70 years earlier1. To me it seems this would be an extraordinarily rare event and I don’t know exactly how to assign that probability. I have therefore given it a modest 1 in 50 chance (reduced from 118 which was used in the original post).  Within that triangle (an isosceles), the new probability would be:

1 x 50 x 1 x 205,379 = 1 in 10,268,950.  Is this possible? It seems so as they are standing in those positions. Still, there is more.

Might that triangle of those three members have occurred in several other parts of the photo? Of course.  To gain that central position would be one of 30 or so possible triangles (I counted the ones that generally place three men in a triangle, therefore there is a 1 in 30 chance on the men being in that triangle. Now we have:

1 x 30 x 1 x 10,268,950 = I in 308,068,500.   Very large odds indeed, but it happened. Both men, it seems won the Loto 649 many times over as the chances of winning a $2,000,000 prize in the 649 runs about 1 chance in 13,983,816. That lottery win chance is about the same as flipping 24 heads in a row on a coin toss.

One Further Item of Chance

Assume there were 30 aircraft (12 had just been added from Dunkirk) with only one having had a V3 painted on the nosecone. It could well have been a “D3” or an “H2” or other marking, so it would not really play a role. But still, the V3 still has symbolic significant as a result of the three members surrounding that V3 are central to our discussion. I have not added in the 1 in 30 chance of that particular aircraft being used in the photo as I am not sure that would be valid entry in the probability calculation. If I had the probability would have jumped to 9 billion in one.

The final probability is therefore left at something in the order of 308 million to 1 those three men would be together in those position and would have been represented at Naustdal.  Pretty high odds in any poker hand.

As mentioned in the article, that chance plays an extremely important role in war seems born out by the remote chance these three men would end up together on that particular day in that triangle in the centre of a photograph bearing the number V3.

As I may have erred in logic or method in this calculation, any suggestion you have for corrections would be appreciated. Your thoughts on this particular coincidence would also be appreciated?

Harold

For the full Bert Ramsden Story:  Link Here

Comments:  Suggestions have been made to change a few of the probabilities. These include:

1 Age of the Squadron members:

A question was asked about the relative ages of the Squadron members? It is clear that older members would be expected to pass away before the younger.  P/O Ramsden was just reaching his 24th birthday when the photo was taken and looking at the face of P/O Bryce, he looks to be about the same age.

By far, the largest percentage of Canadians shipped off to war were young (18-30). Assume the average was 25 (+ or – 3 years). P/0 Ramsden (and likely P/O Bryce) were near that average age, that would make half the men older and half younger.  I was told by a friend the average life span in I921 (Ramsden’s birth year) was 62 years, so he and Bryce have now exceeded the span by nearly 30 years.

As most of the men in the squadron were born in the period of 1915 – 1925, one could reasonably expect almost the entire squadron would have passed away between 1977 – 1987.  Ramsden and Bryce (B: 1921) are still here, so they have beat the odds by some considerable length of time.

While a probability of 1 in 30 (less than half the number of squadron members) has now been assigned. This could have been much higher, say 1 in 100, or more. I have used the number to 1 in 30, just to be on the safe side in the calculation.

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Comments (5)

  • Peter Hunter
    July 2, 2012 at 8:52 pm |

    A very interesting article. I’m glad that individuals are making the effort to remember an important part of our history.

    The coincidence is remarkable. I checked the math and it works out.

  • Paul Little
    July 11, 2012 at 10:40 pm |

    I enjoyed the Black Friday article very much. I’m glad we got to meet Bert. I had been thinking of inviting my fishing buddy, Derek Turner, to listen to Bert. I later told Derek about Bert’s talk and was surprised when Derek said that Bert and he used to work together. Derek is now 86 and joined the Royal Navy at age 17. His service took him from Britain to India and Malaysia and his ship was involved with the D-Day landings. Thanks for this article, Harold.

  • Jillian levers wilson
    February 13, 2013 at 2:32 pm |

    Hello my great great uncle was in the 404 squadron during the Black Friday. His name was HARRY SMOOK from Winnipeg Manitoba Canada. He lost his life falling into the sea and was never recovered. Do you have any information on my uncle please?

    Truly. Jillian

    • Maurice Smook
      August 13, 2016 at 4:03 pm |

      Hi Jillian,

      I don’t know if you are still checking this site but I had to respond again. February of 2017 it will be 72 years since this battle occurred.

      What caught my attention about this incident was on the Go Deep Documentary that aired on the History Channel. First of all I never known that this battle having ever occurred.

      According to my grade 3 teacher WW2 had never occurred. That grade 3 teacher stated that the WW2 and the holocaust was all propaganda. All of my classmates they believed her. I hate to say this but all I knew was that soldiers shooting at each other.

      I almost was expelled from school. My

      Mom my Dad my brother and my Uncle would have been arrested for propaganda. I paid the price. It was ironic a grade 5 teacher told me that Smooks are all commies. Dad was Conservative.

      All the Smooks that I known are all Conservative. If I had the money I would have loved to sue those two teachers.

      As I said I never heard of this Battle. If it were not for that program I would have never had known.

      I started to do more researching to find out more about the history of this battle. The narrator of Go Deep mentioned the names of the pilots who died that battle.

      I missed 20 minutes of that program but the camera crew had the camera’s pointed towards the sign with the names of the deceits. That is how I known.

      According to the narrator There are three who are still missing. W.J. Jackson, Harry Smook and A. Duckworth. A couple of months ago the staff of Go Deep have located Harry and A. Duckworths aircraft. This is on you tube. Harry and A. Duckworth craft is approx 650 feet deep in the Fjord. The individual who is heading this expansionary mission made it known he will not rest until all three of the missing pilots
      will be retrieved. I am sure that A. Duckworth’s kin are hoping for the same.

      What really puzzles me is that I have sent emails to the Smooks. Not one ever replying. I presume its the same with you. Sad. Dad rarely spoke about his family. It appears there is a big secret of the Smooks. I too assume Harry is a kin to my Dad. Harry maybe a 4th 5th cousin to my Dad. I too would like to know. Harry and A. Duckworth served and died for our country. The other is W.j. Jackson – who is also still missing – having died for our Country.

      In conclusion I still ask myself why is this a huge secret.

      If you are still checking this site please contact me. Maybe we may be kin.

      Take care.

  • Maurice Smook
    November 10, 2015 at 1:13 pm |

    I was watching a documentary on the History Channel. It was go deep. I heard the name of Harry Smook. It caught my attention. I am a Smook and wondering if Harry Smook is a kin to my Dad. My Dads family settled in Swan River Manitoba in the early 1900’s. When we were growing up I recall asking Dad about our background. Dad would ignore our questions. Why? We will never know. The day when Dad passed away he never spoke to us about his family etc. Maybe Dad’s Father had kin who chad also immigrated to Canada later. This part of the Military History really interesting. I would love receive info as well about Harry Smook. We may be kin or not. It would be nice to know.

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Comments

  • Herb Craig

    December 14, 2021 |

    As always awesome job Harold. It seems whatever you do in life the end result is always the same professional, accurate, inclusive and entertaining. You have always been a class act and a great fellow policeman to work with. We had some awesome times together my friend. I will always hold you close as a true friend. Keep up the good work. Hope to see you this summer.
    Warm regards
    Herb Craig

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Hi Dorthy, So glad you found those stories and, yes, they hold many fond memories. Thanks to social media and the blog, I’ve been able to get in touch with many friends from back in the day. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Well, well. Pleased to see your name pop up. I’m in regular contact via FB with many ‘kids’ from back in our HS days (Guy, Dawna, Shirley and others). Also, a lot of Cold Lake friends through FB. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Oh, that is many years back and glad you found the story. I don’t have any recall of others in my class other than the Murphy sisters on whose farm my Dad and Mom worked.

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Pleased to hear from you Howie and trust all is going well. As with you, I have a couple of sad stories of times in my police career when I crossed paths with Ross Barrington Elworthy. Just haven’t had the time to write those stories.

  • Howie Siegel

    November 25, 2021 |

    My only fight at Pagliacci’s was a late Sunday night in 1980 (?) He ripped the towel machine off the bathroom wall which brought me running. He came after me, I grabbed a chair and cracked him on the head which split his skull and dropped him. I worried about the police finding him on the floor. I had just arrived from Lasqueti Island and wasn’t convinced the police were my friends. I dragged him out to Broad and Fort and left him on the sidewalk, called the cops. They picked him up and he never saw freedom again (as far as I know). I found out it was Ross Elworthy.

  • Herbert Plain

    November 24, 2021 |

    Just read you article on Pibroch excellent. My Dad was Searle Grain company agent we move there in 1942/3 live in town by the hall for 5 years than moved one mile east to the farm on the corner where the Pibroch road meets Hwy 44. Brother Don still lives there. I went to school with you and Louise.

  • Herbert Plain

    November 24, 2021 |

    Just read your life account of Pibroch excellent.
    My family mowed to Pibroch in 1942 Dad was grain buyer for Searle Grain Company lived in town for 5 years than mowed one mile East to the farm on the corner of the road from Pibroch and Hwy 44. Bro Don still lives there.I went to school with both you and Louise.

  • DOROTHY MARSHALL

    November 15, 2021 |

    These stories brought back some sweet memories for me. a wonderful trip down memory lane . the photos were great. It has made me miss those days.

  • DOROTHY MARSHALL

    November 15, 2021 |

    Enjoyed your story Harold Dorothy Hartman