Meet the 97-year-old Second World War veteran who's helping a new video game take off

A Canadian video game developer is creating a project based on RCAF airmen and the Lancaster bomber, and Bob Middleton, a 97-year-old Toronto veteran who helped fly the huge planes during the Second World War, is helping it all get off the ground.

Bob Middleton, who flew on Lancaster bombers, helped with a new project from MicroProse Canada

RCAF veteran Bob Middleton, 97, joined video-game developers for a flight on a Lancaster bomber. Middleton was a navigator during the Second World War. (Greg Bruce/CBC)

Walking into Hamilton's Canadian Heritage Warplane Heritage Museum, Bob Middleton, 97, still has a spring in his step and a quick sense of humour.

The Second World War veteran helped inspire a new video game based on air warfare and the Lancaster bombers he once flew. Not that he plays video games himself.

"None," he said proudly. "Computers are for working with!"

Last week, Middleton was invited to the museum for a flight on its Lancaster — one of only two of the famous heavy bombers that remain in operation.

In April 1942, Middleton graduated early from Toronto's Danforth Collegiate and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was 18. Middleton went on to become a navigator after completing training in Canada and Britain, and was eventually sent to Croft, Yorkshire.

"It was known as the chop squadron. Gone for the chop means you get shot down. You didn't come back," Middleton said in an interview.

Second World War veteran Bob Middleton, top row fourth from the right, is seen with fellow airmen from Toronto. (Submitted by Dan Middleton)

Although many of his fellow airmen did not come back, Middleton successfully completed 33 missions. They were extremely dangerous, flying large bombers over Europe to attack heavily guarded enemy targets.

Valiant Effort video game

Those harrowing and history-shaping flights will be what gamers experience in Valiant Effort, created by Hamilton-based developer Andrew Spearin and MicroProse Canada.

While it began as Spearin's own stand-alone project, Valiant Effort will be included in the next version of the popular B-17 Flying Fortress series.

WATCH | Bob Middleton speaks to his experiences in the Second World War 

Wartime video game taking off — with help from Toronto veteran

3 years ago
Duration 3:45
Bob Middleton, a 97-year-old Second World War veteran, got to take a special trip on a Lancaster bomber recently — an aircraft he knows well. And as Trevor Dunn explains, his WW II missions will be part of the focus of a new video game being developed

Spearin, who served in the military himself and volunteers at the museum, arranged a flight on the Lancaster to gather images, video and inspiration for the game.

"We certainly want to capture what it was like in those tight quarters, in the darkness, lights flashing in, and at the same time, what was it like to cooperate with your crew members," Spearin told CBC Toronto.

The game Valiant Effort will incorporate virtual reality simulation of Lancaster bomber flights. (MicroProse Canada/Paradigm Pictures)

Spearin learned about Middleton though the museum and as he was organized the flight, he decided to invite the veteran flyer along. Elements of the game are based on Middleton's own experience.

"Bob Middleton is one of the very few veterans who are still around who can provide us with sound advice on what it was actually like," Spearin said.

"To be able to look Bob in the eye and hear his voice, and get a sense of what it was really like, that's the biggest value I can possibly find."

The Lancaster bomber in Valiant Effort, a wartime video game still in development. (MicroProse Canada/Paradigm Pictures)

Realism is important to Spearin and not only for the quality of game play. While he isn't looking to glamorize what Middleton and other veterans went through, Spearin wants gamers to feel the reality of the war.

"If we're going to portray real people, real aircraft, real events, then we have a responsibility to get the authenticity right," he said.

Video-game developer Andrew Spearin is creating a new project based on Royal Canadian Air Force operations during the Second World War. (Greg Bruce/CBC)

With video games becoming more advanced, there's hope that Valiant Effort will help younger generations understand the sacrifice veterans made.

It will incorporate virtual reality flight simulation. And part of the game will follow the training program that Middleton and other RCAF veterans went through.

"The more kids that get to see that game, when it comes out, the better it will be for all of us," said Leon Evans, chief pilot at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.

"We can't forget these veterans."

Bob Middleton joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942. He took part in 33 operations during the Second World War. (Submitted by Dan Middleton)

Playing pretend war games on a screen may seem a little odd to Middleton. But he too sees the value in it.

With fewer veterans among us, younger generations will have to connect with the past in other ways. And even if it's video games, Middleton wants them to learn from it.

"They don't understand what went on. People your age, they signed on the dotted line: 'I'm paying the mortgage with my life.' It's tough to understand that."


Trevor Dunn is an award-winning journalist with CBC Toronto. Since 2008 he's covered a variety of topics, ranging from local and national politics to technology on the South American countryside. Trevor is interested in uncovering news: real estate, crime, corruption, art, sports. Reach out to him. Se habla español.