1ST TRURO BOY TO GO OVERSEAS!
I was born 2 July 1921 in Truro, Nova Scotia. My Dad, James Grant, a World War I Veteran, was an engineer on the Canadian National Railway and my Mom, a World War I bride from England, was a home-maker. I was the middle child with an older sister Gladys and a younger brother Kelvin. My brother, Kelvin, aka Kelly Grant served with the North Novies through Northern France to Holland. He had the distinction of planting the first Canadian flag on German soil by the Canadian Army. I went through the Truro schooling system leaving in grade 11, contemplating joining the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).
On April 8th, 1940, at the age of 18, I took the train to Halifax to the enlistment centre on Morris Street. On completion of the interview, I was told I was accepted and given a one way ticket to Toronto. I called home to inform them I was on my way to the manning depot in Toronto. My girlfriend, 17 year old Doris McGowran, whose father was the RCMP Detachment CO, promised to wait for me.
Upon my arrival in Toronto, I went through the usual procedures, ie. kit issue, muster parades, etc. The following day I noticed a sign looking for volunteers to go to Malton Airport outside Toronto. I volunteered and every morning I went to Malton working on storing training planes. If I remember right, I think the planes were Tiger Moths. Then at some point, I responded to a notice seeking volunteers for overseas duty. So I joined up with #1 RCAF Aux Squadron(this Squadron was made up of mostly millionaires – nice little club from Montreal). I was put on a train to Shearwater in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and hooked up with the #1 Fighter Squadron. After a couple of days, I was ferried across the harbour and boarded the Duchess of Athol (which had formally been a cruise ship) and headed for England. It was June 10, 1940.
We landed in Liverpool (two months from the day I enlisted) and took a train to the town of Wigan. The next morning I boarded another train to Andover, South England and was then transported to Middlewallop. I remained there approximately two weeks. This was the location that #1 RCAF Fighter Squadron assembled all their equipment and personnel. This squadron had proceeded overseas as a completely mobile squadron, planes, transports, medical, dental and cooks, etc.
Having seized control of Western Europe, Hitler turned his attention to Britain. If diplomacy failed an invasion would likely be required and defeat of the RAF was a precondition to the success of such an operation. In July 1940 the Luftwaffe therefore began an air war against Britain, initially the Germans wanted to establish air supremacy over the Straits of Dover as a prerequisite to invasion. The invasion of England was anticipated; therefore, all personnel regardless of rank were involved in building fortification and filling sand bags. We only had one bomb dropped on us and not much damage was reported.
The Squadron was then transferred to Croydon (London's airport at that time) and the first bombing of London occurred. There was a lot of damage and a lot of casualties. It was here that I saw the best dog fight of the entire war. Reason being was that the allied fighters did not have sufficient warning to be airborne before the Germans commenced their bombing run (Stuka Dive Bombers); however, they were sitting in a great position to attack the Germans as they came out of their bomb runs. This attack made Croydon unserviceable so while in Northolt the squadron was involved in continuous air battles during the day and subjected to air bombings of London. During the night the air raid warnings sounded around 5 p.m. and the all clear sirens would sound around 5 a.m. the next morning.
During our posting at Northolt we had some close calls. One day a German fighter bomber came out of the low clouds and shot up the base. On another occasion a lone German fighter bomber dropped a bomb which did some damage to our hanger and killed a Polish pilot who happened to be taxing between our hanger and another. Lady luck was with us on another occasion when a “stick” of bomb was dropped on our barracks. One bomb going through the barrack wing – passing through a bed on the second floor and one on the first floor only to bury itself under the barracks unexploded. Another bomb landed in the soft earth between the wings of the barracks – it too did not explode.
Pilots flew many daily sorties against German planes. Again, there were a lot of casualties but more so on the German side. Actually their losses were so great that they changed from day to night bombings which was named the London Blitz. This was a pretty rugged time for pilots and ground crew. Our pilots went against protocol procedures and on landing went directly to dispersal points by the shortest route for refueling and rearming. They held the record for the shortest refueling and rearming time, which was extremely important at the time. The Air Minister called up the Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader, Ernie McNab to reprimand him. His reply was that there was a war going on and there was no time to worry about protocol.
We were the only Canadian RCAF Active Squadron over there at that time. Throughout the Battle of Britain our planes were in/out, air attacks all day long. With the large German losses, things slowed down. By the end of October, Fighter Command ordered the No. l Squadron to Scotland (Prestwick) for a rest. In all the RCAF pilots scored 31 confirmed kills while suffering three pilots killed in action.
What I recall about Prestwick, was that there was a skating rink in the town of Ayr. Whenever I could I would go skating. What I liked most about this skating rink was that one could skate straight off the ice surface and go directly on surface to a milk bar for shakes. Quite a change from the situation in London.
After our rest in Prestwick the Squadron was supposed to be transferred to Castletown where the work was to patrol the North Sea. But the CO said no way was he billeting his men there and he decided to utilize a new Army camp at Thurso. It was the Squadron's first post independent of RAF and, therefore, had their own cooks (Canadian) so we ate Canadian style meals. We really enjoyed this but no one enjoyed the Nissen huts which were cold, wet and always damp.
My first Xmas overseas was lovely. You see I was in the right place at the right time. The Squadron received big boxes full of chocolate bars, knit goods, cigarettes, hat, gloves, scarves, etc. After Christmas, the Squadron moved to Driffeld, where there was no serious bombings. I recall we spent about a month there in tents on a gorgeous estate, Wellingore Hall. I made friends with a farmer across the road and would go to the farm for a morning drink of milk (cream) instead of going to the canteen. It was here I met Tommy Stubbert from PEI and we remained great friends until his death last year (2004).
Next I was transferred to 407 Squadron Coastal Command in Kingslynn(Grimsby). This Squadron was flying Hudson and patrolled the North Sea coast. This aircraft was not rugged and burned easily, therefore, was not a favorite of the pilots.
My next transfer was to Warrington in July 1944. I was sent there to open up a repat depot. All returning airmen passed through here and it was our job to ensure the paperwork was completed and to organize them into groups (drafts) and to transport them to ships for passage to Canada. Warrington was once a balloon station and since we were the first inhabitants, we got to pick the best rooms with the best equipment. Again, we ate well. When drafts were ready, they were permitted leave while awaiting available ships.
My next transfer was to the Middle East, but this posting was cancelled due to the war ending. In October 1944, I landed in New York. My girlfriend Doris was now living in Niagara Falls. I traveled to Niagara Falls to surprise her. When I got to her home, her Mom let me wait in her bedroom because every day, when she came home from work she would go to her room to read the letters I sent daily from overseas. Doris thought I was headed for the Middle East, so when she came into her room and I was there, it was quite a surprise. I was anxious to get to Truro, so together we headed home.
We were married on October 30, 1945 in her grandmother's home in Kentville, Nova Scotia. I was released from the service in February 1946 and returned to civilian life. We moved to Niagara Falls where I applied to the Physical Education Program at the University of Toronto. Before being accepted into this program I had to complete my Junior and Senior Matriculations, which I did in just six months. I had to hitch hike everyday from Niagara Falls to Hamilton to attend the Rehab School. In 1947 I began classes at the University of Toronto and graduated three years later(1950) with my degree in Physical & Health Education.
Upon graduation I accepted a position as Director of Physical Education for schools in Windsor, Nova Scotia. In 1953, I became Director of Physical Education for the Truro Schools. I held this position for four years, then was appointed Director of Physical Education at the Provincial Normal College later the Nova Scotia Teachers College where I stayed until my retirement in 1980. I have been a legion member for 29 years and my hobbies include woodworking and carving. Doris and I raised three children, Gaylene, Steven and Nancy, who all live nearby. We have six grandchildren and one great granddaughter.