Royal Canadian Air Force June 1040-September 1945
I was born in Truro and attended Truro schools, graduating from Grade 12 in June 1939. World War II broke out in September of that year. I was seventeen years old. For the next nine months I attended the Nova Scotia Agricultural College in Bible Hill.
I joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in June 1940 and was posted to Manning depot in Toronto. This station took in the Exhibition grounds and we were billeted in the Horse Barns. We took our basic training here. In September I was posted to Initial Training station in Regina, Saskatchewan. Our class was instructed in the various crafts that we would need as aircrew, including theory of flight, math, Morse code, etc.. We were also introduced to the Link Trainer, a machine that simulated an aircraft in flight. We were also subjected to rigorous medical and optical examinations before being classified for Pilot, Navigator, Wireless or Gunnery training. I was fortunate to be assigned to Pilot training. I was posted to Goderich, Ontario, which was a brand new station utilizing civilian personnel as caterers and as Flying Instructors. After 7 hours of instruction, I soloed (flew by myself for about five minutes, taking off and landing by myself).
Winter had caught up with us by this time and we had several heavy snowstorms. One day I was with my instructor when we found that the wind was so strong we were unable to return to our airdrome. My instructor decided this would be a good time to practice my forced landing procedure. Just prior to landing in a nearby field (chosen by me), my instructor took over and we landed in 4 feet of snow, the aircraft flipped over and slid on its back, and we had to dig our way out from under the plane. The only casualty was the propeller.
December saw us posted to Saskatoon, Sask, for Service Training on the Harvard aircraft. The weather was brutal. 40 below zero was common. In February 1941 I received my wings and posted overseas. I had a total of 100 hours of flying time. We were posted to Debert, Nova Scotia, as a holding unit until we embarked for overseas.
At the end of February, we embarked on an armed merchant Cruiser that had armaments circa the Boer War. We were the escorting vessel for a large convoy. We were 21 days crossing the Atlantic arriving in Iceland, transferring to another ship and then to Glasgow, Scotland. We left Glasgow by train, the same day we had arrived, heading to the south of England. There we experienced our first Air Raid as we were quite close to London.
From Aldershot we were assigned our postings for further training. Bomber command was being formed at this time and I was sent to an operational unit instructing us on Wellington bombers. These had two engines and I was used to only one. All this time we were under the command of the Royal Air Force, as there were not sufficient numbers of Canadians to form a Canadian Group. We were crewed up: pilot, navigator, wireless operator and gunners (two), and we commenced training, culminating in an actual raid on Paris, dropping leaflets telling the French people the progress of the war.
Several of these crews were then posted to the Middle East (Egypt), ferrying spare parts as well as the new aircraft we were flying. We landed and refueled at Gibraltar and Malta and then to Egypt, where we became part of the war effort in that theatre of war. We had to fly our aircraft to advanced bases in the Sahara Desert, where we had to refuel and to bomb up for our Operations. Sometimes the temperature was so high that we didn’t cool off until we reached 6000’. We completed 34 trips (30 normally constituted a tour of operations) and then we were posted back to England to assist in Training Command.
I spent the next year and a half in training command still under the R.A.F. The Canadians by now had their own Bomber Group and were making a name for themselves. My next move was to return to Canada for a month’s leave.
When we returned to England, we were sent to a Canadian Operational Training Unit (O.T.U.) for training on Halifax Bombers. These aircraft had four engines and took a little getting used to. They had a crew of seven: Pilot, Navigator, Bomb Aimer, Wireless Operator, Flight Engineer, Mid Upper Gunner and Rear Gunner. We were posted to Leemington Yorkshire on 427 Squadron.
On our seventh trip we were attacked by enemy fighters. Our rear gunner was killed; the Mid Upper Gunner was badly wounded, as were the Flight Engineer and Navigator. We were forced to bail out. Three of us survived the night of June 12th, 1944. The three who survived were Lyall Wilson, Keith Patrick and I. We were picked up by the French Underground and housed by them in the village of Renty for over three months. Keith and I went by a two-wheel cart and were stopped twice by German Patrols but we were concealed well by our helpers. We stayed with the Fillerin family while Lyall was across the road with the Ansel family. Members of the Marquis provided us with tobacco leaves and stories of sabotage.
We witnessed the retreat of the German army past our abode and a Canadian tank unit liberated our village in September 1944. We were intensely interrogated by an Army Intelligence Unit who finally turned us loose, advising us to return to England as best we could. There was an R.A.F. station nearby and we were able to hitch a ride back to England where we were again interrogated, after which we were told how to reclaim our kits left behind when we went missing. The office in London where we went concerning our kits also examined us, and then advised us how to proceed to reclaim our kit. At this time, the door burst open and a Women’s Air Corp lady hurled herself into our midst. It was my aunt whose husband died in Ireland during the war, and as she couldn’t return to Canada, she joined the Canadian W.A.A.F. Fortunately she had retrieved my kit and had it in her apartment, and I was able to get mine quickly. We were then repatriated to Canada.
I was posted to Debert as an Air Controller. I was married in November 1944, and as the war in Europe was winding down (May saw victory in Europe), and shortly after that in August the atomic bomb brought the war to a close.
I applied for and was accepted at Queen’s University, where I obtained a Bachelor of Commerce degree and I also acquired a son. I was employed with Canadian Packers for two years, and then I joined my brother in the insurance business. I spent the next thirty years in this vocation acquiring a daughter and second son along the way. I retired in 1982, after selling the business to my son and his partner. My wife and I have enjoyed our retirement, spending some winters in Florida, playing golf and generally enjoying life.