Mr. Robert O'connor
Mr. Robert O'Connor As part of The Memory Project, we always encourage veterans to bring memorabilia and photographs from their service. Sometimes, while sitting with a veteran and looking through their photos I see a resemblance to someone I knew growing up and our generation gap finds a bridge. It makes me consider their circumstances and it’s also a gentle reminder that these veterans were once my age. It’s not that you can forget this fact, but the pictures have a way of bringing the point home. Sometimes, during a conversation with a veteran, the young person in the picture makes an appearance. This came up early on for me when I sat down with a Mr. Robert O’Connor in Red Deer, Alberta. Mr O’Connor, it turned out, had been a Mosquito Navigator during the Second World War and had flown many dangerous missions over occupied Europe.
Mosquito aircrew were among the elite in Bomber Command. Some flew as Pathfinders on bombing raids, where they would mark the target and then linger over the combat area to guide in the bomber stream. They would fly smaller raids into occupied territory and strafe Luftwaffe aerodromes. They also made low-level flights down Axis shipping lanes to drop mines on what they liked to call ‘gardening’ missions. These were all very dangerous assignments that demanded a lot from the aircrews who took part.
When I first sat down with Mr O’Connor, it felt no different than any other interview that I’d had up to that point. Things quickly changed, however, when I asked him about flying in Mosquitoes. He looked up, smirked, and the elite aviator he had once been emerged. With a grin, he recounted the following introduction he received from his Wing Commander: “When you go to your first briefing, you may be a little nervous when you find out what you have to do, and you may feel a little sick. If you look around the briefing room, just look at the old timers, they’ll only look half as sick as you do.” After telling me this he chuckled and began to tell me about missions that would turn elite Airmen green. Whatever leap I might have needed to bridge our age difference became unnecessary and for the next forty minutes, I had the pleasure of sitting with a 19-year-old Mosquito Navigator.
A Mosquito, similar to the one Mr. O`Connor would have flown.