"All of a sudden, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Flying parallel to us, about three hundred, four hundred yards away, was a German four-engine aircraft."
When you think back, there’s so many close calls where it could have gone either way. Up in Prince Rupert [British Columbia], one of the jobs where I started getting nervous, was to stand on the pontoon and feed starter cartridges into the aircraft to get it started. And one exploded in my hand and just tore my glove off. But the engine started and I stuck my hand in the saltwater, oh, the sting. I climbed up and got in the aircraft and we flew for five hours and my hand, I had it all wrapped up in a rag, it bled something terrible.
Got back to base and the medical officer was a civilian from Prince Rupert, we didn’t have a station medical officer. And he says, your hand is full of cordite, burnt cordite. But it will come out gradually, over the years. And he was right. That’s cordite from 1942. May the 8th, 1942, that cordite went into my hand. It’s still there.
Coming back from the Atlantic, from the Iceland area, I never in over 1,500 hours of flying, I never fired a shot in anger. Never. One time, we were flying back to northern Scotland and we were flying in a cloud and I was sitting in the middle-upper turret. Well, this was in about, close to the end of the war, close to VE-Day [Victory in Europe, May 8, 1945]. And I was sitting mid-upper turret and I had Doreen’s picture up inside my turret; I always did. All of a sudden, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Flying parallel to us, about three hundred, four hundred yards away, was a German four-engine aircraft. So I was looking at it and I called the pilot and the pilot says, we won’t do anything if he doesn’t do anything. And it was a German Focke-Wulf weather plane. We looked at each other. We just looked at each other. You never knew.
No, that was after VE-Day. Our engineer was killed five days after. And we buried him in Gloucester Cemetery, a very rainy day, just pouring rain, even the grave diggers had left their shovels and gone to the pub, eleven of us. And the padre. Our crew and the padre and we lowered Ben [Benny Hunt, the crew's flight engineer] into the grave, each of us stepped to the edge of this muddy grave, saluted, said goodbye to him and it was over in about 10 minutes. There was no bugler, there was no guard of honour, there was nothing. Just pouring rain.
Each of the crew were wearing a piece of his clothing. That’s what we did when somebody was killed. It was sort of good luck. Near misses right through the five years, right from training right through active service.