"The war never made sense to me. I joined the peace movement right after the war and I’ve been fighting in the peace movement all my adult life, against war, particularly against the nuclear bomb."
My name is Francesco Edward DeVito, born in Trail, B.C., 23 May 1920. November 1941, our troop ship ran into an American destroyer, which we think had taken our torpedo ̶ we were in the midst of a convoy. We were told to abandon ship. And we ended up on deck and the American destroyer was close by, and then we rammed into it. We were in a convoy and everybody was going back and forth to avoid the subs. And the American destroyer blew up in front of us.
We had been assigned a raft on the deck of the troop ship and we had lifejackets. And we were to go up in the event of an abandon ship, we would go up and stand beside the raft. And that’s what we did, and watched all this as we came up from below decks and we were right down at the bottom. The ship was the SS Awatea from New Zealand. It was a cruise ship which was pressed into transporting troops. We sat outside on the ocean in the middle of the night for about 12 hours, just sitting ducks. Why the sub didn’t come back and take us, we don’t know. Just one of those things.
And we went back to Halifax. As a matter of fact, we went down to the docks and saw the Awatea. It had dry docked there; and it had a hole in the front that you could have driven a bus through. There was a lot of excitement. I guess we were all scared too, but then what the hell did we know?
I was flying in 1942. Not many people had flown in 1942. I wasn’t piloting. I was a member of testing the equipment on aircraft. Some of their first bombers, I forget the names of them, and then we ended up in [Avro] Lancasters [heavy bombers] and [Handley Page] Halifaxes [heavy bombers], and [Vickers] Wellingtons [medium bombers].
Our job was to install the radar equipment and take off, and to test it. Radar is just television in reverse. They send down a radio wave and the radio waves are absorbed by one thing or another, for instance, there’s no return from water, that absorbed the radio waves, but if there’s a building or a bridge that’s indicated, we were drawing a picture on our radar tube of what we were flying over.
And about the girls? Well, in this one depot, there was a big base and they had permanent barracks. We were on the second or third floor. Betty worked as an armourer and a secretary in the office. And there were a lot of dances, there was a lot of entertainment because they had gymnasiums which they converted to dance halls. I was a good dancer; and Betty was a good dancer. So we started spending time together.
We were married 3 June 1944. Went on our honeymoon to London, at the time that the invasion of France had taken place, the landing. So the trains were full of troops and all kinds of equipment. London was very busy. There were gliders going over with troops ready to drop them in Britain. So we were sort of, the silly thing, the war was on, the most exciting part of the war and here we were on our honeymoon. None of it makes much sense now, but it was okay then.
The war never made sense to me. I joined the peace movement right after the war and I’ve been fighting in the peace movement all my adult life, against war, particularly against the nuclear bomb. War doesn’t make sense. Don’t forget, we’d come through the Depression when nobody could find a job, even university professors and doctors were hitchhiking, looking for work. And all of a sudden when the war started, they found a reason to take a dumbbell like myself and make me into a radar mechanic and take boys from the prairies that had never seen hardly a river, never mind the ocean and they were made commanders of destroyers and corvettes; and took Bob Louis and other friends, and made them pilots of Lancasters. Yeah, so none of it ever made sense. And it’s not making any sense now either.