Veteran Stories:
Gordon B Smith

Air Force

  • Gordon Smith in uniform with his Distinguished Flying Medal and Pathfinder badge in 1945.

    Gordon Smith
  • Gordon Smith, England, 1944.

    Gordon Smith
  • This certificate was awarded to Mr. Smith for completing the operational requirements for the Pathfinder Force.

    Gordon Smith
  • Mr. Smith is pictured here with his friends Al and Jim in New York, 1945.

    Gordon Smith
  • This letter was sent to Gordon Smith's parents after he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal in 1945.

    Gordon Smith
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"they told us to get ready to jump. So I was down at the back, ready to go out the back door when he said, hold on, he said, the fire had gone out"

Transcript

I had a brother who was older than me. He went in 1940. He was a pilot at [RCAF Station] Saint-Hubert town in Quebec for two years. Couldn’t get overseas because he was an instructor. And about, oh, a couple of months before, when I was graduating down at Guelph or [RCAF Station] Fingal, the gunnery school [No. 4 Bombing and Gunnery School], I was down there and my mother came down. My brother had finally gotten overseas about a month or so prior. He was stationed over there; and my father and mother came down to see me graduate. And when they arrived, they’d received a letter, with a time of five hours difference, they’d received a letter the night before my brother was killed. The day I graduated, I found out he was killed, so I guess my parents more than anything was just, I mean, that was bad enough, but then when I decided to go overseas, that was even more upsetting to them, at least.

And I got over there and I didn’t know it, but he wasn’t shot down. He was in training, the same as the other pilots, and he was an instructor, so he was a pilot for two years instructing, but they’ve got to learn the other aircraft. He’s going on a Bomber Command also and he was learning in a two engine, I don’t know if it was [Avro] Anson [air crew training aircraft], I’m not too sure what it was. They ran into another aircraft, one of their own aircraft coming back from ops [operations]. And that’s what brought him down.

It was the first trip I actually did was on the [Vickers] Wellington [medium bomber] and it’s not recognized as such. So when I say I did 60 trips, I actually did 59. The reason they didn’t seem to put down, it was a trip over Belgium dropping leaflets, just propaganda or some such. And I figured personally, any time I crossed the coast, I was an operational trip, but it didn’t record it as such. After that, we went on to [Handley Page] Halifaxes [heavy bombers], the Halifax aircraft, I learned before and just from there, we went onto [No.] 419 [Tactical Fighter Training] Squadron.

And in 419 Squadron, I did my first trip there. The “Ruhr” Express [Avro Lancaster X] was the first Canadian built [Avro] Lancaster [heavy bomber], did three trips with that particular aircraft and after 14 trips on 419 squadron, based on the pilot and I guess the bomb aimer, the navigator in particular, the good work they had on those trips as such, they asked us to go onto [No. 8] Pathfinder [Force] Squadron [RAF Bomber Command], which is [No.] 405 Squadron down near Cambridge in England, a place called [RAF Station] Gransden Lodge. Went on to the Pathfinders. While there, I finished one tour and the idea was on Pathfinder, after one tour, you went back to Canada for six weeks leave and then came back over. But if you were Pathfinders and if you wanted, they asked you to stay on for your second tour and not go home. You would have to only do 25 trips instead of 30 for your second tour. And the pilot, the bomb aimer and myself, we did that and I finished two tours, actually 59 trips, really 60 as I said earlier, 59 trips.

Well, a couple of shaky dos there sometimes. On one particular trip, we lost an engine. We were going right on the target, going over the target and lots of searchlights, and lots of flak [anti-aircraft weapons], which there usually was, especially on a bigger city and we were hit by flak. Not by fighters by flak. And at the same time, we were caught in searchlights, not one but they flipped by you quite often. But once they, like a master searchlight gets on you, you have what you call a cone, an inverted cone which could be maybe 10 searchlights and you’re under that one mass. It worked so that the pilot had a very hard time getting out of the cone. And meanwhile, the engine’s on fire. So he puts the extinguishers on and after about, it seemed longer than that, probably only three minutes, he wasn’t getting anywhere with the fire, nor the searchlights, and they told us to get ready to jump. So I was down at the back, ready to go out the back door when he said, hold on, he said, the fire had gone out, maybe the fire went first, they get the fire extinguishers in the aircraft worked. And what happened was there was flak that knocked the one engine out, so we only had the one engine left. Anyhow, he had knocked the engine out. And then we had what they called a corkscrew, which is to get out of the searchlights. So you dives down and going around like a corkscrew so to speak, steepest dive and going out in circles, so to speak, just straight down. And we finally got out of that.

Now, that was not so bad. Well, it was bad enough certainly, but I didn’t jump and the thing was, we got back on track, but the navigators could fly by the stars if they had to. But one engine had a lot of electronics on it and they were knocked out. So we were coming back without any, well, other than the knowledge of what they were doing, a lot of the equipment was missing. So we were going in areas sometimes close to towns and you were getting shot where you normally wouldn’t, from the ground, I’m talking about flak. We did get back and landed at a separate base because, with that one engine gone. But that was the drift of that whole particular trip, it was a scary do.

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