One of the exciting events was in early 1945 when the Japanese started sending [hydrogen filled] balloons over to Canada with bombs hanging in baskets under them.
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My name is Donald Robert Stevenson. I served in the Second World War in the Royal Canadian Air Force from July 1st, 1942 to September 25th, 1945.
My service area was strictly in Canada because I was relegated to what was called Training Command; training others of aircrew trades to go overseas and fight our enemies. So somebody had to do the training and all of us who were stuck in the training end of things were anxious to get out of it. And get overseas ourselves.
We all started, regardless of which trade we went in, what... what was known as a manning depot, which is where you went for your basic training and your indoctrination. You got your uniforms and your inoculations and all the horrible things they did to us in those days. You were selected to be whatever aircrew trade they felt you were most suited for. I was selected for pilot training. When you got your pilot's wings, you were posted to whatever duties they had in line for you.
Essentially what we did was fly people around while they learned their trades. And so, we weren't involved directly in the training of the younger men, we were simply performing a function so that their own instructors could teach them their trade. I wouldn't say that fellows that were chosen for staff jobs were any better or any worse than anybody else. They just happened to be available and the need was there and you were posted out to do whatever the authorities wanted you to do and that was it. You didn't have any choice. One of the great things was the opportunity of meeting young men from all over the world that came to Canada under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan to train here because we were remote from the theatre of war. And we had boys from the Royal Air Force in Britain. And from the Rhodesian Air Force from South African Air Force. Some free French. A lot of Americans. People from other countries who had escaped from Europe and gone to Britain then were sent over here to train.
We had a vital job to do, but it wasn't what we hoped (laughter) we were going to do. It wasn't exactly exciting. But as the old saying is, "A dirty job (laughter) but somebody had to do it." Really there was certain amount of excitement at times. There was a certain amount of risk. One of the exciting events was in early 1945 when the Japanese started sending [hydrogen filled] balloons over to Canada with bombs hanging in baskets under them. And, many of us were involved in being alerted to have to go out and shoot these things down. It so happened I was flying planes that had machine guns on them and we were alerted for that purpose. Those balloons did float across western Canada and the western USA and there were some civilians killed. When kids on a picnic found one of these baskets in the woods in Oregon, they went and got their teacher. And they disturbed the thing, the bombs exploded and six of them were killed. So, in our particular case, my... where I was, we were the only station on the Prairies that still had armed aircraft. And that's when we were alerted to go out on patrol and look for these things.
So that was a little bit of excitement which is about as close as we came to getting involved in an enemy activity. In our case we were sworn to a special oath of secrecy which (laughter) didn't last very long but at the time was pretty exciting.
[Correction: The Japanese balloon bombs used hydrogen, not hot air, to float across the ocean. Thanks to Donald Stevenson for amending this information.]