"as you went along through your tour of duty, you lost a lot of friends, but if you lived long enough, eventually you’d get promoted"
My name is Len Butson, and I was a Flying Officer in World War II in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Well, I had to join up as what they call an AC-2, an Air Craftsman, and then they told me I was going to be a wireless operator, air gunner, in Bomber Command in Air Force. I wanted to be a pilot, but I quit high school when I was sixteen and didn't have enough education, so they said this is the best you can do. Most young fellows in those days wanted to be flying and things like that because it was a novelty in those days. Before I got in the Air Force, I was working on a farm and then in factories. It was the Great Depression and jobs were very scarce and you made very little money. I think I worked for 16 cents an hour in the factory and on the farm I got 18 dollars a whole month. You work all month for 18 dollars. If I was going to get to be a pilot or an air crew I was going to make four or five times that much money. We started off with a dollar and a half a day. It was nice to be in the Air Force and fly. I didn't want to be in the... in the Army. I thought that would be a... kind of a rough job. And I just thought maybe flying would be easy. But I found out later it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be.
When we were England, we had to live in what they called Nissen huts - a half a barrel, turned upside down, that's the way they were. They were made out of metal with a door in one end and a window in the other end, and a couple of windows, I guess, at the side. They were very, very cold and damp and we had a little wee stove. Some squadrons had better accommodation, but the squadron I was on, that's where the crews lived.
There were a lot of casualties when Bomber Command and... as you went along through your tour of duty, you lost a lot of friends, but if you lived long enough, eventually you'd get promoted. And we got promoted, my buddy and I and the rest of the crew. So one of my crewmates had a little car over there... and a very small, little, old car. When we got promoted to be at that time was a... what they call a Pilot Officer - that was the first rank of an officer - we decided we'd go out and celebrate. So away we went in our little car and had a good time. It was good times and bad times. When you were flying, it was bad and it was dangerous. You got pretty scared. But then when you get home to your camp, get a few days off, away you'd go and you'd have a great time. So it was a weird war from an airman's point of view. Sometimes you're happy and having a lot of fun and then next day you were scared out of your wits. I flew 34 operations in England. Some were over France and some over Germany and Holland. What you might not realize in those days the trips were very long. Bombers were very slow. Took eight hours and 25 minutes to go from England to Stuttgart and back. And that's a long time, you know, sitting in the airplane, Bomber Command, with fighters and flak around you. And the shortest one I think was about three hours and 25 minutes. So you see, even a short trip was long enough.
Another trip we went on was to a city called Leipzig over Germany. That was the worst trip I was ever on. It was one of the worst ones of the war, as it turned out. We got attacked that night three or four times and we got shot up pretty bad, but the pilot did a lot of evasive action and we got away from it. There was 78 aircraft went down that night. If you think about it, 78 aircraft in one night, and most of those aircraft had seven crew members. So, if you multiply that, that's a lot of guys. That's about 550 men in one night. Bomber Command was a rough, rough job.