Veteran Stories:
Brian Edwards

Air Force

  • Contemporary Photo of Brian Edwards, 2010.

    Historica Canada
  • Photo from the Hangar Explosion at the RCAF Station in Sydney, Nova Scotia Februrary 15th 1945.

    Courtesy of Brian Edwards
  • Photo from the Hangar Explosion at the RCAF Station in Sydney, Nova Scotia Februrary 15th 1945.

    Courtesy of Brian Edwards
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"The depth charge that was hanging on the wing of the airplane fell. It was released from the mechanism that was holding it and it bounced, hit the ground about ten feet up and bounced, and blew everything."

Transcript

But that particular morning, for some reason, I, like I say, I’ll never know why, instead of sleeping in and going to work about 10:30, I went to work at the usual time at 9:00 in the morning. And so I was only one of a few people working in the hangar, we had our own hangar. Normally, a hangar at that time of the morning would be full, 300, 400 people doing whatever, but because it was pay parade [line up to collect pay], there was only very few of us in the hangar at the time. So my sergeant, who’s name I can’t quite remember, I think it may have been Herd, but I can’t quite remember and it really doesn’t matter, put me on my job that morning to go to Hangar No. 1, I think it was, to check what we called the Leigh lights [anti-submarine device], LEIGH. Leigh was a big spotlight, about this big, with a carbon arc light in it that gave something like 12 million candle power. It was a big spotlight that hung underneath the wings of the airplane on a bomb rack. It was used to fly out over the Atlantic, to spot submarines, that’s what a Leigh light was for, to spot submarines. And we were in Sydney, which was the Atlantic, and the part of our job was to make sure that there were no submarines available out there.

So this was one of the things we did daily as an aircraft electrician, was to check the Leigh light after it had been used the night before to see that it would be operational to work or use again the next night; and I had to make sure everything was working properly. That was my job that morning. That was the beginning of it.

So I got on what we used to call a mule, which was like a jeep, had running boards on it. I stood on the running board and my buddy, my friend, I can’t remember who that was, drove this mule or jeep to the hangar. There was one, two, three, four hangars. And we had to drive down No. 1 Hangar. Five minutes drive, I suppose. I was standing on the side and he was driving until we got in front of the big doors of the hangar. Now, to open a hangar door, there’s a small door, like as big as one of those, and you went through that door and there was a bolt in the floor that kept the door closed, locked. And you pull that bolt and then the other door folded back like an accordion to open up the main doors to make it wide enough for a airplane to come or go. Okay, so far?

So when we got down to the entrance of the hangar, he stopped the jeep. I jumped off the jeep. I went through the small doors, which are normal size, and I grabbed the bolts, which is in the floor which is, I don’t know what they called it, like a T-bolt. And when I grabbed that bolt, I had to pull it up from the ground where it was locked, so that the doors could fold back. So he was going to come in with the jeep and I was going to stand on top of the jeep and reach up to the Leigh light, which was hanging from one of the bomb racks on the wing of a [Consolidated PBY] Canso [anti-submarine, coastal patrol] airplane, that’s like the water bombers we call them, you know, with the big wide 110 foot wing span. There are about four bombs racks hanging from it, one of which was used with just a solenoid switch they called it, if you don’t know anything about what I’m talking about, to hold this depth charge [anti-submarine weapon], which was a big, it was a bomb.

Now, when I pulled that bolt, all hell broke loose. The depth charge that was hanging on the wing of the airplane fell. It was released from the mechanism that was holding it and it bounced, hit the ground about ten feet up and bounced, and blew everything. And the hangar disappeared. The hangar with four airplanes in it and 25 or 30 guys, just like that. Fire, smoke and explosions everywhere. I was knocked unconscious. When I woke up, there was a foot underneath my right arm and I remember saying to myself, who’s foot is that sticking out? I said, there’s nobody in here, but me and the only the guy on the jeep, and he’s outside, who’s foot is that? And it was my own foot. I had got a bullet through the right femur and my leg was cracked off; and this foot, was up underneath my arm and my foot sticking out there. I was unconscious and the worst part about it was, now you say to yourself, what happened? You see, around the hangar, there are different rooms, the battery room, there’s an ammunitions room, there’s a voltage room and all these different departments had their own little workshop room. What had happened, when the bomb exploded, it blew up the airplanes, the gasoline spread all over the floor, caught fire, and the fire spread to the ammunition room, which had thousands of rounds of 50 calibre and other sized ammunition on the shelves. So they just went pop, pop, pop, pop, just like fireworks. They weren’t fired from a gun, so they didn’t have that much velocity or that much speed, they just fired and exploded in whatever direction they happened to be lying, if you understand what I mean.

So one of the bullets from that room went through my right femur and cracked it off. And both ends of the bone were sticking out through my coveralls, and the foot was up here. When I came to, the worst part of it in my memories today was the fire, the gasoline had spread across the floor of the hangar and was burning. You know what gasoline burns, don’t you? And it was getting closer and closer, and closer to me. I couldn’t do anything. My leg was smashed off. I couldn’t stand up, I couldn’t. When I started calling for help and some guy, I found out after who it was, a fellow by the name of Wilson, Flight Sergeant Wilson happened to be driving by and he saw the situation; and he heard me call, I guess, and he came into the hangar. By this time, I had just regained consciousness. When he got to me, the fire was no further away from me than you are right now. Two seconds, if he hadn’t come when he did, I would have been on fire. I suppose I would have burned to death because I couldn’t move.

Anyway, to change the subject there, he got underneath my arms and he started dragging me over the floor; and I remember my foot bouncing like that. He eventually got me outside; and he won the British Empire Medal [for Meritorious Service] for saving my life. Yeah. When he was pulling me out, as I told you he was, he had his arms underneath, his hands underneath my arms, a spent bullet from this pile of stuff in the room hit him in the chest and it embedded itself in the second button on his tunic. Now, you wouldn’t believe that. When he came to visit me in hospital, I didn’t know the man. At that time, like I say, I was only in the base two weeks, so I didn’t know many people, not many people knew me. When he came to visit me in the hospital, he said, I must show you something; and he showed me the bullet from our uniform in his hand, the button from the uniform with the bullet halfway through it. He said, I caught that when I was dragging you up. I suppose he felt it. He felt it hit his chest and he grabbed himself. If he hadn’t done that, he would have been killed and he would have dropped me; and I would have been killed.

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