Mr. Barrett pictured with his wife in her new fur coat.
Photo taken at the #7 Operational Training Unit in Debert, Nova Scotia.
Photo of the Anson Aircraft taken in Fingal, Ontario.
Mr. Barrett and navigator Gord Smith
A home away from home in Rufforth, England.
"So I made a pass at it and dropped my wheels and put down some flap, and landed and taxied up to it and found out it was the Polish glider school."
When I was overseas, I was flying [De Havilland DH-98] Mosquitoes [British combat aircraft] and when I got over there, they issued new flying gear to us, like flying suits and gloves, and boots. We had to wear three pair of gloves, like there was a pair of silk gloves, a pair of wool gloves and a pair of leather gloves. And when I was flying Mosquitoes, that was the only twin engine I’d ever flown where the throttle quadrant was on the left hand side. Normally they’re in the middle of the aircraft. Anyway, I was having trouble manipulating between the throttle and the pitch lever. So I took my wedding ring off and put it on a chain around my neck, and happened to send a picture home to my wife. Well, at that particular time, letters flew across the Atlantic like you wouldn’t believe and I’m sure to this day, she doesn’t believe me, even though we’ve been married roughly 67 years.
I’d flown, I guess, I got over 1,000 hours when I was eligible to go to Mosquitoes. When I flew an [Avro] Anson [air crew training aircraft], I walked up to the Anson, opened the back door and threw my parachute in the back and walked up the aisle to the pilot seat and away we went. When I got into a Mosquito, you pulled every strap you could find to tighten everything down, to make sure you were in there good and secure. We sat on our parachute and on our dinghy, and we wore a helmet. We had oxygen mask, everything was tied down and you didn’t fool with that thing because I didn’t realize it at the time, but if you look at stats today, the Mosquito, when I flew it, was the fastest aircraft in the world. It was all wood and some of them were made right here in Canada in Malton [Ontario] by A. V. Roe [Avro].
And with flying twin engines, like the Anson, you never did turn towards a dead engine. If one of your engines failed, you never turned that direction, because it might go into a stall. With a Mosquito, I could feather one propeller and do slow rolls either way at about 180 knots either way. Well, when we got over, we were first posted to [RAF] Upper Heyford, because our navigators came from Canada, they didn’t know anything about the G-Box [navigation system using timed pulses] or LORAN [low-frequency radio navigation system]. G-Box is short-range radar and LORAN is long-range radar.
So the first thing at Upper Heyford where I was stationed, they had to learn about those two navigational instruments. So you know, we’d gone to ground school [training] for a couple of weeks on them and then we had a day where we had to go out and test them. But we weren’t allowed to fly with our own navigators, we had to draw another navigator out of the group. I don’t know why, but that’s the way it was.
Anyway, we went out to the tarmac; and they said, you’re going to fly an [Airspeed A. S. 10] Oxford [training aircraft]. Well, I’d never flown an Oxford before and I got a navigator who I’d never met before. Anyway, we took off about 1:30, I guess, in the afternoon; and we were to do a three-legged cross country. They were to use the G-Box as navigation all the way. So we took off and set a course, and I flew that one leg; and then we started to fly the second leg and it started to get a little nasty. It started to cloud, a little bit of rain, because we started off and it was sunny. So it got to a point where the cloud was coming down and I thought, I’d better get up above of the clouds, because the cloud level was too low.
So anyway, I got up above the clouds and it was a beautiful sunny there; and I kept flying to the next turn, the point where we make a turn and the last leg of the flight. Now mind you, the total flying time would be, for the whole thing, would be a little less than three hours and we took off, I guess, about 1:30 or 2:00 in the afternoon, so it was getting a little dark too. So I flew to the next turning point and my navigator gave me a course for home. So I turned onto that course and we flew and flew, and we were getting close; and I said, okay, give me an ETA, which is an estimated time of arrival. He gave me the estimated time of arrival, so I started to let down through the cloud, which is very dangerous anyway. And I let down and I let down and finally I broke cloud about 500 feet, it’s pouring rain and it’s getting a little dark. But there’s no airport there.
And I don’t know whether you’ve been under those circumstances, but 500 feet’s not much ceiling. It’s raining, it’s getting dark. I’m getting a low on petrol and I’m flying a damn aircraft I don’t know much about, so I’m looking around for an aerodrome [airfield] or something. I first, I knew I flew over a whole bunch of aircraft. I looked down and there are a bunch of [Handley Page] Halifaxes [heavy bombers] sitting down there; and there were control towers shooting red flares at me. So I got the heck out of there. I kept looking and looking and when you see a railway train or track in Canada, we used to call it the ‘iron compass’ because you saw a train here, a track here, you knew exactly where you were. Well, over there, they’re just all over the place.
And so I was absolutely lost, the navigator didn’t have a clue, all he could say was the G-Box is not working, which is no help. So finally I saw a big stretch of green grass and I swooped down on it; and I went around it, it looked like a golf course, and then I saw a control tower at one end of it. So I made a pass at it and dropped my wheels and put down some flap, and landed and taxied up to it and found out it was the Polish glider school. So I spent four days in the Polish glider school [at RAF Spitalgate]. Very few people could speak English. I didn’t have any money with me and finally, after I was in the officer’s mess and my navigator was a sergeant, so he was in another part of the station in the sergeant mess; and finally I phoned him because I got okay from the Upper Heyford to fly back on a clear day. We got in the aircraft and he said, okay skipper, this is the course we’re going to fly. I said, not on your life. [laughs] I’m doing the navigation back to the station. [laughs] Anyway, we got back safe and sound, but it was quite a diversion.