"Yeah, I think of all the student pilots we lost. That bothers me more than enough. This is in training, we lost an awful lot of young men, aircraft crashing, aircraft burning up."
I hoped to be a pilot. I went down to the recruiting centre as an air cadet. At that particular time, we were supposed to be able to go straight to ICS [International Correspondence School]. And the recruiting officer said, well, that’s true, but we need air gunners. Air gunners at that time were lasting about 85 minutes air time, so I said, look, let me go in as a pilot, if I wash out [removed from training], I’ll be an air gunner. And he says, no, you’ve got to go as air gunner. I said, no, then I’ll go ground crew. So this is what I did. I said, what trade can I have? He said, any goddamn trade you want. And that’s exactly what his words were.
I thought maybe I should be an aero engine mechanic because we worked on tractors and stuff on the farm, but they were kind of dirty, so maybe I’ll be something else. So I took aircraft electrical, and that’s what trade I took.
I went to Danforth Tech [Technical School] in Toronto for three months or technical school, gave me basic technical training. And then went down to [Technical Training School] St. Thomas where I took a course on an aircraft, which was a forerunner of the old [Supermaine] Spitfires [fighter and training aircraft] actually, the Fairey Battle [training aircraft], but that’s the forerunners to a Spitfire. And I also took link trainer [early flight simulator] training at that particular time, because my marks were pretty good on that course. So they trained me as a link trainer technician.
In those days, we were using a lot of British aircraft in Canada for training pilots. They were old airplanes really in comparison to what we had later on. In comparison, we had Cessna Cranes [trainer aircraft] and [Avro] Ansons [air crew training aircraft] and in [RCAF Station] Brandon [Manitoba], they were flying [Bristol] Bolingbrokes [training aircraft], which was a gunnery school. And my job of course is to fix the airplane when something is wrong with it.
Yeah, I think of all the student pilots we lost. That bothers me more than enough. This is in training, we lost an awful lot of young men, aircraft crashing, aircraft burning up. You know, these sort of things kind of get to you. And, of course, as a young airman, you have to attend the firing squad for their funerals, so you don’t really forget any of that. And yet, this is not combat. And we lost an awful lot of young men: Australian, New Zealand and Canadians. Now, I remember a lot of that. It bothers me.
And yet, as we say, it’s not combat. One of the occasions that I always remembered, a young airman, a New Zealand lad and his young bride was there because he married a Canadian girl, and the trumpeter had a few sour notes. And that was a horrible thing to hear really at a time like that.
Now, these were tough times in that respect. I remember our link trainer instructors went up for a flight in an Anson, several of them in the aircraft and the aircraft caught fire; and we lost them all. And these were instructors that I worked with because I served the link planes for them and I remember that. Like I say, this is not combat, but still we lost a lot during the war in training. There was no such thing as any comforting for anybody in that respect. Just go back to work and do your job. One of the philosophies in flight, if a pilot has an accident, they put him back in the air again, make him fly. And we have to go to work.
My overseas voyage was on the old [HMS] Cynthia, a boat. It took seven days to get there. This is right at the end of the war that I went over. Theoretically, I was heading over for occupation force, but as it turned out, [Canadian Prime Minister] Mackenzie King called us back in a few months later. So my stay in England wasn’t all that long.
And then they decided to send their transport airplanes all back to Canada. We brought them back, nine aircraft at a time, in flights out of England. I came back with one group of nine. You leave southern England to Prestwick, Scotland, Scotland to Iceland, Iceland to Goose Bay, Labrador and from there to Ottawa.
On the way back, there was one interesting situation that happened. In order for a [Douglas DC-3] Dakota [transport aircraft] to fly that far from Iceland to Canada, we had to put bladder tanks up in the fuselage to hold the extra fuel, which is about 400 extra gallons. Now, the idea here was you have to take fuel out of the main tanks before you start taking fuel out of the bladder tanks. Otherwise, the fuel will just go out into the tanks and overboard into the ocean. One of our aircraft got halfway across from Iceland, decided they had made a mistake. They had opened up the valves for the overload tanks, but hadn’t burnt off fuel from the main tanks. And now they weren’t sure whether they had enough fuel to get from where they were in the North Atlantic to Labrador or not, to Goose Bay. Fortunately, they did get there. I was on the refueling tenders to put fuel in that aircraft and, lo and behold, I couldn’t even see any in the tank. But I guess there was enough because the airplane got there anyway. And from there on, we went to Ottawa with it.
In my opinion, the instructor pilots and ground crew that worked in the [British] Commonwealth Air Training Plan did have a large impact on the result of the war in Europe because we’ve trained an awful lot of air gunners, pilots and navigators in Canada. Very little has ever been said on what effort Canada did at home as far as the war was concerned. Sure, nobody was shooting at us, but we lost people and we lost airplanes the same way as they did in combat.