Veteran Stories:
Joan Maya Perkinson (née Easton)

Air Force

  • Joan Perkinson in Vancouver, British Columbia on October 18, 2010.

    Historica Canada
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"Planes were not just attempting to land on the runways, but, tragically damaged and low on fuel, they were landing everywhere and not all made it."

Transcript

Sixty million people perished in World War II, five times the entire population of Canada at that time and almost twice the present number. Awesome to envisage. French, German, Czechoslovak, Russian, British, Canadian, and eventually American and Japanese citizens all participated in the war. One night, I helped recover some of the bodies. I was conscripted in 1943 at age 19 in England. Unless you were working in munitions or something that, you know, connected with the war, you were drafted they call it here, don’t they? And males at 18, and females at 19. So I was in a drama class actually, so I was going to be an actress and big things like that. Film star perhaps and so, but I didn’t have a choice. I was drafted into the Royal Air Force, Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (we were called WAAFs), as a transport driver. I drove the ration wagon, a 30-hundred weight used primarily to deliver food to aerodromes and cookhouses. One night in 1944, my job was very different. Our drome was situated near the southeast coast of England and was equipped with "fog installation disposal of." That’s called FIDO [Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation]. And, as you know, in England we have quite a bit of fog. So some of the aerodromes were equipped with this disposal of, that’s what it was called, "fog installation disposal of." And one night, a thick fog had rolled in from the English Channel, coinciding with the return of a large bombing mission over Germany. Unexpectedly, not just planes stationed on our drome, but from all over Britain were directed to land with the advantage of our FIDO unit, but not all the pilots were trained for such landings. And we all knew that disaster loomed. Planes were not just attempting to land on the runways, but, tragically damaged and low on fuel, they were landing everywhere and not all made it. Every vehicle possible, all medical help and available personnel were summoned to duty. The memory of the pandemonium that followed would live with me for a lifetime. Bodies were everywhere, even to be peeled off trees. There were lucky pilots and crews that survived and were rushed to all available sick bays and local hospitals and not all completely recovered. One I specifically remember, "Legless," later returned to his usual duty as a pilot and was publicized in print. You might have even seen him in a movie. His name was Douglas Bader; and he actually continued to be a pilot when he recovered and flew planes with prosthetic legs. As a matter of fact, I would dance with him occasionally and he could dance quite well on those type of legs. As for rescuing, there was a movie about him [Bader]. It was called Reach for the Sky (1956). And anyway, as for the rescuing teams, we were feted as heroes and taken to warm dormitories to sip hot rum. That’s something they do disperse in the air force, probably in the army too. If you’re in a bad situation, there’s sometimes hot rum available. And we cried in the arms of the officers for whom we usually stood to attention and the sergeants, and corporals that we normally respectfully feared. They were very kind to us, and to help us recover from the experience. And it was a strange, extremely unfamiliar and scary happening I remember clearly to this day with a poignant smile actually. And it was after this terrible war had ended and the soldiers and sailors, and airmen, WAAFs and Wrens (Wrens were the women’s naval service) who served returned home that the seeds were sewn for the [baby] boomer generation to begin.
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