Veteran Stories:
Ralph Whitney Merkley

Air Force

  • Ralph Merkley at an event of The Memory Project in Milton, Ontario, December 2010.

    Historica Canada
  • Ralph Merkley (left) with his brother Eric who served as a Private in the Royal Canadian Army.

    Eric Merkley
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"I felt a hand on my shoulder and I looked around and there he was, standing right beside me. We thought that was a miracle.That was at the last day of the war too."


Gibraltar, I guess, that was my first posting, and I joined the RAF [Royal Air Force] down there, came out of the RCAF [Royal Canadian Air Force], found it a little different being in an English squadron [No. 204 Squadron, RAF]. They get you up at 3:00 in the morning, then you jump into all the little, we were in [Short Sunderland] flying boats and you’d jump into a little, what you’d call a dinghy, like a little rowboat. They’d take you out to the aircraft which is moored at an anchorage there and you’d climb into the aircraft that was sitting on the water. Then you’d disengage it from the mooring; and the pilot would rev up the engines and take off, and you’d be on your way, doing an operation. Maybe a submarine had been sighted and you’re going out to see if you could find it. Or you might be going out to escort a convoy to protect it when it’s coming in. We got one submarine cornered off the Canary Islands, south of Gibraltar there. We dropped our depth charges [anti-submarine weapon] on it. We never did know whether we destroyed it or not. You’d see oil come up, but you can never say that you’d got the submarine or not. That was one of their tricks. They let oil come up, when you think you’d got them and the air ministry wouldn’t let you get away with it. You had to have a camera and pictures, and show that there was destruction there before they’d consider it a kill. Well, our first crew was an English captain, a Canadian second pilot, navigator, Canadian, myself and another fellow from New Brunswick, were the two air gunners. Then we had what they called a senior gunner, I guess you’d call him. He’d be in charge. He was English. And then you had two engineers. All they did was sit up there and watch these dials, watch these gauges, see that you didn’t run out of gas. They were two English fellows. So you were pretty well divided up between Canadians and English. We got along good with the English boys, though. We used to make them do all the cooking. [laughs] They were a lot better at cooking than we were. I’m talking about in the air, why, that’s when you had to do the cooking. Yeah, you had a little hot plate. It’s the engineer that generally does the cooking. It always seemed to work out, he was the best cook of the bunch. Well, it was eggs and bacon, and chicken. You’d get special rations when you’re flying, yeah. You’d get special things that you wouldn’t get when you weren’t flying. I mean, you’re out so long, out 12 hours sometimes. It was VE [Victory in Europe] Day, on the day that war ended, my brother I met for the first time after I’d left home. Right in Trafalgar Square. Right in London. I was stationed in Northern Ireland at that time with [No.] 423 Squadron [RCAF]. I’d just been transferred back to the Canadian air force again and they knew that my brother was on leave in London, so they gave me a special leave, compassionate leave they called it, to come down to see him. I come down to see him, I was just walking along Trafalgar Square, walking to my hotel and I bumped right into him. [laughs] Right on the side of the road, I felt a hand on my shoulder and I looked around and there he was, standing right beside me. We thought that was a miracle. [laughs] That was at the last day of the war too.
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