"So suddenly, we spotted something and got close to it, and found out it was a dinghy with seven men in it."
I was very much moved by the war and so forth, and so I decided to join the air force. When I went to Scotland, when we formed our crew and took on the [Royal Air Force] Coastal Command. Coastal Command was the command that protected convoys and chased submarines, and that kind of work. I was the navigator, we formed a crew for a [Short] Sunderland flying boat [patrol bomber] and it was all Royal Air Force people except for me. I was the only Canadian on it. Furthermore, when I graduated, I became a sergeant, but after we were crewed up and flying, Ottawa came through with notification that I had been given a commission as the pilot officer. So I was the only officer on the crew and I was an officer reporting to a non-commissioned.
We went to Africa and we stayed in Africa for, worked out of West Africa for a year. And we flew over, we were guarding the convoys that were coming into England and the southern route. There’s a northern route and a southern route and the, so you come over from Miami and come to the west coast of Africa and then up the coast to England and avoid the northern route where most of the action was. And a German submarine came out of Brest Harbour in France; and it was coming down the coast in between Miami and Freetown [Sierra Leone] in West Africa. At night, the submarine used to come to the surface and send messages to their base and we were listening on receiving messages. And we were able to position where they were by RDF, they called it radio direction finding. And so we knew where they were and the speed they were going, so we followed a track. We didn’t, it was headquarters followed this track to position them at any time.
And so there was a squadron north of us in West Africa at Dakar. It was all New Zealanders, so they flew a [Consolidated B-24] Liberator, a two-engine Liberator [American heavy bomber]. So headquarters sent them out to find and sink that submarine. So they found a submarine, but at that time in the war, what they had been doing all along was as soon as the submarine would find out that it’s been detected, they would dive and you’d have to hunt for it underwater. So we had special equipment to locate them underwater that they didn’t know about. So they found out at that time that they had a bit of chance of surviving if they’d stay on the surface and man their deck guns, and fight. And so that’s what they did with the Liberator. The Liberator never, they never heard a word from the Liberator after they left their base.
When their limit of endurance was up, they had to presume them missing. So we put on a search for the area where they were expected to be; and they searched all day and the first day after they decided that they were in trouble, and the first day they never found anything. And then on the second day, our plane was ordered to go and hunt for them, and so we had a square area laid out for us; and we had to fly it say 100 miles in one direction and then move up 10 miles and come back again, and cover the area in that way. So suddenly, we spotted something and got close to it, and found out it was a dinghy with seven men in it. And that was the crew of the Liberator, seven men.
It’s too dangerous to try to land a flying boat out in the ocean where you don’t know anything about what the pitch and severity of the waves are. And you might crash on landing and if you did safely land, you might not get off. So they told us not to try to land, then they told us that they were going to send a ship to pick them up. That flight was 13 hours, so during that 13 hours, about half of it was just flying around the dinghy, so we wouldn’t lose touch with it and communicating back to base.