Veteran Stories:
Grant McRae

Air Force

  • Grant McRae enlisted in the R.C.A.F. in 1942, and was trained on Lancaster Bombers as a bomb aimer.

  • In April of 1945, the first Russian tank rolled into Luckenwalde camp. After negotiations with Moscow, the prisoners of the camp were finally released. This photo shows the compound of an airforce POW camp in Germany.

  • In August 1944, McRae was transferred to the infamous prison camp, Stalag Luft III. He was transferred to Luckenwalde camp in January, 1945.

  • McRae returned home to Canada aboard the SS Ile de France in 1945 with several thousand other soldiers. Crowds gathered and cheered when they arrived in Halifax.

  • While on an operation to the German industrial city of Stuttgart in 1944, McRae's bomber was shot down by a German night fighter. After five days on the run, he was captured by the German Gestapo

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"I was on the loose for about five days after I landed…"

Transcript

My name is Grant McRae. I was in the RCAF [Royal Canadian Air Force] and I enlisted in May 1942 and I was discharged in September 1945. One of my earlier experiences was a close call and it was in August 1943. One night shortly after take-off on one of our flying exercises, the starboard engine of our Anson aircraft caught fire. And at that time we were flying over the Irish Sea at about 4, 000 feet. The weather conditions weren't too good and we were rapidly losing height and our skipper gave us instructions over the intercom to dinghy-dinghy, prepare for ditching. Immediately all of the members of the crew took positions as we were going to land in the sea. Then suddenly, to our amazement, we broke cloud at approximately 200 feet. And to our surprise, we were flying over land. Our landing wheels were up and our engine was still on fire. I quickly wound the wheels down, by hand. Miraculously, as we were about to land, the bright lights came on. And fortunately, we were over a landing strip. On landing the lights went out again and a fire truck came out and extinguished the fire in our engine.

Then the rescue unit came out and told us that we were in Llandrindod Wells [Wales] and that we had landed at an RAF [Royal Air Force] Fighter Observation Base. We were also told that we were in the middle of a German air raid. We stayed at the station for a few days waiting for our aircraft to be repaired and, we were in no hurry to get back because the meals there were pretty good. We were reported missing for a few hours and there were more experiences to come later as I became a prisoner of war in July 1944.

I was on the loose for about five days after I landed. My boots came off when I came down and I couldn't walk too far, but I was fortunate coming into contact with a French worker in a field and he brought me a pair a shoes and also some wine and some bread. And that kept me going for about another five days. I was sleeping in a barn. And I got on a freight train going (laughter) the wrong way. Finally I was picked up by a German guard with a police dog. And he turned me over to the Gestapo. Then I went through the interrogation process and that's when I found out that three members of my crew were killed. Following that, I was sort of shipped a camp called Stalag Luft III in Germany. That was the camp where the "Great Escape" took place. There were two or three camps. We were in the east compound and then there was another camp called north camp. And we didn't have access to their place and they couldn't come over to our place except we had this baseball game. We were able to visit the other camp and it was a softball game.

We had one of the better known Canadian baseball players and his name was Phil Marshallton. He was a pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics and he played in little league in the camp. And I played first base. And he didn't want to pitch because he didn't want to ruin his arm pitching softball because he was a hardball pitcher. But he played shortstop and I remember the first night out, he came and picked up the ball and threw it to me and of course there was quite a curve on it and I wasn't expecting that. And it hit me right on the chest. Didn't even come near the glove.

Then we went over to the north camp to play the Americans. You know, they thought they had the whole camp covered as far as baseball is concerned and Phil got up and he was quite a hitter too. And he got his bats and just took off a little mud off his shoes and so forth. When the pitcher threw him the first pitch. He hit the thing and it went right over our gates and over the wire and I think it's still going. (laughter) Of course the Americans were quite surprised and they said, "Well, who is that guy?" I said, "Oh he's just a baseball player from Penetanguishene in Ontario." And they asked me a few more questions. They said, "He's played baseball before?" I said, "Yeah, he's played a little bit." And so they said, "Well, listen McRae, give us the lowdown." And I said, "Well, he's a pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics." And so they were a little upset that I didn't come clean a little earlier. (laughter)

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