"Where the Germans were getting their supply of shells, God only knows, but they had plenty to lambaste us with"
My name is Fred Passmore. I enlisted in the [Royal Canadian] Air Force in 1942, and it was Christmas Eve. I went to Manning Depot in Toronto and did my initial training there. Was on the precision squad for a short while, and then sent to Montreal, to McGill University, to achieve my grade twelve. I was successful there, and then went on to the bombing and gunnery ground school at Quebec City. From there to Mont-Joli to do my flying training. I got my wings, was promoted to Sergeant, and embarked from Canada to England, and that was in '43.
My first squadron was 420 – the Snowy Owls. Things had not cooled down too much when we first started to fly. We were in some pretty heavy requirements - Ruhr Valley bombings, as well as Hamburg and Brunswick. We got into a great number of the heavy targets. The flak was immense in most cases. Where the Germans were getting their supply of shells, God only knows, but they had plenty to lambaste us with.
I'll just briefly discuss the leaflet raid we were on. It was in Italy and we were heading toward Paris to drop the leaflets, and my turret had gone unserviceable and I was using my hand to operate the rotation. All of a sudden I was frightened half out of my skin, because a blinking light came on on my left side and I jerked back out of fear. My hands were on the triggers, the machine guns went off – all four – and the next thing I saw was ricocheting off of something solid. I thought I'd shot one of our own airplanes. However, when we got back to the base the intelligence officer got very interested in what I said because what I had seen after was the flame on the ground. All three intelligence officers said, "That's it. That proves it." I said, "Proves what?" They said, "Well, the Germans are obviously using a blinking light to notify their own aircraft that it's them." And he said, "You got something. We'll credit you with a probable." So that was my first trip out.
I guess that one of the hairiest ones we were on was on Brunswick, and as we were going through – it was a thousand-bomber raid – it was almost like the Charge of the Light Brigade. To the left of us and to the right of us you could see them being knocked down. Somehow or other we seemed to be riding through a neutral corridor. But the aircraft being shot down… just unreal. All of a sudden, I saw to my left side a Halifax flying just a little higher than us. All of a sudden, I saw the explosion of what was obviously 20mm cannon into that Halifax. When I looked a little more directly, it appeared as though it was a Halifax that had four cannons in the dorsal. That's what I came back with and I reported that to the intelligence, and the first thing they said was, "Germans don't have Halifax's." However, after the war I discovered that the Germans did have Halifax's because they had captured some in the desert in North Africa. Anyway, that was a long trip. We lost a lot of aircraft that night, and we finally made it home.
That's the sort of thing you brought back. You brought back a lot of memories that you'd prefer to forget, but then again you have to bring them out periodically or you would lose your sanity. As the years go on, and I'm finding this with a lot of veterans, a) they don't talk about the war. Secondly, they don't tell some of their experiences, and some of the damage that was caused to them. We were just kids and we could handle a lot of stress and strain physically, but mentally we were shook up. As long as there are veterans around, we're a comfort to each other.