Veteran Stories:
Malcolm MacConnell

Air Force

  • Malcom MacConnell and his Crew as they commenced their tour of operations with Bomber Command, June 1944.
    Front L-R: Norm Hawkings, Gunnar Erickson, Jimmy Aitken.
    Rear: MacConnell (Mac), Eddie Steel, Gil Cook, Laurie Williams.

    Malcom MacConnell
  • Malcom MacConnell and his Crew on completion of two tours of operations. Photo taken May 10th, 1945.
    L-R: Jimmy Carter; Malcom MacConnell; Norn Hawkings; Gunner Erickson; Doreen Cook (wife of Gil Cook); Gil Cook; Eddie Steel; Norm Cholerton; Jimmy Aitken.

    Malcom MacConnell
  • A page from the Pilot's Log Book, which lists all the flights made by Malcom MacConnell during the month of August 1944.

    Malcom MacConnell
  • Clipping from the Fredericton NB Daily Gleaner, January 20th, 1945.
    The clipping article tells of Malcom's operational sortie to Koenigsburg in East Prussia in August 1944.

    Malcom MacConnell
  • Brass Albatros Bird, awarded January 1945.
    This is a Path Finder Force Badge, worn on the flap of the left breast tunic pocket by those Aircrew members who qualify.

    Malcom MacConnell
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"I thought we were really done for but I was able to get back up into the clouds and I abandoned my attack. But that was a very very close one."

Transcript

Malcolm Stott MacConnell, and I was born on the 10th day of October, 1923, in a little community just outside Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, about three miles north of Plaster Rock, New Brunswick. I wanted from the time I could remember and knew about flying, thought that’s something that I want to do. And my father and his brother, my uncle, were in World War I and my uncle was killed.

In September of 1939, World War II broke out, my father enlisted again and he went overseas in December, leaving myself and a half brother behind, and another brother. And my older brother joined up in January of ’40 and went overseas in April. My younger brother joined up at age 16, went overseas at 17, unfortunately was killed outside Caen in July of ‘44, when he was still 18 years old. And I held with it and went into the air force. I went in after my 18th birthday, on early March of 1942. Took my training as a pilot and went overseas in June of 1943.

My training led me into multi-engine aircraft and I ended up on bomber command. I started with initial training school, where we had some instruction on the link trainer, called the link trainer, which was the precursor of the synthetic trainers they now have, which are now much more sophisticated. You learn the basics of flying skill in it. In classes, we learned quite a lot of mathematics, plotting of flight paths, that sort of thing. We also had English and we had aircraft recognition and meteorology, such things as that, with some drill.

And it was all very good. It was compressed. We were up around 6:00 in the morning and lights out at 10:00 at night. I think maybe two or three weekends, we would have off, Saturday morning until Sunday evening, which we could go and visit somewhere, do whatever. But it was compressed and very, very busy period.

I was posted to England in 1943 and in June the 14th, 1944, which was eight days after D-Day, I was assigned to 50 Royal Air Force Squadron and I flew with that squadron for two and a half months, at which time I had put in 21 operations on bomber command on Lancasters, on both French and German targets. The last day of August, I was transferred to 97 Pathfinder Squadron, where I flew another 17 operations before the end of the war.

On operations, I had a very good crew. I’ve got to say, yes, with the flak and fighters around, I felt fear, deep fear, terror. More than once. I’d say on a majority of my operations. But after a little experience, I found that I was able to cope, recognize the fear, recognize everything happening in my surroundings and sort of cope with them and react to them and do things. The thought process continued on, regardless of the fear that I was feeling. I think this is the way that so many people coped with it.

Once out of the danger, that fear subsided almost instantly. Yes, I knew that I was bombing people and things. I did not ever dwell that people were being killed. I was thinking of the damage that I was doing to the war effort. That was really the extent of what I felt that I was doing to the enemy.

We were told what our target was to be. Sometimes, it was just, you were bombing a city. Often, we were bombing like the V-1 buzz bomb sites, we’d be bombing their storage areas and the launching pads. These would be specific things. We would bomb a target, their oil refineries and oil plants. We would be bombing railway yards, communication systems, that sort of thing. We’d be bombing specifically factories in an area. On a few occasions, two occasions specifically, we bombed shipping.

With bomber command, we never broke radio silence ever. We were briefed, we went out by ourselves. The majority of our flights were by night. I think I had something like 11 or 12 daylight trips but at night, you were alone. Occasionally, another aircraft would come close enough to you that you could see it was another friendly aircraft and you normally would sort of move away.

It became a crew, an aircraft, a crew alone until you get into the target area and then with searchlights, flares that were being dropped to identify the target, flak bursts and so on, you would see many more aircraft, you realized more people were around you, a lot more aircraft were around you. Once the bombing was over and you got away from the target area, you seemed to be alone again, in the darkness.

Occasionally, someone would break radio silence but I never witnessed it, I never ever heard anyone break radio silence other than the pathfinder control group. You might get the pathfinder controller calling for backup flares, backup target markers, that sort of thing. But you never heard anything normally from the time of your takeoff until you come back to the base, you never heard radio other than from the pathfinders over the target.

One raid that I come back from, I picked up my mail and there was a telegram in it. And I’m a very positive, optimistic person. And I thought, oh, I bet I know what that is, my sister had graduated from nursing in April and had applied for the army nursing corps, I said, I bet that’s telling me that she had been accepted. So I pulled open the telegram and it was a telegram from my mother saying that my brother, Bud Erlin, had been killed, this is the 18 year old one had been killed on the 23rd day of July. I’d had many friends who were killed and it kind of got after a while, well, you know, it’s sort of too bad, well, they’re gone, it’s too bad. Like you know, they broke their toe, well, that’s too bad. It didn’t get to a grievous feeling but certainly when my brother was killed, that was deep, deep, deep, deep grief.

There was one day that we’d gone to bomb a target in daylight and the cloud was moving easterly. It was believed that the time it got to the target area, the cloud would be gone. But we got there, the target was still solidly covered by clouds. Our controller told us to keep on course, which we flew for about 20 minutes or more and it was very thick cloud and then he gave us an order, a very shallow turn to starboard through 180 degrees to fly back over the area of the target.

I didn’t like flying in that because we were in a very close formation, not even a formation I’ll call it, a gaggle. And I kept descending very slowly, going down and down and down, and finally I thought, well, I think I’ll go down just below the cloud and maybe that’s a railway yard that we were supposed to be bombing. And sure enough, I come out of the clouds and just as I come out, my rear gunner says, you know, we’re supposed to bomb a railway yard, there’s one right behind us, skipper. So I turned around and there it was, and I looked all around and as I was looking to the south, heading towards the target, my eye lit on a little building about 20 by 20 and about three stories high. The second my eyes hit that, something just told me, get moving, move, and I pulled up hard and was climbing, turned to port to get up into the clouds but I was too late. I was hit by the shells bursting, first one, then another, and the third one, third or fourth one hit me under the wing. I thought we were really done for but that didn’t do any more damage than what the aircrafts remained flying. And I was able to get back up into the clouds and I abandoned my attack. But that was a very very close one.

It’s my age, mature conclusion, of course, that war is the most miserable, inhumane interaction of people. I think that’s the way I could put it. When I joined up, entered the air force, my primary reason was to fly in the second one because it would be exciting, I was sure. My thinking was not so much that it was a very deeply patriotic thing to do, it was sort of an exciting thing to do. But it was a very patriotic thing to do and that war was a war that had to be fought. There’s some that I don’t think need to be fought but that one had to be fought. Nazism, communism and fascism just had to be stopped, particularly in the western world, where democracy was so prevalent.

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