Veteran Stories:
Douglas Sample

Air Force

  • Flight log book of Douglas L. Sample.

  • Flying Officer Douglas L. Sample. Montreal, April 1945.

  • Douglas L. Sample with flight helmet & oxygen mask. Sgt Air Gunner in front of hut. Sept 1943 – 415 Squadron. East Moor, Yorkshire, England.

  • Douglas L. Sample. Graduation day as Sgt A/G April 1943 #10 10 B&G PEI.

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"Twenty-one men killed in a split second like that, and I was to be one of them. It kind of shook me a little bit"

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Douglas Lloyd Sample. I served as an air gunner in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 6th Group Bomber Command in Yorkshire.

One of the most memorable occasions that I'll remember the rest of my life: the factor in survival of bomber crews is "Lady Luck". And I believe I had a guardian angel. Sometime prior to the 21st of August, 1944, one of 415 Squadron's aircraft necessitated a landing in the south of England somewhere and the crew was sent back to our base via land transport. When the aircraft was ready to come back to our base they were getting a crew together to fly it back and a crew to fly down with this crew, and also to pick up seven ground crew who were with the aircraft making it ready for a return to base. It was the 21st of August. I had just had my lunch and I was sitting in the Sergeants' mess and I had not crewed up with a permanent crew at that time because I was one of four spare air gunners with 415 Squadron at Eastmoor. The doorbell rang at the Sergeants' mess. I was close to the door so I went and answered it, and their gunnery leader, Flight Lieutenant MacNamara pointed to me and said, "Just the man I'm looking for." He says, "You be outside the Gunnery Office at four o'clock with all your flying gear. You're going down with the Wing Commander McNeill, the Squadron CO, as part of the crew to go down and pick up this aircraft down south in England." He said that Sergeant Morrison had been designated to fly but he hadn't returned yet because he had gone into York on leave.

So I promptly at 3:30 had gathered up my flying gear, helmet, oxygen mask, Mae West, parachute, etcetera, and was standing outside the Gunnery Office when along came a three-quarter ton truck and a ... Squadron CO Wing Commander McNeill said, pointing at me, "Sergeant Sample?" I said, "Yes, sir," and give him a big salute. And he said, "We won't need you. Morrison has returned from York." And so I said, "Thank you, sir." But underlyingly, I was really pouting because I was a flying bug and this was going to be a milk run, just flying down south, picking up an aircraft and coming back. So I stowed all my gear, went back to the Sergeants' mess, and after supper, I was reading the newspaper when again the doorbell rang for the Sergeants' mess and a ground crew chap came in and he posted a list on the notice board and it indicated a tragedy that had just taken place. The crews that had gone down to bring this aircraft back, on the return flight, over the town of Selby which was ten minutes' flying time before they would return to base, they were flying at very close formation, something that was illegal at the time, they collided and broke off in two different directions, and the two aircraft crashed. All seven aircrew on one aircraft were killed, all seven aircrew on the other aircraft were killed, as well as the seven ground crew that had been down working on the aircraft. Twenty-one men killed in a split second like that, and I was to be one of them. It kind of shook me a little bit. And more so, because the 21st of August was my mother's birthday. I'll never forget that day. Mother would always say when we had friends into the house, "Dougie, tell them about my birthday on the 21st of August, 1944." And I would relate this story to them. And that became one of the most memorable times of my life.

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