Flying Officer Wallace Phillips, No. 408 (Goose) Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force.Wallace Philipps, DFC, BA
Flying Officer Wallace Phillips' Lancaster crew, No. 408 (Goose) Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force. From left to right: Sgt. Porten, Bomb Aimer; Sgt. Wilson, Flight Engineer; Sgt. Rogers, Wireless Operator; F/O Wood, Navigator; Sgt. Currie, Gunner; Sgt. LaPierre, Gunner; F/O Phillips, Pilot.Wallace Philipps, DFC, BA
A page from Flying Officer Wallace Phillips' Royal Canadian Air Force log book, showing bombing operations against Berlin in January 1944.Wallace Phillips, DFC, BA
A page from Flying Officer Wallace Phillips' log book, showing bombing operations against Berlin, Leipzig, and Stuttgart in February 1944.Wallace Philipps, DFC, BA
"You have to believe that when you killed 1,000 people, and maybe I have that to my record, I don’t know, that might have been preventing tens of thousands of other people from being killed."
When the war broke out, some time in November [September 1939], whatever it was, I went to join the [Royal Canadian] Air Force and to use my rather worn phrase now, I asked that I wanted to be a pilot. And the reply, "we already have a pilot." From then on, they didn’t call me, so I then went to the navy people and the navy people, this was in December 1939, the RCNVR [Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve] in Montreal sent me down to Halifax as a writer. It’s not a very glamourous occupation but it required people with a background in accounting and that sort of thing. You did some writing but it certainly wasn’t literary.
And then after being in Halifax for a while, the Royal Canadian Navy was looking to open a base in Plymouth, in England, because they had a few little destroyers around in the early part of the war. And this was in 1941. I volunteered for that group they were forming to go to Plymouth. And, unfortunately, it was at the very time I got there and I think it was January of 1941, that was exactly when the bombing of the southeastern coast, and particularly where I was in Plymouth, was at its peak. So I was there at the beginning of it and I went through the blitzing [terror bombing] of Plymouth, which was quite an experience, which I wouldn’t want to do again.
And eventually, at the end of that, we were given a leave and then we were sent back to North America. And I was sent back to St. John’s, Newfoundland and it was there that I began investigating the possibilities of doing something which was a little bit more in my line. Being a writer was all very well, but anybody could do it and I was quite physically active in those days and I applied for a transfer to the air force. I went through the whole training routine in the RCAF [Royal Canadian Air Force] all over again and that’s when I eventually got my wings as a pilot, then went back overseas again.
I did my tour of operations, which consisted of being in Bomber Command and bombing, going on a minimum of 30 trips to the various targets which were originally in the Ruhr [the industrial heartland of Germany]. The easier part to get to but most of my operations were, well, I did 12 trips to Berlin, which was the major and difficult target by 1943 and 1944. And then, when I finished that tour of operations, they didn’t send you home of course, there were lots of things to do. So I was assigned as an instructor for another tour of operations, not one in which I was being shot at. I was instructing at several units in England to train people who had come, just like I had, over to be transferred to the Bomber Command.
When I finished my tour of operations, it was in the early part of March or April in 1944, then I instructed until 1945. When you’re a crew like we were, I’ll say myself, because I’m thinking in terms of myself, you can’t go out on every trip and hope to hell you’re not going to kill anybody because killing is what war is all about. You have to believe that when you killed 1,000 people, and maybe I have that to my record, I don’t know, thank God I don’t know, that might have been preventing tens of thousands of other people from being killed. The Nazis were determined to take over Europe and everybody knows very well they wanted to take over England as well. And that, that they could have done, if it had not been for the troops. Not just the air force of course, the troops generally, who had to kill people to do that. You had to, like when they had the raids on the Möhne Damfor example, which were done with Lancasters, I was not on that, that was a special crew. They burst the dams and this had been the Ruhr Valley and the waters from three dams that were burst went down the countryside and God knows how many thousands of people they washed out.
That was all part of war. The idea was to prevent them from doing the same thing as everybody knows they would have done if they got to England. And that wasn’t very far away. So you have to take a long view of it. I certainly couldn’t have operated if I resented the kind of work we were doing. And God knows, I never thought about killing anybody before the war but that happens in a war.
When you’re in your early 20s and you’re alive and you’re physically well and when you’re working like this, in these kind of things, every day is important. And you live to a great peak and a lot of things after that seem insignificant. When the war’s over, you know, you don’t have that same feeling. And I was lucky, I had a good crew and you know, we were good friends as well as being part of a crew, which helps a great deal.