"It hit me that there are people that I was going to encounter during the flight someplace and these people were intent on shooting me down."
Once you’re on operations, well, your chances of surviving for very long were not good. But I don’t think it really hit me until the very first operational flight that I made in which all of a sudden, as we were putting on our flight equipment and so on and waiting for it to be taken out to where our planes were, it hit me that there are people that I was going to encounter during the flight someplace and these people were intent on shooting me down.
And I remember thinking at the time time, well, realizing at the time that I always read about people’s legs turning to jelly and that kind of thing. They really seemed to do that. But once we’d flown and we got into flying that first flight and nothing much was happening, we sort of settled in. And all the flights became like that so the one time I guess I was really terrified or frightened for myself was just waiting to get onto that first flight.
At that time, we didn’t fly until December of 1944. The air defenses in Germany had been weakened and that’s one reason we probably had an easy trip. But certainly there were crews lost on some of the flights we went on. And one crew we had on, and I remember on 100 Squadron, the pilot of that crew was a great friend of my pilot and I think he felt that loss particularly.
I suppose when I thought about it, I thought, yeah, what happens on this next flight might, well, might determine my fate for once and for all but didn’t think about it a lot. I guess the sort of confidence or blind faith we had in things, as everything went smoothly, seemed to develop with, certainly within me and I think much of the rest of the crew. Things had gone well and we sort of thought that they could go well in the future.
Well, a long time after, when I started reading about the air war, I started thinking about that, I guess I remember the time, well, I was quite young, I wasn’t yet 21 I guess at that time, just 20, and there were, you were on an RAF [Royal Air Force] station and so there was a mixture of Canadians and other people from overseas and people who were born and brought up in Britain. And I didn’t think much, you know, I tended to believe what we were told in the briefing, that there were certain targets and this is the reason that we’re going there. But some of the other people, they weren’t old but they were older and they had experience. Now, I remember one man and one Britain remarking that, you know, we shouldn’t be bombing Dresden [A German city that was extensively firebombed by Allied bombers], there’s nothing there. If they make china [earthenware dishes] and they do, oh, binoculars and that kind of thing, nothing in the terms of a military target. And he was saying that because he was older, he had been there, he knew what Dresden was like. And because he was older, I believe that story. But of course, reading afterwards about what’s happening when the war had arrived, that was a place of building things, well, the optical instruments for military use and the china factories had been converted to other uses and it was a transfer point for the German troops coming from east to west, going to the Russian fight or coming out to the fight against the Allies landing. So there really was a military target there but for a while, I thought, you know, this is just a propaganda thing to impress the Russians.
I had difficulty because the people that died in Dresden and other places, they were quite, I think many of them, they didn’t really want to be in the war at all. But because of the policy, especially with the RAF area bombing and getting at German morale, those people were victims of the war, in a war in which they probably didn’t want to be involved in.
Well, [Operation] Manna was the one in which various bomber squadrons were loaded up with food and other supplies that had been lacking in the Netherlands in particular. And we flew rather low and over Dutch cities and dropped food parcels for the people who had been, well, very hungry and probably starving in many respects. And so I can remember, we flew low enough so people we got people waiting to try to pick these things up and I guess we even saw one platoon I guess of German soldiers marching away towards the east and towards Germany because the war had of course [almost] ended by that time. That’s why we could do this [Operation Manna and Chowhound operated during the last week of the war].
Of course, at the end of the war, there was still many allied prisoners of war in Germany and other parts of Europe. And one of the activities got on and this one in particular was to get planes into the continent, wherever, and pick up these prisoners and bring them back home. Or bring them back to England. So we had one flight on that, we went to Lübeck [Germany] and we, I think we picked up 20 some or more British army prisoners of war and took them back.