"The pilot turned right and down the valley over the little town of Evesham, staying low as a German fighter passed overhead. We could see his exhaust flames under his wing but he could not see ours."
I was an air cadet drill sergeant when I joined up at the tender age of 17. I actually transferred from the air cadets to the air force at a ceremony to sell war bonds in Riverdale Park in Toronto. We all received $1.10 for the day, a princely sum at the time, a whole day’s pay for an AC2[Aircraftsman 2nd Class, the starting rank of the Air Force]. AC1 got $1.20, a 10 cent raise.
After a year of training in Canada, I became a Sergeant Navigator. Other armed forces called us pigeons. That’s better than some other names they could have used. Mostly they were jealous of airmen who returned to sleep in beds with white sheets while they did not.
One day I was flying in a small Tiger Moth airplane [a bi-plane training aircraft] with open cockpits, it was called a familiarization flight. Just below the clouds, when the plane suddenly dove straight down and I looked up just as a huge American Flying Fortress [the nickname for the B-17 bomber] flew past us. I could see the gunner in his turret and the rivets on the tail plane. That could easily have been an airplane crash with the Tiger Moth coming out second best. We did not report the near miss because we were not supposed to be that close to the clouds either. The pilot dove the plane so quickly that I rose up on off the seat and was suspended above the seat in the shoulder harness. That was scary.
Another time I was partying in London, England when the air raid siren started to moan. Most people at first kept on partying. Later on, the sirens seemed more insistent and many had left the club. My friend and I decided to leave. I got out of the underground railway tunnel just in time. My pal from the English army was too late. He was killed in a street by anti-aircraft shrapnel.
While I was in London, I stayed at the Beaver Club, a hostel for Canadian servicemen. The entrance had a huge heavy oak door. I was standing outside enjoying the cool night air and suddenly, there was a loud explosion about a block away. Soon powdered brick and glass and plaster were showering down everywhere. My ears were ringing. I got quickly inside and closed the heavy oak door.
Another time when we were flying over the Irish Sea in a Wellington bomber, practicing air gunnery, firing at the white caps [waves] below, we flew over a navy convoy. They shoot first and ask questions later. More of that anti-aircraft fire. I’ve never called it friendly fire. We left the area as fast as we could, thankful that none of the shots landed on the target.
Near the end of our training at RAF Honeybourne [an Air Force Base in the United Kingdom], we returned to our air base after an exercise, flaps already down and winding down the landing gear as the pilot called out on the radio, F for Freddy Nightstar [their callsign] calling fly wheel, landing clearance, over. The answer shocked the whole crew. Mayday, mayday, mayday, pirates, pirates, pirates. Scramble, scramble, scramble. That means emergency, enemy aircraft, get the heck out of here. It seemed like 10 seconds before anyone did anything.
Then the engines roared, the flaps and wheels came back up in record time. The pilot turned right and down the valley over the little town of Evesham, staying low as a German fighter passed overhead. We could see his exhaust flames under his wing but he could not see ours. Very fortunate for us. We didn’t even wave. The pilot kept flying low towards the English Channel for a while and then we tried to call some ground radio stations for help. Before I could explain our problem, the radio stations were out of range. Finally we circled around a radio station until they could find out if it was safe to return to base. As soon as he found out that the airfield was clear, we flew quickly back to base and landed quite a bit faster than usual.
The most emotional story about World War II that I’ve ever heard was from a Dutch lady who was held a prisoner in her own town for five years by German soldiers. She said that we could not imagine the feelings in her heart as she saw the Canadian tanks rumbling down the dike [a dam structure]. I guess we really cannot. I sincerely hope that none of you have to go to war. It’s a terrible waste of good men and women.