Veteran Stories:
James Maffre

Air Force

  • James Maffre's log book detailing his flight operations.

    James Maffre
  • James Maffre's log book detailing his flight operations.

    James Maffre
  • James Maffre's log book detailing his flight operations.

    James Maffre
  • James Maffre's log book detailing his flight operations.

    James Maffre
  • A letter from the Secretary of State for Air commending James Maffre for being Mentioned-In-Dispatches for his distinguished service.

    James Maffre
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"It was odd to see Allied forces buried on one side of the road and German sailors and airmen buried on the other side of the road. Guys that were out to kill each other, laying opposite each other, very strange turn of events."

Transcript

When I was the only one, maybe another Canadian on the squadron to Oban on the west coast of Scotland. It was an ideal posting because all of the billeting and operational buildings were in old, I shouldn’t say old, in hotels around the harbour. So they were right downtown, it was a great place to be flying from. However, we were only there two weeks before we were sent to the Shetland Islands and spent a fair amount of time there doing trips heading into the western approaches of the Atlantic, doing anti-submarine sweeps and along the coast of Norway, looking for German naval units that may have come into the ports along the coast.

I guess we did that two or three months and then joined a crew who had been specially picked to do some reconnaissance flights up to Spitzbergen in the Barents Sea. Apparently the British were thinking of establishing a weather station there so we flew up there with two polar experts who, we were to land them in the water and let them loose in a collapsible dinghy for which they would use to get ashore. But there was too much ice coming in from the shore, the ice pack was very thick, so we abandoned that trip. And in the meantime, an expedition of two small boats was about to leave Iceland with a small party of Norwegian ex-miners I guess to go back to Spitzbergen.

And after two or three weeks or so, there was no word from them, so we were sent up to see what may have happened to them and it got to the place in Spitzbergen and there was a land in an ice fjord at Baretsburg I believe it was. And I noticed the two holes in the ice, obviously the ships had disappeared and we scouted around for a little while and left to go back to the Shetland Islands and received some signals from a mountainside by lamp which informed us that they’d been bombed and there were a few people killed but there were quite a number of survivors and they needed medical supplies and some food. So we spent the next eight or ten trips or so taking up supplies to them and bringing back some of the wounded and bringing back the commander of the expedition.

On one trip, we left there to go back to Spitzbergen and to bring out the commander to get back to the UK [United Kingdom] and we turned around after five or six hours because of bad weather and on the way back, we were attacked by a Junkers 88 [a German aircraft] which killed a pilot. Fortunately, our wing commander CO [commanding officer] was in the plane and he righted the plane and apparently the plane became difficult to handle, so we landed at an island off the coast of North Russia, Kildin Island, and ran it right up on the beach because we didn’t know whether there were any holes in the hull and a Russian E-boat [patrol boat] came and picked us up and took us back to Krasnaya. And the aircraft was towed back into the inlet.

We flew back as passengers of another aircraft, parts were flown up to repair our aircraft and it was eventually flown back to the United Kingdom. The pilot who had been killed, Captain Healey, was buried up in Russia there and we later learned that it was a policy of the British allied forces to bury fallen airmen, sailors and soldiers where they fell, so his body is still up there in Russia.

Yeah, I kept in touch with the navigator of our crew. He was a British chap who lived south of London. And I kept in touch with him over the years and one of his letters that he sent to me was a copy of a Luftwaffe [German Air Force] aircraft loss report. And it revealed that the Junkers 88 that had attacked us was damaged. We didn’t realize it at the time of course but they were based in Northern Norway and I guess they had a crew of four and in attempting to land, they crashed into the water and three of crew members were killed in the crash and the fourth one died apparently in hospital after being rescued. And the odd thing was that Schofield [his navigator] said, at the time, we would have been exhilarated if we’d known that it happened but now, all we can do is feel sympathy for the next of kin of these fellows. It reminds me of myself going over to England in 1973 where we visited my brother’s grave. He was killed on a takeoff crash in Bircham Newton in Norfolk and we visited the cemetery where he was buried and it was odd to see Allied forces buried on one side of the road and German sailors and airmen buried on the other side of the road. Guys that were out to kill each other, laying opposite each other, very strange turn of events.

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