Veteran Stories:
Douglas Stewart “Colonel” Drew

Air Force

  • 417 Squadron, RCAF, B. Flight. Photo taken at an airfield in North Africa or Italy, circa 1942-1944.

    Douglas Drew
  • Douglas Drew in Alexandria, Egypt, October 27-29, 1942.

    Douglas Drew
  • Douglas Drew in Italy, 1943.

    Douglas Drew
  • Aluminum work showing symbols from 417 Squadron RCAF, the Desert Air Force, the British 8th Army, and the names of places where the squadron served. Fashioned by an Italian tinsmith in 1943 or 1944, from a sketch by Bill Dougan, a close friend of Douglas Drew.

    Douglas Drew
  • Miniature of Douglas Drew's medals (Left to Right): 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Italy Star; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal (CVSM); War Medal (1939-45); Defence Medal; Malta George Cross 50th Anniversary Commemorative Medal.

    Douglas Drew
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"Some of the poor old Italians there, they had no food so if we were close to any Italian families, we’d always take them over little bits of stuff we had. Of course, they supplied vino."

Transcript

Douglas Stewart Drew. A mechanic, yes. The engine has to be checked every day. And you have to run the engines to make sure that the, the RPMs are up to scratch. If they’re not, you have to pull the spark plugs. And any number of things. Maybe changes the magneto. Change the oil. All kinds of mechanical jobs. Went right from Moncton, overseas. North Africa, Malta, Sicily and Italy. There’s 37 different fields we flew out of. We slept in tents, six men to a tent on the ground. Two blankets. We were under the RAF. And the RAF does things very very tight. We had no tools. We had nothing to cover our ears. We had nothing to cover our eyes. Nobody had sunglasses. I’m telling you, it was terrible.

Plus, you ever stop and think of what crawls around on the ground in Egypt? I hate to tell you. Anyway, we slept on the ground. The food was cooked with camel shit. When a camel shits, there’s a great big round plop on the sand, and that dries up and that’s what they cook our food with. Food was hardtack and bully beef, was what we ate.

Well, we were in North Africa for a year and a half, between Egypt and across the top of Africa. And we got to Tunis. Then we went into Malta. And we went into Sicily, then we went into Italy. Some of the poor old Italians there, they had no food so if we were close to any Italian families, we’d always take them over little bits of stuff we had. Of course, they supplied vino.

See, we weren’t in any place very long. To start off with in Italy, we got Grataglia, Gioia, Foggia, Triolo, Cannes [France], Marsianese, Cassino, Rome, Fabrica, Italy, Perugia, Italy, Loreto, Italy, Zano, Italy, Lauro, Italy and Treveso, Italy. So we were on the move quite often. You didn’t get time to get to know too many people.

Your kit bag was always packed. You go into town some day and when you come back, the guys would say, hey, we’re leaving in the morning. So we’d leave in the morning. A couple hours to throw everything on a truck, we were gone.

As fast as the army would move ahead, we moved right behind them. If you understand, the Spitfire’s only good for about an hour and a half, with gasoline, so we had to be close to the front. Lots of times we got too close. We could hear the guns going off from the ‘drome (airdrome). The hardships of working out in the open and with very few tools, no, nothing to cover your eyes, nothing to cover your ears. You didn’t have such a thing them days, I guess. We didn’t have them anyway.

Went overseas with a certain number of people per squadron and we couldn’t be moved because we were the only squadron there. Couldn’t transfer you to some other places because there wasn’t any other place. There was only us. We were the only Canadian squadron in the Middle East.

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