Some of the trips were very exciting, others were a little on the routine side. But it got really interesting when I joined the Pathfinder Force.
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I was born in a little town called Romny, near Kiev, which you may have heard of, in the Ukraine. And my family emigrated to Canada in 1921. And from there, we went to, I think we went to Montreal. We lived there for about 10 or 11 years. And then we moved to Quebec City where I learned to speak a pigeon French.
And then we proceeded to the Maritimes, to New Waterford, Nova Scotia, where we met the finest people on earth, they were the real salt of the earth. I have a very fond spot for Nova Scotia. And from that point on, I went to Moncton [New Brunswick], where I worked as a trainee supermarket manager with the idea that I would save all the money I could and go down to the United States and try and get a job as a sports reporter. But about that time, they started blowing the bugles and the Second World War started. And, as I had mentioned previously, I was very keen to join as soon as I could to do whatever little bit I could.
As it turns out, I not only did that but I also survived. Which means of course that I had some excellent crew members working with me and we must have done our job very adequately.
I was a navigator. I started in the [Royal] Canadian Air Force as a pilot, at least I was selected for pilot training. But I found out very quickly that I could not handle extreme aerobatics such as doing spins and rolls and loops, etc. And I guess for the safety of the individual, they decided that I had better engage in another endeavour rather than piloting. And I was quite happy because at least I was still stayed in the air force. Because I was selected as a navigator once I had ceased training as a pilot.
And as a navigator, I was in my element because I liked astronomy, I liked physics and science and especially astronomy, which we developed a strong liking for. We used to use the stars or shoot the stars in order to fix our position.
A lot of people [in Bomber Command] were knocked down in their very first trip. Some lasted for 10 or 15 trips. Very few got through two tours and I was one of the lucky ones [Mr. Glustien completed 60 operations]. Because you had to be lucky not to get involved in a few little escapades. See, the big thing we had to watch out for was night fighters, searchlights and anti-aircraft fire. And you pretty well went through that experience almost on every trip that you went on. And some of the trips were very exciting, others were a little on the routine side. But it got really interesting when I joined the Pathfinder Force [No. 405 (Vancouver) Squadron, RCAF, part of No. 8 (Pathfinder Force) Group] because prior to that, the bombing raids weren’t very effective and it was very hard to get your aiming point because of clouds and weather, etc. Once this Pathfinder procedure was instituted, then, finally they had very experienced crews and they had all kinds of pinpointing aids, etc. or fixing aids. And it was really quite interesting.
You were dealing with a bunch of experienced crews. Before you even joined the squadron, you had to have at least completed one operational tour [30 sorties]. And this technique developed by Bomber Command involved getting the best crews they could so that they could mark the target; we used to mark the target with coloured flares, red, green and blue flares. And we usually flew a little lower than the main force and we would direct them with audible commands as to which way to bomb on these coloured flares that we fell. And because they had crews with a lot of experience, and had lots of fixing aids, they were able to be much more effective in the amount of damage they could incur.
And the big thing that made it very exciting and a little hazardous is that you had to stay on the target until all the aircraft had dropped their bombs, etc. And usually, you had a master of ceremonies who directed the raid and a deputy master of [ceremonies] in case the master got shot down; you had to have a backup.
Oh, there was another trip we did where a newly-arrived wing commander who was taking over the squadron, he was, he was with us on a trip where we were going after the buzz bomb [V-1; German flying bomb] sites, etc. And we were the master of ceremonies, he was the deputy master of ceremonies. And when we got over the target, we found out it was pretty lightly defended. They only had a few guns etc. But one of them got a direct hit on this wing commander’s plane and we watched as the chaps started bailing out of the aircraft.
And unfortunately also, the wing commander in charge of the plane that had been hit stayed with the aircraft right to the end. All the crew got out but he never made it. And the unusual outcome of that story is that shortly after that, we went on seven days leave in London, England and I was walking with my wife down one of the main streets near the heart of London. I think it was Regent Palace or what have you. And I felt a little tug in my arm and I looked around to see what it was and I saw some chap in a weird combination of uniforms, he had army clothes, air force clothes, civvy clothes and he was trying to get my attention. And finally, I found out that he, when I spoke to him, that he was one of the chaps who had been shot down and he made his way back from that area to England or London in less than two weeks. So the Free French people were able to get hold of him and do a great smuggling job and get him back to dear old Blighty.
Canadian air crew were highly regarded. They were very adventurous souls. They were, you’d almost say fearless, and they acquitted themselves really well. And all the squadrons that I knew of were quite happy to get Canadian crews, but eventually we formed our own group. That was the [No.] 6 Bomber Group. At that point in time, I had started with the Pathfinder Force which was not in the 6 Bomber Group. But again, this was the 405 Squadron that I operated with was almost 90 percent Canadian. And we also had Australians, New Zealanders, Americans. We had quite a mixed bag. And it created pretty good crew spirit.
And actually, I remember now that the aircrew boys always got along well with each other, they really did their job well, they were enthusiastic, they also were fun loving chaps. It wasn’t all shoot them down bit, there was also a little bit of partying from time to time to relax your system. And we even maintained very close relations with our groundcrew because they were extremely important as far as we were concerned. We were very fortunate to have excellent groundcrew for our particular aircraft and, as a result, we never had any engine problems of any kind.
About the only bit of problems we had from time to time were from anti-aircraft fire or flak they called it. And on a few of the trips, we got a fair bit of damage but nothing earth shaking or threatening. And so it went.