Veteran Stories:
Murray Heselton

Air Force

  • Counting the hits [graphic material] : two unidentified aircrew examining a target drogue at No. 10 Bombing and Gunnery School, RCAF. Canada. Department of National Defence collection / Library and Archives Canada / e005176210

    Canada. Department of National Defence collection / Library and Archives Canada / e005176210
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"It was quite traumatic, to change from being up in the air force flying every day to getting up in the morning, and from seeing everybody in a blue uniform, and all of a sudden, you’re into a civilian dress."

Transcript

The options was, if you didn’t join the services, you had to go down to the coal mines. Or go to sea. And I was dead scared of drowning. So I joined the air force. I volunteered for the category, pilot navigator/ bomb aimer, which was all full at the time, so I said, well, what’s left? Become an air gunner. So I said, great, I’ll take it. Well, I went to, I started in training in Pembrey, South Wales, then we moved to Hemswell, which was the operational squadron. That’s in Lincolnshire. That’s the home of Bomber Command, because it’s flat. Training was pretty well on a daily basis. I’d get up early, have breakfast and go on the flights, practice target shooting, ground to ground and air to air. And you had to cut into a Lancaster, in the tail, and fire into what was they called a drogue, which was being towed by another plane. Your bullets were all coloured, so that they knew how many you’d scored on the drogue. From there, we went to an operational training unit, in which we converted from being an air gunner to a four-engine bomber, into Lancasters, crewing up with your crew. And the first operation was Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s hideout. And we were flying at 20,000 feet, bombing at a target of 10,000 feet, so we could see the people running around. It was on my 21st birthday, no, 20th birthday, the girl from the NAAFI [Navy, Army, Air Force Institutes] gave me buns and tea to celebrate my birthday. The air raids were blanket bombing. First of all, we bombed the hell out of Dresden, which was the focal point for the German army to mobilize into Germany. And also the supplies and equipment were going through Dresden into Germany, so that we bombed the hell out of Dresden and we were criticized for that. A defenseless town or city, which I don’t agree with, but that’s it. We flew 20 -25,000 feet. Well, I could see the bombs dropping, looking at the other planes and they dropped their bombs. In fact, I have pictures of the bombs coming out on the ground, you could see the bombs bursting, but that was about the size of it. Bomber Harris, the marshal of the Royal Air Force, he sent a thousand bomber raids. He started with a thousand bomber raids intending to flatten Germany. Which we pretty well did. Dortmund, Dusseldorf, Essen and a few others. I demobilized in October 1947, I had the opportunity to be repatriated back to Canada. I was born here, although I was in the Royal Air Force. So I came over here in 1947. When I got here, since I was a vet, I got four years in university and two years of post-university, $60 a month and $1,080 for back pay. And I couldn’t argue with that. What a wonderful place Canada is. It was quite traumatic, to change from being up in the air force flying every day to getting up in the morning, and from seeing everybody in a blue uniform, and all of a sudden, you’re into a civilian dress. I remember my first civilian outfit, God’s truth, terrible. And I had a raincoat which was about 10 sizes too large and I’ll take it anyway, a hat. The change was quite severe I felt. You had to get used to civilian life, as against air force life. It was a change from the usual routine of war back to peacetime. And it was hard to get used to the idea of getting up for breakfast, going to work, getting the bus to work and back again. It became very routine. The air force was something to get up in the morning for, do what you do, and enjoy it.
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