"Every time I flew it was an interesting event to me, but I … you enjoyed it, it was a challenge, you’re young, you’re full of vim and vigour. You didn’t hate anybody. You were doing what you were supposed to do, which was what everybody else was there for."
My name is Bill Carr, C-A-R-R. I was born in Grand Banks, Newfoundland, on the 17th of March – St-Patrick’s day – 1923. I attended the school there and graduated from high school at the tender age of 15 and I went to Mount Allison University and graduated when I was 18 in 1941, at which time I joined the [Royal Canadian] Air Force. The reason I joined the Air Force was because I had served in the COTC [Canadian Officer Training Corps] for a couple of years and I needed the money and worked during the summer months digging holes in the ground in places like Sussex, New Brunswick, and so on and decided that when I did go, if I went, I would certainly not join the Army, but instead I would join the [Royal Canadian] Air Force.
[Operations in the Mediterranean Sea]
But in Malta it was both strategic and tactical in the sense that we were there to support whatever the Army, once the invasion of Sicily [July, 1943] and the North African campaign [until May, 1943] was still on and the invasion of Sicily happened, and part of the job was to provide coverage for the Army in the form of good maps or target identifications and so on. And at the same time that wouldn’t take all your time, consequently you also did the strategic chunk which would include long range things --for bomb damage assessment of raids that have taken place from England for example. And the Americans, we did an awful lot for the Americans because they were very prone to -- I guess the word is their airplanes were more vulnerable than ours with respect to losses and so on then we were. Their P-38s [the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, an American twin-engines fighter aircraft] didn’t have the performance that we had. And we did relieve them in one occasion over the 5th Army front North of Naples.
I suppose the thing that I remember about Malta particularly was the degree to which it had been bombed. There was-- you know, there was not a blade of grass left in the place or a tree left standing or anything. I think the highest concentration of bombs during WWII were on the Island of Malta, I’ve read that somewhere. But anyway, much of the intelligence work was done on the ground in the caves near the harbour and the harbour itself was always full of ships. But one thing I remember before leaving Malta was--Italy had surrendered [in September, 1943] and the Italian Navy, if you recall, was then removed from Taranto [Italy] and came to harbour in Malta. But I can still see those magnificent battle ships and cruisers and whatever else there were being led into Malta by this dirty little British Royal Naval corvette or something-- the height of indignation. They obviously did it on purpose to make them feel even worse than they should.
Anyway, from there we went really into Italy. We went through Sicily but then into Italy where we got set up on a base-- an airfield grass strip-- and sent to the Foggia plain on the east coast of Italy, north of Taranto and Brindisi and so on. But basically we were then part of the North African Photo Reconnaissance Wing [the Northwest African Photographic Reconnaissance Wing, an Allied photo-reconnaissance wing renamed the Mediterranean Allied Photo Reconnaissance Wing at the end of 1943]. The boss man was a Colonel L. A. [Elliott] Roosevelt, the President’s [Franklin D. Roosevelt] son. And he had under him two wings, an American wing and the RAF wing. And in the RAF wing we had a mixed bag of pilots, Canadians and Brit[ish] and we even had some Poles. And in the American wing they were all, of course, Unites States Army Air Corps and they all flew P-38 … P-38s, yeah, Lightnings, F5As [a reconnaissance aircraft based on P-38G variant]. But we got along very well and we used to visit them every opportunity we got because they had a lot better food than we had and didn’t like K-rations and we loved them [a variant of United States Army individual daily combat food ration], and once they got C-rations [another variant of U.S. Army individual ration] they gave us all their K-rations. The ‘C’ was better, I guess. But, no, we had no problems and Canadians seemed to have that ability to adapt to whatever surroundings they were confronted with and they don’t get upset. They seem to accept that this is the way we’re going to do things and that’s the way we go ahead and do it. And it was my impression that everywhere we went, we Canadian aircrew-- we still wore ‘Canada’ on our shoulders-- we were just accepted as Canadians, we weren’t Brit and we weren’t American, which gave us an advantage, in my opinion.
Anyway, operating out of San Severo [Italy] we were part of this North African Photo Reconnaissance Wing. I think that’s what it was called. Anyway Colonel Roosevelt used to drop around once in a while. And in the Wing they also had this photo processing, an intelligence organisation as well. But in terms of numbers of airplanes I suppose the wing that I was in, 285 Wing, and 336 Wing later, there were, I think, three squadrons, so they’d be about 30 airplanes, 36 airplanes maybe. On the American side I don’t know the numbers, how many, but they had a lot of them, a lot of airplanes. But the performance of their airplane was such that they asked us on occasion to take over some of their responsibility because when the long nose ‘190’ [Focke-Wulf Fw 190, a German single-seat fighter aircraft], came out, their airplane was -- they lost a number of aircrafts because they could not get away from the FW190 [Focke-Wulf Fw 190], they were not … they didn’t have the performance. Perhaps they didn’t have the experience either. For some reason our guys seemed to have more experience and didn’t rotate as often as the Americans did.
The tours on operations during WW II varied between the type of activity you’re involved in. In the case of photo reconnaissance it was based on hours, the number of hours. In Bomber Command I think it was 25 missions or something on the bombers. In our case it was 300 hours on the Spitfire [Supermarine Spitfire a British single-seat fighter aircraft], which was a normal tour. And you could expect to do that in about a year, a year and a half, something like that. And that’s roughly how long it took me.
Now, interesting events, every time I flew it was an interesting event to me, but I … you enjoyed it, it was a challenge, you’re young, you’re full of vim and vigour. You didn’t hate anybody. You were doing what you were supposed to do, which was what everybody else was there for. And, did you join for reasons of loyalty and so on? I don’t know. I didn’t. I joined because I was expected to do the same as everybody else and we did what we had to do. And now, interesting things, yeah, I found it interesting when I went to Malta, to have a look around. I was finally in a part of the world I never expected to see. Or when I went through North Africa. And then in Italy I remember the invasion of -- or at least the entry into Rome [June, 1944]. We were based on a little strip called San Fransesco, just to the east of Rome. And that’s the only time I’ve ever served on an airfield in WW II with a Canadian squadron-- with 417 Squadron, the City of Windsor Squadron, Commanded by Bert Houle, Group Captain Bert Houle, DFC [Distinguished Flying Cross] and Bar, who lives out here in Manotick [Ottawa]. And Bert was a very active, aggressive fighter pilot. And I remember coming back from a trip one day landing, to go into the strip and who chases me but Bert Houle try to shoot me down. He assumed I was a lone German raider. We had a few of them floating around. And he chased me right back to the edge of the airfield until he realized that I was another Spitfire even though I was painted blue. But anyway, that’s a long story.
But Rome, I have a copy, I found it the other day of the top secret order given to commanders of units on how to behave when we got into Rome, and I have it in my file downstairs. I thought I would present it to the National Museum [Canadian War Museum], they might like to have it. It is top secret. I don’t know how I have it. I guess I kept it because I was CO [Commanding Officer] of a unit during the war. But the entry into Rome was really something because the city,--we knew, nobody would shoot at you if you flew over Rome and the Tiber River there was some beautiful bathing beach all along the Tiber River. And I remember beating up the beach because of the beautiful gals there were lying out in the sun, you know. Italy was now out of the war and we had now finally got into Rome. But Rome itself was an eye opener because the restaurants were still functioning. Things were as cheap as dirt. You get a hotel room for 25 lira, which is roughly 25 cents. And beautiful hotels, so it was quite a change. But we were not permitted to live in buildings. We still lived in our tents and we kept moving up as the army moved. If I guess the entry into Rome was one thing I remember, what a beautiful city it was, and I’ve been back here a few times, and it still more beautiful. You also remember things like the Anzio --not the Anzio but Cassino thing and being bombed by our own airplanes [the Battle of Monte Cassino, 17 January – 18 May 1944], that kind of thing, which is not unusual.
But I suppose my most lasting impression of the whole period was being told that day that I was going to go to Malta because I’d read everything that was to read about what was going on in Malta and realising that, yeah, finally, I was no longer on training mission or short operation, it was a serious business that I was involved in. And I was on my own, and I’m going to be on my own and I’ll never forget it. It was a good experience for me, and it helped me the rest of the time.
Interview with Lieutenant-General William Carr FCWM Oral History Project
George Metcalf Archival Collection
© Canadian War Museum