Veteran Stories:
James Stickles

Air Force

  • James Stickles, third from the left, and some of his friends celebrating Christmas, December 1944.

    James Stickles
  • Patch for 39 Reconnaissance Wing. James Stickles was an air electrician with No. 6 Photographic Squadron, 39 Reconnaissance Wing.

    James Stickles
  • James Stickles and "Yvonne," an example of aircraft nose art, Germany, post-war.

    James Stickles
  • An aerial photograph of Eindhoven, the Netherlands, 7 October 1944. Note the numerous shell craters. James Stickles' unit was stationed close to Eindhoven from late 1944 to early 1945.

    James Stickles
  • An aerial photograph taken by James Stickles' unit, No. 6 Photographic Squadron of an unknown German city, 15 June 1945.

    James Stickles
  • A Hitler Youth armband.

    James Stickles
  • A photograph of a German Messerschmitt Bf-109.

    James Stickles
  • James Stickles, first on the left, and friends.

    James Stickles
  • James Stickles in Waterloo, Ontario, August 2012. Mr. Stickles medals, from left to right: 1939-1945 Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, War Medal 1939-1945, Canadian Forces Decoration.

    Historica Canada
  • A watchtower at Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, spring 1945.

    James Stickles
  • A body being removed from a truck for burial in a mass grave, Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, spring 1945.

    James Stickles
  • A body being transported for burial in a mass grave (right), Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, spring 1945.

    James Stickles
  • One of many mass graves, Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, spring 1945.

    James Stickles
  • One of many mass graves, Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, spring 1945.

    James Stickles
  • Close up a mass grave, Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, spring 1945.

    James Stickles
  • Close up a mass grave, Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, spring 1945.

    James Stickles
  • A woman's body in a mass grave, Bergen-Belsen, spring 1945.

    James Stickles
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"Later they confirmed that he was killed and he was shot down in Einhoven, Holland. And of all things I was stationed there. "

Transcript

[Please be advised that some of this veteran's photographs are of a graphic nature and may not be suitable for a younger viewer]

I joined up when I was just over the age of 18. And I went into Montreal to join the navy and myself and another fellow and found the navy weren’t recruiting at that particular time. So just down the road in Montreal there was air force recruiting. I thought that we’d drop in there and see if we couldn’t be pilots some day. And I was still a little bit under age and they suggested when you’re 18 come back and we’ll sign you up, which I did. So I went back and signed up and I was sent to Toronto for manning pool where I spent a few months in the sheep pen* going through basic training and after basic training, I was sent to an airfield to await posting for trade school. And I went to St. Thomas, Ontario to be trained as an air electrician.

I was on [Supermarine] Spitfires except for when I first landed in France. I landed with a British unit and they were flying [Hawker] Typhoons and they made it kind of agitated for us because we were very close. We’re only nine miles from Caen** and they [Germans] continued to shell us just as if we were causing the war. They were shelling us with overhead propellants and at that time the big battleships were still shelling Caen and we could hear the shells go over, just roaring but the Typhoons would fly over in the morning, the armourers would load them up with cordite and put the bomb on the end of the torpedo-like bomb I suppose you’d call them. And then they’d fly all day. They’d fly in and out. They were mostly after trains and trucks and stuff on the road rather than the army itself. And they were very good at it. But the aggravating part of it was they’d fly all day and get the Germans all warmed up and then they’d go back to England at night and the Germans would shell us all night, blaming us for all the problems that happened during the day.

And my job working with No. 7 MFPS*** was work with the – care of the vans that had the photographic developing equipment and we were called “the eyes of the army.” Our aircraft would take off each day photographing what was going on and what was on the horizon and then they were developed and sent back to the army.

I spent the winter of 1945 in Eindhoven, Holland, during what they called the Battle of the Bulge.+  Our airfield was caught there. We couldn’t get ammo through. We couldn’t get anything through the – Germans had us blocked in and we spent a whole winter there short of rations and hoping that the Battle of the Bulge would soon end. But as a coincidence a friend of mine – he actually was my Scoutmaster when I was young enough to be a Scout – had joined the air force and he turned out to be – he went to air crew and was with the Pathfinders,^ I think they called them. They used to go over and drop foil [thin pieces of aluminium] prior to the bombers to distort the radar of the Germans. And we used to get a letter from home from the pulp and paper mill in the town that I used to live in and one of the papers said that Floyd Luxford, who was the fellow who was flying when the flak machines, anti-aircraft guns hit the aircraft, had been killed. And about six months later they found – or at least at first they said he was missing in action and then later they confirmed that he was killed and he was shot down in Einhoven, Holland. And of all things I was stationed there. So I saw an old gentleman and I asked him if there had been any aircraft shot down in Einhoven. He said, “Yes, only one.” And he said, “Why?” And I told him why and he took me to the actual site and the site – well this had happened a year or so or a little less maybe. The site was still burnt, no grass or anything had grown up and he showed me where the crew of that aircraft was buried. And he took me and showed me there and sure enough there was this friend of mine and they had a grave for him and his crew. And the Dutch people were looking after the grave, flowers and so on. I took a picture and sent it home to his mother.

I guess every day without exception, except for weather, there would be a German reconnaissance plane come over, flying just rooftop level and taking photographs of everything around and just preparing the bombers, but he was travelling so fast and so low that they never even bothered him. They just let him go.

We were a very close-knit family and every Christmas we’d have a big Christmas party. Everybody’s parents would send over cake or chocolates or something and we’d pool all that, then we’d have a great big Christmas party all together and there was some joyous times.

[Bergen-]Belsen Concentration Camp^^ to my knowledge wasn’t fully known to the – it was in the British section – it wasn’t really known. The British seemed to have stumbled on it and there were thousands of people in there. And our aerodrome was only about five or six miles away so we were invited – they just took truckloads of us up there to see the people and some of them there were young girls, 15, 16, 17 years old, but if you look in the compound at any time, you could see somebody falling over. You never knew whether they ever got up or not. And they started digging trenches and they captured a few SS troops^^^ there and they used those to cart the dead, which were mere skeletons at that time. It was typhus that was the cause of the real death rate in Belsen. And they would load them into trucks, just throw them in like cordwood and bring them over to open pits, throw them into open pits and put a layer of sand, a layer of land, lime, and then another layer of bodies, et cetera, until they had about 5,000 in each grave. The first time I was there was only one mound. The second time I was there two or three weeks later, there was five mounds and they were still throwing people in.

 

*The animal pens at Exhibition Place in Toronto were the sleeping quarters for the manning pool

**City in France, 15 kilometres inland from D-day beaches in Normandy. The Allies intended to capture Caen by the end of 6 June 1944, but the city was ultimately liberated in early August

***No. 7 Mobile Field Photographic Section

+16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945 – major German offensive into the Ardennes region of Belgium

^No. 8 (Pathfinder Force) Group, Royal Air Force; target-marking bomber squadron

^^liberated 15 April 1945

^^^German paramilitary organization responsible for many of the Nazis’ war crimes

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