Veteran Stories:
Lewis “Lew” Duddridge

Air Force

  • The Memory Project, Historica Canada
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"I have to tell you right now that I was exceedingly fortunate. I only ever had one engine damaged by shrapnel and that just about conked out over the North Sea, but it didn’t, and I made it to shore. "

Transcript

My brother and I got our wings together at Dauphin, Manitoba. Our mother came from Hanley [Saskatchewan] to Dauphin to pin – I think she was the first Canadian mother to pin the wings on two sons at one wings parade.* We got two weeks embarkation leave, and then we went immediately to Great Britain, my brother and I together, and then we were posted to [RAF] Banff, Scotland,** to fly Oxfords.*** And my brother, that’s a story all on his own, how did he – he flew fighter aircraft in the war – Spitfires,**** and I flew Lancasters, and the reason for that is because he had lost a thumb in an accident, and so he could not fly the Oxford because there was a little knob that had to be pushed with the thumb of your left hand and he didn’t have a thumb, or part of his forefinger was gone, and how he got by the medical people, I don’t know, but so that’s how he got Spitfires.  That's an interesting little part of the story, really. I have to tell you right now that I was exceedingly fortunate. I only ever had one engine damaged by shrapnel and that just about conked out over the North Sea, but it didn’t, and I made it to shore. Just to show you what the mechanics were like, that British airport was frantically on the water, and they found beds for myself and my crew, and they changed the engine in the night and, in the morning, we flew back to our base.

One of the things during the war that was obviously hidden and not talked about or disclosed, was the number of accidents that OTU⌃⌃ — that's Operational Training Unit — what was the reason? I think the reason was that it was very, very, very discouraging, you would read  in later years, in the, say in the last 10 years – people have been telling – You know, and they call the Wellingtons⌃⌃⌃ that we practiced, that we learned to fly at OTU, they would make remarks that they were not a great aircraft, but that is not the truth. The Wellington was a very, very fine aircraft, the problem at OTU was that they were pushing us so hard to do the things – you gotta move from being a pilot, to a pilot that’s under stress and on bombing runs, and all of the other things that have to be trained, and show that we were…

At OTU you were definitely stressed out, and I'm not afraid to say that a number of the accidents at OTU were a result of stress, being tested beyond the ability of some, and it's an awful thing to say, but if you talk to any person who flew operationally in Great Britain during the war, they’ll tell you that OTU was a very demanding situation. I come from a little town of Hanley, Saskatchewan, and there were 15 of us went overseas, and my brother and I are the only two living from Hanley out of that. The rest of [them] are buried over in Great Britain or in the surrounding area, so, you know, how did parents – like the barber lost two pilot sons, and another – and a farmer close to the town lost two sons, pilots. How do you cope with that? You know it's a question that – well, you just walk out to the aircraft and you go.

 

*A wings parade is a ceremony celebrating the graduation of newly trained pilots.

**Royal Air Force Station Banff, also known as the Boyndie aerodrome, was an airfield used by RAF Coastal Command as a base for its anti-shipping operations.

***The Airspeed Oxford was used primarily as a training aircraft by the RAF and the RCAF, with additional service in communications and anti-aircraft capacities.

****The Supermarine Spitfire was a British fighter plane used by many of the Allied air forces during the Second World War. The Spitfire was a single-seat aircraft, meant for short-range flights, mainly to intercept enemy aircraft.

The Avro Lancaster bomber was the most widely used Allied heavy bomber in service during and after the Second World War.

⌃⌃Pilots were assigned to RAF Operational Training Units for continued instruction, training on the aircraft they would use in active operations.

⌃⌃⌃The Vickers Wellington was a medium bomber used by the Royal Air Force for duties such as reconnaissance and anti-shipping.

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