Veteran Stories:
Harry Schmuck

Air Force

  • Mid-upper turret on Handley Page Halifax Mk. III bomber. Skipton-on-Swale, Yorkshire, England. July 1944.

    Gordon Gross
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"I admire the guy who said I can’t do it anymore because he was walking away from endangering his crew. See you could always get a replacement, and this guy, what he’s saying, “I can’t take it anymore,” he’s saying, “I can’t do my job anymore, you know.”"


I already had two brothers overseas, one in North Africa and one in England, and so I went to see my mother and I said to her, “Well, mom I guess it’s time to go.” She says, “Yep, time to go.” And she said, “What are you going to join?” and I said, “Well, Frank and Edgar, they’re both in the air force so I think I’ll join the air force.” And she said, “Would you do me a favour?” I said, “What’s that?” And she said, “Will you get a good safe job on the ground?” I had no intention of staying on the ground because my brother overseas, he had said, “Look it, if you want to get into air crew when you go down before the selection board in Toronto, take whatever they offer you.” So I went down with these two other guys and the guy says to me, “We’re only taking air gunners today.” I said, “You’ve got it, I’ll be an air gunner.”

So when I came home and saw my mother, she said, “Well what are you going to be?” I said, “Mom, you won’t believe it,” I said, “it’s a wonderful job, you just sit in the aircraft and look around at everything and I don’t have to do anything, they just drive me all over, I don’t have to walk I don’t have to do anything you know.” I didn’t tell her I was going to be behind four guns and sometimes planes would come in and shoot their guns at me. So, I became an air gunner.

So they would take maybe a 100 to a 150 guys and that they would dump in all these different trades –  gunners, wireless operators, pilots, navigators, bomb aimers – they dump you all into a great big hangar and then you would walk around. And Al France was standing there. I knew this guy had been around for a while, you know, and his uniform wasn’t blue, it was grey from being cleaned so often, you know. So that tells you this guy was an instructor for quite some time. He had over 2,000 hours, most of your pilots that came in had 300 hours, you know, and here they were 19, 20, 21 years old, 300 hours and they’re going to do some bit of training and then they’re going to take you over Germany and they’re going to shoot at you and so on. Well, with Al France, he had 2,000 hours in the air, you know, so when he would get in a pickle, when you got into a bad situation, you know, hopefully he would know what to do.

Did you ever hear of LMF? “Lack of moral fibre.” You’ll never know what a strong element that was keeping guys on the job. Lack of moral fiber, what in effect what it was is that they interpreted it this way – you’re “yellow,” you know. Now, we admired guys who said, “I’ve had enough, I quit.” And if you said that in the RAF [Royal Air Force], they took you out on parade, they tore off your stripes or whatever you had, tore off your medals, whatever you had, and you’re knocked right down as low as you can be and given a rotten job to do, you know.

I admire the guy who said I can’t do it anymore because he was walking away from endangering his crew. See, you could always get a replacement and this guy, what he’s saying, “I can’t take it anymore,” he’s saying, “I can’t do my job anymore,” you know. And so you have to admire a guy – you have to say, why endanger six other fellows? – you know.

The whole crew would go over and there’d be one intelligence man sitting there, then he’d say, “Alright.” He’d go around to each person and say, you know, “What have you got to report?” – you know, and then he’s writing away, you know. So, we’d say to him, for example, we’d say, “Boy, you know, something was going on up there. There was a lot of bombers exploding, you know.” And their answer was, these intelligence guys who wanted to get home and get to bed, you know, instead of interrogating you, they’d say, “Oh, no those were scarecrows, you know.” Well, the idea of a scarecrow was the Germans would shoot up this shell and when it exploded up at 18,000 feet it just looked like a bomber exploding. There was no such thing, it was a bomber exploding, it wasn’t their shell exploding at all.

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