Veteran Stories:
Erland Gray Smith

Navy

  • The Memory Project, Historica Canada
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"I liked I liked flying myself and I flew with a lot of pilots after the planes come back in, shot up. I would repair the instruments and that and then go up and try them out. And I was watching this one Fairey Barracuda come in and it exploded."

Transcript

I joined because I was in the Fort Trade School school... And I was working on deferment there and I didn't feel right, so I went and didn't want to slosh through the mud with the Army and I wear glasses and I couldn't get into as a pilot in the Air Force so I thought I'll go into the Navy and I applied to join the navy. I went to The local HMCS [inaudible] and took training there, basic training, got all my shots that made your arm sore, and then from there went to Annapolis Valley. That was to become a stoker, which I did do. I became a stoker. Didn't particularly like crawling in the boilers and they decided they would form a Fleet Air Arm so they passed out applications and I've always been interested in planes, built them as models and so forth, so I signed it and I was one of 50 that was accepted.

When I became an air mechanic - I was air mechanic second class of course, the very bottom of the rung, until I took some training, but I didn't stay in Canada too long because they had nothing here for training, so we were sent to London, England on training with the Royal Canadian - err, Royal Naval Fleet Air Arm. But of course we went to Scotland and that's where our ship landed and then we were brought down to London by train and that was the first time I saw all the buildings that were all bombed out and something, you know. It was quite an experience.

And London itself, that was still--they were still sending over buzz bombs, at that time and then they switched over to the V2s, which was the radio control, the rocket. And the reached the top of the cone, they had like a cone stretching from England, or Europe, over to the top of England and when a rocket went up that high and got out of control, it was like a cone. It would bump off of the wall and then when it hit the top it would go straight down*. And the top was where they just [inaudible] drop. They were scary to me. The English people didn't mind that. They didn't like the buzz bomb because they could hear them coming and when the motor cut out, they're supposed to go straight down but they sometimes glide and they didn't always go straight down. These things, you couldn't hear them. All of a sudden you're sitting someplace and you get rocked off your feet with a great big explosion and I found that more scary than any other.

What I can tell is that I passed all the courses of course it took a little over a year and then I became an air mechanic electrician because they trained in electrical, air frames, engines and armaments, so as an electrician I can still recall sitting in a little hut and this spitfire pilot came in and wanted to know if there was an electrician here--and it was raining cats and dogs outside in England, the lower part of Scotland in Arbroath. And I didn't want to go, but I was the only electrician so I had to--and all it was that is that when his wheels went up, the light wouldn't go on showing his wheels were retracted. It's just a little micro switch I had to pull it down a bit and that was all it took [inaudible]. Just little things like that.

The only thing is with being the electrician, when they started the plane up, my job was to hang on to the side of the cockpit, talk to the pilot. He starts the plane and all the planes and that just went in behind the back and so you're pressed pretty close to the cockpit, so you didn't get singed. And another job is when they were running it up to check, you had to lean on the tail thing, about three of us, leaning on the back end of the plane so the tail wouldn't lift up in the air. That's all part of it though.

And then of course we had other duties to perform while your on the base. And I can remember one particular one which isn't all that great is the Fairey Barracuda. I liked I liked flying myself and I flew with a lot of pilots after the planes come back in, shot up. I would repair the instruments and that and then go up and try them out. And I was watching this one Fairey Barracuda come in and it exploded. And the only thing that slowed it down was one wing was flipping end over end slowly down to the ground. Both Airmen were killed. Couldn't find out why it exploded, but that didn't stop me from wanting to go up.

 

* For more information on V2 Rockets see http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140905-the-nazis-space-age-rocket

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