"Wherever we got the reports in for aircraft that hadn’t made it back to base, then it was our job to go and investigate them; see what damage was done."
November 1941, that was the preliminary. We went to the Barrie Armouries, myself and a neighbour, Dave Kenwell. They put us through a battery of multiple tests. We must have passed them all because they kept moving us on. In November ̶ December, we got notice for me to report to the Galt Aircraft school in Galt, Ontario; from there, that was a three month course. Then we were fully inducted into the air force in April at [RCAF] Manning Depot, Toronto. We were there approximately one month and then shipped off to St. Thomas for further mechanical training. That was three months. Then we were drafted to, posted rather, to No. 3 Bombing and Gunnery school, Manitoba. I was there from August to February, that would be 1942 ̶ 1943; and from there, we were posted over to England. Date-wise, I don’t know exactly, March 1943, and served with [RCAF No.] 429 Squadron, [working with Handley Page] Halifax [bombers] and at a latter date, [Avro] Lancasters as an air engine mechanic.
In 1944, I had previously remustered to a flight engineer, which puts us still in January of 1944. A small group was formed to service the [RAF] Bomber Command, the width and breadth of England. We were a service unit in to examine the serviceability of aircraft that never made it back to home base. Then we either condemned them, sent them for repair or made them air worthy again. There was, Flight Lieutenant Smith was the OC [Officer in Command] of it; I was second to him on the tech side. Wherever we got the reports in for aircraft that hadn’t made it back to base, then it was our job to go and investigate them; see what damage was done. Could have been only a blown tire, blown engine; if flak damage was extensive, then we would have to scrap it.
When we did that and, of course, the necessary paperwork to follow-up that went back through the air ministry; and then a civilian group came in from the particular manufacturer, be it Halifax or Lancaster, and they would demolish the aircraft or strip it and take all serviceable pieces, you know, maybe a wing, two engines, whatever. They would be put on an assembly line aircraft coming in for repair. So yeah, it was like a scrap yard.
I had a picture, I don’t know whether I showed it to you, where a bomb from one of our own aircraft, as they went in too low on their level flight and went right through, backed the engine nacelle and cleared the undercarriage. Of course, that wing would be condemned then, but maybe the rest of the aircraft would be quite serviceable. We were flying every day, weather permitting, we’d be down as far as the Isle of Wight and off Southampton there and over into Wales, anything below Yorkshire into the emergency [aero]dromes [airfields], whatever, you know.
We got 75 cents a day. We had two little Airspeed Oxfords and we basically lived in them. On one of our early trips in January or February, we lost control of the aircraft on takeoff. That was the biggest scare that I think I’ve ever had. But, we landed and got it stopped safely. We just missed a mountain over in Wales one day. We ran into a patch of fog. We normally would punch through it in short order but it wasn’t, it was a high bank. One other time we were visiting an American drome and we were 1 500 feet back, following a Flying Fort [B-17 bomber] in and a [P-51] Mustang [bomber escort] came in underneath us, landed in, just practically eating the tail out of the Flying Fortress. He tried to take off and couldn’t make it, didn’t have enough speed, and crashed and burned up. So yeah, those are the type of things that you, shake you up.
On VE Day [Victory in Europe Day], what turned out to be VE Day, we were targeted with the base commander to fly to what is now Brussels Airport, to fly back prisoners of war. Some time after the noon hour, we heard bells ringing off in a little village. We commandeered a vehicle around 3:00, 4:00, went over and visited and, of course, it was there we really confirmed that VE Day had been declared. Then, of course, there was a full village party in full swing. We didn’t take any beverages because we had to fly back by 5:00 and arrived back in England by approximately 8:00. I think that would be about our biggest episode.