"floated over to where he was sitting on the wreckage. And he was shaking like a leaf and of course, he was very traumatized I think."
My name is Eddie Branch. I achieved the rank of Flying Officer during World War II, and I flew mostly on the East Coast, but some of the western provinces like Alberta. When I finished my air training and became a Pilot Officer, I was stationed mostly at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. And I also was stationed at Scoudouc, New Brunswick where I became a test pilot.
My primary duties were to test fly every aircraft that came into our station and find out if anything was wrong with them or if they were okay. A lot of the, like near the end of the war, when Great Britain started sending an awful lot of airmen who had flying experience and they flew across the northern part of Canada and through Iceland and Newfoundland and they came into our station. I didn’t have any authority over them or anything. A lot of them were going on two weeks holiday at least, for the time being.
So I was trained to fly a lot of different aircraft. A lot of it I picked up from just as having had the basic experience. I didn’t have any trouble. This was in, when I was stationed at Scoudouc, New Brunswick, I think. And we were the only station that was nearby or the closest station who had any chance of getting to him. And we had been advised by a fighter group that was flying out of Greenwood, Nova Scotia, if I remember correctly. We got the call right at lunch time and with the comment that the man had managed to, some guy had bailed out of an aircraft for whatever reason, I don’t know. But he did put his life preserver on and he did get to a dinghy, which he was able, although I took one with me too. He was sitting on a rock if I remember the first time I saw him. And I’m not positive about that because that was a good many years ago.
Anyway, I think he was sitting on a rock and I think he was British and he was shivering. And when I spoke to him, he answered me, but he was in complete shock, in that he didn’t seem to know what he was doing, he didn’t seem to know to follow my instructions when I spoke to him. Like, I can remember I said to him to just sit still for a minute until I get my aircraft tied up to this rock, and, no, it wasn’t a rock, I know what it was now: it was a piece of the aircraft that he had been in. He had managed to get to it and it was, both wings were broken off, the pilot was still in the cockpit of the aircraft drowned. I can’t, yeah, it was a wing that I, that he was on. And so I did get close to him and I, he was six foot tall and I’m five foot six. Until this day, I don’t know how I lifted him up because I had taken a dinghy with me from the aircraft that I went to pick him up with. (laughs)
The aircraft that I went with was, George Fletcher was my Flight Commander and he was Flight Lieutenant. He’s still living in the West Coast, in the East Coast, I should say. He was born and raised near Scoudouc somewhere there, I’m not sure where it is now. But anyway, this guy, he sounded coherent except that he didn’t seem to know [how]to be able to follow instructions. And what I found out about him, and I’m not positive I’ve got a record of this or not, but he was a British trained air gunner or navigator or some such position as that. And when I, when I, gave him an order, I figured he knew what to do, and, and then I’d look back and he wasn’t doing a doggone thing; he was just sitting there on the wing of this aircraft. It was just a stub of a wing because apparently the tide goes out there and this thing was stuck in the bottom of the, I think, in the bottom of the Petitcodiac River, right at the base, where it is not very deep. Eventually, I told George, my Flight Commander, what the problem was, but I said, I’m going to pick him up and I’m going to put him in my dinghy and I’ll take him over, away from this mess here. Because I said, this is too shallow for our aircraft and I couldn’t see the bottom but it was I think it was around spring of 1943 or 1944. I don’t know.
Anyway, I had fastened my dinghy to his wreck of an aircraft and I reached over and I picked him up, and without dropping him I put him in my dinghy. And then I don’t know how long this took, but I think it must have taken us 20 minutes or half an hour to get to him from the time we left the station where I had been eating lunch to the time I got to him. I spotted him from the air quite easily and I just landed the aircraft there and George let me out and I put in, got in a dinghy and floated over to where he was sitting on the wreckage. And he was shaking like a leaf and of course, he was very traumatized I think.
But anyway, I think he was English, I’m not positive. I did go and visit him the next week when he was in the hospital at Moncton, New Brunswick. He said that they, he was okay and that he thanked me and he was going home to England. And I wished him luck and I think he went home the next day via the Air Force, flew him back to his own country. Well, it was about the only thing I ever did.