Veteran Stories:
Eric Stanfield “Ric” Hawley

Air Force

  • End of training just before Eric Hawley (on right) went overseas, Maitland, Nova Scotia on Cobiquid Bay, September 1944.

    Eric Hawley
  • Panphlet given to Eric Hawley on the Responsibilities of a Prisoner of War, 1944.

    Eric Hawley
  • Eric Hawley (on right) with Hap Boissonnault aboard SS Ile de France returning to Canada after the war, May 12, 1946.

    Eric Hawley
  • Breakfast and dinner menu from SS Ile de France on the return trip to Canada after the war, May 12, 1946.

    Eric Hawley
  • Eric Hawley in Toronto, Ontario, 1942-43, when he was part of the Queen's Own Rifles Reserve Battalion, prior to joining the airforce. Alexandra Park is on his left and Ryerson Public School in background.

    Eric Hawley
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"And the tail wheel broke off in the bounce and we went back up and bounced back down again, landing this time on the tail turret, which of course was somewhat smashed. And I was sitting in the tail turret. So it was a little bit hectic."

Transcript

I was about 13 when the war broke out. And I was walking with my dad down Bay Street, Bay and Wellington, where the recruiting effort for the Air Force was and they had signs up, join the Air Force, do this, do this, do this, do this. And one of the things I saw was Air Gunner. And I said, I wanted to be an Air Gunner. So it was always in the back of my mind that when I was eligible to join, that I would join. In joining the Air Force, of course, there’s sort of a ten day period where you, it’s called reception wing, where you get all your shots and start learning a lot of stuff, polishing boots, polishing buttons. And then from there, you graduate to Manning Depot. Now, this was all at the exhibition grounds, the bullpen in Toronto. I was subsequently posted to Number Ten B&G, Bombing and Gunnery School in [Mount Pleasant] Prince Edward Island. You had six weeks of ground school training and then six weeks of flying training. And at the end of that time, you graduated and got your wings. From there, we were posted overseas. Went over on the SS Isle de France. The reception area for air crew was in Bournemouth, on the south coast of England and I’m sure just about everybody who went overseas with the Air Force and Air Crew went through there. And there you waited posting to your first Operational Training Unit, called an OTU. And after that, we were sent to a Conversion Unit. Now, the Wellingtons [Wellington Vicker X] that we were training on were two engines. So now, most of the bombers that were being used at this stage in the war were all four engines, so we had to convert from an aircraft with two engines to an aircraft with four. And we went to a Conversion Unit outside of Doncaster in England, what’s called Sandtoft, and there we practiced, basically was practice for the pilot, taking off and landing a four engine aircraft. Basically what we did was what are called circuits and bumps. You take off, go around the circuit and land, take off, go around the circuit and land. Just so he was getting the feel of the aircraft. We had already done the same thing in the Wellingtons but this is primarily for the pilot. And you’d acclimatize ourselves with a little bit different workings of the Lanc [Avro Lancaster bomber] as opposed to the Wellington. Partway through the training, if the pilot was having problems landing the aircraft, it was a little heavier for them I guess and we actually ended up having an accident in the, coming in for a landing and instead of landing properly, we landed on the tail wheel. And the tail wheel broke off in the bounce and we went back up and bounced back down again, landing this time on the tail turret, which of course was somewhat smashed. And I was sitting in the tail turret. So it was a little bit hectic. (laugs) From the control tower, I could see very pistols which are signals being fired off to warn the pilot that there was trouble. But he wouldn’t really know, it was just a big bump and he’s dragging the tail. Eventually, we got stopped and in the meantime I can see all this red stuff flying around inside the aircraft, and my immediate reaction was, “Oh my gosh, it’s blood, I’m bleeding to death.” (laughs) But it wasn’t, it was the hydraulic fluid that had, there was a universal joint that comes up from the bottom of the turret, the turret was operated by hydraulics and when it got all smashed, the oil, of course, was squirting and spraying all around the inside of the turret. And my first reaction was it was blood, but it turned out it wasn’t. But I was pinned by my legs, and my Wireless Op [Operator], by the time the plane stopped, he had hopped out and got out and was pulling me out of the turret. And he just pulled me straight out of my boots and left my boots in there. At the end of the war, I volunteered to serve in the Occupation Force. And so I was then posted to a Canadian Squadron, a Canadian Bomber Command with the 6th Group in Leeming, Yorkshire. And from there, we had another crew because my former members of course were going their own ways and I went to the Occupation Force. We crewed up again with another group and from there, we took all the ordinates from the Six Group Squadron, that’s the Canadian Squadrons, and dumped them out in the North Sea, the bombs, the ammunition, etc. etc. And cleaned all the squadrons out in that area. We flew British troops to and from Italy. Originally we started going down and picking them up, and then they started taking some back just to, you know, for occupation purposes. And we would fly down to Naples and spend a day or two there and then get to my group, 20 soldiers, all veterans from either North Africa or the Italian Campaign, real great people. I remember one of the things that I did when we were flying back, we had no parachutes, we had no, not enough oxygen outlets for 20 additional people. So we flew around 10,000 feet. And one of the things I did is when we approached the [English] Channel and you could see Dover [England], the cliffs, I would take them one at a time and let them go up through the observation and look and they’d come down with tears in their eyes. They hadn’t seen that for five years or four years or whatever. But it was quite an experience.
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