Doug Dickson's flight log showing some of his flight hours in a Cessna Crane, 1944.Doug Dickson
Doug Dickson (far left), and his fellow instructors pose in front of a Harvard, June 1944.Doug Dickson
Doug Dickson's medals represent 37 years of service in the RCAF.Doug Dickson
Doug Dickson in 1944, was instructing fellow flight instructors by the time he was 19 years old.Doug Dickson
Doug Dickson's uniform badges represent his postings and duties during his career in the RCAF.Doug Dickson
"And I would come zipping in, right through between the elevators and right over the house, that maybe 50 feet. And then do aerobatics all over the sky and so on, trying to impress my future bride."
After the cloistered life that I’d had in university, it was a pretty raw movement into the real world of the military. We were terrorized by a corporal who had an almost unintelligible cockney accent and about a 500 dB [decibel] voice. And he could bellow and have you subservient in no time at all.
We had a most interesting situation while we were in London. It was at the height of the bombing, so every night without fail at darkness, the air raid siren would go off and we were required to leave our beds and go down to the basement and spend the night on bare springs and steel helmet as a pillow. After a while, this became not very fun. One night, we agreed that we would do when the siren went off, we would get out of our beds and cache ourselves under the bed for the night. Very carefully pull the blankets over our heads. In the morning, it was great difficulty trying to get out of bed with heavy weight and when we finally pulled back the blankets, here we found we were covered with glass and staring right out into open space. During the night, a bomb had landed just across the street and blown the entire front of the building off and here we were teetering on about the sixth floor and nothing but fresh air in front of us. I can assure you, from there on, as soon as the siren went, we went down to the basement.
The next move was to Cambridge University, for those of us who had been selected as aviator pilots. The next step was that we were boarded on a train, on a secret mission, and the train was completely blacked out and we were sitting on there for two days, bombs falling around and so on. And at the end of two days, they opened the doors and let us out and we found ourselves on the banks of the Clyde [River]. And sitting out in front of us was the magnificent spectacle of the [RMS] Queen Elizabeth liner. So we were then briefed on what our mission was to be and that was to escort 6,000 German prisoners, all of whom had been taken prisoner in North Africa. So they were locked into the basement of the ship, I guess that should be the hull, and they were the roughest, toughest individuals I’ve ever seen. And here we were, young lads of 17, some 18, and we were issued with little ten inch batons and this was our way to make these people subservient and do our will. But I can assure you, they thought that these little things that we were going to tap them with were just a joke.
Our next stop was in Halifax. And it was great to be there, and they unloaded all the German prisoners and we were put on trains. And we were sitting on those things for ten days and finally arrived at Red Deer [Alberta]. And upon graduation from there, we were granted our wings, commissioned and sent to our various postings.
I happened to turn out third in a class of 106 and so instead of going immediately overseas, they selected me to become an instructor. I continued there for about 12 months and one day I was called in and said that I was being shipped off to another station and this was the Flying Instructors School at Pearce, down near Lethbridge in Alberta. And I became an instructor of instructors, which was quite an honour in those days. So I was happily doing this and one day, one of my friends said, “How would you like to come with us for a weekend.” And I said, “Well, I just got back from a cruise on the Great Lakes.” And my total wealth at that time was 25 cents. So I found that the reason that they were pushing me was that as one of the senior instructors, I was able to take an airplane and keep it away for the weekend. So that was the reason that they were so keen for me to go. And the lure that they put out was that these people had a beautiful cottage on Lake Ste. Anne and three daughters. So that was definitely a lure.
Anyhow, we arrived up there, walked into the house and the youngest daughter, by the name of Meg, was sitting at the table, very embarrassed, because she had her hair all in curlers and working clothes and so on. But I think it was probably love at first sight and we fell madly in love. So I made frequent trips up there. So I would assemble, oh, maybe a 12 plane formation. We would start flying at 5:00 in the morning so we’d be over her house at say 6:00 in the morning. And here comes this great flock of airplanes over the house, and that didn’t please her father at all. And then I would go over solo sometimes and my greatest trick was flying between two grain elevators. And they lived the other side. And I would come zipping in, right through between the elevators and right over the house, that maybe 50 feet. And then do aerobatics all over the sky and so on, trying to impress my future bride.
I was stationed then at Pearce, which was close to Lethbridge, when I decided to get engaged and I was flying in there to get the ring. But there was a prize of $50 for anyone who would fly under the big bridge in Lethbridge. And so I was a little tight on money for buying this ring, and so I went over and I looked at this bridge and flew over it two or three times and I thought, “Well, by golly, I could use that $50!” So finally I just peeled down and through I went. And I daren’t even look sideways, because it was so tight. Came through the other side and doing rolls all over. And finally, at Christmas of 1944, I asked for her hand in marriage and presented her with a diamond ring. And I’m still living with that same gal, 65 years later!