"Geez, the first day, you couldn’t even get near the mess hall. The next day you went, some of them went one day by boat and seven days by rail, that’s heaving over the rail, whoop."
My name is Harold Shaw and I was born just outside of North Bay [Ontario] and I was born in 1922, February the 7th. Well, I worked a lot of jobs on the highway and that, but there was no money in it, and so I was working for the Ontario forestry branch as a fire ranger. And that only paid $30 a month. I didn’t know nothing about anything, the Air Force, Army or Navy. But I just felt I’d like to get flying. So a friend, my brother and I, we thought, well, geez, we’d work on trying to get into the air crew. So we wrote all the tests, passed that good, so we still don’t know an awful lot about the Air Force yet, too much. So squadron leader Drummond, he was the head of the fire department, so went in to see him, he said, “Oh, why do you want to go air crew,” he said. “Oh, we thought a little more excitement,” or something like that. He said, “Oh, I’ll tell you,” he said, “we need firefighters bad, that’s, that’s exciting enough, we need firefighters bad,” he says. “You still want to go?” “Yeah, we’d certainly like to.”
“Well,” he said, “I’ll tell you what we’ll do. I’ll sign it, but I’m not going to say how far it’ll go.” That was the end of our air crew, because then they finally transferred us overseas to Torbay, Newfoundland. I took the troop training at Trenton [New Brunswick]. There’s no bars, just these old wooden coaches and that, that was a long time ago. No bars, no place, but everybody was having a few drinks and that. What a trip. So we get over to Halifax, and then you don’t know when you’re going to leave. So get up in the morning, they line you up outside and march you out to roll call and they’d tell these guys, “You go here and you go there.” But you know, it’s the fire department in Halifax. So I talked to the fire chief there and he said, “Oh, please move, I’ll get you over here, you put in a unit and that stuff, we can use you in the fire hall.” So I got permission to go to the fire hall. But he said, “You won’t have to work.”
So we’re around doing nothing and that, and wasn’t even supposed to leave the base. So anyhow, I had to be off, so we’d go downtown for a beer and leave a phone number where they could get us. So one day, they’re, get the old phone call that we’re leaving tonight. And we were pretty well sussed up with that. So got our bags and that and reported down to the dock, and he went over in the [SS] Lady Rodney and got aboard that. I think it was four or seven days I think getting there. In fact, we were in a big convoy with 76 ships or more. And there was a destroyer with us, they weren’t taken off as often. Geez, the first day, you couldn’t even get near the mess hall. The next day you went, some of them went one day by boat and seven days by rail, that’s heaving over the rail, whoop. So geez, you get in there any time. I didn’t get sick at all. You get in and these guys were all seasick. They had quite an experience. This old boat was something, boy.
And I didn’t know about this stuff, all of a sudden, you’d hear in the morning all this shooting, boom, boom, boom, boom. I thought they, the guys were just testing out their guns. I understand there’s what, three ships sunk in that convoy. And there was a destroyer was going up and down, all of a sudden, you’d like and it’d be right beside the trump boat, and they used to change positions all the time. And finally we got like close to England, the old troop ship ready to run for Torbay and boy, it was just shaking going some fast, always gets so, eh? So we managed to get in there and I joined up with my brother there. They had a fire hall there and everything.
Well, we had quite a few crashes near them white column, one of these [Lockheed] Venturas [bombers] were coming back and they couldn’t get rid of their depth charges. So they’d call and say, “It’s bombed up now.” But any time any of them things crashed, no one ever got out. But we had, we rescued quite a few that they’d come out, and they didn’t get much of a fire and get a chance to get in and get them out. But after the war, when they got the good fire equipment, that was much different, night and day. And see your clothes you had, you know, rubber boots and stuff and that and you’d pretty near burn the soles right off your feet. Later on, there was a few guys killed, but seen a lot of crashes, but it just burned up like a roast of beef.
I’ll tell you, it was difficult to watch and it was a, a very risky job. I tell you, It’s the funniest thing the oddest things, you never know. People say, you know, the reason someone was burning up or something in a car and you wouldn’t go near it? Well, something seems to come over you. You just got, we can’t explain it, you don’t worry about nothing. You just go in and do the best you can. And if someone’s telling you before you do that, you wouldn’t believe it. But it’s just one of those things.