Veteran Stories:
Jim Venables

Air Force

  • Cemetery Goose Bay, Labrador, 1943.

    Jim Venables
  • Jim Venables's wife Irene and daughter Karen, at the Cemetery in Goose Bay, Labrador, 2007.

    Jim Venables
  • A converted B-24 Liberator transporting Winston Churchill stops to refuel while on route to a meeting with President Roosevelt in 1943.

    JIm Venables
  • Wreckage from a plane that crashed after take off in Goose Bay, 1943. There were no survivors.

    Jim Venables
  • A Douglas C-54 Skymaster taking off at Goose Bay, Labrador, 1944.

    Jim Venables
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"I looked at the pilot and the sweat’s running down his face and he was smart. We got to the end of the runway, he folded the undercarriage up and the fuselage skimmed over the grass."

Transcript

I was a loadmaster with 164 Squadron and they formed 164 Squadron in Moncton. And we had five Lodestar aircraft and they had to get depth charges into Goose Bay. The German subs were sinking the ships right at the dock in Goose Bay. So we were putting these depth charges in the nose compartments of Lodestars, which is about 10 feet up in the air. And the poor fellows at the other end couldn’t get them out, who were trying to unload them. It’s like taking out a 45-gallon drum of oil out of the trunk of your car. Anyhow, they give us C47s. Well, the fellow loaded the one Lodestar prior to this with a ton of sheet metal, 4x8 sheets of sheet metal, and he didn’t tie it off properly. The load went to the back, plane crashed, killed the crew. So okay, then they had us, whoever made out the manifest and load the plane, you went with the plane. And so we’d fly to Goose, Gander, Torbay, Summerside, Charlottetown, the odd trip to Iceland, just getting people and supplies. You get used to it. It’s like getting in your car, in the morning you’d get in the plane and you’d get an extra 75 cents flying pay every day. So, which gives you $2 a day. Some call it [the Douglas C47 aircraft] a Dakota, some call it a Gooney Bird, it’s got all different names. But so forgivable plane that you could cut out one engine and feather the props and the plane would fly with full load. One rookie pilot was going to Goose one day, I didn’t happen to be with him but he didn’t realize he could fly with one engine. So he told the loadmaster, unload it, open up the doors and throw it out and unfortunately, it was all celery, tomatoes, lettuce, all extra messing for the officers mess. And Deer in Labrador got a good treat that day. But the next day, they had us load five planes in Moncton and they had these rookie pilots go up and fly around Moncton and cut out one engine to show them how to do it. So that didn’t happen again. We had a few close calls. We had loaded the plane in Charlottetown one day and I checked the weight closely and I only had 2.5 ton on but the runways were short and we were coming out of Charlottetown and I’m standing there, the pilot, co-pilot, radio operator and myself, and there’s about 20 feet of runway left, 20 feet of grass and a broken down farmer’s fence. And we’re in trouble. We’re at a point of no return. I looked at the pilot and the sweat’s running down his face and he was smart. We got to the end of the runway, he folded the undercarriage up and the fuselage skimmed over the grass and good thing the fence were broken down. And he turned around and he said, what in the world have you got on this crate. And they checked the weights and the weights on the cartages were all wrong. They used old boxes and I was well overloaded. It wasn’t so much the plane couldn’t take the overload but the short runways. Well then, after two years, flight lieuy [informal version of Flight Lieutenant] came out with a piece of paper from Ottawa and he said it said, you know, if we ever get this war over with, this would be a good course, it’s an air traffic control course. Well, out of 250 men in the squadron, I’m the only clown to take this course. Get sent to [RCAF Station] Pennfield Ridge, above Saint John, New Brunswick, and we all ended up in the mess hall washing pots and pans. One day a civilian plumber came in and he was trying to unplug the sink drain and he’s having an awful time. So I went over to help him and he said, are you a plumber? I said, yeah. What are you doing here? [he said] I said, well, I’m waiting for a course. Well, the next day, I got transferred over to Works and Bricks to work with the plumbers. And my sergeant came and he said, what are you trying to do? Well, he said, why don’t you get back in your trade? I said, well, it’s closed. No, no, it’s open now. So the course didn’t start so I thought about it but I went back to Moncton to see the boys in the squadron, because I had a 48-hour leave, and Flight Lieutenant Millican said, the boys all got posted to Burma. They’ve got to fly into Rangoon with supplies. Your name was on the list but you left the day before, and the paperwork hadn’t caught up. And your buddy, Darryl Wagner, had a malaria shot and he’s in the hospital. So anyway, next thing, I was re-mustered and two weeks later, posting to Goose Bay, Labrador. So eight of us looked after the plumbing and heating on the camp. And we had our own trucks, because McNamara [the construction company contracted to built Goose Bay Air Force Base] left all his equipment there. And we looked after the pump house from ten miles down, up to the camp from Hamilton River, which is Churchill River today, and they, one day, someone in the orderly room told me at night, he said, you’re going on discharge. I thought, oh. Don’t tell a soul but, he said, company in Welland are going to pay 67 cents an hour and so I’m the first man to leave Goose Bay, Labrador and got home and found out many years later that out of our 21 C47s, six got caught, five I guess it was, got caught in the North Atlantic in a storm and went down in the Atlantic. We didn’t get there [to Burma]. But it formed up with another squadron in Edmonton and they called 435 Squadron. And flying out of Burma, into Burma.
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