Veteran Stories:
Ernest Peter Bone

Air Force

  • Pages from Ernest Peter Bone's Royal Canadian Air Force Flying Log Book for Aircrew other than Pilot. Details operations conducted by 626 Squadron in March and April 1945.

    Ernest Peter Bone
  • Ernest Peter Bone with his Lancaster crew, just after V-E Day. Left to Right (Standing): Fred Till (Bomb Aimer), Bert Bray (Wireless Operator), Stan Thompson (Flight Engineer), Peter Bone (Mid Upper Gunner), Left to Right (kneeling): Frank Broome (Rear Gunner), Duncan "Mac" Mclean (Navigator).

    In the original picture, Squadron Leader Richard "Dick" Lane is missing. The picture on the right portrays Dick Lane (left) and Peter Bone (right). The picture was taken in Mr. Lane's garden in 1979.

    Ernest Peter Bone
  • Ernest Peter Bone cleaning the perspex turret on his Lancaster.

    Ernest Peter Bone
  • Photo of Ernest Peter Bone's Lancaster, 25 April 1945. Photo taken from another 626 Squadron Lancaster on their final (25th) operation, an attack on Berchtesgarden, Germany.

    Ernest Peter Bone
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"There is no black or white in war, only gradations with much grey in between."

Transcript

After a few holding units, I went to a holding unit near Manchester, Heaton Park, to which all would-be aircrew gravitated eventually and we lined up every day and were told whether we would go for advanced training to Canada or Rhodesia. I had heard about Canada in school, all about the Fraser River and its salmon and the Rockies and I knew it was darn cold in Canada but not much else. Anyway, I found myself on a troop ship. It was the [HMS] Queen Elizabeth, painted grey camouflage as a troop ship. And we crossed the Atlantic in June 1943, zigzagging all the way to avoid submarines. I got fearfully seasick all the way and eventually I arrived at Winnipeg air observer school where I did more advanced classroom work and then started flying training on Avro Anson, training planes.

And we used to fly around and around Winnipeg, by day and by night as well. At night, we always knew where we were because we could see Winnipeg like a twinkling pin cushion in the distance through the mist. It was always in sight. But we flew round and round it. Our pilots were not smart, uniformed air force pilots. They were former bush pilots and they used to wear lumberjack shirts and baseball caps and they used to smoke the most horrible smelling mini cigars in the cockpit.

I know they were bored silly, of course, training us and we had to give them the ETA of a place ahead on our route, expected time of arrival. And that was my downfall I’m afraid. I just wasn’t quick enough, I wasn’t fast enough in my thinking in the air. Generally, I would hand up my little piece of paper to the pilot and he would look at you and then take his cigar out of his mouth and growl at me and say, “We passed Carberry 10 minutes ago, bub.” And after a little friendly chat with the chief instructor, I was chucked off the course as I expected and I was sent to the Brandon [Manitoba] holding unit, another holding unit, where all failed air crew people who failed their courses, pilots and all other people, were remustered to other air crew trades. And, of course, the bomb aimer course was nine months’ wait and they weren’t going to let me sit around peeling potatoes for nine months, so they made me an air gunner.

There’s been a lot of controversy that we should have adhered to the Geneva Convention, of which Britain of course - and Canada I suppose - was a signatory in the mid-20s, when bombing was purely theoretical. There were no wars on. I’ve wrestled with this over 60 years and I’ve heard all the criticisms and the arguments and so on, but I really honestly believe that if we had adhered to the Geneva Convention it would have meant that we just didn’t bomb German cities. Because all their armament manufacturing was in the big cities and around the big cities, around the factories, were the workers’ homes. Therefore, it was inevitable that by bombing the German factories, we would also be bombing the German people, factory workers’ homes and all their ancillary installations, just as in Britain, just like the Luftwaffe in their bombing of British cities. We knew damn well that as we did there was tremendous collateral damage.

And of course, Germany, Hitler could only send over 200 aircraft at the most every night during the blitz because that’s all he had, operational frontline aircraft, bombers. By the time we were operating, we could drop ten times the amount of tonnage on German cities that they dropped on us. And a lot of people have said to me, well, you should have dropped on the German cities what they dropped on you, as though war was a hockey match: the two sides have to be even and there has to be a referee and that people are sent off if there are penalties, forgetting that war, especially the Second World War, was a life or death matter of survival. It was either them or us.

And so therefore I’m totally in favour of the fact that the Allies just ignored the Geneva Convention. If we had avoided or had failed to bomb German cities and all their armament production, I’m sure that with all the millions of tons of tanks and aircraft and ships and submarines that Germany would have produced unhindered, I think the war would have gone in the other direction.

I feel honestly that sometimes the only way to overcome a great evil is to resort to a lesser evil. There is no black or white in war, only gradations with much grey in between. There isn’t a simple matter of idealism; there’s no morality in war. It’s useless and stupid to look for morality in war because war isn’t moral. War is evil and killing people is evil. But there are times when it has to be done and Britain and the allies, or Britain particularly under Churchill [Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Britain] wasn’t prepared to take that awful risk to adhere to the Geneva Convention.

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