Veteran Stories:
Blair Heeney

Air Force

  • Air Traffic Control directions and instructions for Dorval Airport, Quebec.

    Blair Heeney
  • The briefing room at Dorval, Quebec. Mr. Heeney is in the back row.

    Blair Heeney
  • Blair Heeney and his wife Inez on their honeymoon overlooking Niagara Falls, Ontario. Mr. Heeney says "Note that I was so proud of the uniform that I was even carrying gloves".

    Blair Heeney
  • Pilot Officer Blair Heeney, Spring 1942.

    Blair Heeney
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"When we got over the Straits of Gibraltar, we didn’t have the right signals for the day and so they wouldn’t let us land in Gibraltar because they didn’t know who we were. And so the ship started firing at us. And we ended up having to set that aircraft down in the Mediterranean beside a British warship."

Transcript

I was posted by the RCAF [Royal Canadian Air Force] as a pilot officer to RAF [Royal Air Force] London. And when I got to RAF London, the RAF posted me back to RAF Transport Command at [No.] 45 Group in Montreal. And I served my term with the RAF as an advocator, flying across the Atlantic from various trips around the world and as an associate navigation officer there until October 1945.

I was navigating aircraft; and I’ve navigated aircraft and a lot of the pilots at that time were American pilots. And they were pilots flying the aircraft from here, oh, all the [B-24] Liberators [heavy bombers] and all those aircrafts across the Atlantic, through Newfoundland over to Greenland, Iceland, into Prestwick and that sort of thing. And I did that for a number of years.

Well, we went from Dorval, we shipped us down by train to Norfolk, Virginia, to pick up a flying boat there. And we flew from Norfolk, Virginia, over to Bermuda. And then we sat there for a couple of days to get ready to fly and we took the aircraft from there and flew across to Gibraltar. The pilot was an American; the co-pilot was a Mexican; engineer was a British sergeant and the RAF, while the British troops never seemed to promote their people as much as the Canadians did, and I was there as a flying officer at that time.

The British fleet, this was late in the war, the British fleet were heading into North Africa and it took us so long to get, in a flying boat, to get from Bermuda to Gibraltar that when we got over the Straits of Gibraltar, we didn’t have the right signals for the day and so they wouldn’t let us land in Gibraltar because they didn’t know who we were. And so the ship started firing at us. And we ended up having to set that aircraft down in the Mediterranean beside a British warship. And, anyway, the captain decided that he was going to pull us, found out who we were, decided he was going to pull us into Gibraltar. But then he got a little bit concerned too about what the condition was like at that time because this is when they’re bringing all the troops into North Africa, you know. And he got a little bit concerned so he, I think what he did was put a burst of speed onto the ship and it pulled the full front of the aircraft in so he sent a boat over to take the bunch of us off the aircraft and brought us into Gibraltar.

And so we never did get to England because we got into Gibraltar, the RCAF and RAF transport command made arrangements now to ship us back through from Gibraltar, back through into Gambia and across there to Trinidad and back up in New York. And when I got to New York, I’d lost all my passport. I haven’t got my passport or my logbook at all because it’s all at the bottom of the Mediterranean.

When we got back to New York, I didn’t have anything like that so they put me out into Ellis Island because I couldn’t prove who I was, because I wasn’t even in uniform. So when I got through that, I finally got a hold of the Canadian Consul. The Canadian Consul had got me out of that and was able to ship me back to Montreal. So that was that flight.

Another one I took on at one time, I went across the same way except we flew back directly into Gibraltar. And from there across into Malta, across into Egypt. And heading through to the Far East. I got as far as delivering the aircraft. But on the way back, I was coming back through Cairo and we stop in Cairo and, so help me, I started sitting in a tavern with a group of people. There was an American, there was a Brit, there was myself and there was a fellow from the Royal Air Force, RAF, from the centre of Nigeria. So we all started to talk about it. Some of them were talking about their basic religion and so forth.

You know, when you talk with a group like that, you find out that whatever religion you believe in, the only difference between what you believe and what most of the others believe is a little different name. But other than that, everybody believes the same thing. So that was one of the most interesting trips I had, because of all those different people from the … Even the fellow that had his tribal religion, when he started talking about it, you had to think: it didn’t matter whether you had a Jewish background or an English background or a Hindu background, all of a sudden you realized everybody was talking about the same thing. So that changed my attitude quite a lot, I can tell you that.

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