Veteran Stories:
Bert Barker

Air Force

  • Pictured here is the Lancaster Bomber in which Bert Barker did 36 operations, 1944-45.

    Bert Barker
  • Letter from the Recruiting Office, dated from February 12, 1943, advising Bert Barker that he had to be 17 years and 6 months in order to join the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), and even then with his parents' written consent.

    Bert Barker
  • Bert Barker's log book used to record his flying hours from February 25, 1944 to March 18, 1945.

    Bert Barker
  • Copy of a plaque installed at Humberside International Airport to commemorate RAF, 166 Squadron based at Kirmington, United Kingdom, in April 1997.

    Bert Barker
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"That was just about right because you’d see a burst of flak open and then if you’d seen the next one, you’d probably see a Lancaster in flames."

Transcript

The big thing in training, it was basically you were supposed to look out for aircraft. And you had two, .303 calibre machine guns but the biggest thing that they put into you was: see the other guy first. If you seen him, and it looked like he had took evasive action or that, it was very seldom that a guy would keep pressing home and attacking if he was going to be shot back at.., which made a lot of sense. So that was basically my job, was to see what was going on, and report it.

The main one I remember, we were coming back one night in cloud, letting down to get below the cloud, just gradually. And I heard the pilot say, “Engineer, engineer, what’s that red light?”, and then he says, “Okay, I got it.” I look out the window and then he says, “Better take crash position, boys.” I looked out the [gun] turret and just as I was sliding out of the turret, and I could see trees passing the wings, the starboard wing tip. And a big building on a hill, I don’t know what it was, whether it was a farmhouse or what it was, but it was a … So then I was just about to pull the intercom cord, I was out of the turret by that time and the pilot says, “Okay, I’ve got it boys, it’s okay.” So [we] climb back in the turret and we flew on for a little while from there.

Got back on the ground and asked him, “How high were we?” and he says, “Oh, about 300 or 400 feet.” I says, “Like hell we were. When I looked out,” I said, “there was trees passed the port wing tip.” So he says, “I’ll tell you later.” So that’s when I found out, apparently the wireless operator hadn’t given the right barometeric pressures that were from Base and he’d made a mistake on that somehow or other and so we were flying about 200 feet lower than what the altimeter read, so that was the story about that one.

We never bombed anywhere but Germany, all our bombing was done in Germany because the Invasion was over by the time we … And so the troops were, they had what they called a bomb line. And you couldn’t drop bombs on this side of the bomb line because the Allied troops were in that area, so it was generally about a mile-or-so before, on, on this side of Germany. By the time we were flying, pretty near everybody, the troops were all in Germany. So we really couldn’t drop bombs anywhere but in Germany.

I think I made several nine-hour trips which is a, quite a long time sitting in a gun turret. The intelligence was very good because they’d tell us what we could expect pretty well. We might expect to see from the defenses and they were usually pretty well right on. I remember them telling us watch out for predicted flak [anti-aircraft fire] and if you saw three bursts of flak, to “get weaving” as they called it. Change direction immediately because if you waited for the second one, it’d probably get to you the second time. And that was just about right because you’d see a burst of flak open and then if you’d seen the next one, you’d probably see a Lancaster [bomber] in flames.

When you went in for a briefing, or “debriefing,” they called it, they’d asked you to report anything you saw out of the ordinary, one thing or another. And our rear gunner, he was a great guy for telling the stories of what he saw and we used to give him the devil for telling these stories because we had to sit around there and, while this went on and question him. Anyway, and then we’d have a shot of rum, they always used to serve us a shot of rum when we got back, so on your last trip, you could have all you wanted. So I guess I had my share of them and I had a motorcycle; the engineer and I had a motorcycle together. I remember leaving to go to the hut for breakfast afterward and he’s standing up on the backseat of the motorcycle waving at the Land Army girls [female farm workers]. So I said, “Sit down, you silly bugger, you’re going to get, we’re finished our tour off and now you’re trying to kill us.”

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