Veteran Stories:
Harry Douglas Ellis Inns

Air Force

  • 279 Squadron Hudson Air Sea Rescue, Presentation of Squadron Coat of Arms (Badge)
    Bircham Newton Norfolk, U.K, 1942.

    Harry Inns
  • 279 Squadron Radar Section, 1942. Caporal Harry Inns is front row, right end.

    Harry Inns
  • 621 Squadron, Canadian Radar Mechanics, on leave in Egypt on the way home, July 1945.

    Harry Inns
  • Italian submarine gave itself up at Aden for lack of oil. Note the Aden rock in the background .
    Captured Italian Submarine, Aden Harbour, 1944.

    Harry Inns
  • Harry Inns in Yemen with stray Camel, 1944.
    A cut on the leg took weeks and weeks to heal!

    Harry Inns
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"The bread was pretty bad. We used to hold our slices of bread up to the light so that we could see the insects had been baked into them, so we could pick them out."

Transcript

I’m Dr. Harry Inns. I live in Brantford [Ontario], retired now for the last ten years. Actually, I was born just south of London [Ontario], on the shores of, of the lake [Erie], at a place near Port Stanley called Tyrconnell. But when I joined up, they were putting on a special push for, they needed radar, which was all very brand new and very hush hush. They needed radar people in a hurry to keep the radar all functioning. And so they asked Canada to find 5000 radar people who they could be trained. And so anybody who was recently out of high school and had their, at that time, the Fifth Form, your physics and so on, joined the air force. And we were sent to University of Toronto and they’d had a detachment there for some months where we learned the basics of electronics and so on.

When we graduated from that, we went to Clinton [Ontario], up near Goderich, for six weeks, to learn the actual radar itself. And we were not allowed to say anything about it, we were not allowed to have any notebooks. Our notebooks had to be turned in at the end of every class and so forth. You couldn’t take anything out. It was so secret because our radar was much better than the Germans had. And of course, the Japanese had practically nothing in the way of radar.

July of 1942, a detachment of four of our aircraft was sent up to Iceland to do some rescue work there and I was sent along to service the radar equipment because that was my, my trade was being in radar. Didn’t rescue anybody because by the time we got there, they were all dead because the exposure time in the North Atlantic is only about ten minutes. So we weren’t doing any good. So after two months, we came back to England, back to our squadron and next, I was posted up to Leuchars, near Dundee, Scotland. And here, I was in charge of a new radar landing beam known as BABS [Beam Approach Beacon System], which was quite a success, enabling aircraft to land in bad weather. That was the first one of its kind.

And then in July 1943, the submarine activity off the east coast of Africa had risen to alarming proportions and so Strike Squadron No. 621 was quickly formed, and we were sent out on the troop ship, [SS] Orduna, ORDUNA. We were the first convoy from England to pass through the Med [Mediterranean Sea] and the Suez Canal after the North African campaign and it really did us good to see the British troops lining the banks of the Suez Canal and cheering as our ships passed by. They were glad the direct route to England was open by the Suez once again so they didn’t have that long trip all the way down around South Africa, which usually took a troop ship about two months.

And we arrived at Mombasa [Kenya] in August and started operations there. And it wasn’t long before the U-boats moved north out of the range of our [Vickers] Wellington aircraft and so we moved on up the coast of Mogadishu [Somalia], which would, had been the capital of Italian Somaliland. And 100 of us went on trucks through the big game country of Kenya up to Mogadishu on a road which really nothing but a track in the sand had been made during the Abyssinian campaign. And that was over about a 1000 miles and dust and whiskers were pretty thick on us all of the time, we got to civilization again. And there at Mogadishu, we used the captured Italian airport, and so we were fairly comfortable for another two months. But the enemy submarines moved north again, and so in December, the squadron flew to Aden [Yemen] at the extreme south of Arabia.

The station there was called Khormakser and it was just, it was, one of my friends said, it was one thin layer of paper from hell. The humidity was generally about 90 and the temperature inside our aircraft out on the dispersals got up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit or more. And normally, we were wakened up at about 5:00 in the morning and had to be in our section at 6:00 and breakfast then was at 9:00. And we had to wear our topees, like our sun helmet hat all day or you could be put on charge if you didn’t. The rations were not very good. They were the equivalent of the British Army field rations and there was no beer or liquor available and the airman’s canteens are just tea, tea and more tea. So there was no pubs, restaurants or female companionship of any kind.

The bread was pretty bad. We used to hold our slices of bread up to the light so that we could see the insects had been baked into them, so we could pick them out. Of course, everybody lost weight. So every aircraft had to have that, had to have what we called the DI, a daily inspection every day. And you could be in real trouble if, if one of your, if an aircraft was about to take off and its radar failed because you should have made sure of that beforehand. That was the whole reason for the aircraft to exist, squadron to exist, because of its radar contact because with our radar, we could pick up blips of 100 miles and then a shorter range, we could switch to the ten mile range and then we could home right in on, on a submarine’s periscope or whatever it was that we were looking for, a ship and so forth. Mostly submarines because it, that time in the spring of 1942 was the worst time of the U-boats and so we were really out to, to really make sure that our ships could get through.

We also had a, another what was called IFF, identification friend or foe. A little box about a foot square. That was also part of the radar system and although it was separate. And that flashed out a code. Any aircraft coming towards you, with its radar on, could pick up the blip that this little box, the IFF box, put out. So you could tell if it was a friendly aircraft or not. If, if it wasn’t identified, it didn’t have its IFF on, then you could shoot it down because it probably wasn’t friendly. So all the fighter aircraft eventually had the IFF installed on them as well as other aircraft. So we had to make sure that the IFF set was working, which was still part of the radar system.

Once in a while, I, I think of aircraft that crash landed right in our own airfield, trying to take off and they crashed and burned, and feel terrible for the, the guys inside it that couldn’t get out. That was terrible. Another, other times, you had a, a bad time and I was on Saint Eval in Cornwall, down at Land’s End. And our aircraft were taking off and one of the ground crew, I was going out to wave them off and pull out the chocks from in front of their wheels, and one of my friends and air crew said, “Harry, go over and get me the camera out of H for Harry over there, I want that.” Because we used to take photographs of whatever, of squadrons or submarines, whatever we had. And so I went over and I got it and I handed it up to him and, and shut the door and pulled the chocks out and gave them the thumbs up sign and he went away and unfortunately, they didn’t make it back. On the way back, the clouds had come in and they couldn’t find the airfield and they were sent up north and they couldn’t find that, so they came back to our airfield and they thought they saw the runway in, in the fog but they didn’t. They crashed into a hillside.

And that still reverberates, you know. It, it’s, you feel so sorry for the fellows that, that got left behind. And on August the 12th, the [SS] Isle de France sailed into Halifax with General [H.D.G.] Crerar, myself onboard. And I’ll never forget that moment because the bands were playing and everybody was cheering and shouting and boy, what a wonderful welcome home.

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