Veteran Stories:
Brian MacConnell

Air Force

  • Photo of Brian MacConnell holding propeller of Hurricane aircraft, May 1944.

    C.B. MacConnell
  • Letter from Brian MacConnell to his mother, in April 1944, before he went overseas.
    "I describe Emily Barron and how I love her and will marry her. Reminds me of how long I have loved Emily. She died, Dec/08 after 63 years of marriage.

    C.B. MacConnell
  • "Andy Anderson. He was my best pal in the RCAF. He was KIA [killed in action] two weeks before war ended."

    C.B. MacConnell
  • Brian and Emily's wedding, September 17, 1945.

    C.B. MacConnell
  • Photocopy of logbook showing enemy aircraft shot down, April 1945.
    Different missions: F.O. Peterson killed, enemy aircraft confirmed shot down.

    C.B. MacConnell
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"I came down fast and saw the cross on the side and I knew it was an enemy. I followed it and gave a burst and got one of its engines."""

Transcript

I’m Charles Brian MacConnell. I go by Brian. I was born in Toronto, December 16th, 1922. We had heard a lot about, you know, the Battle of Britain and Spitfire pilots and so on, so I wanted to be a pilot, fighter pilot hopefully. And so it was 1942, when I enlisted, and I wasn’t called up right away but in, I think it was about maybe May 1942 when I was called up to Manning Depot in Toronto.

… went onto elementary flying school, in the Ottawa Valley, where we flew Tiger Moths. These were small biplanes, similar to, to us, they seemed similar to the First World War planes that Billy Bishop flew. So we had a lot of fun on those.

And soloed after I guess eight hours and continued the training and then we started getting into aircraft recognition and mechanical things. I was again there a few months. It was wintertime. Sometimes with these light planes, if the wind was blowing when you’re trying to land, they landed at about 60 miles an hour, and if the wind was strong, the ground crew had to grab hold of the wings to hold it down because you couldn’t really land it. But that was only the odd time.

After that, I was posted to Uplands. That’s in Ottawa. And we flew Harvards. Those were a much advanced, more advanced aircraft, much powerful engine and was a great one to fly. And this was the plane you flew until you got your wings.

I turned out to be a good pilot and I didn’t have any trouble soloing. And I remember landing with a half decent landing, maybe a couple of bounces. And then I was on to air crew training.

If you ever thought you were going to be hurt or killed, you wouldn’t be a good pilot. You’d be too careful. And if a pilot really started worrying about it, he would be grounded, he wouldn’t be allowed to fly because he wouldn’t be good support for the other pilots and was liable to injure himself.

I was posted to the Canadian fighter squadron in Belgium, a little place called Diest. And we were flying Spit 14s. These were a plane designed to fly at high altitudes to escort bombers. And five bladed props and special air intakes to give the oxygen needed, which is pretty thin at high altitudes. But an excellent aircraft.

Amazingly though, we only once escorted or tried to escort bombers. Mainly we were flying, shooting at anything on the ground or looking for enemy aircraft, dive bombing and mainly dive bombing railway tracks or bridges, things to interrupt the enemy movement.

In the squadron, there’d be maybe 25 pilots. And a full squadron would, you know, when we were taking off, would be at the most 12. Sometimes we would take off four only and sometimes just two. If we were doing patrols, as we were before the Wranglers crossed, two planes would fly patrols up and down the Rhine, the west side of the Rhine.

When you went to the, where the planes were, there were the hut where we sat and waited until we were going to take off. And there would be a blackboard with 12 spaces and they’d list the pilots who were going to be taking off. And if your name was there, you knew you were involved. And if it wasn’t, you just sat around for maybe later in the day.

Just before the end of the war, on April 18th, I shot down the only plane I got. It was a German jet, an Arado, which was a twin engine bomber. We were in battle formation when I saw a shadow on the ground. I looked up towards the sun and identified a single aircraft. I broke away and radioed the squadron to cover me. I came down fast and saw the cross on the side and I knew it was an enemy. I followed it and gave a burst and got one of its engines. He started descending and I followed him in case he was faking. But he did land successfully in the field.

I had great admiration for the German pilots who would still go up to fighting, even tough they knew the war was as good as over.

Yeah, you weren’t shooting at pilots, you were shooting at planes. I mean, you were hoping you’d hit the plane but obviously there was a pilot in there and you might get him. But it was plane against plane more than anything else. Well, I was so excited and pleased because finally, I’d shot down an enemy. When I came back of course and landed at our field, the ground crew could see that the guns had been fired because when you took off, the guns were covered with some canvas or something. So they were all excited to find out what it was you were shooting at. And when I told them I’d shot down a plane, they were so excited.

Their jobs were not so exciting. They did a good job at maintaining the planes but they didn’t get into action, so they were always very pleased when their pilot did.

And after every flight, when you had any action, you’d go in and describe whether you’d dive bombed bridges or shot up trucks or trains. Shooting up trains was quite an active thing because of course, they were transporting troops and supplies. So we’d go down, shoot up the engine, they were steam engines then, then we’d start shooting up the cars. And once in a while, one of the cars would explode. In fact, we lost a squadron leader when the car he was shooting up exploded and he flew into the debris and crashed.

Andy Anderson, he was a close friend of mine, he got killed two weeks before the end of, well, just after I shot down my plane, he was shot down. Just after I’d shot down my plane, I know he was keen to get one and whether he lost attention and didn’t see what got him, I don’t know because I never did find out.

Well, when the 401 Squadron landed, I went over to see him and somebody said, oh, Andy didn’t come back. So that was that. And that really broke me up. I think that was why I was sent on leave to London when VE-day broke out because it really upset me. Because he was a good friend, a great guy. But, that’s war.

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