Veteran Stories:
Selwyn Henry “Sel” Stephens

Air Force

  • Selwyn Stephens in Regina, Saskatchewan, March 2010.

    Historica Canada
  • Selwyn Stephens and his four brothers: Bryn (on top); Jim (on left); Sel (in middle); Ray (on right); and Goff (on bottom).

    Selwyn Stephens
  • Advanced Bombing School, London, Ontario. Selwyn Stephens is the first right on top row.

    Selwyn Stephens
  • Selwyn Stephens's cousin, Byron, with his little nephew, prior to his coming to Canada for training in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.

    Selwyn Stephens
  • Selwyn Stephens at home with his Mom and sister Millie, showing his new flying Uniform.

    Selwyn Stephens
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"And the flak was intense and bursting. We could actually feel it too, the “thump, thump, thump, thump,” you know, as, as the air also bouncing up and down."

Transcript

In England, a lot of posters and really broadcasts about loose talk, waste material, waste food. And among other things, the watchful eyes of the government, conservation in time, including travel, it was quite tight. Posters everywhere to prompt us to be careful.

Now, there was one there called, “Is this trip necessary?” poster That would take trains and cars and whatnot, if it’s not necessary, don’t take it. But I recall one of our briefing times when a, and I think you probably had this before because I’ve read many this very same thing, really. But the briefing officer asked if there was any questions. We saw the redline from base over to somewhere in Germany, you see. And the briefing officer would ask the question“Any, any questions?” And behind me was my wireless operator and he said a quiet whisper and everybody heard it, “Is this trip necessary?” And which it wasn’t a question of, we just said, “Yes sir. Yes sir,” you know.

But yeah, I think the first time we had Air Vice-Marshal [Ralph] Cochrane, he was head of five group [RAF No. 5 Group], he came down to the squadron. We were going to a placed called Schweinfurt, that was about 50 miles from the German border. And it was a long flight, it was over nine hours. But he was saying that the Americans had been there, they’d got the ball bearing factory. But “It’s your job tonight, your mission tonight.” Well, as a matter of fact, they never used the word raid. It was always a mission. “Your mission tonight is to burn,” and he used an expletive, “you burn them out.” And that was quite something.

Leaving England behind, we headed across the channel and as we approached the French coast, I made my call, “Enemy coast ahead.” And particularly for[…] Red, it’s a navigator to mark on his map, crossing right now. And I, I had written here, although the darkness covered the eyes of the enemy, they knew only too well that we had arrived. Their radar was very effective but easily confused by the dropping of a window. But up along the coast, searchlights fingered the night sky. We, we could see it all up there and tracers wormed skyward as though stitching in the blackness. It was action and Skipper’s quiet voice urging Chris and Stanley to be alert and sharp. Their acknowledgement and then silence. And then Red would call up about the next course change, “Keep an eye for the marker. Use your chandelier or flare that dropped at a distance.” And he says, “A turning point it was.”

And he come up only 60 minutes from target. This one was on the target at Gelsenkirken. And I remember it very well too because, as did many others. We called it flak alley. It was a synthetic oil plant in the heart of the River Valley. It’s industrial Germany. And it was well within the reach of the RAF [Royal Air Force] by the way too. You could see in the distance the soft glow and the orange glow of a city on fire. Already the bombardment is in progress. And Brian was busy on his gee [navigational radar system to guide bombers to their targets] and us, the radar that spots incoming fighters as small dots racing across his screen, ready to call out if one was on our tail. And the flak was intense and bursting. We could actually feel it too, the “thump, thump, thump, thump,” you know, as, as the air also bouncing up and down. And then the skipper, Stan coming across the, he says, “Alright, Stephens, it’s yours.” And I just call out in “Steady now, in steady, steady.” And then, “Bombs away.” And you, Uncle, would rise up sharply after six tons of … And we carried a lot of bombs, six tons normally. With the bomb doors closed and Skip he swings hard to port and we head north across Holland and the North Sea. And about 18,000 feet, Skip put the nose down slightly and “Uncle”, that’s our aircraft”, at 180 miles an hour, as eager as we are to make the dash to home, but we have still the two hours to go, so keep alert.

Chris, Stanley and I constantly rotate our turrets, as our eyes peer into the darkness. We had to be vigilant. “Coast coming up, Red, we’ll soon be over water.” There’s an expression of relief but, and I’ve written here, “Don’t fade off, there are bandits still around. Along the coast, there was this sporadic gunfire but we make it through and we head west and home.”

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