John Alexander Boan in Regina, Saskatchewan, March 2010.Memory Project
"So there we were, in the pitch black, flying back, we hoped, to base and what would happen if we didn’t make it, you know."
We were all on the road overseas, and the reason that I didn’t get completed with this was that the MO [Medical Officer] discovered that I had a hernia and he wouldn’t let me go. So I had to face the problem of getting a discharge and so on. To remain on active service, I had to have surgery, which I did, and all my friends went overseas and I was left. After I got back on my feet again, they made me an instructor and I was stuck with instructing for the rest of the [British] Commonwealth Air Training Plan, which folded up in April of 1945.
The way it went, the students got about two or three months of training in classroom, learning Morse Code and also learning procedures and so on. Then they got around eight hours of flying time, which showed them how to do this stuff that they’d been practicing in the classroom in a real life situation. And I was attached to the flying squadron and I had to teach these kids, take them up in the air and show them how to do things and so on, and they’d be with us for a couple of weeks and then a new batch would come and we’d process them.
We took them up in the flying classroom about five at a time initially, and then we had aircraft that were trainer aircraft, [North American] Harvards we ended up with, which they took out the dual control that they needed for teaching a student to fly and put in wireless equipment, transmitter and radio, and then the students would have to go up on their own and do some exercises like sending messages back and forth to base and all that.
And before they were finished, we took them on a long trip, two or three hours, where they had to do direction finding and keep in touch over a longer period of time and so on, to get them fitted to go the operational training school, which was their next step.
Well, one time, they sent me out to the West Coast from Calgary to do what they called contact training. It was to go to the Operational Training Unit [OUT] and find out what these kids were up against when they got to their next step. And I was there about ten days and I went on a flight with a staff pilot who had two trainees on the plane, one was a wireless operator and the other was a navigator. The weather wasn’t very good, nothing was stirring, but finally about 5:00 in the afternoon, they said it was okay to go. So this guy that I had made arrangements to fly with, he was a keen guy and he’d rushed to the airplane, got everything going and away we went, out across the Pacific for an hour or an hour and a half, I don’t know how long.
I was in the co-pilot seat and after we were out there for about an hour in the pitch black, we got word to come back to base because the weather had closed in and they were calling everybody back. So he turned around and asked the navigator for a fix, so he’d know what compass reading to fly on. And the navigator, you know, you’ve got to remember, he was a student and he said, we were all connected up with intercom you see, and I could hear him, and he said, “Oh, well, when you turned around, I quit navigating.” I guess he figured he just could go back on the same path that we went out on, with no wind or anything to make a difference.
So then he asked the wireless operator for him to get a fix, so he’d know where he was, and the wireless operator had to report back that the equipment that he would have to use for that purpose had gone unserviceable. So there we were, in the pitch black, flying back, we hoped, to base and what would happen if we didn’t make it, you know. It was kind of an exciting experience.