"We’d watch them go over at night and then coming back in the morning and see the aircraft with shot out wings and motors."
I was in the Canadian RCAF [Royal Canadian Air Force]. I enlisted in Hamilton. I went to the Manning Depot in Toronto and, of course, I enlisted with the idea of being a pilot. So I went to Hunt school in Toronto [the Initial Training School (ITS) in Toronto was based in the old Toronto Hunt Club] and we took a number of subjects. As a matter of fact, I believe there were four subjects that were qualified for university if I wanted to go to university after.
And then from the Hunt Club, I graduated from there, that’s what they called Initial Training School. Then I went to St. Catharines [Ontario] and I learned to fly [de Havilland] Tiger Moths. And after a period of time, I graduated on the Tiger Moth and then I went to Camp Borden to fly on [North American] Harvards, in which I graduated eventually and got my wings there. And from there, I went overseas. I went over on the [SS] Isle de France as a matter of fact. We were on the top deck and we were on gun watch and it was quite an interesting trip over to England.
When we got to England, we landed in Scotland and I was posted down to Bournemouth in London, on the south coast, and on an interview, they told us that the Battle of Britain had more or less been won on our side. Like, where it used to be the German aircraft came over and they were fighting on our side of the [English] Channel, well, our people, the RAF [Royal Air Force] and the RCAF, and whoever else was flying at that time, had conquered this area, and the battle had now pretty well gone to the European side. So they didn’t need fighter pilots anymore, and if we wanted to continue on flying, we would have to convert to bombers, which I said I would, and of course, I wanted to.
And I went to [RAF] St. Athan [Wales] and we took an engineer’s course there, training all about the [Avro] Lancaster and then I was posted to [RAF] Wombleton, Yorkshire and we were crewed up – I have a picture of the crew I’ll send you – and we did our training on Lancasters then, and we graduated in, I guess it was May of 1945. Just a week before VE-Day [Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945], we were to be posted to our squadron and then of course, if we went to the squadron, we would be on the bomber crew over the continent. But that didn’t happen because they declared VE-Day and that meant that we weren’t going to be posted to a squadron. So they asked then what we wanted to do and I volunteered to go to the Far East, the Japanese war, and fly there. And of course, I took my leave and got back to Canada and there was about a period of probably six weeks and I had my leave and finishing the leave, got back to Debert, Nova Scotia where I was posted to, and it was VJ-Day [Victory in Japan Day, August 15, 1945]. So I didn’t get to fly in the war again.
But nevertheless, our intentions were to fly and do what we had to do. No bombing or fighting or whatever. The only flying I did then out of Debert, Nova Scotia was to fly the Lancasters that came back from overseas and we flew them out to Pearce Field in Alberta, where they were mothballed or, you know, put to rest, and I don’t know what happened to them after that. And then of course, I came back to Debert, Nova Scotia, where I got my discharge.
The only combat or presence of war that I was in was at night the bombers used to go over to bomb the various spots in Poland and Germany and there’d be maybe 300-400 Lancasters going on the bombing crew and then they would get a group of us, maybe not quite as many as that, but we would also take off and we’d fly out over the Netherlands and down over France in order to attract the fighters away from the main group of bombers going in to do their job. So that was kind of interesting.
One night, we encountered a few German aircraft and none of us were shot down, but it was an experience. So that’s the closest I got to the war zone. I lost about three of my cousins, two of my brothers were in the service, one was in the RCAF, but he was in ground crew. And he come back and my brother was in the army, he came back. It was okay. But I did lose some friends that were in the army and in the air force. Of course, there’s a lot of the air force people, you know, were shot down. We’d watch them go over at night and then coming back in the morning and see the aircraft with shot out wings and motors and a lot of those aircraft were shot down, I don’t know how many each night, but a lot of them were shot down. And some of those crews, I guess, they escaped and went to the war prisoners camp. But the rest of them, they went in, as we used to call it when they crashed and they were killed, we used to say they went in.
I’m almost embarrassed to say that I had a good time when I was in the RCAF and we had a lot of fun on our leaves. We went from Scarborough, we’d go down to London on the weekend. Or we’d go to Scotland and we’d have a good time.