"The airport was simply a place in the desert with a bunch of tents and the runway was like a flattened out chain, only it was about twenty feet wide. That was it."
When I got overseas, we were two or three months in Bournemouth [England], waiting for the weather to clear up, up in Yorkshire where the Royal Canadian Air Force base was. And I got crewed up and we became Number four-two-zero, 420 Squadron. And we just got settled into our training and they decided that 420 Squadron should go to North Africa. So they gave us new Wellington aircraft and those were twin-engine bombers and we flew them down across North Africa to a place called Qairouan in the desert, south of Tunisia. And the airport was simply a place in the desert with a bunch of tents and the runway was like a flattened out chain, only it was about twenty feet wide. That was it.
We went on from there, doing our raids of Italy and we started at the strait between Sicily and the toe of Italy and we were bombing ahead of the retreating Germans. They had been booted out of North Africa and the [British] Eighth Army and the Canadian Army were going to come up the rear of the boot, the east side of Italy and the Americans were bombing the west side, that was in the daylight. And we always did our work at night.
Yeah, [General James Harold] “Jimmy” Doolittle [commanding general of the Northwest African Strategic Air Force], he was involved in the bombs that they hit Japan with. I think Doolittle was there to see what happened at night bombings because I did nothing but night flying in my bombing career with the air force. Now, the Americans always did their work in the daytime. I didn’t know exactly what he had done but he had and the wing commander of our squadron down in North Africa, they must have gone to school together because they were talking a blue streak and I was trying to navigate but I couldn’t help but listen to them. However, it was a night over the Mediterranean Sea that wasn’t very nice. Generally, we have a track that we have to keep on to get to the target but we couldn’t fly in one direction all the time because of the electrical storms.
We had the briefing in the desert and Doolittle was there and when the briefing was over, he and the wing commander booted my Captain off his job and the wing commander took control of the aircraft and Doolittle was talking to him. Well, once they get to an altitude, they don’t have to do much hand flying, they can leave the autopilot on, does just about as good a job but the, Doolittle was a down to earth guy and I know that I couldn’t interrupt the conversation or tell them to be quiet but I caught bits of their talking back and forth and I gathered that they must have gone to university together. I couldn’t figure anything else out.
In any event, Doolittle, he wasn’t dressed in his normal garb. At that time, he was the Lieutenant General was it? - he had a lot of rank anyway. And he had come with us and I was the navigator and I had flew high ranking pilots with me and the usual rest of the crew, the radio operator and the tail gunner and so on, that was down out of Tunisia onto, well, the target that night was way over south of France, those two islands, Sardinia and Corsica. Well, half of our squadrons down in North Africa turned back because of the weather, that’s about it. I never saw Doolittle after he got off the aircraft. I saw him at the briefing and getting on the aircraft and he was a very nice guy, he was down to earth, you’d never know he was a high-ranking officer, he didn’t have his rank on.