A German aircraft with Royal Air Force roundel, near Hamburg, Germany, January 1946.Harry Acton
Harry Acton, second from right, with other 6 Group air crew, Yorkshire, England, 1944.Harry Acton
Willie the Wolf, Halifax Bomber, probably from No. 431 (Iroquois) Squadron, Yorkshire, England, 1944.Harry Acton
"It was a release for a dinghy which is under a bubble on the wing. And this huge dinghy inflated itself. You can imagine how popular we were"
First of course in Mountain View, just out of Trenton, Ontario. From there I went to [Royal Canadian Air Force Station] Fingal and we flew, the base flew, I was an armourer, on Bolingbrokes [trainer aircraft], which probably very few people have heard of. And we did training exercises for air crew over the lake, particularly operating turrets and firing machine guns. And I finished a tour there and I was transferred overseas. And part of my story I’m going to tell you today comes in.
Probably what motivated me, my father was with the South Staffordshire Regiment, an officer during World War I. Sort of being semi-Brit I guess, I joined up for, because they had a war going on over there and why I got into the business I did, because I was a machinist and they were looking for people in that type of business to join with the armament. I ended up as a Fitter/ Armourer, General during the war and there was very few fitter/armourers because you had to be, have a machinist background to be a fitter/armourer.
Well, first of all, we took a course on armament guns, on all the machine guns from Thompson submachine guns, to .303 [inch] machine guns and 50 calibre machine guns. And after that, we took a course on all the bombs and all the various fuses for them. And then the fitter/armourer part comes in because I was a machinist. I received training as a machinist in civilian life. Oh, I did that in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and I did it out of school, out of high school. And they taught you how to run lathes, shapers, milling machines.
Well, this chap and I, we both joined up at approximately the same time. And we were transferred to Mountain View to take our basic courses in armament. From there, we went to Fingal, Ontario and we were flying, as I mentioned earlier, Bolingbroke aircraft. And but we arrived there, never [having] been around aircraft before. And after supper, the first night we were there, Gordon and I went down to look at the airplanes and not knowing anything about them, we were speculating on what everything was. And we’d seen a T-handle, a red T-handle hanging out the back of the wing, the trailing edge of the wing. And we speculated on what that probably was but never having been around aircraft, we had no idea and we thought, well, it’s probably the choke for when they start the engines. So we looked at it for a while and we gave it a pull and what happened was, it wasn’t that at all, it was a release for a dinghy which is under a bubble on the wing. And this huge dinghy inflated itself. You can imagine how popular we were and they didn’t have anybody that could repack it so they had to bring somebody from British Columbia to repack it. So that’s one of our first experiences.
Well, initially, I served in Yorkshire of course. And just outside of the town of Darlington [England]. My specific duties were loading bombs basically on the aircraft and maintaining the gun turrets. Well, it was long hours and hard work. And a little dangerous at times.
We had a few accidents during the war. We had, right towards the end of the war, one young chap who had just come overseas, was bringing a load of bombs out from the bomb dump out to the airplanes and one slipped off and skidded along the tarmac a little bit and I guess it must have generated static electricity or something. Anyway, he went around put it back on again and he touched it and it didn’t completely blow up but it blew enough to kill him. Yeah. Which is kind of sad, because he’d just got over there. Yeah.
Well, it’s basically knowing how to do it and putting on the proper carriers and checking the fuses and at that time, initially, we had the hand winches and the particular aircraft we were on, the Halifax, held twenty-two 500-pound bombs. So bringing them up by hand was a lot of work, hand winches. And we’d, we worked any time of day, night, whatever. It has to be a four man crew. I worked with the different crews and finally, I became a crew chief and then I had my own crew.
Well, there’s one I do remember and it was, what squadron was it, I guess it was 415. And it was …415 squadron. And my mid-upper gunner was Sammy Bannister and the pilot was Bill Lane. Well actually, I ended up in Germany and we had three squadrons of Spitfires and I arrived there as a corporal. And then squadron leader, I was a fitter/armourer of course, and which are very rare. And squadron leader, guy by the name of Jacques Taché. I was out looking at a Spitfire as a matter of fact, I had never been around Spitfires and he came out and he said, you’re a fitter/armourer? And I said, yes sir. And he said, well, you’re now the sergeant, we need a sergeant. So I ended up as a sergeant and I ended up running the maintenance, things, to show you how the ranks changed, running the maintenance for fleet squadrons of Spitfires, all trades.
I don’t know, I think I was pretty good at what I did. Particularly when I, you know, later on, I had a lot of people working for me. And we always had excellent results. You don’t want to hear about the stuff about when I, I ended up with nuclear squadrons and I was the guy that looked after all the load crews in the nuclear squadrons and trained the load crews and we loaded the nukes in Germany. And this is after the war of course, yeah.
And I found a great deal of satisfaction in that job. It was one of the most precise and interesting jobs I ever did.