"When the engine mechanics would rev the engine up to check it, we had to hold the tail of the plane down. That was the airframe guy’s job. And the wind and the noise was unbelievable."
After my steam course at [HMCS] Cornwallis [in Deep Brook, Nova Scotia, in 1944], we were transferred to Halifax to wait for a ship. And this officer came along this day looking for volunteers for the Fleet Air, Canada’s Fleet Air Arm [Royal Navy]. And, of course, I said, well okay, put my name down and about a week later I was on my way to England.
We trained with the Royal Navy. First of all, we arrived at Greenock, Scotland, and then we went to HMCS Niobe, which is a Canadian naval base in Scotland. From there, we were on a night train down to London to, it was HMS Turnstone, which was a Royal Navy Air training establishment.
Well, it was to do with air frame mechanic. Like we had fitting, if you know what that is, you know, working with files and hacksaws, and all that kind of thing. We did the airframe of the plane, you know what I mean? We went to Belfast, Belfast, [Northern] Ireland. And at Belfast, they were building the Canadian [aircraft] carrier, [HMCS] Warrior, which we were training for. We spent a lot of time there maintaining aircraft and loading them onto aircraft carriers, and they were to go to the Pacific. See, by this time, the war had ended in Europe and they were preparing to go to the Pacific.
We went to Arbroath in Scotland and it was another Royal Naval Air Station. And that’s when I joined [No.] 803 [Naval Air] Squadron [Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm], which was training for the Warrior, to go to the Pacific. While we were there, three of our pilots were actually killed just in training. The [Supermarine] Seafire [fighter aircraft for use on carriers] is the same as a [Supermarine] Spitfire [fighter aircraft] except it has the arrestor hook for landing on a carrier and the wings fold. Other than that, it’s the same plane as a Spitfire.
On 803 Squadron, that’s all we did work on, was those Seafire planes. There were other types of planes, but we weren’t involved with them there. When we were in Belfast, of course, we worked on all different planes.
Boy, you had airframe mechanics, engine mechanics, armourers who looked after the guns; there were radio mechanics, all these different branches. And we all worked together. Like, for instance, one thing I remember was when the engine mechanics would rev the engine up to check it, we had to hold the tail of the plane down. [laughs] That was the airframe guy’s job. And the wind and the noise was unbelievable. And if you didn’t, the plane would jump the shocks if he revved the engine up and then you’re in trouble.
We volunteered for the Pacific. That was the next step because the war in Europe had ended. Our squadron was training for the Pacific, to fight the Japanese. So, by volunteering for the Pacific that entitled us to 30 days leave at home. I came home. I went to HMCS Niobe and then at Greenock, we got on the destroyer [an escort vessel], [HMCS] Restigouche. And they used to call it Rusty-guts, [laughs] it was an old ship, I think it was built about 1932 or something [HMCS Restigouche was launched in 1931]. And we went home and when we got off the north of Ireland, we got in a terrible storm. Oh, it was just awful. And I remember, in the mess, they have a paint locker and the paint had got upset and the smell of paint, and the patches were leaking. There was water, and I was so sick, I couldn’t even string my hammock up the first couple nights, so I just slept on a pile of lifejackets. [laughs] And you know, in the morning, you’d head down to the galley and think, oh, I think I’ll have something to eat this morning and just one whiff of the food and you know. [laughs]
Anyway, that’s when the war with Japan ended [August 15, 1945], when we were in mid-Atlantic. But we weren’t doing any celebrating because we were too sick a lot of us.