"When we got to, back over near Nottingham [England], the plane was shaking so badly the aluminum was falling like snow all over my arms."
We were supposed to be on a diversion trip over France to drop leaflets. But we were called back and we developed a hydraulic leak in our port right engine. And we could not feather the prop.* And because we could not feather it, it started to windmill** and go faster and faster as we were returning back to England.
When we got to, back over near Nottingham [England], the plane was shaking so badly the aluminum was falling like snow all over my arms. And my arms were white in the airplane and the plane was whining, groaning, moaning, and just making the weirdest noises. And the pilot was struggling to keep it in the air. Finally, he said, “Bail out.”
So the bomb aimer went first, Peel. And then the navigator went next, and then I went. And the navigator, we must have had a drop, the plane must have dropped a bit because as he was going out when the plane dropped his head come back up through the hole in the front of the Halifax*** and I thought he’d changed his mind. But he didn’t.
I then went to the hole in bottom of the nose and jumped out and when the tail light went over my head I pulled my chute because I knew I was quite low. I landed in Stockbridge [England], I think. I forget the name. And I just swung twice before I hit the ground. And the plane crashed about a mile and a half away, and the pilot was rescued. Two Englishmen got the George Medal**** for pulling the boys out of the plane. We lost the engineer and the mid-upper gunner. And the rear gunner died of shock from a broken leg in the hospital.
I ended up in, on a hill and if I’d walked any other way I would have been lost. I started away from the crash because I couldn’t bear to look at the flames. But it was uphill so I only went a few steps. I had a sore, sore back and knee. And then I came down the hill, and I crossed two fences. Followed one fence along, jumped over it and there was a lane there and I finally found a house. I have a picture of the house. I went over in 1985. Took a picture of the old house and then I was directed down to the end of the lane where there was a Home Guard.† And the Home Guard was a man about 80 and he had an old Ross rifle†† that was older than he was. And he says, “Who goes there?” And he wouldn’t believe me I was Canadian. Thought I was German.
Then he says, “This has never happened to me before. What’ll I do?” So I said, “Call the air force,” and he couldn’t call the air force. So I said, “Well, call the police,” and the police came out and got me. Took me in and I went to a hospital in Mansfield [England], I think. And I woke up the next morning with the mumps, and was sent to a convalescent hospital and recuperated.
*“Feathering the prop” is an aviation term referring to the turning of an engine’s propeller blades into the wind to decrease drag
**“Windmilling” aircraft propellers turn with the force of the air, not the engine
***The Handley Page Halifax was a heavy bomber flown by both the Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force
****The George Medal was created in 1940 by King George VI to honour acts of bravery in non-war settings by civilians and members of the armed forces
†The Home Guard was a British Army defence organization made up of local volunteers who were not eligible for military service, usually due to age or health
††The Canadian-made Ross rifle was in regular use during the South African War (1899–1902) and the First World War (1914–1918), and was known for its tendency to jam during firing