Veteran Stories:
William “Bill” Burrell

Air Force

  • Portrait of Pilot Officer Bill Burrell, 19, taken in St. Hubert, QC, while waiting for a posting to the Pacific.

    Bill Burrell
  • Photo included in Bill Burrell's Escape and Evasion kit. If he had to bail out, the Underground would be able to used this to create fake identification documents.

    Bill Burrell
  • Bill Burrell with his sister on the front steps of their family home in Brampton, Ontario, 1945.

    Bill Burrell
  • Bill Burrell (centre) spent a weekend leave on a farm in Yorkshire. Seen here with two members of the farmer's family. Mr. Burrell remembers he would lay in the fields and watch the Allied bombers fly overhead.

    Bill Burrell
  • Newspaper article in the Brampton Conservator, about Bill Burrell returning home, 1945.

    Bill Burrell
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"So if you, somebody’s out there and they’re not bothering you, leave them alone [the Germans] because they’ve got pretty good firepower."


There were six of us had volunteered to try and get on the Tactical Air Force that support the troops. And the six of us, they pulled us out and sent us right to a squadron and we were going to fly in the new position on the Handley’s [British Handley Page Halifax four-engine heavy bomber], I don’t know whether the Yanks had them or not, as bell gunners. So we were all small fellows, going to be down at the bottom. So we were never crewed up with a crew and there were six of us went to Snowy Owl squadron 420 [No. 420 Squadron, RCAF], we were at Tholthorpe, and we were satellite of [RAF] Linton-on-Ouse [Yorkshire, England]. And we were assigned to an aircraft and when it flew, we flew and I flew with 13 different skippers as we called them, pilots. And I did my tour in an awful hurry because when the plane flew, I flew and from the fall of 1944 to Christmas of 1944, I did 32 trips. None of our bombers were built to have belly turrets [equipped with machine guns] like the Americans but the story we got is that Fritzy [the Germans] was smart and he’d come along and you always thought: ‘Don’t swat a bee unless, you know, he’s going to bother you.’ So if you, somebody’s out there and they’re not bothering you, leave them alone because they’ve got pretty good firepower. But apparently, they got wise to the Germans and they would come along underneath you but they weren’t going to shoot at you because he wasn’t looking at you. But his guns would be raised and they could rake you from underneath. So they put these turrets in a few aircraft in every squadron to protect your bottom. And being little fellows, that’s where we ended up, down in the belly turret. Imagine, while I’m sitting in the chair at my computer, if you just put your legs up instead of a footstool down there, your feet would be up on the side of the plane and you had your gun in your lap just looking down. There was no glass or anything there, just fresh air. So you could see the bombs going down and you could see them, the puff, puff, puff and puff, puff, puff of the Flak [the anti-aircraft guns] and I had a good view just down and back. And it was quite exciting because stuff back there isn’t going to get us. I had to fly mid upper one night when the guy was sick and you could see everything and boy, I liked my position better. When you’re up there, you’re looking into what you’re going to fly into. I just looked into what we had flown through. So I thought, well, that’s not going to hurt us, it’s back there. Well, we had to put oxygen on as soon as you take off for your eyesight because if you get over, I forget what the height is, you need oxygen. So we put it on all the time anyway because your intercom was in there too. So we had oxygen. But you’re not under pressure like the cabins today, they’re all under pressure. The whole suit had wires through it, electricity and we were snug as a bug in a rug inside your big outfit. It seems funny but yeah, we were nice and warm. Well, if we were going to have to bail out, I just had to pull a pin and that big machine gun would pull me down, pull me out of the aircraft and then pull your rip cord. I mean, the tail turret, he’s not too bad, he turned around and can fall out, but the mid upper, he has to come out and all the fellows up front have to come back to the escape door. But I just had to pull a pin and the gun would have pulled me out. The day flights were interesting and if you were up high, you had a great view of the countryside, I tell you. And if you were coming back around after bombing and heading back to England, you could see the damage you’ve done and the smoke and the fires and the black puffs of ack-ack as they called it, being antiaircraft guns putting up the stuff [the shells] to try and hit you. We come back one day with 150 holes in us but never hit anything of value, so, or don’t say value but nothing that deterred the aircraft from flying. And you could hear them, ping, ping, ping, on the fuselage sometimes and one trip, the navigator hollered: ‘I’m hit, I’m hit’ and we thought, oh boy. But a piece of shrapnel had just finished its velocity, hit in the forehead and dropped down on his map, right at his hand and he said: ‘Oh, I’m okay, I’m okay.’ The Falaise Gap [the Battle of the Falaise Gap, August 12-21, 1944] was a real tough one because we were tactical, is the word I’m looking for, they used the four-engined bombers for tactical and that’s pretty hard to do. That’s why they liked the little Boston [Douglas A-20/DB-7 Havoc], an American light bomber and night fighter], that aircraft, that’s the one I wanted to fly on, and the Tiffy rockets [the Hawker Typhoon single-seat fighter bomber rockets] and all those things. But anyway, the troops were to lay yellow markers down and we were to bomb on the far side of the yellow markers [in order to clearly circumscribe the ground target]. But I understand that there was a lot of injuries sustained in that battle by the troops being ahead of that yellow marker. And that’s one of the bad things of using four-engined bombers for tactical isn’t the best thing to do I guess but they were doing whatever they could to plug that gap [to trap the remaining German forces in the Falaise Gap at the end of the battle, August, 1944]. We were stood down for a week while there was an investigation and that’s what come out of it, they were ahead of the yellow markers, that’s why I say it’s tough. Well, you’ve heard of two-gun Patton [one of General George S. Patton’s nickname], he couldn’t but he wasn’t in on this but if the troops on the move and they maybe just didn’t want to stop. I couldn’t tell you what the outcome was.
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