Veteran Stories:
James A. Clarke

Air Force

  • Airman James A. Clarke, RCAF, on leave at Dauphin, Manitoba, 1943.

  • The 'Anson bomber' trainer . Photo courtesy of James A. Clarke.

  • Harvard aircraft warming up for take-off at Camp Borden. Photo courtesy of James A. Clarke.

  • Tragic crash of a Harvard aircraft. Photo courtesy of James A. Clarke.

  • Photograph of a Liberator bomber. Courtesy of James Clarke.

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"In the moonlight I saw the outline of a person about fifty feet away and coming closer. I had my Sten gun set on single shot."


My name is James A. Clarke. Serial number R166475. I served in the RCAF as an aero-engine mechanic. A story I remember so well happened in Newfoundland, September 1945, at a very, very large bomb storage area. I was transferred from Gander Bay to Torbay and on the first day several of us went in to St. John's to return on an RCAF shuttle bus that got us back one hour late. I got lucky and was "joed" to be put on guard duty that night from twelve to eight AM. After a fifteen-minute crash course on how to handle a Sten gun -and I had never seen a Sten gun in my life- I was jeeped out to the middle of nowhere to guard a mountain of bombs, depth charges, ammunition, explosives of all types and in big quantities. I tried to tell my driver I was an aero-engine mechanic, not a security guard, but I got no response from him. The guardhouse, as it was called, was like a prairie farm granary with a small wooden table and one chair. A window in each wall and one door and one light hanging from the rafters. As my driver was about to leave he reminded me of my orders saying, "No one... absolutely no one should be in this compound but you. If there is anyone there, shoot first and ask questions later." I was left all alone to do something I knew nothing about. And sitting under the light, I tried to sort out what was happening or how I would react if someone saw me sitting under the light. He can see in but I can't see out. So the light was soon turned off for the night. I looked at the time so often that I began to think my watch wasn't working. I then started to imagine things. Imagine I heard something outside. Imagine there was something else. And I was sitting in the dark and in a strange area and I was nervous, but, blamed it on the wind or animals. Some time later, more noise. But this time it's for real. And getting closer. Footsteps walking on gravel. In the moonlight I saw the outline of a person about fifty feet away and coming closer. I had my Sten gun set on single shot. Now, decision time... what do I do? Shoot or hide. I challenged him. I don't know what I said but, he stopped walking and started talking - with a Newfie accent, "Don't worry laddie, I just takin' a short cut home. Been to the pub for a pint or two and if I go around I'll be late for work. Been comin' this way for a long time and ain't been shot yet." With that, he was on his way saying goodnight. I stood there in a sweat until I could no longer hear him. After I settled down, I wondered, "Did I do the right thing by not shooting him?" I think I did, at that time and today, I still think the same.
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