Veteran Stories:
John Mornan

Air Force

  • John Mornan poses in his Aunt's yard in Toronto, Ontario, 1943.

    John Mornan
  • Flight 371 during basic training in 1943. John Mornan is second from the left in the front row.

    John Mornan
  • John Mornan poses next to a Tiger Moth in 1944.

    John Mornan
  • John Mornan took this picture of himself while flying a Harvard in 1944.

    John Mornan
  • John Mornan on the wing of a Harvard in flight school, 1944.

    John Mornan
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"It really hit me in those days, I was young. But just all those people. There was a Sunday and there are the factories going full bore for support to the war effort."


Well, actually, why I wanted to be a pilot goes back to when I was about five or six years old. I got a Christmas present of a metal high wing mono-plane airplane with a blue body and yellow wings and yellow wooden wheels and that was my favourite play toy until it finally wore out when I was 12 years old. And we used to play play airplanes. My younger brother, I can remember when he was four or five, he used to call them erdi-planes. And we’d hold our arms out and rrrr and go bank around with our arms our wings and so on. That’s how my fascination with aviation began.

And in 1940, we were living in Selkirk, Ontario, and within a 15 mile radius of Selkirk, there was a Harvard flying school in Dunnville and a relief aerodrome in a little place called Kohler. There was an [Avro] Anson flying school in Hagersville. In Jarvis, there was a bombing and gunnery school. We were surrounded really by airplanes.

I had wanted to join up so you couldn’t join up when you’re 16, but I found out that 17 with your parents’ permission, you could join up. So in the fall of 1942, I went down to Hamilton to the RCAF recruiting centre, find out all and sundry about it and the first thing they looked at was my age and said, “Well, have you got written permission from your parents?” “Yes, I have, sir.” “Well, you’re not quite 17 and a half yet, are you?” “No, sir, that’s the sixth of January.”

So they did all my interviewing that day anyway, sent me back home to Selkirk. Sixth of January, I was there and had my medical. They sent me home again to come back on the 19th of January to be sworn into the Royal Canadian Air Force wartime service, which was called the special reserve, hostilities only. That’s what it was called.

They sent us to Nova Scotia to wait for Service Flying Training School. I was pipelined for Harvards, single engine Harvards. So I went down to Nova Scotia and worked for the construction engineering people at Dartmouth [Nova Scotia] and at Debert [Nova Scotia]. Debert was fascinating because it was a [de Havilland] Mosquito bomber training school. And I was fortunate to get a few rides in a [Bristol Fairchild] Bolingbroke target aircraft for the ‘Mossies’ as we called them, Mosquitoes. I’d have liked to have flown Mossies, which was all wood airplane and the fastest one going in those days, they used them for target marking, for the bomber runs, in advance of the bomber runs, very much.

Anyway, I was recalled from Nova Scotia in the end of October 1944 and started 20 weeks of Service Flying Training School at Uplands, Ontario, which is Ottawa, at Ottawa airport, on the North American Harvard aircraft. The Harvards we were flying had been tricked up. They had a control column like a [Supermarine] Spitfire with the circle on the end of it and the firing button on it. And we had a gun sight up on the cowling inside. And that was used in advanced training after all your basic fighter pilot training, aerobatics and all that stuff, had your wings navigation done and you were in effect graduated.

They sent us out to Carp, just west of Ottawa, it was a small air force establishment then, which was an advanced training unit. And this was the last year they had these advanced training units. We had camera gun exercises and curve of pursuit and doing all this sort of thing. Just like you would in combat. And we had to do so many hours of this and we had to do low level dive bombing on a little island in the Ottawa River with Harvards, dropping smoke bombs. And then low level bombing, low level dive bombing. And we even had live round air to ground firing with a machine gun, an actual machine gun in the right wing of the Harvard. And we dived down on our ground target to strafe it and you’d press the firing button on the stick and you’d hear the machine gun, one machine gun, hammering away and it would slow the aircraft down in your dive. The recoil from that used to make me wonder. I think [Hawker] Hurricanes or Spits had about eight machine guns, those things go all at once. I wondered afterwards, I never heard, but how much they slowed down. Because they, you know, for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.

At No. 5 ITS [Initial Training School], it really struck me just how Canada was turning to support this war effort. I can remember, we used to parade into, into Belleville on Sundays to a church parade, to one of the churches. I can remember marching along to the Anglican cathedral and right along the Moira River, big factories there, going full blast on Sunday, men and women working in there, and they’re making their war materials. Actually, they were making, the time we went by there one day, a man on the sidewalk was just going in and he said, “We’re making military shirts here today.”

But people, they took war employment. You know, they had a board who got people to work in the factories for the war effort. And they sent them anywhere. People didn’t necessarily work right where they lived. The Canadian people accepted this sort of thing just off-hand. In agriculture, they even had the farmerettes, ladies. The military employed women pilots to fly airplanes from factories to their delivery points, even to transatlantic flights. Some of the fantastic women pilots were flying across the Atlantic and so on, delivering airplanes. Some of those ladies were qualified on six or seven different types of airplanes. Tremendous war effort for those people who were doing that sort of thing. But Canadians, the way they turned to doing all of this, there were factories making bandages and all this sort of thing.

It really hit me in those days, I was young. But just all those people. There was a Sunday and there are the factories going full bore for support to the war effort.

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