Veteran Stories:
John Campbell

Air Force

  • John Campbell in Regina, Saskatchewan, March 2010.

    Historica Canada
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"Well, it was certainly an experience I never want to see again. But it gave me some indication of what a bomb was like when it went off."


Got a ticket from Victoria to Halifax and it took seven nights and six days to make the journey. And I got 10 days leave at home, on the way. And we were only in Halifax, we were about one day and the next day, we boarded the ship and the crossing was rough because it was in March 1942. I believe we were on D Deck, that was the lowest deck and right at the back of the ship. When the sea got rough, the propellers would come up out of the water and when they came down into the water again, they’d hit as if they were hitting a block of concrete. We knew we were on the bottom deck because every time they needed a sack of potatoes or some turnips, or something like that, they’d open a trapdoor in the bottom of our deck and get them out of the hold. And you could see down there, there was ingots of lead in the ship to provide the ballast [stability]. In London, I was able to meet my maternal grandmother. We were air frame mechanics and we were given a course on aerodrome [airfield] defense. The British army had an RAF [Royal Air Force] Regiment that did the defense for aerodromes, but they were short of personnel because they were likely overseas, so they trained the ground crew airmen to act as infantry men, you might say. I was employed on what they called servicing aircraft on, on the flights, you see. And they were dispersed around the airport on dispersal points. And we would ride out there on our bicycles to go to work and ride home to the mess hall at noon and at suppertime. Then if there night operations on, we’d have to go back and see the aircraft off. So the pilot could see that he wasn’t going to be able to climb over that, so he decided to crash it before he got to the bomb dump. And it had a 5000 bomb on it and all around it were incendiary bombs [designed to start fires]. And so when it crashed, white lightning appeared because it, it burned with a very hot white flame. And then a few seconds later, the 5000 pound bomb went off and it blew the thing to smithereens. Six men went that way, except I did hear that the pilot survived because he had a steel armour plate under his seat and behind him. He got blown up in the air and he was injured, but he survived. The rest of them were little bits of skin and hair; and windows blown, broken in the hangars half a mile away on the other side of the field. And it dug a hole the size of a farm dugout, if you know what that was like. So I was at the starting end of the runway that night. There was an officer, he was there and he shouted to everybody, get down, get down, so I laid on the ground and I could, there were about two or three waves of warm air flack go over us. So that was … Well, it was certainly an experience I never want to see again. But it gave me some indication of what a bomb was like when it went off. We started work about 8:00 and very shortly after that, they saw a little vehicle drive along beside the runway. And he was trailing an oily cloth, a rag behind him that had fire on it. And every time he went by a nozzle along the runway, it would ignite a gas flame. And they did that on both sides of the runway and then they turned on the fuel and flames shot up about 28 feet in the air and pretty soon, a rectangle opened in the clouds and there was blue sky and sunshine up above. And the next thing we saw was a squadron of American bombers come in for a landing in close succession, one after the other. And that was called FIDO [Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation], that’s the acronym for fog inversion dispersal operation. That was so secret, I had never heard of it before.
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