A Short Biography Written By Lloyd Ripley
The following is intended to be some notes about my life which will cover my activities from the time of my birth on the 18th of December 1916 to the end of World War 2 or thereabouts.
My chief purpose in writing this is to inform my family and particularly my grand children of various events in my life which may be of interest to them. I have often wished that some of my own family history, with respect to the lives of my parents and others, had been written down in some form so as not to become faded from our memories, as so often happens.
The Early Days
I was born in River Philip, Nova Scotia at the home of my mother and father, who were Willard Charles Ripley and Annie May (Colter) Ripley. In those days babies were not born in hospitals, as is the case today, but were born at home with a Doctor in attendance. Of course, I can't remember anything about this part of my life, but it must have been uneventful, otherwise someone would have mentioned it to me later.
I went to school in River Philip in a Country School, which was normal thing to do in those days. The school had one teacher who taught all the grades from one to eleven. There were usually twelve to fifteen pupils in the school because River Philip was only a small village.
Some of my first vivid memories were of hating to start school in the first grade. I was a great worry to my mother, because I would not stay in school, and would run home. Our home was only about one quarter of a mile from the school house.
My mother would lead me by the hand to the school in the morning, and a few minutes later, I would run home again. She tried sending me to school with older students, but the result was the same, I would simply run home.
My mother would then send me to school accompanied by my cousin, Arthur Schurman, who lived next door, and who was about three years my senior. This didn't work either, because for some reason I thought I hated going to school. However, I finally settled down and became a good student. I had no trouble with my grades and went through the eleventh grade in that school.
My mother and father were disappointed because they were urging me to take my Grade Eleven in the High School in Oxford so as to be in a position to write my "Provincial Examinations" and possibly go on to college, but I thought I knew better, and instead went to work in the lumber woods with my Father. I also worked in sawmills and driving trucks in highway construction.. This is where I made my big mistake, and I learned later that it would have been much wiser to have stayed in school to continue my education. This was in the depression years and I was just going from job to job and getting nowhere.
It was around that time that I had read a number of books about World War One airmen, and about aviation in the 1920's and 1930's. I made the decision that I wanted a career in flying.
In 1934 I met a barnstorming pilot whose name was Jimmie Wade. When I got to know him, he took me for some flights in his bi-wing de Havilland Moth aircraft. He would sometimes let me have the controls, and I decided then that I loved flying.
It was from then on that I knew I wanted to become a pilot. My parents were not interested in aviation and I could not raise the money for flying lessons, so I began saving to help me get in to Flying School at Halifax, Nova Scotia. I wanted to do this so badly that I thought about it constantly.
During my years of growing up, my Uncle Everett Ripley was a strong influence on me. He used to take me hunting and trapping with him. He used to shoot moose and deer, and in addition, he owned a Fox Hound he called “Jeff.” I was very interested in this dog, and one day I was with my uncle when Jeff treed a Bobcat or Wildcat as we called them. I will always remember the excitement of this hunt because Jeff was so happy.
After my uncle shot and killed the animal, Jeff kept nipping at it all the way home. My uncle then skinned the animal and sold its fur.
Such experiences started me doing some trapping and hunting on my own, and I earned a little money selling rabbits and trapping muskrats for their fur. When I became older in my teens, I realized the inherent cruelty in this type of thing. This caused me never to trap or snare animals, ever again.
Another experience I remember vividly during my younger years was a night deer hunt with my uncle. We hid and waited in the moonlight at a place where we knew deer were feeding under an apple tree. Jacklighting of deer was not known in my early years and we used the moonlight to see. After waiting for awhile, we saw three deer come out of the woods about 50 yards away. I remember the excitement when my uncle fired his single shot Mauser rifle. There was a long streak of flame and a big cloud of smoke, which had to clear before we could see what had happened. We had killed one large deer with a bullet through its backbone. A lucky shot indeed. We then went to my father’s barn and harnessed a horse to a buggy and went to get the deer.
These are vivid memories for me because of the firing of the rifle at night and the excitement of the deer hunt.
Later I hunted partridge and ducks but I stopped all this because I did not believe in killing animals.
While living in River Philip, I led the life of a normal country boy. I liked motorcycles, and owned two of them. A 1926 Harley Davidson 74 Twin, and a 1929 Indian Single Cylinder Machine. I do not remember ever having a new bicycle, but I had several which I bought for parts, and which I built into a workable condition. It seemed to me that I was always patching tires and splicing chains.
I bought my first automobile in 1934, a 1926 Chrysler Coupe. It was in terrible shape and I spent most of my time repairing it and changing tires.
It did a lot of running though. I only paid $35.00 for it and I sold it for $20.00 two years later.
We lived by the River Philip River, and there was a good swimming hole just across from our home. We swam here almost continuously in summer. I do not remember ever learning to swim. Because we were in the water so much, it seemed that I could swim almost as soon as I could walk.
My father made his living by lumbering and running a small farm. We were not rich, but it always seemed we had plenty. My parents brought me up well, teaching me the importance of honesty, integrity and the essentials of a good and productive life.
There was much lumbering carried on in the area when I was young. The River Philip River was used for the stream driving of large quantities of logs. An annual event in the spring was to watch the logs floating down the river and gangs of men engaged in the drive. When I was about 8 or 9 years of age, I remember watching large spruce logs, far larger than any that can be seen in the area today, floating down the River. This was, of course, before the forests had been cut away by extensive lumbering practices.
|Born 18 December 1916
Home in River Philip, N.S.
Enlisted in Halifax, 28 December 1940
No.1 ITS Toronto
No.6 EFTS Prince Albert &
No.3 SFTS Calgary
Graduating as Sgt. on 7 November 1941
Posted overseas in December
He then trained as a Night Fighter
He was commissioned on 10 Sept. 1942
Sent to the Mediterranean Theatre
Joining 600 Squadron in March
He flew Beaufighters with his RO/Nav
Francis Graham Niven Thompson (135422)
Returned to Canada 8 April 1945
He was released from service in May
Joining the Canadian Army
Late in 1936 I saw a Canadian Army recruiting notice in the local newspaper. Being unemployed at the time, I answered it and was summoned to the Canadian Army Headquarters at Halifax, N.S. There I had interviews and medical exams and was put on a waiting list. After some months, I was told that I was accepted for military service. I was then signed on as a Gunner in the Halifax Fire Command of the Royal Canadian Artillery.
This was the chance I had been waiting for, because as soon as I began to receive my army pay I joined the Halifax Flying Club and began taking flying lessons.
Army life was tough in those days, with much time spent on the Parade Square under a Drill Sergeant, and undergoing strict army discipline, with respect to hours of duty, and all the time undergoing training in gunnery.
This also involved much work in cleaning and painting artillery equipment. There were many large guns then in place around Halifax Harbour. We had training in the firing of these guns, and I managed to get a number of courses at Gunnery School in Ballistics and Trajectories which was related to the firing of large artillery. During these courses, I was able to upgrade my mathematics to a Grade 12 Level. This helped me a great deal when I took Flying Training, both as a trainee at the Halifax Flying Club, and later in the Air Force which required Navigation Courses.
Thus began anew phase of my life. I had an Uncle and Aunt, Ray and Marie Colter, who lived near the Halifax Airport. They were very supportive of me during my time in Halifax and I was often invited to their home for meals. I liked this because it not only supported me, but I also liked being near the airport and watch the aircraft.
In those days, dual flying instruction on a D.H. Moth was $3.00 per hour and $2.00 per hour for solo flying. This is a far cry from the $100.00 per hour charged by most flying clubs for a Cessna 172 or a Piper Cherokee
I kept taking Flying Lessons with the Halifax Flying Club and in 1939 I became qualified as a Private Pilot. I then planned to go on and get a commercial license.
But things changed for me in September 1939 when Canada declared war against Germany and became involved in World War Two.
Our Army Unit, which was still the Halifax Fire Command of The Coastal Artillery, was engaged in setting up artillery batteries in different locations around Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. We made the big guns at Halifax ready for action and then went to Sydney, Nova Scotia and set up two six inch guns there. We set up two four inch guns at Aulds Cove, near Mulgrave, N.S. Then we were sent to Saint John N.B., where we set up two six inch guns on a spot near Partridge Island. All of this armament would of course be obsolete by today's standards, but the authorities of that time thought it was necessary in the defense of our Country.
This work with the big guns took place before the declaration of war and was completed in September 1939, the same month Canada declared war on Germany. The largest guns we had at that time were two 9.2 inch guns which were in place at the entrance of Halifax Harbour. These were capable of throwing a shell weighing one ton a distance of 14 miles.
We thought this was quite impressive, but it is nothing to compare with the rocket armament of the present day.
Joining the Royal Canadian Air Force
But I still wanted to get in the Air Force and become a pilot. As soon as war was declared, I asked my Commanding Officer, Colonel W.H. Dobbie to authorize my transfer to the R.C.A.F.
Colonel Dobbie knew I had a pilot's license and he got in touch with the commander of the R.C.A.F. Station at Halifax and arranged for me to enter the Air Force as a Pilot in Training.
The year was 1940, and I was immediately sent by the RCAF to their Manning Depot at Toronto to undergo a further selection process for aircrew training. The "Manning Pool" as it was called, was located in the Exhibition Grounds at Toronto.
It was there that we had to wait for assignment to various RCAF Training Stations. Although I was already a Pilot, I still had to meet all the RCAF criteria for aircrew training.
I was sent with other aircrew trainees to Security Guard Duty at Dunnville, Ontario and to Picton, Ontario for the same thing. This was all a part of our general military training because we were all the while doing parade square drills and that type of thing. I found this very uninteresting because I had been through this same thing during my time in the army.
The first assignment after this was to "Initial Training School" in Toronto. This lasted 30 days and we were given educational tests to determine our suitability to absorb aircrew training. I had no trouble with this but many of the other trainees were “washed out” as we called it which was to be given other assignments in the RCAF. Sometimes this was for medical reasons or otherwise. We had some very thorough medical tests while at I.T.S. This included Decompression Chamber Tests and other things which were related to flying.
I was assigned to a flying school for pilots in Prince Albert Saskatchewan, in a class with 30 other pilot trainees. The flying school at Prince Albert was the former Northern
Saskatchewan Flying School which had been taken over by The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. It was a quasi military station with civilian flying instructors and an Air Force Commander. It was called No.6 Elementary Flying Training School and used Tiger Moth Aircraft. The tiger moth was a 90 H.P. Bi-wing aircraft which was fully aerobatic. We were trained here for our first solo flights and then given aerobatics such as loops, recovery from auto rotation [spins] and all other flying procedures, with an emphasis on circuits and landings.
The students were assigned to various instructors with about 3 students to each instructor. My instructor was a Mr. Hall, a former bush pilot who I always thought was a bit reckless. He was killed later along with a student while practicing spins. We did not see the crash but everyone seemed to believe they did not recover from the spin and went right into the ground.
One day Mr. Hall touched the wheels of our Tiger Month to a Flatcar in a string of railway cars which were underway across the prairie. I was not afraid, but I can still remember the look on the face of the fireman on the locomotive when we passed over. This was a very foolish thing to do.
It is such things as this which give rise to the saying often heard in aviation circles, "There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old bold pilots"
The example of my instructor bears out the truth of this saying.
I had a mishap myself while at that school. I did something against the rules which could have resulted in my death. I landed in a field away from the airport thinking that would just take off again. But I had misjudged and the field turned out to be rough, and I could not get up to takeoff speed. I hit a tree and ended up against a straw stack on the prairie.
The aircraft caught fire and burned. I just got out in time. This episode taught me a very valuable lesson because I was severely reprimanded by our Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader Chaisson and also by Mr. Leonard Waite, our Chief Flying Instructor.
After that I stayed strictly within safely guidelines and I always advised others to do the same.
There was a great fellowship among the students on these courses, and we had a lot of fun, while at the same time, taking our flying training very seriously. The Tiger Moth was well known for "ballooning" on the runway during landings. The secret was to make a “three-point landing,” that is, to make the main wheels and the tail wheel touch the runway at the same time. If the main wheels touched the ground first before the aircraft stalled, the tail would drop and the aircraft would "balloon" perhaps three or four times. I have heard students say when watching another student land, "Jim just landed. No! He's airborne again … now he's on the ground. No! He’s airborne again!! etc.
The Tiger Moth was also prone to "ground loop,” that is, if the aircraft is not kept straight on the runway after landing, the tail would swing to the side and develop centrifugal force, with the resulting "ground loop". This caused the plane to swing around a couple of times and end in a cloud of dust on the runway. There was usually only minor damage, which was only a scratched undersurface to the wing tip, but it was a major embarrassment to the student who was frowned at by his instructors and the ground staff at the school. I didn't ever have a ground loop but I have seen it happen to other students many times.
Most of our class passed the elementary flying courses and were able to go on to the No.3 Service Flying Training School at Calgary. The elementary courses were quite easy for me because it was the second time I had been through them, first when I had trained at the Halifax Flying Club and then in the Air Force School at Prince Albert. I felt that I was very well trained indeed.
The Air Crew Trainees who did not pass the elementary training were offered other Aircrew jobs, such as Navigators, Air Gunners, Radio Operators, Radar Observers, etc.
I was with the new class of Pilot Trainees who began taking Service Flying Training at Calgary. We began our training here on twin engine Avro Anson aircraft. The Avro Anson was once used as a bomber by the Royal Air Force, but it became obsolete and was given a training role.
At Calgary we learned multi engine techniques for which the twin engined Avro Anson was ideally suited. We were given cross country training, navigation training and engine failure procedures. We were also given night flying training, which included fifty night landings and, night cross-country training.
In October 1940, I qualified for my wings as a pilot in the RCAF and was presented with my wings and promoted to the rank of Sergeant Pilot. It was a very proud day for me. I was selected for an immediate overseas posting.
We crossed the Atlantic on the ocean liner California which was being used as a troop ship. It was a fairly large ship and it carried 1200 soldiers and airmen.
The weather was very rough end we were in danger from enemy submarines many times. We lost our destroyer escort in mid-Atlantic, but finally made it across after 14 days at sea. I was seasick part of the time and it was not my idea of a pleasant trip at all. Upon our arrival at Greenock, Scotland, we were immediately posted to a manning pool for aircrew at Bournemouth, England.
From Bournemouth it was off to the Operational Training School at Watchfield, England where we learned to fly Blenheim Bombers. There was to be much more training to come. At Watchfield we learned more night flying, beam flying and practice on flight simulators [link trainers]. There was also a lot of night work with radar. This was all in preparation for my role as a Night Fighter pilot.
While in England we experienced our first enemy air raids. German bombers would come over and drop bombs quite near to us. While on the train trip from Bournemouth to Watchfield, bombs were dropped quite near our railway cars. This was quite frightening at first but we soon learned that there was much more to come later.
We were allowed weekend passes to London, and I was there staying at the Canada Club when there was a heavy air raid. We went to a special air raid shelter until the raid was over. The Canada Club was a club operated by the Red Cross for Canadian service men on leave.
I had a brother and two sisters in the military during the war. My Brother Ralston was in the Canadian Army, my sister Grace was in the RCAF and another sister, Beryle, was in the Canadian Medical Corps. I met Ralston and Beryle briefly during one of my periods of leave while in England.
In May of 1941, I was posted to No.409 Squadron RCAF located in Colby Grange, Lincolnshire, England. This was an Operational Night Fighter Squadron and we knew this meant we were entering into a real shooting war. On 409 Squadron we were given Beaufighter 2 Aircraft which were especially equipped for night fighting. It had two Rolls-Royce Merlin engines of 1200 HP each and four 20 mm cannon and six machine guns firing forward. This made the Beaufighter the most heavily-armed fighter in World War Two. It had great destructive power and made us capable of destroying any enemy aircraft we could get our sights on.
There was no chance for dual instruction on the Beaufighter because it was a single seater, that is, it had one seat for the pilot and one in the rear for the radar operator. I had no trouble flying the Beaufighter because at this point I was a well trained pilot.
It was here on 409 Squadron I was teamed up with Radar Operator Sergeant Tommie Thompson, to make up the crew of the Beaufighter.
Our duties were to fly night patrols over the south and west coasts of England, to intercept and shoot down enemy aircraft which approached from German Occupied Europe. Our ground radar control were to pick up approaching aircraft and direct us to within range of our airborne radar, and from then on it was our job to identity the aircraft visually and, if it was an enemy, we were to shoot it down.
Tommie was from Edinburgh, Scotland. He and I became fast friends and we worked well together. We were to fly together for the next two years as a crew of the Beaufighter, me as the pilot and he as the Radar Navigator.
'We spent 8 months on 409 Squadron and all that time we flew patrols over the south of England and parts of the North Sea. During this time we had only seen one German Bomber, a Dornier 17. We chased it and fired twice but did not hit it. We came close but we were recalled from the chase when the bomber returned over German Occupied Europe. We were under strict orders at the time not to risk having the highly secret radar equipment we were carrying, fall into enemy hands.
It was during the above mentioned chase of this Dornier 17 bomber that I remember a very frightening experience. I had begun the chase at about 20,000 feet and when I contacted the enemy bomber visually, I attempted to follow it without using my instruments. The enemy knew I was after him and he was taking violent evasive action, diving and turning through cloud layers with me trying to get him in my sights. Suddenly I saw ahead of me what looked like the surface of the water. I glanced at my altimeter at the same time and it was reading zero. For one horrifying moment I thought I was going right into the English Channel. I pulled the nose of my Beaufighter up to avoid what I thought was the end of us both and found to our great relief that I was still at 10,000 feet. The Excitement of the chase had caused me to lose track of the altitude for a few moments and cause this very frightening experience. Cloud layers at night can cause many optical illusions, and the altimeters we were using repeat themselves and read zero every 10,000 feet and this was what caused me the momentary disorientation.
I always remembered this as a terrifying experience.
We were disappointed many times because we desperately wanted to score an aerial victory. At that point we considered ourselves to be a very well trained and very competent night fighter crew. But in spite of trying very hard, we just did not seem to ever be in the right place at the right time.
We longed for the chance to justify our training with an aerial victory. We especially wanted to reward our hard working ground crews. We wanted to do something positive for the war effort with the very expensive and heavily armed aircraft we were flying. After all, this had been the focus of all our training and we were well aware of what we had been trained for, that was, to do as much damage to the enemy war effort as possible.
But in spite of our best efforts, we had not scored an aerial victory.
We didn't know it then, but our chance would come.
While in England we enjoyed short periods of leave and at times had a lot of fun. London was a favourite place to visit because we were able to stay at the Canada Club. We were only charged a small amount for overnight accommodation, because as I mentioned before, it was operated on a non profit basis for Canadian service personnel.
Things could get a little rough at times though. One night I went with a group of airmen from our squadron to visit some places in Lincolnshire. We were on our bicycles and we made a visit to a couple of pubs and then decided to go to one of the local dance halls. We were pushing through a group of people at the entrance in a jovial manner, and had to pass by some British Paratroopers. All at once something hit me on the jaw and the next thing I remember, the friends I was with were helping me get up off the ground. I didn't see the guy who hit me, but I sure had a sore jaw for about a week.
I ended up somewhat wiser after this episode, with the knowledge that Air Force and Army uniforms don't always mix too well. And another contributing factor in such brawls is the fact that lots of British girls seemed to be quite fond of the Canadians, and this set the stage for such altercations.
Posting to North Africa
It was made known to us, that experienced Night Fighter Crews were needed to reinforce the manpower on No. 600 Night Fighter Squadron based in Algeria. Tommy and I thought this was our chance to see some action, so we volunteered for the job.
In early January 1943, we were off to Lyneham, Wiltshire from where we were to pick up the latest model of Beaufighter from the Bristol aircraft factory. This was to be equipped with the latest in radar equipment and the more powerful Bristol Hercules engines. We were very pleased about this. It would be a much faster and better aircraft than we had been flying.
After carrying out careful fuel consumption tests on our aircraft and making other tests necessary on new aircraft, we were off to Portreath, near Cornwell. From there we were to take off for Algiers in North Africa with a refueling stop at Gibraltar.
It was about a 7 hour trip because we had to make it all over the Atlantic, and well west of Brest in northwestern France. There was a large force of German fighter aircraft there and we did not want to risk an engagement with them. Our Beaufighters were fast but were heavily laden with fuel and would be an uneven match for the highly maneuverable German day fighters.
This was to be the longest trip we had ever made and was close to the maximum endurance of a Beaufighter, and it would all be over water. It was decided that we should leave Portreath at 2:00 am under cover of darkness so as to be well west of Brest before daybreak. It was a cold January morning when our six Beaufighters all took off at one minute intervals. There was a snowfall that night and there was about 2 inches of snow on the runway.
This trip was quite an adventure for Tommie and I. We were ordered to fly at a low cruising speed to conserve fuel because we had only enough for about 7 hours in the air, and the trip would take almost that long.
I loved this new Beaufighter I was flying. The engines were very powerful and responsive to even the slightest throttle changes. We both felt that we were almost invincible with the heavy armament we had on the Beaufighter.
The trip went well for us and we landed in Gibraltar after only six hours of flying. We had not made any navigational errors and found that we were on course when we turned east toward Gibraltar. This pleased us very much and we landed safely at our destination.
We spent two days at Gibraltar then went on to Algiers which was another 800 miles. There we joined our new squadron, No.600 Squadron Royal Air Force. It was manned by airmen from all over the British Commonwealth. We had "Comrades in Arms" from the British Isles, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and elsewhere.
Meeting all these new people was very interesting for us.
We became immediately involved in the North African Campaign, with the American Army, the British Army and other Allied Forces.
With 600 Squadron, we advanced easterly through Algeria-Tunisia and on to Malta. We made night patrols along the north coasts of Algeria and were involved in several night strikes against enemy motor torpedo boats which were harassing our shipping in the Mediterranean Sea. I managed to inflict damage on three of these but our machine guns were not capable of sinking such ships.
During all of the time in Algiers and Tunisia we lived in tents. This was not any great hardship because it was in the semi-tropics and the weather was quite warm.
In Tunisia we flew from an aerodrome called Souk EI Arba, which was about 50 miles south of Tunis.
We moved up to Malta from Tunisia from where we were to cover the Allied landings in Sicily. Before this took place, we flew our Beaufighter to Cairo in Egypt for servicing. It needed to be in good shape because there was much to do in the battle for Sicily and Italy. We returned to Malta and were ready to cover the landings in Sicily. The Canadian Army helped a great deal in the Sicilian Campaign.
Victory at Last
We were at Malta when we scored our first aerial victory. Late in July 1943 we took off on a patrol at night over the north coast of Sicily. I was being controlled by ground radar from the British battleship “Repulse” and I was to intercept enemy aircraft which might be approaching from the north. I was directed toward an aircraft which had apparently attacked our troops in Sicily and was returning to its home base. We picked it up on our airborne radar and after a short chase, we could see it as a tiny speck on the horizon, just above a white cloud layer. I quickly dropped down into the cloud and a few minutes at full throttle brought our aircraft just below the target and about 500 yards away. Tommy had it on our radar all the while and we were almost sure it was an enemy. I took off the safety switch on the guns and got ready to fire.
I pulled up out of the cloud and there it was - a Junkers 88 bomber with the black crosses on its wings and fuselage showing plainly in the moonlight. The enemy plane fired from the rear belly guns and started to dive into the cloud below, but it was too late. I already had him in our sights and I fired at the same time he did. It was over in seconds. The heavy firepower of the Beaufighter practically tore the enemy apart. There was a big burst of flame and he fell into the cloud below.
We quickly contacted our ground control and were given another "target" flying north. This turned out to be another Junkers 88 bomber. We got it on our radar, but the pilot saw us and we had trouble getting within range. We were able to fire several bursts at long range and I saw several bullets hit its right engine and we could see it trailing black smoke before it disappeared from our radar.
At that point we had a critical fuel shortage. We reported this to our ground control and returned to our home base at Malta. We wished we could have stayed on patrol because the enemy had carried out heavy raids on our armies in Sicily that night, but we could not continue because our fuel tanks were empty.
Tommie and I had a great sense of satisfaction over our victory that night. After all, it was the first enemy aircraft we had destroyed and we felt we had most certainly helped the war effort and had thus justified all our training. During our de-briefing that night we were credited with one enemy aircraft destroyed and one damaged. We felt that we had destroyed both the enemy planes but we could not get full confirmation of the second one we attacked.
Enemy bombing raids on Sicily were heavy around that time and Tommy and I went on to destroy two more bombers that same month in much the same circumstances. But the excitement of that night when we destroyed our first enemy aircraft stayed with us for a long time. We felt it was the crowning achievement of our service careers. Nothing after that seemed to equal the satisfaction of that first aerial victory.
We moved over from Malta to a newly constructed aerodrome in the south of Sicily near Syracuse Harbour. It was at a place called Casible. The landings in Sicily had just taken place and the enemy bombed us very intensely. There was a raid about every night for a month or more.
One night we took off on a patrol and when we returned we found a bomb had landed only 50 feet from where we parked our aircraft. If we had not been flying that night we would have lost our airplane.
Most of the bombing, however was directed at the American and British ships which were in Syracuse Harbour at the time, and which was only several miles away.
On another night, we did an interception on a plane we identified as another Junkers 88. We were just about to get him in our sights when he pulled straight up as if to make a loop. I could not follow this maneuver and overshot him somewhat. I made a quick turn but he had disappeared from our radar and we lost him completely. We both thought he had crashed into the ground because we could not imagine a plane this large making a recovery from a loop like this. We always thought this should have been credited to us as another enemy destroyed, but we could not confirm it because we did not see it crash.
One day while at Casible, I had just tested my Beaufighter in readiness for a night patrol and I walked over to where some American P-40s were parked. I talked for a while with an American mechanic who was working on one of the P-40 engines. I moved away from there a few paces and spoke to an English radar operator whom I knew and we both saw an aircraft approaching. The English Guy said to me, “There go those yanks buzzing the runway again.” But we soon changed our minds because the aircraft was a Messerschmitt 109 and he was firing at us. We heard the bullets hitting the tree just over our heads. We almost got shot but he was really firing at the row of P-40s beside us. The young American mechanic I had just talked to a few minutes before was hit and killed by one of the bullets.
This attack was a complete surprise to us because the nearest known German fighter base was several hundred miles away. It was easy to mistake a Messerschmitt 109 for a P-40 because they both looked about the same from a front view. This just showed us that in wartime an attack can be expected at any time.
It was at Casible that I was able to take an enemy prisoner. I was on aerodrome control one night and we were using a small tower that had been a guard tower for a vineyard where our airport had been built. After flying had ended for the night, I came down from the tower and walked outside. A man came out from under some almond trees with his hands up and said to me, “I am a German Flyer,” in perfect English. This was a surprise to me and I answered by telling him to come into the tower with me. He walked ahead of me up the stairs, and I remembered that I had left my gun belt with my loaded revolver hanging on the wall in the top of the tower. I can remember shouting to the electrician who was working with me, to get my revolver before our prisoner could get it. There was probably no danger, because this man seemed relieved to have turned himself over to us. Anyway, I did not want to take any chances.
I quickly phoned the RAF Regiment who were guarding the aerodrome at the time and turned my prisoner over to the Sergeant of the guard. I later saw this German airman having breakfast with our squadron Intelligence Officer in the officer's mess tent. It turned out that his aircraft had been shot down by anti-aircraft fire the night before, and the rest of his crew had been killed. He had been the navigator on his aircraft and had saved himself by parachuting.
Of course, all the while we were required to do radar interceptions on other aircraft which upon identification turned out to be either British or American. This was necessary because the ground radar control did not always know if they were enemy or not. After identification, we quickly left because we had no radio contact with them and they would understandably fire at us thinking we were the enemy.
After shooting down enemy aircraft there were always some sobering thoughts, which come with the knowledge that we had ended the lives of other young airmen like ourselves. One would have to be less than human not to think of this. But these thoughts did not deter us in time of war. We thought of it as a duty to do this. We had intensive training for this job and we knew what was expected of us. The job was to do as much damage to the enemy war effort as we could.
And of course, the enemy would do the same to us if given the opportunity. We just pressed our attacks with great determination because we knew this was the requirement of the war effort.
We continued operations over the Naples and Salerno areas and in September of 1943, with fresh night fighter crews arriving from England, Tommie and I were posted back to the British Isles. Our tour of operations had been completed, and after a short period of leave, we were assigned to an Operational Training Unit as instructors.
We did the trip back to England in an American Air Force DC-3 it took us more than 23 hours non stop. We went past Gibraltar and around, then over the Atlantic to England. This trip on the specially equipped DC-3 had to be made this way because the route over Europe was impossible due to enemy activity. It was the longest trip I had ever made in an aircraft and probably the longest I will ever make.
At that time I was promoted to Flight Lieutenant by the RCAF. This promotion was retroactive for one year and it gave me a considerable raise in pay. I sent all of the money back to Canada so I would have something of a start when the war ended.
We were stationed at Berwick on Tweed in Scotland and for the next three months we trained new Beaufighter pilots and radar operators. Then, after the Allied landings in France, we were posted to the continent to join 410 Squadron RCAF which was another Night Fighter Squadron. We flew Mosquitos here and did patrols over Holland and Germany.
I did not like the mosquito as well as I did the Beaufighter. It seemed like a more fragile aircraft and there were some of them which did not return from patrols. I knew several pilots and observers who were killed in unexplained accidents. I think some of these aircraft just flew apart in the air because of their wood construction. They were very fast though and in that respect were superior to the Beaufighter.
While stationed in Lille, France, I was watching one of my friends take off on a test flight. His engine failed just as he left the ground and his aircraft turned over on it's back and burned. I had been talking to him only a moment before. Such things as this really shake ones confidence at times.
It was a sad day for me in September of 1944 when Tommie was killed while flying relief for another Radar Operator and while I was grounded for a while with a broken ear drum. Interceptions were harder for me after that because Tommie and I had worked so well together, and I could not find another Radar operator who was as good.
I was having problems with my health at that time because of some effects of my bouts with Malaria and Hepatitis while in Tunisia. Our medical officer recommended sick leave for me and I was sent back to England. I had been eligible for a leave of absence since completing my first tour of operations and I was now well into my second tour. I was sent on for 60 days leave in Canada.
I returned on the ocean liner "Queen Mary" and landed in New York, then went on to River Philip by train.
The "Queen Mary" was a sister ship of the "Queen Elizabeth" which was the largest ocean liner in the world at that time. Primarily, they were used before the war as trans-Atlantic passenger ships, but had been converted to troopships for wartime use. They were both of about 80,000 tons, which was very large at that time. If I remember correctly, they were each able to carry about 10,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen.
There are much larger ships in the world today, with some oil tankers and bulk carriers being around 400,000 tons. There are, however, no more luxury liners like the "Queen Mary” and "Queen Elizabeth" being built. This type of ship has become outdated because of modem air travel.
The end of the war came while I was still in Canada and there was no need then to go back overseas. I then received my discharge from the RCAF.
I worked in the lumber woods with my father for a short time while I was deciding what to do. I had a chance to fly DC-3's hauling freight from Moncton up to Seven Islands in Quebec but I wasn't sure I wanted to do this.
In any case, I had a War Veteran's Preference which allowed me to get Public Service Jobs. I decided to take work which was offered by The Canadian Fisheries Service. I went to Halifax for a three month course in this work and began my service with the Fisheries Department in early 1947. I worked in various places around the Maritime Provinces and the last job I had was as District Supervisor at Newcastle, N.B. I retired from this work in 1975 with 35 years of service, which counted also my service in the military.
It was in 1946 that I met Florence Purdy. She was the kind of a girl I wanted to marry, and after going together for about a year, we decided to tie the knot. We were married on the 27 of May 1947 and it has been a wonderful marriage for me. We have moved around a lot and have had a good life together. Maybe some day I will write more about my life but that will be all for the present.
Victories Include :
|14/15 July 1943
21/22 July 1943
11/12 Aug 1943
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