Personal Memoirs: The Way It Was
Following World War One, Germany was a broken country, economically, and in a state of depression. In 1933, the evil genius wizard, Adolph Hitler, gained power as supreme ruler of Germany … without fear and with armed power he seized country after country in Europe until finally Britain declared war on Germany September 3rd, 1939.
At that time, I was starting second year of a four-year degree course in Agriculture at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. Almost immediately class boys started dropping out and joining the Canadian Armed Forces. In 1940, it became compulsory for all U men to join the COTC (Canadian Officers Training Corp.), which involved weekly lectures on warfare and Saturday mornings at Minto Barracks, Squad Drilling, etc. The following summer necessitated one month training at Shilo Army Base.
On February 14th, 1942, after much time of personal guilt feeling, I joined the RCAF to serve however and wherever needed. As the four-year U course was not yet finished, I was granted “Leave of Absence Without Pay” until May 1942.
Manning Depot at Brandon called, Basic Training; it involved many features; first off, the boys had never been subjected to any form of military training, so it was a big change. Of course, discipline and marching were important items. Then there were vaccinations, haircuts, fitted up with uniforms, socks, boots, underwear, and even a blue New Testament (which I still have). There were 500 of us, housed, trained, and fed in Brandon’s old Winter Fair Building. Our sole belongings were kept in a blue kit bag tied to the end of a double decker bunk, of which we claimed one (I preferred the top). And oh yes, we had to learn how to properly make a bed, which would pass inspection.
For me, Basic Training was not a hardship as I had been through much of the same before. We were given time out for baseball, and that suited me fine. At this time recruitment exceeded demand, so I was put on Works and Buildings for a month, and that was okay. Then I applied for and got a month’s Harvest Leave; and that suited me fine also.
On or about September 1st, I was called to report to Regina for ITS (Initial Training School). My sincere desire from the very beginning of joining the RCAF was to become a pilot (so did most other young men). So ITS was the next step. In order to get a good mark, no fooling around now.
So about now, if we were accepted as Air Crew, we were entitled to wear a white flash on our wedge cap. Of course, other personnel jokingly said “beware of those guys- the white flash indicates they have VD.”
December 1st found me at EFTS (Elementary Flying School) at Fort William, Ontario. I was excited, nervous, and determined. Much time was given to lectures on the principals of flight, as well as the basic workings of Tiger moths, which were the planes we would be learning on. Then “one big day” I was taken on my first flight. One of the first orders the Instructor gave me was; “there is a paper bag beside you, use it if you need it.” Never at any time then or afterward was there any indication of airsickness. Thereafter it was so called “circuits and bumps.” Solo, or by oneself, was not permitted until 8:00 hours, I soloed at 8:05 hours. From then on it was a case of being signed out and practicing the segments 1 and 16, which included steep turns, recovery out of spins. At 20 hours my Instructor went on leave and left me in the care of another, who intentionally or otherwise let me get behind in hours. With 25 hours I was taken up on a 30 hour check by the Chief Instructor and asked to do procedures such as “forced landing.” And of course without adequate practice, I did not do it to his satisfaction. He said “let’s go home”. A big disappointment for me. I had never made a poor landing, even with skis, but it was over.
Where to now? Trenton Holding Depot, the place where old friends meet (Washouts). What a waste of time. But there I met up with three fellows with whom I became fast friends, Howard Sneath, from Elgin, Bob Walld from Amaranth, and Bob McQuitty from Tasmania. We four stayed together from Paulson to Portage, to Halifax, to Bounmouth, to Wigtown, to Pershore. There we joined our crews. I never saw them again as they were all killed.
At Trenton I had three options: Navigator (which I couldn’t handle), Gunner (which I didn’t want), or Bomb Aimer (which seemed the better choice). At Trenton we learned a new philosophy: Those who wait also serve. In time-off, I did a lot of skating, which was enjoyable as I had a very good skating partner, Beth Patterson, who was living in Trenton at the time. And so it was March 1st saw us off to Paulson (near Dauphin) Bombing and Gunnery Station. We dropped 100s of practice bombs in Dauphin Lake Marsh. Also practicing air to air Gunnery. All through training, I took Link Training when possible. A Link Trainer is a completely closed-in cockpit where you went through the maneuvers of instrument flying. Throughout training, I was given opportunities to handle aircraft controls, both night and day, also on course was Air Gunnery. To explain, air to air gunnery was shooting, with tracer bullets, at a drogue pulled through the air by another plane.
Portage Manitoba, was Air Bombers Navigation Course, which consisted of Navigation exercises around the Portage countryside. The course was from May 15 to June 25. This was the final Bomb Aimer training in Canada. And it was the big Graduation Day at which I was awarded the rank of Sargeant. I was not particularly excited. At any rate thereafter I was homeward bound, and that was very good.
After a week’s leave I was ordered to report to Halifax from which, after a week of waiting, we sailed on the Louis Pasteur, July 7th, 1943. Why, I do not know, but after Graduation I was again promoted, this time to Officer’s Rank –Pilot Officer. So, I hurriedly got my uniform in Halifax.
Crossing the Atlantic Ocean was a new experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The water was calm and the weather was warm. The boat was an old one, but it did 30 knots per hour. Because of the threat of submarines, we followed a zig-zag course, which of course took much longer. As mentioned, the weather was warm, so we slept on mattresses on the Sport’s Deck. After six days of uneventful sailing, we landed at Greenock, which is close to Glasgow. It required some maneuvering, but eventually we were enroute to the very south of England. The next new experience was riding on English trains and viewing the countryside, even though it was nighttime.
Bournmouth is a seaside city with many hotels used by holidayers in peace time. It was a holding depot for troops from overseas. My memory tells me that we were there for three weeks and got to know the city quite well.
Wigtown Scotland, the AFU was located in South East Scotland, not very far from Dumfries-Robby Burns Country. AFU stands for Affiliated Flying Unit. According to my log book, we started flying on August 22nd, and finished by October 9th. Our exercises with Ansons consisted of a mix of practice bombing, gunnery, and navigation, for a total of night and day; 39 hours. I did no piloting there.
OTU (Operational Training Unit) Air Force business took on a different and serious business here. This was where we were “Crewed Up.” Can you imagine? Twenty or so pilots plus like numbers of navigators, bomb aimers, wireless operators were put in mass in one room and told to find Airmen with whom you could work with and fly with, under all conditions. The process looked like “confusion.” Some of the fellows met up with buddies from previous courses, and after a time crews were formed, but not quite. Homer, Wireless operator (all of 5 feet, 2 inches) and I found ourselves wandering around aimlessly (I don’t know where our future navigator was at the point-more of him later) until we spotted a gangly looking fellow over in the corner who wore a pilot’s badge. So we approached him. Yes, he was looking for a crew, but was waiting until the “right ones came along.” Perfect. There were adjustments to follow, but we ended up with the best possible Crew … Mac (6 ft 3 in) was our Pilot and Captain.
At OTU we flew two engine Wellingtons – a variety of exercises circuits and landings, cross country trips, both day and night, infra red bombing, fighter affiliation, gunnery practice, etc. On the night of December 28th, 1943, we did a Nickel (dropping information Pamphlets) into France (our first Op). It seemed rather strange that all through OTU. Mac remained rank of Sergeant, while I (at least up until now was our only commissioned officer), but that really made no difference. But all was not well with our crew. The navigator, who was assigned to us, had apparently suffered from a previous head injury, it seemed to affect his ability to do his job. As a result we got lost over Wales on a night exercise. Mac was able to contact an Airbase in the vicinity and we landed safely, and returned to home base the following day. As I recall, being the Commissioned Officer, it was my duty to report the situation to the Commanding Officer. As a result, K.G. House, who previously became available, because of a crew crash, was assigned to us. Ken was a GODSEND to our crew. He was 100% plus navigator and fitted perfectly into our crew. AND so after 122 hours of flying training we graduated from OTU, being then posted to Conversion Unit at Wembelton, Yorkshire.
Conversion Unit is where we converted to four engine aircrafts. It was mainly for Mac’s benefit, as we now had four motors in place of two; quite a change. We did a number of circuits and landings with an instructor pilot. Following that we did x countrys at night, and then our 2nd trip across the border into France, but had to turn back due to one engine failure. According to my log book, Mac was now a Commissioned Officer, It was also here that we took on 3 additional crew members, bringing us up to seven. Jack Burgess became our Engineer whose job was to constantly check on motor performance. He was English, and while always doing his job efficiently, did not socially fit easily into our crew. And then came “Tex” Crowe-big, loud, rough, and often vulgar (I did not want him). He became our tail gunner and there was never one better. He had worked in the mines of Northern Ontario, joined the RCAF and became a Gunnery Instructor. He was the eldest of our crew and held the rank of Flying officer. We became extremely good friends. We roomed together all the time we were on Ops, he took care of me. And finally came D. R. Pyne, a good kid from Winnipeg, as Mid-upper Gunner. He was brought out to our aircraft just as we were about to take-off on another training exercise. As the motors were revving up, our boys could not catch his name, so he hollered, “just call me Jim,” and that has remained his name till this day. After 35 hours of training at Conversion Unit, we were ready to move on.
But there was not a Squadron ready for us yet. So where did we go? To Dalton for a two week Army Commando course, complete with army uniform and boots. It was fun, but I LOATHE crawling through tunnels. No airplanes here. Some of the maneuvers consisted of trucking us, after dark, out into the unknown, dumping us out, saying “if we catch you we will take you further away next time.” We were smart enough to find a railway; the trucks could not trace us there. If I remember correctly, we spent part of the night in a haystack. As noontime came around, I made the acquaintance of a farm family, and they gave us a good noontime meal. Soon the fun was over and it was time to move on.
425 Alouette Squadron here we come. Why Alouette? Because there were not enough Quebec Crews to bring it up to the required strength. Tholthorpe in Yorkshire was our base. Most all Canadian crews were based in Yorkshire, known as SIX GROUP. My log book says our familiarization flight was on April 8th, 1944- almost two years since joining up. Our aircraft was a four engine Halifax. Our very first Op was to Lens France 20-4-44, take off time 2109, bomb load 1200 pounds, bombing height 8000 feet, 4 hours 25 minutes. Presumably the target was unmanned bombs which were plaguing London, called “buzz bombs.” The next Op was to Karlsrue; almost a disaster. The city was under cloud cover and no target lights, we should have dropped on ETA, but no, we turned around with no success, jettisoned our bomb load and headed for home. Little did we know that we were flying alone, just ripe for enemy fighters and over the edge of the heavily fortified Ruhr Valley. Over England we were directed to land near Cambridge. My star shots had been reasonably accurate, but we did not believe them. We were certainly a stressed crew, but in reality very fortunate. We were escorted back to base the next day.
Our 3rd Op was a hot one, Essen. Bombing height 20000 ft, at night of course, as most were. Flying time was 5 hours, 15 minutes. Many of our Ops were across in France, bombing railway yards, munitions dumps, troop concentration, etc., as it was well known that Hitler had plans to attack and overrun England.
During our Op periods, our meals were good, our sleeping accommodation was excellent; white sheets on our beds. And we were given a week’s leave every 6 weeks. As time went on, as a crew we became efficient and also very lucky. Op after Op many of our crews did non return, either shot down and killed, or shot down and became evaders or prisoners. We were nearing the 30 Op’s number, which was considered ONE TOUR. If we reached 30, what would be our future? As for me, I still had “pilot” in mind. Even though I was considered 2nd pilot and Mac was good in giving me a lot of in air time – 20 minutes here and there and even up to 2 hours. But during one of our leaves I went to Doncaster to make an inquiry about re-mustering to a pilot course (nothing came of it).
A new phase was beginning to unfold. Enter “Hamish” Mahaddie DSO DFC AFC. As his awards would indicate he has been a man of many accomplishments. Called a “horse thief” for the PATHFINDERS. An airman of vast experience. He had inside information on all of the crews. Is it any wonder that he noted our crew as being one of the best? And approached Mac and asked us to consider joining the Pathfinders? To a man we were for it.
The Pathfinder concept was relatively new to Bomber Command. The purpose being to aid Main Force to bomb more accurately by marking the target with suspended flares. Our crew was selected to be “Bind Markers” and with experience Prime Blind Markers. The other Markers were called Visual Markers. In the event of cloud cover over e.g., the Leuna Oil Plant, our markers would be sighted on which might be colour green.
As always, the chances of survival were very slim, and the risks were much higher with the Pathfinders. Enemy Fighters were always a threat, Search lights would comb the skies, and if caught in one, Anti Aircraft fire would quickly follow, air collisions were a possibility since we flew without lights. Many an aircraft went down over the target in a mass of flames, only to explode on impact. And so Op after Op went by, and we miraculously survived.
Prior to go Pathfinder we were sent to Navigation Training Unit at Warboys just north of London. This training was for navigator Kg and I. And more importantly for me, as I was now to become Radar Operator, but more importantly to work with Kg in navigation, sight on target with radar, and release bombs, incendiaries and marker flares, with radar. But I was at arm’s length from Mack should I be needed, praise the Lord I never was.
Finally on February 14, 1945, we flew our last Op. This was exactly 3 years since joining up in Winnipeg in 1942. For our crew, this would be Op 60, including 2 Nickel raids and 2 Turn backs: one which was motor failure, and the other was a call back. I missed one other on account of the flu. The Pathfinders were based at and flew out of Gransden Lodge, not far north of London. Thus ended our Operational Days. Why we survived so free from serious accident or death only God knows.
Our next move was to Warrington Repat Centre, where we awaited passage home. In our case approximately one week. And believe it or not, the same Louis Pasteur took us back across the Atlantic, but this time because it was the month of March, the ocean was very rough, so much so, that many on board became sea sick, but not me.
We landed at New York. Crossed the Hudson River by ferry to Jersey City and there boarded a train for Montreal. The next day we took a train for Winnipeg.. There I went directly to Steinbach for a two-day visit with my brother Reg. then back to Winnipeg where the trains took me to Lauder where Dorothy was waiting for me. She has been waiting on and caring for me ever since.
The next few steps took me Home 02-05-23-W where my dear Mother and Brothers Jack and Bill, who had been praying for my return, joyfully greeted me and Dorothy (my bride to be).
On May 5, 1945, I was discharged from the RCAF after 3 years and 80 days of service having reached the rank of Flight Lieutenant.
THE GROUND CREW
Enough praise can never be given to our Ground Crew. Their job was to maintain all parts of the Aircraft in perfect order, for the Aircrew to carryout Raid Missions, without any parts malfunctioning.
They consisted of Areo-engine mechanics and Air frame mechanics. The Areo-engine mechanics had the care of the motors. They, the motors must be kept clean, oil levels up, coolant levels checked, timing perfect, all parts working smoothly and in order. The Air Frame had the job of repairing damaged parts from the previous raid, see to it that flaps, ailerons, elevators, tail, etc were working according to design-failure of any of these parts could cause a crash either on take-off or landing. Tire condition, brakes, and hydraulics must be checked and in proper working order before each take-off.
These men, who worked out on the sites had tents as workshops, and often worked in wet and cold conditions. They did not have the favoured conditions of living that the Air Crew enjoyed, and seldom advanced beyond Corporal or Sergeant in rank with corresponding pay.
Without Ground Crew, we, the Air Crew just could not have carried out either training flights or those all-important raids on Enemy Targets.
The Armorers certainly must be included, as they were the men, with orders from Bomber Command, selected and placed the bombs in the Aircraft Bomb-bay, ensuring that all electrical devices were properly attached. The bomb load, depending on the target, were a mix of 250, 500, and/or 1000 pounds. And of course, great care was needed since these were highly explosive bombs.
WOMEN OF WORLD WAR TWO
The Women who served in a multitude of ways during the war were Mothers, Wives, Fiancés, and just good Friends. Who stayed at home, and sent millions of letters, parcels, and prayers to the men and women serving the Forces overseas. These were morale boosters indeed.
Then there were hundreds if not thousands of Women who worked in factories, buildings, munitions, and other parts needed in warfare, plus many secretarial duties.
Hundreds of young Women joined the Forces- Army, Navy, and Air Force. These dedicated Ladies served both in Canada and Overseas.
Overseas, the Women played vital roles. As in Canada, many worked in factories. There were countless managerial and secretarial positions to be filled. The men in the Forces had to be fed, clothed, and bedded (for those more fortunate). Truck driver jobs were taken over and capably handled by Women in the Forces.
We must say “Thank God for the Women.”
After all was said and done, many of the Ladies became wives of Servicemen and became excellent Canadian Citizens.
As I write this, the date is April 1, 2007.
Dorothy and I were married in Lauder August 1, 1945. She has been a Godsend to me in every way. Our courtship at the beginning of World War Two was scant. She was studying piano in Winnipeg and I was at the U of M. Theatres, dance halls, and pubs were an “emphatic no no.” But I realized she was a gift from God to me, if she was willing “Don’t let her go.” After 60 plus years she has been a “gift from God.” Not only has she cared for and loved me; she had and raised four wonderful children, Dale, Glen, Ellen and Bernie.
As I joined the RCAF and was likely to go overseas, promises did not seem to be in order, yet weekly letters passed between Dorothy and me during my time away.
During training in Canada and Overseas, many families were so hospitable and kind to me. Young ladies I met and associated with became lasting friends of Dorothy and I. I wish to name three in particular, Dorothy Hamlet, Beth Paterson, and Ruth Howe.
Overseas in England and Scotland, families were so kind to me, a Canadian in RCAF uniform. It was my pleasure and good fortune to visit with them on “leaves of duty.”
My crew, as I have previously remarked were wonderful. After returning home, we each went our separate ways. But then after a few years, we renewed our friendship with phone calls, letters, and wonderful reunions.
I must not neglect to say how wonderful the people back home were in sending many letters, which were so appreciated.
As I write these few notes, I regret to say that my crew have now all passed away. And for now I am the last of the crew still living.
Clint Whetter died at the Brandon Regional Health Centre on 17 March 2016, aged 96, and was buried in the Riverside Cemetery at Hartney.
Page revised: 10 January 2023