Monday, 12 October 2009

I try, but cannot stem the tears, so some may drip onto this page. The crimes humanity heaps upon itself are just too much. Memories never leave me, but are sadder as yet another Armistice Day rolls by with no world peace. I grew up among too many badly-wounded veterans of that unnecessary war that was to end all wars so that all that came afterwards must have been only skirmishes. I have been part of two of these ‘skirmishes’. Korea, for me, was relatively painless. My 426 Squadron completed 600 round trips between Dorval, Quebec, and Japan and Korea without loss except for my hearing due to those raw Merlin engines on the otherwise-efficient Canadair North Stars. WWII was different. Much different.

My WWII experience was limited to 2 years in the infantry and artillery militia in Canada, 8 months of training at 4 RCAF bases in Canada, 6 months at 3 RAF Bomber Command training bases in the UK, and 7 months at 2 UK operational bases, topped off by 800 days as a POW in 5 locations in Germany. See accompanying Bomber Command statistics.

Squadrons were not good places to make friends, the turnover being too rapid with life expectancy averaging 5 operations. The prior training schools saw us divided into groups of 70 for the first and last and 35 for the other 5. Here, lasting friendships were forged. Surmounting the odds, I managed to survive 7 months on 419 Squadron, making many lasting friends, but losing far too many. Then, being locked up with from 2 to 11 thousand men in POW camps I made many more as POW casualties were light and mainly from friendly fire that exceeded the 50 friends executed by the SS after the Great Escape. Today, I can recall the names of a mere 125 friends who perished. Room permits me to select only eleven:

06 June 1942: JACOB EPP, 25, of Manitou, Manitoba. Soon after arriving in Bournemouth, Jim and I met two lovely girls from Southampton and made dates for that evening. That afternoon I was finishing a game of chess with him when Owen Smith came by asking us to join him for tea in Bobby’s by the sea front. I went but Jim elected to stay. As we were enjoying tea and cakes, 3 Me109s raced by our large window to drop bombs on hotels requisitioned for Canadian aircrew. Owen and I left on the run only to help dig out 3 dead Canadians from the ruins of the Anglo-Swiss Hotel including Jim Epp. Owen substituted for Jim on the Southampton date, starting our belief that war allowed no time to mourn.

02 Oct 42: ARTHUR MORLIDGE, 20, of Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, was my first friend to die after I joined 419 Sqn in Croft, Yorkshire. He occupied the room across from me in a cold tin Nissen hut. Before leaving to bomb Krefeld, he beckoned me over, pointing to a letter he had written to his parents, saying, “If I fail to return, would you post that letter for me?” In the morning I awoke to the noise of the Padre cleaning out his room. I slipped over to grab the letter and mail it off base avoiding censors. In 10 days only two of us were alive in a hut that had held 12 officers. New faces soon filled the empty rooms.

15 Oct 42: LESLIE SCOURFIELD, 21, of London, Ont. Our two crews of 7 RCAF, 2 RAF, and 1 RAAF were all close friends. On boarding our Wellingtons to attack Cologne, Leslie seemed agitated so I tried to calm him. He said, “George, I have the strangest feeling. I know I will get over there but that I will not come back.” His entire crew perished.

22 Jan 43: KEN JOHNS, 23, of Montreal posted to 487 NZ Ventura Sqn doing daylight raids on France and Belgium. I had met his lovely wife, Beatrice, on the train to Halifax and, in the UK, I marvelled at the long letters he would write and receive daily and how much in love they were. When our paths parted his letters to me revealed a fear that his life would be short as Venturas were easy prey for the Luftwaffe. Shot up one day they had to ditch in the North Sea. Ken made it to the dingy, then left it to rescue his drowning pilot, dragging him and lifting him into the dingy, only to drown himself from sheer exhaustion. The pilot survived. Ken’s son was born the day he died.

12 Mar 43: GORDON CORY, 20, of Vancouver, a true gentleman whose boyish charm and wit we so enjoyed, ended up on 424 Wellington Squadron. He spent one of his leaves visiting me and I was shocked at how he had aged, convinced he was not long for this world. I managed to cheer him only a little. Days later he perished over Holland.

23 Mar 43: OWEN SMITH, 23, of Elmvale, Ontario, was my first RCAF best friend. When we were posted to Quebec my French was better than his but his blond hair and good looks had the girls by-passing me to flock around him. He ended up on Mark V Blenheims (Bisleys) and ordered to the Middle East. Returning in a Liberator from delivering a Bisley he was shot down, and is now at the bottom of the Bay of Biscay along with the other 19 in the aircraft. I felt guilty at being alive and happily married when we visited his parents after the war as he was their greatly-missed only child.

27/28 Mar 43: CHARLES “PAT” PORTER, 23, of Manson Creek, BC, my pilot on Wellingtons and Halifaxes and best man at our wedding, was the only one who had a chance to get out of our blazing and plunging Halifax through the hatch above his head as our two escape hatches were jammed by cannon fire. He sacrificed his young life to remain at the controls to keep the aircraft airborne long enough to permit us to cut our way out with an axe. All six of us survived but, today, I am the only one still breathing. I remain in contact with Pat’s brother, John, a WWII fighter pilot, now on Vancouver Island.

14 July 43: DENZELL WOLFE, 25, Regina, ROY MORRISON, 23, Vancouver, and GEORGE McGLADREY, 21, Chemainus, BC, all with DFCs, killed attacking Aachen with 405 Sqn - 2nd tour. Denzell, a most considerate and likable 419 and OTU commander used every excuse to get us days off. He would say: “Scram, get lost. I don’t want to see your ugly faces around here for 3 days.” Roy and George had been two of my good 419 friends, joining Denzell for their second tours.

30 Mar 44: GEORGE McGILL, 25, of Toronto. George and I had attended the same elementary school in Toronto. The next time we met we were in adjacent rooms in Stalag Luft III. That fateful night, 24 Mar 44, I embraced him, wishing him good luck, as he departed for the tunnel to be one of the 76 chosen to get out. His ashes came back to us as he was one of the 50 executed by the SS. For many years I corresponded with his widow.

Pardon my tears as many more long-dead friends flash by.

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