The Lighter Side to World War II
Most Second World War stories consist of the “blood-and-guts” type. The following are some first-person accounts on the lighter side, coming from Allied air force veterans living in Ontario--one American and four Canadians…who I had interviewed over the years.
RCAF Flying Officer Roy Schmidt…
“While in training, I was stationed in Winnipeg, Manitoba. We used to have supper around 6 o’clock, then we’d leave, go out on the town, and have to be back to the base by 11 for roll call. One night a bunch of us got back in time except for one guy who was a few minutes late. The sergeant taking roll call wasn’t too happy, and he gave us all hell. Well, one guy in the back row couldn’t take it anymore and yells, “Up yours!”
The sergeant stomped all the way to the back row, singles this guy out, then says, “What’s your name?”
He then gave the sergeant my name! “Roy Schmidt, sir.”
But the dumb sergeant wasn’t smart enough to ask him his regimental number because I’m the only one who knew that. Meanwhile, I was in the front row when all this was going on and didn’t want to say otherwise because I didn’t want to be a shmuck.
So, next day, I’m called out of parade and marched to the CO. The CO asked me if I talked back to the sergeant and I answered, “No, sir, it wasn’t me. I didn’t know who said it but it wasn’t me. If you call the sergeant, he’ll be able to identify me and say I didn’t do it.”
Anyway, the sergeant came over and said, “Well, I don’t know for sure because I was so mad. Yeah, you look like the guy.”
So, I got KP duty--seven days--washing dishes, with no leave. And that dirty guy who gave my name wouldn’t even take half of it for me.”
RCAF Flight Sergeant W. W. Baron…
“In 1942, I was posted to RCAF Headquarters in Ottawa, where I was told I’d be going on a promotional tour in the United States. I was part of an 8-man crew. The idea was to help in a fund-raising tour called “Bundles for Britain” and display a shot-down German Messerschmitt 109 fighter. The public would pay an admission and would look at the fighter while me and another member handled the microphone. We’d give a lecture and answer questions. It went on six days a week from 10 AM to 10 PM. We each had two hours on and two hours off, and some of them were radio interviews.
The 109 fighter we used was one that had been shot down over Kent, England in August 1940, during the Battle of Britain and had made a forced landing. It was in pretty fair condition except for bent prop blades and a few scratches.
It was interesting work at first, but I got tired of it after a while. The same questions over and over again were too much. I was getting to hate facing the people. One of the questions they kept asking me was, “Why are the blades bent back like that?”
So, I’d tell them something dumb like, “So they could cut their way through the jungles!”
RAF Flying Officer “Bunny” Baker…
“I was a student pilot at a base near Neepawa, Manitoba. When practicing circuits-and-bumps there, the pilots had to concentrate on four things: watch for a certain red farmhouse and turn left; look for four trees and turn left; look for a wheat field and turn left; there in front of you should be the runway and you land. Easy right.
Well, one pilot lost his way and landed his Tiger Moth a hundred miles away. He said later, “When I saw the red farmhouse, I turned left; when I saw the four trees, I turned left; but when I looked for the wheat field, it was gone! It probably never dawned on the pilot that they were in the middle of a prairie harvest and the grain had been cut.”
USAAF Staff Sergeant Richard Wirth…
“Our crew used to fly the B-24 Liberator and it was so drafty that we called it the “Whistling Shithouse” because the wind used to whistle through it like crazy. The wind was so strong, you could hardly light a cigarette inside it. The B-24 flew like a big bird. The wings would actually flap.
We were stationed at Cerignola, Italy with the 458th Bomber Group, 459 Bomber Squadron. On a bombing run to Austria in 1944, we ran into a real pile of flak on way to the target. Several pieces hit our aircraft. One big piece of flak hit the leading edge of one wing, but we weren’t too worried. On the way back to base, the pilot said to the co-pilot “OK, put the landing gear down.”
But when he did that the wheels went down only half-way, and we could see the hydraulic fluid pore out the hole in the wing. The flak had hit the hydraulic system and all the fluid was lost. So, everyone in the crew urinated into the hydraulic tank inside the airplane to get any form of fluid into it. The wheels came down, but still hadn’t locked into position. This meant that the wheels might collapse when we touched down.
Again, the pilot wasn’t too worried, because he said we could manually drop the nose wheel, then hook up a couple parachutes to the ball turret and throw them out the waist windows to act as brakes to stop the airplane. We hooked up the chutes, then the pilot said, “Everybody else go to the tail.” So, everybody went except for me and my buddy because it was our job to throw the chutes out on either side of the aircraft.
So, we’re coming to our base and we’re set to land on a special dirt landing strip that was used only for crash-landings. We came in low and the pilot gently set the wheels down, and the wheels held. The pilot screamed out, “I think we made it! The wheels are holding! I’m going to ease the nose wheel down now.”
As soon as he did that, the nose wheel--not the main wheels--collapsed! We went from 100 miles per hour to zero in about 50 feet! Everybody in the tail wasn’t in the tail anymore. They were on top of my buddy and me, and all of us ended up in the bomb bay rear bulkhead. When it was all over, we looked around at each other and, amazingly, nobody was hurt. Not a scratch! And no fires either because the pilot cut the switches on impact.”
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I’ll end with a story that had occurred about 40 years after the war. Burlington, Ontario resident, Pilot Officer Alan Hall--an RCAF navigator who flew a tour of bombing operations on Lancaster bombers--told me that he and his wife booked a light aircraft flight from Toronto to North Bay, Ontario in the early 1980s. Hitting some fierce turbulence shortly after leaving Toronto, the aircraft rocked around a lot, enough to unsettle Hall’s wife, while Hall was just looking around calmly, not a care in the world.
Finally, Mrs Hall glanced over at her husband and said, “Doesn’t this bother you?”
“Not at all,” Alan answered her, shaking his head. “Nobody’s shooting at me.”