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A Gunner — Like It or Not

from Issue #19- November 2001

by John (Jack) W. Morris, D.F.C.

Jack Morris of Windsor relates some of his Royal Canadian Air Force training in World War II. Part of the challenge was trying to stay warm!

When war was declared, everyone thought it was going to be short. In August of 1939 I had just turned sixteen and Grandmother Layland told me that the war would be over by the time I was old enough to enlist.

August 19, 1942 was a very sad and solemn day in Windsor, Ontario when word started coming back of the losses that the Essex Scottish Regiment had sustained at Dieppe. (The Essex Scottish was a militia unit based in Windsor.) All the members were residents of Essex County. The next day, I enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. I Left Windsor on September 4, 1942 for Hamilton, Ontario for three months of training at #5 Manning Depot, Lachine P.Q.

Freezing in Lachine

I had never seen so much snow nor endured such cold. The drill halls were not large enough for the whole training wing to do the marching that was necessary. The wing would form up in the drill hall and the new flights would drill outside.

Every Friday morning we were subjected to the CO’s inspection. The one inspection that stands out in my memory is of a young man who was tapped on the shoulder and told to get a hair cut. He then did the unpardonable act of questioning an order given on a parade square. Then he removed his wedge cap, put a hand to his head and removed a wig, which he put in his great coat pocket.

Apparently he had had scarlet fever as a child and hadn’t a hair on his body. I met "Curly" overseas at # 22 O.T.U. and asked him what he had done with his issue shaving kit. The brush had been cut down and used to apply shoe polish — the razor had never been used. Later I found out he had been quarantined for six weeks when members of his unit came down with scarlet fever even though he was immune!

Christmas came and I got seven days leave. It was a great holiday and was to be my last Christmas home until 1945.

When we returned to the depot, the other half of the flight went on leave for New Year’s. After we had completed 21 days of training, it was make work for us: the kitchen, the boiler house and any other dirty job they could find. One day our flight was in a rec hall waiting to get our assignments for the day. A flight sergeant went to the stage and asked everyone with a Quebec driver’s license to fall out and line up by the door. He handed everyone a broom. Then, they all got to drive a broom around the drill hall floor!

Freezing on Guard Duty

Around the end of January, the first half of our flight went to Brandon, Manitoba. I was very fortunate as I was posted to Mountain View, Ontario where there was a B&G School, and that was cold enough for me! Mountain View was on an island in the Bay of Quinte I was there until around the end of March performing tarmac and security guard duties.

This was a good station. We got a 48-hour pass every 10 days and it was only a little over 300 miles to Windsor. But we were anxious to leave for our next posting as it would start us on our way to becoming Spitfire pilots. This was the dream of every airman who was chosen for aircraft.

From my time at Mountain View, three things stand out in my memory. We flew Ansons, Bolingbrookes and Lysanders. When they landed, the fitters would check the oil, and it always seemed that they needed some. The oil was kept in 45-gallon drums on the edge of the taxiway. We would wheel one out to the aircraft and the fitter would climb up the ladder to the engine and insert the nozzle in the filler spout of the engine. One of us would be on the handle of a rotary pump. Aviation oil is about a 60 grade. At 10 degrees above zero it requires a great deal of effort to pump so after pumping about five gallons of oil you worked up a sweat even at those temperatures.

I was now considered experienced enough to direct the parking of aircraft which leads to my next memorable experience. One day an Anson came in and I went out to guide it to its parking spot. I waved the pilot to turn it into the designated area. As he came up to the line he stopped and waved me off, so I took another look and waved him on. Fortunately the aircraft beside him had a weak oleo strut and its wing was lower than that of the aircraft I was directing — the wings overlapped by about three feet.

The third memory occurred while I was on guard duty. We were on the graveyard shift and it was about 3:00 in the morning. It was bitterly cold with gale-force winds. Another guard and I went into the washroom of a rec hall where it was nice and warm. We had our parkas off and our guns were lying in the corner. We had seen the Sergeant driving around, but we didn’t pay any attention to his truck because we didn’t think he would find us. Well he did and was he angry! He had hot coffee in the truck for us and when he couldn’t find us he thought that something had happened to us and maybe we were lying hurt in the snow some place.

Thank you very much, Sir

It was a special day when we left Mountain View near the end of March. We were on our way to #6 I.T.S. in Toronto and were nearing our dream of becoming pilots in the Royal Canadian Air Force. There was not one airman at that school who didn’t believe that he was a future Spitfire pilot. Little did we know that category aircrew comprises all the other trades that are needed to fly a bomber and guess where they get them from? The selection boards. All the I.T.S.s had their quotas to fill.

There was only one airman I knew who became a Spitfire pilot: a young man (we were all young then), whose name was Bill Pitt, from London, Ontario. We parted company at #6 I.T.S. The next time I saw him was in England, when he came up north to Yorkshire where Six Group was based. (Six Group was an all-Canadian bomber group.) We only had a few hours together as I was flying that evening. I never saw or heard of him again.

I went before the selection board. Rumour had it that there was a shortage of air gunners. I knew that I wasn’t going to be an air gunner and I had all my reasons lined up as to why. The board consisted of the wing C.O., the chief ground instructor and my course officer.

The first thing the wing C.O. asked me was why I thought I should remain in Air Crew? You never heard such fast talking in your life. I gave them every reason I could think of and some I wasn’t thinking of. Finally the wing C.O. said that he liked my attitude and would recommend me for posting to #1 Air Gunner Ground School at Trenton. I said, "Thank you very much, Sir," and was dismissed. I walked out of that room on my way to becoming an air gunner and had even thanked them for it!

Jack flew in 34 sorties, the last operation being his most memorable: on October 14, 1944 his plane was one of 1,013 aircraft flying over Duisburg, Germany. 957 bombers dropped 4,394 tons of high explosives and incendiaries on Duisburg.




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