Per Ardua Ad Astra
Pilot Training |
Called To Duty |
End of Tour |
(Through Struggle To The Stars)
I hung around for a week waiting to see what my ‘rest tour’ posting would be. Then I went on leave for a couple of weeks, and while in London visited R.C.A.F. Headquarters. First time I had ever been there. Somebody noticed the D.F.C. and when I confirmed that I had not had yet had the Investiture, it was teed up for a few days later. I was just added to the list that was already scheduled. The King was supposed to do the honours but something happened and his brother, the Duke of Gloucester, filled in. When my name was called, they announced me as F/Lt. E.E. Allen of BOMBER COMMAND. The Duke had a few words with each one as he pinned the medal on, and with me, has asked how many operational trips I had done. I answered quite truthfully, “Fifty-two sir”. “Oh,” he said, “that’s a lot isn’t it?” I considered telling him I was Coastal Command not Bomber Command but decided I’d better keep quiet. Of course it was unheard of for a Bomber Command pilot to do fifty-two trips in our Tour! Nobody survived that many in Bomber Command.
At the end of leave I went back to the squadron at Ballykelly and finally my posting came through. I was posted to R.A.F. Operational Training Unit in Nassau in the Bahamas. I could do as I liked but given orders to report to a holding unit as Morecambe just outside Glasgow where I would catch a ship to the other side. I went on board the Queen Elizabeth in Grenock Harbour early in December bound for New York with orders to catch a train for Miami and then fly to Nassau. The thing I remember most about the ship was how white the bread was and how good!
On arrival in New York I was taken to the big railway station, “Central” to catch a train for Miami. New York was only an overnight train ride from my family home in St. George, Ontario. While waiting for the train, I noticed a kiosk manned by a couple of R.C.A.F. guys and marked “R.C.A.F. Liaison Officer”. I went and introduced myself to the Liaison Officer, gave him a brief history of myself and asked if there was anything he could do to get me some leave in Canada before I went to Nassau. He checked my papers and said, “You’re God-damned right I can!" We agreed that two weeks would be reasonable. He did all the paperwork and issued me tickets on the R.C.A.F. to Brantford and return. I phoned home and told them I would be at the Brantford station at 11 a.m. the next morning. I think they went into shock. They had no idea I was apt to turn up. They thought I was still in England. I was dazed, finding it hard to believe that I was actually going to get home again. A large part of the Allen family was at the station. I just couldn’t believe I was there. To a considerable degree everyone I had known was a stranger. Some large part of me was back in England. I looked up some old friends, but they had changed. I had trouble tuning in to their idea of humour. I felt embarrassed at a lot of conversation. It just didn’t seem real. I had last been home in August 1941 – two and a half years – but it seemed like it had been ten. It was confusing.
Finally it was time to go back to New York for transport to Nassau. I contemplated being back home every three months from Nassau so it wasn’t a big good-bye scene.
A few days later I arrived in Nassau. It was like a 59 Squadron reunion. W IC Bartlett was in charge of all training, S/Ldr Evans was O-C flying and half a dozen of the pilots – survivors from North Coates were there, including Roy Neilson and a number of 86 Squadron guys I had got to know in Aldergrove. I was made very welcome.
The function of the O.T.U. in Nassau was to take the pilots and the required crew members who had complete the Empire Air Training Plan training in Canada, convert them to being qualified Liberator air crews, with the pilots doing about fifty hours flying on the B-25 Mitchell twin engine bomber before going on the Liberator training.
Phil Evans, O.C flying, suggested I put in a few months instructing on the Mitchell. I was happy to do this. The Mitchell flight was commanded by a S/Ldr Edser, a Canadian and a prince of a guy. This was much less exciting that operational flying, and to add interest to the job and to hone our low flying skills, we used to “beat up” the local sail boat fisherman. This got exciting if you stayed too low and hit the sailboat’s mast, which we did once. The mast had a steel tip on it and the prop chewed a bit off and threw it into the aircraft, making a hole it the fuselage opposite the prop. We had to write a report on this and claimed the prop must have picked up a piece of coral when we were doing our run-up prior to take-off the flight commander had me in. He said he knew it wasn’t caused by coral, but he wouldn’t have the damage investigated because it would make too much paper work.
I put in five months instructing on Mitchells at Mitchell Field, and then moved over to Windsor Field to the Liberator flight commanded by Whiz Isted, an Englishman with a remarkable success record against U-boats in the North Atlantic – a lot of time out of Iceland. He was a D.S.O. and D.F.C. guy and a great C.O. to work for.
I had arrived in Nassau in January 1944 and of course the invasion of Europe started June 6th, 1944 and as the months went by it became questionable whether I would get back to England before that war was over. I went up to Canada on leave every three months and established contact with the Chief Pilot of T.C.A. in Toronto. He seemed impressed with the aircraft I had put my OPS time in on. He said I was the first returned pilot he had met who had put in his operational tour on a combination of Lockheed, Hudson, Liberators and Fortress. The fact that I was only twenty-two years of age seemed to help too. He ended up by telling me that subject to passing the T.C.A. medical, he would accept me as a pilot as soon as I got a release from the Air Force.
In October S/Ldr Edser phoned me and asked me to drop in and see him. I went to his office the next day and he told me he was being repatriated to Canada and was looking for someone to take over his job as O. C of the Mitchell flight. The catch was I would have to make a commitment to stay a minimum of six months. I would immediately get promoted to S/Ldr. It was tempting but under the current rules, I would be entitled to leave Nassau in January 1945, and with the European war seeming likely to be over by then, I was thinking of that job waiting for me at T.C.A. when the Air Force released me. Edser said to take a couple of days and think about it. I did and I turned it down, and carried on instructing on Liberators at Windsor Field. It was interesting work and we got a lot of time on the beach.
Because the European war was winding down, the R.A.F. stopped sending out replacement instructors in accordance with the original schedule that Nassau instructors would leave after one year of instructing. Along about the end of March, Roy Neilson got his notice of posting to the West Coast of Canada. He asked me if I would take his posting and he would wait for mine. We got approval for the switch. I got my documents and was on my way when I examined the posting documents I found I was posted to Comox B.C. for a Dakota conversion course and then to deliver a Dakota to India and put in a tour on a Dakota squadron when I got there. This wasn’t what I wanted. I had two weeks ‘repatriation’ leave at home before reporting to Comox. By this time the European war was all over. I hotfooted down to R.C.A.F. Headquarters in Ottawa, found they had a W/C in charge of postings and got in to see him. I showed him my papers and said that I knew they had a lot on instructors in Canada who would love to go overseas and I’d be glad to let someone have mine. He picked up the phone – gave some instructions and two minutes later a girl came in with a file with my name on it. He looked at the file -looked up at me and said, “You know, under our rules you are not allowed to go overseas again even if you want to”. Apparently Nassau was ‘overseas’ service to the R.C.A.F. so I had been overseas under R.C.A.F. rules for three years and four months.
He asked what I wanted to do next. I told him about Herb Hopson,
Chief Pilot for T.C.A. having told me I was accepted by T.C.A. once the Air Force released me. A phone call to Herb Hopson resulted in Herb confirming I was accepted by T.C.A. and was to report to Winnipeg to start training on July 3, 1945. The Wing Commander asked what I would like to do until then and that discussion ended up with by being posted to Mount Hope, just outside Hamilton for ‘useful duties’.
Doreen had arrived in Toronto just before Christmas 1944 and her uncle, Harry Blears had kindly given her and Diane his guestroom until we got sorted out. I had contacted Harry Blears when I first got leave in Canada. He took me out to dinner and then said he would like to have me meet a good mend of his, a Mrs. Feast, who lived just a five-minute walk from his house. We went into her house and while he was introducing us I looked at the pictures on the mantle and there was a photo of Arnold Feast, one of the pilots I had been with at Camp Borden, Toronto, ITS, Windsor Mills and Moncton S.F.T.S. Imagine their surprise when I suddenly interrupted the introductions by saying, “My God, that’s Arnold Feast”. Arnold had been on OPS in 1942 on torpedo bombers in the Mediterranean, shot down and taken as a P.O.W. to Germany, where he still \vas at that time. He was released at the end of the war, and we kept in touch With him right up to the time of his death of natural causes, about 1988.
I did my airline pilot training with T.C.A. (Trans Canada Airlines) in Winnipeg in July and August 1945. The R.C.A.F. were good enough to pay for a compartment on the train for Doreen, Diane and me. We rented an apartment in Winnipeg, which became one of the party places for the other T.C.A. pilots on my course.
When the Japanese war ended in August 1945, the R.C.A.F. sent all of us pilots down to a discharge depot, and we were all discharged into the Reserve R.C.A.F., from which I have never been discharged. Somehow, I don’t think they are likely to call me back in now!
I was fortunate to get a Toronto posting on completion of the pilots’ course in Winnipeg and some of the pilots who had become good friends in Winnipeg came to Toronto as well. One of those, Des McCabe, we kept in close touch with until his death from cancer in late 1991. His wife Bobbie is still a friend of our family.
We have had several crew reunions since the war. One in Vancouver, on our return from Japan and Hong Kong. This was an unplanned affair and the East Coast crewmembers didn’t make it. It was at my brother-in-law, Gren Hydes’ house. Des McCabe was in the area and he attended, representing Bomber Command. He went someplace else to sleep and returned for breakfast with the comment "and how are BOASTFUL Command this morning?" It would seem there was a bit of line shooting the night before.
One last word about Tommy Thomas, my original co-pilot on Liberators. After the crew reunion in Inglewood, I had enquiries done at R.A.F. records in London, England as to Tommy’s whereabouts. I got a phone number for him in South America and phoned him. He stopped in Inglewood to see us a few weeks later, and we had a good visit with him. He went back to England and we were unable to find him again. Apparently he and his wife split up and he just disappeared.
I tried numerous times to talk to Barton. London was his home but there were forty-some Bartons in the phone book, but none of them would help.
I attended Fleiger’s funeral and Al Henry’s. I caught up to Don McLean in California and had a good visit with him. He too is dead now. I’ve had several good visits with Laforme. He and I are the only crewmembers left and I suppose we’ll be gone one of these days!!!