4. Sticking With What He Wanted

by Peter C. Conrad

Bill Minor was born in Lethbridge, Alberta and was living there when the Second World War started. In February 1943, he joined the RCAF, but he was not needed until June, so he waited at home. When Bill arrived in Calgary, he was given an aptitude test. He was told he should be a wireless air gunner, but Bill’s brother was a gunner and told Bill not to accept such a trade. Bill didn’t agree to be a gunner, demanding that he should go into pilot training. Finally, the interviewing recruitment officer agreed to send him to an Initial Training School. Bill recounts the training process in the later years of the BCATP including the special diet of salad and continuous carrots, which was believed to protect the young pilots from night blindness. Bill recounts vivid flights across country at low level and finding himself in fog in the foothills of the Rockies where the land rises faster than the Avro Anson can gain altitude.

I was born in Lethbridge. We lived in Lethbridge when I was quit small. Then we moved to McGrath. We farmed out there. Then we came back to Lethbridge for High School. I couldn’t get with the teachers in high school. They didn’t care much for me also. So I finished up in Olds at the agricultural college.

The government was way, way behind the times on their curriculum. They were teaching us forge welding and their veterinary medicine was mainly workhorses. The poor old fellow that was teaching the veterinary medicine was a veterinary. His cure for everything was fire and blister and called a veterinary surgeon. We judged chickens and made butter. They should have been teaching welding with at least acetylene. It was an old curriculum and they stayed right with it. We had fun and games there anyway.

I was out for about a year. I joined up in February of ‘43. They didn’t need me until June. I was to go home and get my tonsils out at my expense. It was probably a good deal. I would rather have a good doctor in Lethbridge than a new boy in the air force. So I report to Calgary and took these aptitude tests. I had an interview with an officer and he said I would make a very good wireless air was a gunner. He told me, never gunner. My brother go to wireless air gunner. If you want to be a gunner, be a gunner. So I was a little stubborn. The thing was, they needed wireless air gunners. It had nothing to do with my aptitude test. So I stuck to my guns, finally he said, all right, we’ll send you to ITS , but I don’t think you’ll ever make pilot.

You know all they were doing was brainwashing the kids that is all. So I went to Manning Pool at Edmonton, for some reason we were there for only three weeks, which was nice, because that was a zoo. You’re confined to barracks, I think, for ten days. On about the fifth day, you go to the mess hall with the rest of the troops. They marched to the mess hall. They marched us back. Took us to the canteen once a day to buy candy bars and razors. The boy in the next bed was in the air force, then he was out and now he was back in again. He said to hell with this, let’s go down town and drink some beer, which we did over the fence. It wasn’t too bad. It rained nearly every day.
You know all they were doing was brainwashing the kids that is all. So I went to Manning Pool at Edmonton, for some reason we were there for only three weeks, which was nice, because that was a zoo. You’re confined to barracks, I think, for ten days. On about the fifth day, you go to the mess hall with the rest of the troops. They marched to the mess hall. They marched us back. Took us to the canteen once a day to buy candy bars and razors. The boy in the next bed was in the air force, then he was out and now he was back in again. He said to hell with this, let’s go down town and drink some beer, which we did over the fence. It wasn’t too bad. It rained nearly every day.

Then we were sent down to Calgary to what they the WET-P: War Time Emergency Training Plan. This consisted mainly of mathematics, aircraft recognition, a little bit of wireless. They speeded us up on our math. They didn’t accept fifty or sixty per cent, they wanted it to be a hundred per cent on simple mathematics and speed, which was all right.

We lived out. They paid us thirty-seven dollars a month for living out. We took this training at Central High School down town. I was lucky to get a place for thirty dollars a month. We didn’t get much sleep. We were spooking around. We didn’t have to be in barracks we were doing what we pleased, but we had to be in class at nine 0’ clock in the morning.
We lived out. They paid us thirty-seven dollars a month for living out. We took this training at Central High School down town. I was lucky to get a place for thirty dollars a month. We didn’t get much sleep. We were spooking around. We didn’t have to be in barracks we were doing what we pleased, but we had to be in class at nine 0’ clock in the morning.

We were attached to No 2 Wireless School. That is Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) now. Or they took over SAlT and turned it into No 2 Wireless School. They paid us or if we got sick we went there. On the train down from Edmonton a lot of the boys had dysentery. The next morning, the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR), Canadian National Railroad (CNR), I can’t remember, which fed us something that was bad. I imagine they heard about it. From there we went to Saskatoon in the fall.

This was Central High School. It was rented because it was holidays. They all had civilian teachers come in and taught us. The winter was cold and the food was rotten. Once a day we had one cup. If you went back with a little milk in it they wouldn’t give you any more. You had to turn around and get a clean cup. The next meal you could buy milk if you had any money. We didn’t have much of that. We were being paid about thirty-seven dollars a month. Then they would want us to buy a war bond. This is like financing your own misery. It was all right you could buy a war bond and when you got some leave you could cash it in. Like a savings account; that was the worst damn station we were ever on. The man that was in charge, I forgot his rank; he was an insurance salesman. He had no wings yet: a wingless wonder. He had no respect for anyone who didn’t have wings; bankers, schoolteachers and this type. They were the ones that were very miserable. They expected you to salute at all times, and this, that and the other thing.

The guys with pilot wing, it didn’t matter, gunner wings, whatever, they were pretty good fellas. Because they had been through the same hassle we were going through. Freddy McCall was number two-man, you’ve heard of Freddy McCall? The ball field in Calgary is named after him. He was a First World War fighter pilot. Freddy was all right, but he drank too much. That was why he was on a none-flying station: he couldn’t get near the airplanes. But, he was a good little guy. So that was the only place I got into any trouble. I went home at Christmas time. It was a five-day leave, but there was no way I was going to be back in five days. We were finished our course, and they didn’t know where to send me. So there were quit a few of us that did the same thing. We got back in about eight or nine days. Actually we weren’t doing anything anyway. Half of the station went on Christmas leave and half went on New Year’s leave. So we got back a little late. The sergeant got a hold of this and put us on charge.

The Officers didn’t care. This sergeant, I think, wanted to get out of Saskatoon. He was just making trouble. So we were confined to barracks for about a week. It was too bad, but it ruined your evening. You had to run down to the guardhouse every half hour. You had to rattle off your name and number. Then you’d go back to barracks until lights out. They still didn’t know what to do with us. So they gave us the ground school that we were going to get at Elementary Flying Training School. Which was kind of a nice thing. We were the smartest course that showed up in High River. We knew all this ground school.

At ITS, they made you do all your navigation all on paper. You drew in all your wind lines and course and all this. Then when we took our second course in Saskatoon they gave us computers. We were going to get computers at High River, or Elementary. The computers did most of the work for you. But we understood than what the computers were doing. A computer was a slide ruler.
When we got to High River, we were very disillusioned about the air force. You could imagine why. A bunch of young kids and they showed us a lot of American training films. The boys were eating salad and carrots for night blindness. Oh boy, dandy food, but we were eating garbage. The good food was going out the back somewhere. When we heard we were going to High River most of the boys were from Vancouver or Toronto, only two or three of us were from Alberta. So these friends of nine wanted to know what it would be like in High River. I said the grass was green and the birds would be singing when we got to Calgary. Well they didn’t believe a word I told them. So I threw my grey coat in my kit when we got on the train and the winter cap, which we called a piss-pot and mitts and everything else. We were really dressed for cold weather when we were in Saskatoon.

We got to Calgary and had three-hour layover. And here are these dummies carrying their grey coats and wearing their piss-pot. Everyone was looking at them kind of funny. And the grass was green. Of course I was getting letters from home; I knew what was going on out here. I didn’t think they ever plough the show that winter. Not when we were there, they rolled it a little bit on the runway.

So we arrived in High River and they told us where our barracks where, then told us to report to this certain building after supper. We were a little suspicious; we had to report in our blues, our uniform. So we report to this building at seven o’clock. There was a lunch laid out and a couple kegs of beer. The Commanding Officer was Bill Smith, Judge Palmer, the old bush pilot from Lethbridge. There was the Chief Flying Instructor. They were there and the instructors we were going to have. Bill Smith gave us a little talking to. He hoped we would be happy there. He introduced all the officers that were going to be with our flight, all the instructors. Judge Palmer gave us a very short speech. That was that. They said let’s get to it. Play the piano, drink the beer and eat the lunch. Now we liked this place.

This is different. In the mess hall there were eight men per table, two for each side of a square table. The local ladies were cooking the food. Civilians ran this station, the Calgary Flying Club. They maintained the aircraft and looked after everything on the station except the flying training. There were air force officers, pilots that in charge of that. When they just started, the instructors were from the Calgary Flying Club, civilians do the whole show. By the time we got there they had enough air force officers, instructors. The ground school instructors were civilians. Some of them were retired schoolteachers. So we had a grand old time in High River. They treated us good.
This is different. In the mess hall there were eight men per table, two for each side of a square table. The local ladies were cooking the food. Civilians ran this station, the Calgary Flying Club. They maintained the aircraft and looked after everything on the station except the flying training. There were air force officers, pilots that in charge of that. When they just started, the instructors were from the Calgary Flying Club, civilians do the whole show. By the time we got there they had enough air force officers, instructors. The ground school instructors were civilians. Some of them were retired schoolteachers. So we had a grand old time in High River. They treated us good.

We had every other forty-eight off. Every other weekend was a forty-eight hour pass. I knew a lot of the ground crew who were Lethbridge boys. They had cars. This was wonderful. If I weren’t feeling very good Sunday morning I would go to their barracks. “Have beer Bill, have a shot of Whiskey, what will you have?” We weren’t allowed any liquor in our barracks. I would catch a ride, back and forth to Lethbridge with these fellas.

On the thirty-first of March we finished up. We had forty hours duel, thirty-six hours pilot and command. In daylight: two hours and forty-five minutes. Night flying duel. Thirty-five minutes solo. Instrument, twelve hours, Link trainer, fifteen hours. We were posted to Fort Macleod with two weeks leave. We showed up at Fort Macleod. They didn’t put us on course. The decided to close Fort Macleod; it was too damn windy down here. They were flying Anson, Mark II. So then what? We didn’t know. What was going to happen to us?

I had a good job, we were given Joe-jobs; I was sent over to the Legion building. It was run by the Legion. It was a recreation room, reading room, pool tables, and ping-pong tables. Stayed there for a couple of months. Then we went to No. 9 Maintenance and Construction Unit at Vancouver. We didn’t think we would ever see an airplane again. They set up on the island at a place near Kelsey Bay. From there a small boat took us to Mackie Creek. Which was a camp that consisted of two granaries: twelve by sixteen granaries. With chip-lap and shingles on the out side and two-by-four inside. No ceiling. You chopped your wood for cooking and heat. One building was a mess hall and cookhouse. The other was the bunkhouse. We were to help two telephone men maintain the telephone line from Kelsey Bay to the North End of the island. These little camps were scattered all the way along.

We were there, two or three month which was a holiday. I had a beard that was against regulations. Had to shave if nobody was checking up on me. The fishermen gave us salmon from off shore. I got to rub the air force little bit. They sent up a carton of fresh bead once a month. We could get anything we wanted from the store at Kelsey Bay. The mail boat came twice a week. We could phone down and they would send us anything we wanted.

We traded air force food that we didn’t want to the store for credit. We could phone down to get what ever we wanted. Why didn’t the air force give us credit at that store? This was a terrible crime. It would of been fine to throw it in a salt chuck, but don’t you sell it. But send a carton of bread—enough for four men for a month. How long does it keep at sea level in summer time? We learned to shave off the sides: there would be a little bit in the middle that was still good. We ate well there.

Our rations were full rations and a quarter, because we were doing such hard work. At which we fooled them, we weren’t working that hard. We ate four meals a day. I gained thirty pounds, I haven’t been that heavy before or since. I was with my Jewish buddy, Ralph Moster from Vancouver. We had a fine time there. Finally, we heard that we could apply for annual leave. Aircrew was not eligible for annual leave. Ralph was thinking fast.
Our rations were full rations and a quarter, because we were doing such hard work. At which we fooled them, we weren’t working that hard. We ate four meals a day. I gained thirty pounds, I haven’t been that heavy before or since. I was with my Jewish buddy, Ralph Moster from Vancouver. We had a fine time there. Finally, we heard that we could apply for annual leave. Aircrew was not eligible for annual leave. Ralph was thinking fast.

He said, “Let’s get that annual leave.”

I asked, “What’s the hurry?”

He said, “Before the damn fools change their minds.” We both might get out, who knows?” So we both applied for annual leave, right now!

We got it. We got to Vancouver and they said you guys have been posted.

“Where too?”

“Claresholm.”

“Damn! There goes our leave.”

“No, no! You’re still getting two weeks leave. If we had got the leave two weeks earlier, we would have been gone for a month. We showed up here, back at Claresholm on the fourth of September. I hadn’t seen an airplane up close for five months. We got to Claresholm and started flying. These poor instructors didn’t know what was going to happen. Now these guys haven’t been around airplanes for five months and they are starting or twin engines, retractable gear and flaps. We flew Cornels in High River.

They were flying Ansons. I was lucky; I had a good instructor, George Stewart. Flew two hours and fifty-five hours. He sent me solo for thirty minutes. I don’t think they do that today. We were flying a Cornell, which was a two hundred horse, single engine. You go from that to a heavy old Anson with two, three hundred horse engines and retractable gear, flaps, that the Cornell didn’t have. Most of the fellas, soloed in two or three hours. See we got way more duel time than we got solo. Single engine was seventy-nine hours and forty minutes. Multi-engine was a hundred and eighty-seven. That took in most everything. Multi-engine duel was eighty-one hours; daytime. Forty-three hours, forty minutes; solo. Eleven hours night duel, eight hours solo; twenty-six, passenger that went when you were bombing and stuff like that … Instrument flying was forty-two hours and thirty-five minutes. Link was forty-three hours forty-five minutes. It was quit a course. They weren’t trying to save money.

When I renewed my pilots, I didn’t know what they were talking about, “touch-and-go.” When you’re landing an air force aircraft. You taxi down the runway and off. If you’re going to go again, you go around the other side and take off. There was no such thing as “a touch and go.” It is dangerous manoeuvre anyway. Because a student pilot touches down to pour the coal to it and go again. The air force, they teach you to get the damn thing stopped. Which in the thing you usually do when you land. You stop safety. We had some oddball instructor. I was lucky I had this George Stewart instructor. He didn’t get excited. I rode with one guy on navigation, cross-country. He threw his parachute harness in. We wore a parachute harness. If we were going to jump, we grab the parachute and snap it onto the front of the harness. He just chucked and sat in the right hand seat. I said, “Aren’t you going to put your harness on.”

He said, “Oh, hell we aren’t going to be high enough to jump. This is low level cross-country. So I had the trip all figured. It was a three-legged trip. Out northeast, back south and northwest back to Claresholm. It would be some little elevator sighting would be your turning point. As soon as you found that, you turned and went. So we were flying along. He was reading a book. He was marking me on this trip but he was going to give me a good mark. He was a sergeant. I poked him in the ribs, we were coming on a fog bank, a big one. It was lying right on the ground. We were jumping three wire fences. This was low level cross-country. The regulations said fifty feet, no lower than fifty feet. If you were flying with a straight instructor you would fly at fifty feet. He would say, “What the hell are we doing way up here?” You put it down.” We might have cleared a three-wire fence. I moved it up just a little to make sure. I wouldn’t fly between somebody’s house and their barn, or any other windmill or building, because the farm kids were great for stringing aerial wire across and you couldn’t see them.

We had very few power lines. The only thing we worried about were telephone lines, out this east country there were very little of anything, coyotes and antelopes. I poked this guy in the ribs. He looked at this fog said I have control and he took in under it. But the wheels down and both flaps and slowed it down. We flew a long for a ways. He then let me fly for a while. We could see about two hundred yards at times; Right on the deck. So he said take it up through Minor. So I took it up through this fog. We flew along on top following a compass course. Then he said, “I have control.” He said you look out the window and tell me when you see ground. Then the damn fool let down through that stuff. I would see ground quicker out of the side window, before he would see it over the nose. So he was looking a long way forward out front. So I finally saw ground. We flattened out and flew along for a while. I said it’s time we turn. “Okay, let’s turn. We would fly another course for a while. We finally came out of it. We got back to the station. One of the instructors asked if we were under it of over it. He said, “Hell no we were in it.” Today, I would hit him on the head. There is no way I would fly like that. It was bad enough being under, but that letting down through was crazy. It could have been anything. A hill or any damn thing. What hope do you got. He was the only bad one I met with I think.

We all hated the Link trainer to start with, then you kind of get to liking it. It didn’t feel like an airplane. There was no pressure. On an Anson if you were strong enough you could do a steep turn with one hand, pull it over hard. The littler guys used both hands. On the Link you could use one finger to do it. Not much feel to a Link. But after you learn to fly, the Link is kind of fun and games.

We finally finished up. You are riding with a stranger in his aircraft. They painted the cells on the engine red. This was a testing airplane; you saw one of those, you left it alone. You give them the right of way, because there were some poor students in there doing his damnedest. They sit there like a damned driver examiner. Do this, do that, and do something else. He’s writing something in a book, getting you nervous. We had a relief field at Woodhouse. They called it the Woodhouse field.

I would hate to try it now on that kind of money. But then I reported to Calgary for discharge. They didn’t turn us loose. They gave us a conditional discharge; called it a class C. What was it again; this is the one here: I go two discharge papers: “Release from active service and transferred to class C section of the reserve.” That meant that they could call us back if needed and they didn’t have to pay us. But, this was the 21 March ‘45. So, the war was just about over. This is a picture of our instructors at Claresholm. These two guys are dead already. This boy was killed in the first war in Israel, Raffy Muster. Bob Miller at the reunion we heard that he died. They couldn’t find this guy, Bill Morgan.

Bill Smith, the Commanding Officer at Clarholm went back with the Calgary Flying Club.

Another thing is that in High River they didn’t believe in parades. It always came out in the station’s standing orders; a CO’s inspection on Friday afternoon. On about Thursday, the CO’s inspection got cancelled. For some reason, they were behind in flying hours, or any excuse they could find was used. They didn’t like them any better than we did. They were good guys. You talk about morale; that station had it. Where Saskatoon was exactly the opposite. But, the people that were running High River knew what they were doing.

Old Jock, this real big heavy guy, he was chief flying instructor. If your instructor didn’t like you, you go to your Flight Commander. If he didn’t like your flying, he sent you to Jock Plummer. He would say, well I think this boy just need a little extra practice or he is dangerous. But, just because one guy didn’t like you he couldn’t wash you out. Jock had the last say on that. That’s about the size of it. Otherwise I don’t think I would be here.

We were probably headed for Bombing Command. It would have had to be Bomber Command or transport. In Bomber Command you didn’t last long; I think about three of four per cent was lost on every raid they went on. My brother made one raid and was lost on the next on Bomber Command. So I lost about half my friends anyway that went right to Bomber Command. Out of the whole bunch there was no bad accidents, nobody killed at either High River or Claresholm. At High River one plane landed and broke a wheel off. That was the instructor’s fault. Of course they lied their way out of that one. One of our boys out of Claresholm, he ditched an Anson in Lake McGregor. So we called him Diggy for ditching it. He was flying low over the water and caught the propellers. He said he pulled her up and thought he could make it to shore. You know if you have enough speed, the momentum will take you up a ways. He was heading for shore, but he didn’t quit make it. I think he did do seven days in the digger for that. There was no injury.

If you read, The Plan you get the impression in there that it was the instructors that caused the accidents, not the students. The instructors, there was a lot of them that were bored, like this one buzzing in and out of the fog. He didn’t give a damn. He wanted to be posted overseas. He thought that if he did enough crazy things they would post him overseas.

While I was in Claresholm on Anson was into a cable wire in the Bow River and killed the instructor, student, and a passenger. That was the only accident while I was there. So you couldn’t blame the dumb students, it was the dumb instructors. I lucked out and had two good ones. But, if you would ride with these other people, they never put the same two students in the same aircraft if they could help it, because I guess they thought we would show off to the other a little bit.

The only time we had two students was when we went on a practice bomb ruin and on navigation flights. When you were acting like a navigator. We would take turns; you sit in the back of the aircraft and told the pilot where to go. The next trip you would switch back. That was toward the end of our course, we knew how to fly very good and we scared ourselves enough times that we weren’t fooling around too much. At High River, I guess we were all the same; take the Cornell off and fly just above the runway; just a few feet above the runway. Get it up to top speed and then pull up hard. It looked nice, you know. They didn’t like that. Then, with the retractable, once we caught on to that we would get a little more speed than we needed on the runway, reach down and pull the wheels up and pull a little back on the stick. The wheels retracted in the aircraft and it looked like we had just picked them off the runway. Well, you can imagine a bunch of nineteen, twenty-year-old kids, whet they will do. It was amazing that half of us didn’t kill ourselves.

If they had caught us over these hills, we would be washed out. There is some of the worst flying weather right west of here—turbulent air. It is nice if the air I clam, but when the wind is blowing all the local pilots keep the hell away from there. We had strict order to never go near the Porcupine Hills. I only went over there once, and that was with an instructor. He wanted to go there. Don’t argue with instructors. It we would have been caught there as nothing was ever said because it was an instructor, but if they caught me over there, boom.

There are no other schools this close to the mountains, but these are the Porcupine Hills. They are only about fifteen miles west of the airport. In the south west here it is a thousand feet above sea level, or close to it. The airport is thirty-three, thirty-five feet above sea level. You didn’t have far to go to get to this level. In these hills you start fooling around, you can’t get an Anson to climb fast enough, if you are low, they couldn’t climb as fast as that hill over there. If we wanted to look at something over here, we get to the top and throttle back and come back down. That was if you were looking for anything; cattle or anything like that.
There are no other schools this close to the mountains, but these are the Porcupine Hills. They are only about fifteen miles west of the airport. In the south west here it is a thousand feet above sea level, or close to it. The airport is thirty-three, thirty-five feet above sea level. You didn’t have far to go to get to this level. In these hills you start fooling around, you can’t get an Anson to climb fast enough, if you are low, they couldn’t climb as fast as that hill over there. If we wanted to look at something over here, we get to the top and throttle back and come back down. That was if you were looking for anything; cattle or anything like that.

Documentation showed that locations like Claresholm was too close to the mountains, but they always claim that Claresholm had more good flying hours per year than other stations in Canada this was what we were always told. I don’t doubt it. There is a little hole here. Lots of times this area would be open and everyone else will be fogged in with a very low ceiling. There is a little pocket here with absolutely different weather here. The wind can be sixty-seven miles per hour over those hills and ten or fifteen on the ground. The wind is going over us. At Fort Macleod, they get a fifty or sixty mile an hour wind through the pass. It will pretty well stop down here by Granum. It is just the way the hills affect our weather. There is very light snowfall here too.

We had basketball teams, and volleyball teams. We even had a bowling ally here. We were one of the few stations that did have them. We didn’t care too much for Group Captain Kennedy, but he did run a good station. We didn’t associate much with Captain Kennedy; he was big and loud and stands out on the parade field and beller at us. We couldn’t hear anyways because the wind was hollowing. We didn’t want to go out on that parade square. He was giving us hell about something, but he did run a very good station.

The food wasn’t as good as what High River had. It was common air force grub. The cooks ruined it. A lot didn’t like it, and then didn’t give a damn, with powder eggs; did you ever eat powder eggs? Bacon cut a half-inch thick; oh we did eat a lot of bread and jam. We did have a lot of milk; all we wanted. Bread and jam, we always had that, we could fall back on that.

Well, we always had PT (Physical Training) period. There were always a lot of things to do, if you wanted to do them. Chase the WDs a little bit; things like that.

Physical Training included Tackle Football with no pads. That is what happened to this eyebrow—I got kicked in the head, in a big pileup. They had no end to the recreation equipment. You could go talk to the sergeant that was in charge and get any kind of volleyball or basketball or whatever equipment you wanted. He kept track of them and you would turn them back in. I was more for uptown beer drinking when I had money, or go over to the canteen where the beer was cheap.

We didn’t get to know many people. We knew our instructors, but we didn’t associate with them after hours. We knew our flight. There was recreation: dice and cards. This Jewish boy, Ralph Moser got mad he was loosing money in a dice game so he threw the dice threw the window. When we had the reunion, one of the guys remembered this.

He said, “Do you remember when Ralph threw the dice out the window?”

I said, “Damn right, and they were my dice.” I was ready to kill him. He had to go on his own and dig these dice out.

This was against the law; this little gaming. We got caught at a little crap game in Fort Macleod. These service police came at us in all directions. They came in every door there was. They got us. It was just nickels and dimes; we were just killing time. Nobody had any money. It was just something to do. They picked up the money and they picked up the dice. They picked up our dice, a couple sets of dice, and got all our names and they were going to put us all on charge. That was the only time I ran to the Padre. I knew the Padre really well. He was a very good ping-pong player. He had his office in the Legion building. Next morning I told him what had happened. He said don’t worry Bill; I don’t think you’ll hear anything about that. There was no end to the number of times he told me how much the CO had lost to this officer of that officer in the bid poker games in the officers’ mess. I don’t think you’ll hear anything about that. So I imagine that he just told them, “If you put those kids on charges, I’ll put you on charge.” He was that kind of guy.

The Padre and I would be playing pretty good ping-pong. Once in a while he would win. I would get the Legion building cleaned up; there were two of us looking after this Legion building. So we could get it cleaned up in half, three-quarters of an hour. So then the Padre and me would go and play ping-pong.

These guys would come wandering in, stand around like lost sheep. So he would ask,” Did you want to see me?”

“Yes.”

“Well, just a minute, we have to finish the game.”

So we would finish the game. Then he would take them into the office. Oh, they looked sad, you know. They wanted compassionate leave. We called it passionate leave. The poor wife was at home alone. They would have these damned cock and bull stories. He would tell some this.

He would say, “That guy, he’s just pulling my leg.”

But, if there was a good cause, he could get leave for them. He would go to bat for them. I think about ninety percent of it was straight bull. Oh, but they were the saddest looking boys.

The Padre treated us real good. He was in charge of maintenance of Fort Macleod golf course. The airport was very close to town; you jut come across the track and across number three highway, there is this golf course. Somebody had run a bunch of horses in the winter before. Well, the town wasn’t going to keep up a golf course. It was wartime, so these officers took it over. They were to maintain this golf course. So he would send two or three guys to tinker with it. You know, clean up this horse manure. This Ralph Moser went with us. He couldn’t believe what they called greens in this country; it was oiled sands. It wasn’t nice green grass, it was sand with oil in it. We raked it smooth and that was your green. He would say, “Greens are supposed to be green.” He didn’t know much about picking up horse manure. Get a little wheel barrel, and we would just tinker around. Then there was going to be a real big inspection. A big gun from Calgary or Edmonton was coming down.
The Padre treated us real good. He was in charge of maintenance of Fort Macleod golf course. The airport was very close to town; you jut come across the track and across number three highway, there is this golf course. Somebody had run a bunch of horses in the winter before. Well, the town wasn’t going to keep up a golf course. It was wartime, so these officers took it over. They were to maintain this golf course. So he would send two or three guys to tinker with it. You know, clean up this horse manure. This Ralph Moser went with us. He couldn’t believe what they called greens in this country; it was oiled sands. It wasn’t nice green grass, it was sand with oil in it. We raked it smooth and that was your green. He would say, “Greens are supposed to be green.” He didn’t know much about picking up horse manure. Get a little wheel barrel, and we would just tinker around. Then there was going to be a real big inspection. A big gun from Calgary or Edmonton was coming down.

So we bugged the Preacher, “Hey you need some help. That golf course is looking terrible. You should send us down there.”

“Don’t you want to go on parade, Bill?”

“No.”

“Okay, you can go to the golf course.”

I don’t like going for parade. He would buy us milk shakes when we were broke and poor.

I could get home every two weeks, because I lived so close, the folks lived in Lethbridge. I would always take a few airmen with me; they were from Ontario or BC. Mother would treat us real good. I would get the old man’s car and head for McGrath; go down and see the girls.

The dances at Lethbridge were really something I tell you. All these married girls would take their rings off and come to the dance. Their old man was overseas. There was a lot of that. A lot of them knew each other for only a week or two and then get married. Then the old fellow would have to go overseas.

It was very difficult to get enough whiskey to drink. We got a quart a month; a twenty-six a month. It was all you could get. That was an awful hardship.

They had all kinds of clubs. They put on plays and did this and that. It was more for the permanent staff. The instructors and others were there for years. We were there for a few months. While we were at Macleod they formed vaudeville like deal. Fort Macleod had one of the best bands in Alberta; someone around the Legion said that.

I said, “Hey, I want to get in on that. Well, I don’t have any talent.”

“Well, then you can run the lights.”

This other boy and me ran the spotlights. He was good. We had all kinds of things, gymnastics and singers, everything. They loaded us up these damned old trucks with the canvas over. You would have to stand up in the back of the truck. We went to Claresholm, to Lethbridge, the airport, and the prisoner of war camp. It was for the troops and soldiers, not for the prisoners. We got a bottle of beer out of that, but you got away from the station. When you’re broke, you want out of there once in a while. We were continually broke. We had too much time off.

We had more leave than we had money. This was the sticker; if they had pushed us through fast we wouldn’t have that much leave. You went from this station to that station. They just put you on the train and sent you. You would have been there and started a course. They were caught up by this time. When we started at Claresholm, they told us in no uncertain terms, that they didn’t need us. They said, “Be careful. Any unauthorized low flying or anything like that and you were washed out.”

We had to study quite a bit or you weren’t going to make it. We sure didn’t want to wash out toward the last. We may have ended up in the army. One friend washed out here and we all felt pretty bad about it. Before we finished, he came back he was Pilot Officer, Air Gunner. At most four or five made officer and the rest were sergeants. Some deserved to be officers and some didn’t. We were all happy to see this guy. He was from Calgary. He came back, and had way more training than most air gunners ever got before he went to become an air gunner. He knew how to tear a machine gun down. He had fired a machine gun on the ground, he had aircraft recognition, wireless, and he had all that stuff. So he probably topped his class. We were all feeling sorry for him and he came back an officer. The rank wasn’t all that damn important, but the money was. Always looking for money.

We were shipped off to Fort Macleod for more training. We were about two months in Fort Macleod and we still got our flying pay, which was about seventy-five cents a day. Then we were off to Vancouver and they stopped this flying pay. Well this meant a lot to us. We were all mad and when we were giving a little leave we cashed all our war bonds. You have to give a reason for cashing a war bond. Well, we need the money. But, why do you need the money? Well you cheap buggers, you took away our flying pay. So we got out on the island, to the old Mackey Creek and we never once got out of there. We were there about two and half months or something like that. They sent us cheques. We just put the cheques in our wallet. We couldn’t cash them and we didn’t need the money. We had enough for tobacco and this kind of stuff. We could order anything we wanted at the store at Kelsey Bay if it was for the camp. If we wanted a case of Coke, we could buy it. We all agreed we would get a case of Coca Cola with the proceeds from the air force food. They sent us can salmon, from the air force; while the fishermen were catching beautiful salmon right off shore and gave us all we wanted. They had lots of bully beef. We had a little Terrier dog and he ate the bully beef. What he could eat, we sent back to the store.

It was so many pounds of this or that. Like they couldn’t always say that we could buy this, but it was way more than we can get, way more. So somebody was chiselling at these airport kitchens whether it was the cooks or the officers or whom it was I don’t know. It was going out the back door, I’m positive about that. If you had a complaint the orderly officer would come into the mess hall and the sergeant would holler attention. Everyone would sit up at attention. “Any complaints!” You soon found out you didn’t complain. If you started to complain about the food, then how was the rest of it. The meat is no good. Well then how is all the rest of it? It was all right, you know. Then what are you complaining about? Eat the other stuff. But, those buggers didn’t eat the same food that we ate. They were rotten that way.

Then they would tell us about the night blindness, eat lots of carrots, and all this, and salads, all this, well we never saw carrots and salad, and very little fruit. At High River, there was some kind of fruit every morning. There was dry cereal; there was oatmeal, bacon, eggs, and pancakes. Whatever you wanted, and they even had waitresses; they would run to get us more bacon or more eggs.

These waitresses were all civilians. It was a civilian staff. Some of the local girls were waitresses and their mothers were the cooks. They knew how to cook. The Calgary Flying Club was making money at it; so this tells us something.

They sent us over to the officer’s mess three or four hours one day. The officer brought out the rugs. They were the most beautiful rugs you ever saw, air force blue with big pilot wings; four feet long. They were white, you know, exact replica of our pilot’s wings on each end. They were filthy dirty. We threw them over an old clothing line and they gave us broken pool-Qs for beating the dirt out of them. So we took a few whacks at these rugs and Ralph said, “Just a damn minute. Don’t beat hem any more.” So we went and got this officer. He said, “Sir, we are making a bad mistake here. We are beating this dirt right into these rugs. What they need is dry cleaning.”

“Well, where do you do that?”

“You do that in Calgary. There’s a place out there. I can’t remember the name of it, but they dry clean rugs.”

“Oh, okay roll them up and take them back in again.”

So I asked Ralph, “How do you know that there is place that dry cleans rugs?”

“Oh, hell, its a big city there has got to be a place.”

He wasn’t going to beat rugs. He was always thinking, this fella. He could get us into trouble, and sometimes he could get us out. He was sharp. That dumb officer, I doubt even if his parents even had a rug. He didn’t know anything about rugs. Beat them with pool-Qs. They did have an old rug-beating thing. It had a wire that went up; heavy wire. Beat on these old rugs and the dirt would come flying out, and go farther in I guess.

There were some library facilities. We weren’t very much into reading. We were studying and fooling around and gambling. Chasing the girls a little bit. The reason why I didn’t’ know Dorothy before in Claresholm was because these Claresholm girls were rank-happy.

“Don’t let him give you that,” said Dorothy.

You ask them to dance and they look at your sleeve. If you weren’t at least a sergeant well then they didn’t think they wanted to dance with you. The sergeants had more money than the LACs to spend on them. They preferred the officers. They had a lot of money.

“We had so many to choose from,” said Dorothy.

They were badly spoiled. Now this is why I preferred McGrath. Because damn near everybody signed up. Go down there and there would be a dance hall full of girls and four or five men. I knew a lot of these girls. I meant a lot of nice girls down there too. But they weren’t this damn rank-happy. I got on a bus in Lethbridge once, I think I was headed to Calgary there was one civilian on the bus. Somebody’s girl friend; she was a popular girl friend. There were airmen and soldiers, and that bus was loaded. The Grey Hound Bus Company did real good.

I think I was stuck on only one voluntary church parade. It sure as hell wasn’t voluntary. That was this old guy in Saskatoon. He filled his church the biggest in town; he filled it right up. You had no choice in the matter. That was, I think the only time. He was putting on a big show for the preacher, I guess. “I will get you some bodies in here.” One of his friends had an old movie camera. So he showed us movies of us all marching down the street to the church. Then here comes the CO and his daughter. They come stepping into the church. Then they reverse the film and they come stepping out again. I think that old CO would of wanted to shot us one time. His daughter was selling us some kind of tickets, for a church group of something. We had a two story barracks. We had our head out the window she was hollering at us to come down and buy some of these tickets. We said we’d buy them if you come up. So, by God she comes up. So I walked through the barracks and said the CO’s daughter is coming. Ha, ha, ha, sure, they said. There was some guy walking around in their shorts. So they couldn’t say I didn’t tell them; and then she did. That old CO would have killed us if would have known we had his daughter up in the barracks. Nothing happened. We bought her ticket from her. Boy, he would have been put out. She should have brains not to go in there.

After the war, they restored a few aircraft, a few bombers here and there, and then burn them up for scrap. The hangers were taken over by industry. That would have the biggest impact on any town that had an airport. Vulcan had the industry going over there for quite a while. Tom Hill Ranching Products is over there now. An auctioneer got one hanger. He has horse sales in the hanger because there was a lot of room. He had room in the back room for the auction. You could tie your horse up in there somewhere. In Claresholm we got Truss Joyce. They send made rafters all over North America, pretty well. We had Burgon Resources, making oil field caps here for a while. They shut this one down. I think they kept the ones in Calgary or Edmonton going. They didn’t go broke they just sold out here. Moat Coat, was making things out of fibreglass at the airport. But it is in a new building that another fella put up. There was a black smith in the motor transport section he been in there for about ten years. We have one of the ten best restaurants here at the airport. It was in an old supply depot. This lady ran a high-class restaurants and people came from all over. She just got too old and sold it. The new owners didn’t run it like see did and they went broke. So we still got a hell of a good airport. We have six runways hundred feet wide and thirty-one hundred feet long.

There are inner and out runways that form a triangle. The town maintains the outer runways. You could still land on the inner runways. But they haven’t spent the money on them. We had Hercules aircraft, we’ve had jets in here, and we’ve had Dine Air when they can’t get into Calgary they land here. Six runways and a taxiway, and the taxiway are better than most small town airports. The flying club had to push real hard because the town was letting the airport go to hell. They got government grants to resurface these runways and now they are doing real good. They plough one runway. We are just opening another terminal tomorrow. We had one of the first terminals built between Lethbridge and Calgary. There was no other airport with a terminal building. It was left open all the time, toilets and heating and a pay telephone. You wouldn’t be left out in the cold if you were weathered in or you land here. That is pretty small and we got another building a fixed it up.

We have search and rescue exercises and stuff like that. It’s mainly for the visiting pilots or any functions that concerns the airport. That is what this terminal is for. We got a fixed-base operator who sells the gas. In the summer spray pilots (crop dusters) use him. It is an asset to the town.

Some of the people in the town don’t appreciate it. They think anybody that fly’s a small airplane has got the goods. They might own a hundred thousand dollar motor home and a twenty thousand dollar boat, but somebody that owns a fifteen thousand dollar aircraft is rich. This is the way they look at it.

I imagine the ladies missed us after we left. I think a lot mothers were worried about their poor little daughters. When these rang-a-tang airmen came to town. We had a big reunion last year and we billeted a lot of these people out, Claresholm hotels, Fort Macleod, and then and over flow. Over a hundred RVs showed up. The over flow, we just sent home with people. Some of these people were a little hesitant about the wild airmen coming. They are all sixty years old now, or better.

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About peterconrad2014

I am a writer with experience in writing short stories, articles, non-fiction books, the novel, on line course content, journalism, and encyclopaedia articles. Never accepting limitations, I have had successes in diverse writing approaches. I am a storyteller, teacher, and artist.
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