© Stephen H Garrity (2014)
Once we reached the Squadron, bombing raids were naturally the most important events in our lives, and in re-reading my diary I was amazed to find the entries surprisingly low key, casual remarks, devoid of the bravado and boastfulness one might expect of youth, bearing in mind the ever present risks and dangers that squadron life presented. Virtually every sortie resulted in casualties, although not necessarily to one's own squadron. Nevertheless, every week news was received that friends were missing or dead, usually euphemistically referred to as "having gone for a Burton".
Over 55,000 aircrew were killed serving in the R.A.F. Bomber Command. 12,000 bailed out and ended up in Prisoner of War Camps, while another 1500 fell into enemy occupied countries, but successfully evaded capture and returned triumphant to England.
Bomber crews faced formidable odds, odds seldom appreciated. At times during intensive raids on German cities, less than 25 out of each 100 crews would survive their first tour of 30 operations. Fortunately, over the long run losses were not that severe. It is interesting to note that in a single night, Bomber Command lost more aircrew than Fighter Command lost during the entire Battle of Britain.
Yet crews buckled on their chutes and set out with unshakable resolution, night after night. They fell prey to the hazards of icing, lightning, storm, mechanical failure, and they perished amidst bursting shells from flak batteries. But by far the greater number died in the desperately unequal combat, under the overwhelming firepower of the tenacious German night-fighter.
431 Iroquois Squadron R.C.A.F. Station Croft, Yorkshire
Engineer Don Shenton, Tail Gunner Walter Thorn, Skipper George Johnson, Wireless Operator Bill Chapman, Navigator Richard Garrity, Mid Upper Gunner Vernon O'Bright, Bomb Aimer Gordon Beverley "Joe" Josie
Two of the crew would not fly during the night we were shot down. In early June, Bomb Aimer Joe Josie volunteered to fly with another crew to replace a sick crewman, and never returned. He was replaced by Jonesie Jones, and just prior to take-off on June 15th, Walter Thorn got ill, and was replaced by Sgt. Carefoot for one mission, then E.C. Green flew just once with us - on the fateful mission of June 16/17th. When I returned in September, I had learned from his wife that Walter Thorn had passed away, likely from cancer.
By this time we had formed a seven man crew. Three British: Engineer, Don Shenton; Rear Gunner, Walter Thorn; Wireless Operator, Bill Chapman; and four Canadians: Pilot, George Johnson; Bomb aimer, Joe Jose; Mid Upper Gunner, Vernon O'Bright; and Navigator, Richard Garrity. I was the only officer, but in time all received commissions.
A warm relationship soon develops between members of a crew, for as we fly together, we are aware that we function as a unit and are dependent upon one another.
While we enjoyed many outings together at the local pub, we went our ways on leave, as the English chaps were able to go home to loved ones. We had one big gathering together when our pilot, George, got married. After the wedding, Bill Chapman invited me to stay a few days with his family. What a wonderful feeling it was to be with a family.
Squeakie St. Jacques and I had served together from Navigation School at Ancienne Lorette until we had finished training, when we were posted to different squadrons. We corresponded regularly and I was shocked when I received a postcard from a German Prisoner of War Camp. Squeak had been shot down on a raid on Berlin, Since he landed in Germany he was captured the following day and sent to Stalug Luff III, where he spent the next 16 months.
Squeekie St. Jacques and myself on leave at Piccadilly Circus