30/05/10 10:42 Filed in: Summary
Following are some excerpts from the book, "Astonishing Luck", photos, and some material that has not yet been published.
One of the unique features of this book is the inclusion of rare strike photos, including one of the first uses of rockets.
Here are two of Dad's views attacking one of two destroyers off Grave's Point in the Gironde Estuary (a landlocked harbour in southwest France near Bordeaux ).
First is Dad's view of another beaufighter (S/L William Richie Christison D.F.C) passing directly over the point of impact after releasing rockets.
The second photo shows Dad's view after releasing his own rockets.
During their ferry flight of a Beaufighter January 14, 1944, Dad's log entry simply states "encountered starboard engine trouble - had to ditch off Cape Trafalgar at 15:15 hrs."
Earlier, during the story about training the Americans in preparation for leading them to Tunisia, he mentioned being "shot up once and losing an engine" as the cause for them having to 'ditch'.
His neglecting to mention this cause for the engine trouble when he first made the original log entry and yet again a second time during the telling of the 'ditching' story for our taping session, shows how in his mind, being shot at as a cause, paled in comparison to the formidable task successfully 'ditching' (safely landing a Beaufighter in the sea) presented at the time. Amazingly, it also shows he had already grown accustomed to being shot at months prior to their entering the really intense battle action still awaiting them!
'I ditched the Beaufighter in the Gulf of Cadiz just off Cape Trafalgar. this was the second one to be ditched successfully. Ours floated for 90 seconds before taking the deep dive to the bottom.
'When we ditched both John and I landed out on the port wing together having not seen each other emerge from the aircraft's hatches.
'The first thing John did and said was - he shook my hand and exclaimed, "What a wizzo ditching! I'll never be frightened to ditch with you again!"
'I said, "Thank you, John. Why? Were you fightened?"
"Well," he said, "I did have my moments."
'Meanwhile, the dinghy was becoming inflated and lying upside down out on the wing with the attached lanyard cutting down half way through it, screeching as the dinghy inflated more and more.
' "Hell," I thought, "It's going to cut the dinghy in half!"
'So I dived into the water and swam down the rope to try to reach the quick release on it. Just as I reached the quick release I felt it give on the line above me. I found out later the rope was made to withstand a sixty to ninety pound pull or stretch.
'So back up to the surface.
'I found poor John hanging onto the upside down dinghy for real life. I flipped the dinghy over and climbed aboard and then pulled John aboard.
'John then said, "Boy! Did I have a few moments there!"
'Because the lanyard was wrapped around one of his legs and was pulling him down as the aircraft went on its way to the bottom to join some of Admiral Nelson's fleet.
'Having got the dinghy and John straightened out aboard, I looked off to the shore, which was about two miles distant by this time, to a nice big lighthouse.
'I then asked John, "Well, are you ready to swim to shore?"
'Was I surprised when he informed me he "couldn't possibly swim that far."
'"But you passed all the dinghy drills?" I said.
"Yes, I can tread water but I can't swim" was his reply.
' I tried for an hour or so pulling him along in the dinghy. But I realized I wasn't making any headway against the twenty foot waves as there was a strong offshore wind blowing directly against us.
' With the first few mouthfuls of salt water I'd lost my breakfast and whatever when I up-chucked.
I climbed back into the dinghy to save my strength and hoped for a change in wind direction; but no luck. The wind seemed to get stronger as we were blown further offshore. We were being blown further and further out to sea.
It was just getting to be sunset when I heard engines and I looked up and at about 10,000 feet there was an aircraft flying over - just in the sunset. I had a couple of distress signals I kept in my Mae West all the time. I fired off the two rocket flares but again no luck . The aircraft just kept on going and soon disappeared out of sight. It was heading to North Africa.
So, it was rather a bit of a let down when you hear the motors of an aircraft like that.
Soon it became dark and one hell of a storm came up. Rain and thunder and lightening with waves, some of them thirty feet high, tossing us up and down. Every sixth wave a big crest would just cover us like swimming into a waterfall, filling the dinghy to overflowing.
Just before dawn in the murky gloom, the rain had quit, but it was still very dark. You could see a little. We suddenly realized a large freighter was heading straight for us! And he just missed us. The fellow walking back and forth up in the wheelhouse - if I'd had a 22 rifle - I could have shot him.
I was flashing with a floating torch we had. I carried that in my May West too. I signalled S.O.S.'s with the flashlight and poor old John was blowing with a whistle S.O.S.'s. I can still hear the di-di-di, da-da-da, di-di-di, when I listen. Poor old John with a whistle.
But the ship just kept straight on going. They'd figure it was maybe somebody trying to decoy them with a submarine nearby to knock them off. They kept on going.
When it got daylight on the Saturday morning, way off on the top of the waves, I noticed something was floating. I realized the ship had dumped their garbage like they do at sea. It looked like an orange crate or something. So I swam off about a mile or so, retrieved it, got back to the dinghy and we fashioned a couple of paddles.
We paddled then.
It would be about 10 o'clock when we got the paddles made and by about 3:00 in the afternoon we could just barely see the tops of the mountains in Spain off in the distance. I realized we had been really drifting well out to sea.
Then John, he said, "You know Howard, we are not gaining anything. We're getting further out to sea."
And I thought to myself how right he is. But if we don't keep paddling we're going to be that much further out to sea.
So anyway, finally I gave it up about 4:00-5:00 on the Saturday. I figured we'd better save our strength. We were just using up our energy - nothing to eat or drink in all this time.
Then it got dark.
And when we were at the top of the waves, riding the crest of the wave, about twenty-five miles off in the distance we could see the beautiful lights of the City of Cadiz.
...to be continued....
27/11/09 13:26 Filed in: Downtime - page 107
Occasionally, Dad, after touring a nearby castle or cathedral, would accompany John to a local pub.
"John, being 'English' he liked a beer now and then."
Dad said his drink preference after their 'dinghy rescue' was dark rum. But, having never forgotten his dandelion wine experience, he would usually only have one drink. Rarely two.
"I wanted to be in complete control of myself at all times."
There was one very special pub story he told. It revealed his true character to anyone hearing it. After one of their many ferry trips they had gone into a pub owned and operated by a husband and wife team. She was, as Dad described her,
"...very much with child and due to deliver in a few weeks."
During the various conversations while ordering and eating their meal she had mentioned how, "My pregnancy has gone very well. But lately I have had this incredible craving for a banana of all things! Haven't seen one since the war started. I would just love a banana. I cannot stop thinking about them!"
Dad smiled as he heard this knowing he had a bunch of bananas from Algiers in the flight bag he was holding. After paying, when they got up to leave, he waited until she was out of sight and placed the bananas on the table. John and he then proceeded on their way. Many weeks later, the bananas long forgotten about, they inadvertently returned to the same pub. Having ordered they were standing at the bar when,
"Suddenly this lovely lady I didn't know ran across the room, threw here arms around me and gave me a great big hug and a kiss. I didn't know what to do and wondered if she had a husband nearby that might want to shoot me by now. "
Indeed, her husband was nearby, sporting a big smile, revelling in the look of surprise on Dad's face. Having had the baby, the barmaid looked altogether different now.
Finishing the hug and kiss, she had taken a small step backward and still holding Dad's hands had jubilantly exclaimed, "I thought I
was seeing things when I went to clear the table after the two of you had left! Bananas! Imagine! Bananas of all things! Right after I had been talking about them. I couldn't believe it. I rubbed my eyes and pinched myself. But they didn't disappear!"
Prior to going overseas, Dad unknowingly set his course to be in Coastal Command by his desire to learn all he could.
' When I got my wings, Norm Irwin, my Commanding Officer at Aylmer, he asked me if there were any other courses I'd like to have before going overseas?
I said, '"There sure is. I'd like to get a navigator's course."
"Oh," he said. "How come?"
I said, "Well, for a number of years I was up in the bush flying and lots of times I would be caught in snow squalls and line squalls and I wouldn't know where I was within 100 miles between James Bay and Lake Superior."
I figured I could learn a little navigation with the proper instruments.
All we had then (bush flying) was mainly dead-reckoning and a few radio beams that you could home in on.
So fortunately he said, "Well, I'll see what I can do." '
This desire to know more about aviation ultimately resulted in Dad becoming a fighter pilot flying Beaufighters. Had he not made this request he likely would have wound up piloting a 'Halifax' as 'Marty' did. Dad always felt his best friend's placement in a cumbersome bomber had been a colossal waste of the natural skills of an exceptional fighter pilot, considering 'Marty' shared a similar love of 'dogfighting' and had been an equal adversary during their training sessions.
Unknown to either of them, fate had intervened in two ways at this juncture to separate 'Marty' and Dad.
Firstly, Dad's request for the navigation course was made prior to his being able to discuss this choice with 'Marty.' Dad didn't have the opportunity to suggest he do the same.
And, secondly, the timing of this special request was coupled with the group being divided alphabetically for transport overseas.
'Marty' having 'Milligan' for his last name was right at the split point in the group and wound up in the first half. Dad with 'Wainman' for a last name was automatically in the second group.
This resulted in 'Marty' going overseas prior to Dad and being assigned to fly a 'Halifax Bomber.'
"'Jock' Labour and myself were two from Aylmer that were sent on that course (Navigation) at Charlottetown P.E.I..
When I had passed through that 'ok', I was set to go to England."
He commenced No. 31 General Reconnaissance Training September 3, 1942, and completed his last flight assignment with a SGT/Adams on October 20th.
Dad felt he had been,
"Lucky again! Because Coastal Command had requested 50 'pilot trained' navigators from Training Command. I was one of the ones picked for that."
Dad said Coastal Command had made this request because,
"They were losing too many planes when the pilot failed to recognize a navigational error while returning to landfall in Newfoundland or Iceland or Halifax after escorting convoys part way across the Atlantic.
Instead of returning, planes had
"just carried on in the wrong direction - out to sea - until they eventually ran out of gas and ended up in the 'the drink.' "
They had lost too many crews this way and felt that weighting the navigational aspect would minimize future losses.