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NAME: Gordon Jackson


DECORATIONS: Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, War Medal 1939-1945, 1939-1945 Star

My decision to join the Canadian Permanent Force in September 1939 was easy. A couple of my brothers were signing up, and my father had enlisted in the Canadian army at the outbreak of World War I. The problem was that I was only 15 years old. When I showed up at the recruiting office, I was promptly thanked for my enthusiasm and told to consider joining the militia. I heeded this advice and later joined the 207th Battery, 7th Toronto Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery. Then on my 18th birthday, on September 23, 1943, I was finally old enough to enter the permanent force.

I initially served as a gunner/driver in C Battery of the Royal Canadian Artillery Field in Petawawa, Ontario. Shortly after I reported, I learned that the minimum age for overseas service was 19. I would have to serve in Canada for almost a year before I had any hope of going overseas.

While in Petawawa I came across an article in the local newspaper saying that both Canada and Britain would soon become entirely responsible for the protection of Allied convoys along the treacherous North Atlantic route to Europe. This decision created a huge demand for more Allied aircrews. This led me to believe that my superiors might be willing to waive my age restriction for serving overseas if I joined the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force).

My hunch proved correct, and on February 3, 1944, my superiors approved my request, and I was given the rank of aircraftman second class. My first stop was at Wireless School in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where I completed my wireless training, along with some much-needed aircraft recognition instruction.

Now a sergeant, that fall I was sent to No. 5 Manning Depot at Lachine, Quebec, and awaited my orders to serve overseas. I turned 19 in Lachine while I waited to be sent overseas. I was now closer than ever to achieving my goal. In fact, I was so close that I decided, like many of my friends who were preparing to fight overseas, to get married before leaving Canada. I asked my high school sweetheart’s hand in marriage, and we were married on October 9, 1944.

Soon after that, I—as well as some 65 percent of Canadian airmen—was sent to a RAF group rather than a RCAF squadron. In my case, I was sent to 111 Operational Training Unit at Windsor Field, in Nassau, the Bahamas, beginning in December 1944.

My new phase of training began on one of the approximately 2,000 Consolidated B-24 Liberators flown by the RAF during the war. I looked forward to my new assignment because Liberator units were considered the elite of the RCAF’s Home War Establishment. I was to be specifically trained as the nose gunner.

Aside from the constant threat of sunburn on the ground and frostbite in the air, our training in the Bahamas proved to be uneventful. Liberators were neither heated nor pressurized, so the cold was our deadliest enemy. I cannot count the number of high-altitude, cold-weather injuries sustained by my fellow airmen who flew in the Bahamas with me. Nearly every day somebody came back from a training flight with frostbite on his face, hands or feet. That danger was made greater because we were being trained with the “Leigh Light” (an enormous searchlight used to illuminate surfaced submarines at night). So, we conducted a lot of our training at night when temperatures were at their coldest.

The fear of frostbite necessitated our dressing like polar explorers whenever we went up. Needless to say, once you had put on this gear, you did not have to wait long before you became seriously dehydrated from sweating in the Caribbean heat. And drinking a lot of liquids to fight the dehydration meant you would feel the need for the washroom while in flight—and there was none.

The second major event I remember from my days in the Bahamas was the time I met the governor and his spouse, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, on New Year’s Eve. The former king of England had shocked the world in 1936 when he gave up his throne to marry an American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. Their fairytale romance made them quite the celebrities on the island that the Duke of Windsor governed between 1940 and 1945. On December 31, 1944, I found myself, along with a lot of other Allied servicemen, in a local civilian club in Nassau sharing tales of home and imbibing one, two or maybe three fermented beverages. Suddenly, the doors opened and, much to our surprise, the duke and duchess walked in. Before you could say “Jack Benny,” the whole club grew silent to allow the governor to say a few kind words to us, expressing his gratitude on behalf of the empire. I have long since forgotten what he said, but I will never forget the impression this small, frail and unimposing man, the former king of England, left on me that day.

We were eventually sent to RAF Coastal Command, and more specifically to No. 224 Squadron. We arrived some nine days after V-E Day. We eventually ceased operations and waited to be ordered to Asia to help with the war effort over there. But the order did not come before WWII ended in August 1945.

In hindsight, it is ironic that, in my haste to do my share, like my brothers and my father had done, I actually never engaged the enemy despite all my efforts to do so. On the other hand, my fate may have proven to be a blessing, because I learned a lot about human beings during those formative years. I also learned a lot about being a man, a friend, a husband and a father. I stayed in the military and retired in 1972 with a lot of fond memories and proud moments, especially from my service during WWII.


Originally published in the June 2006 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.