17 April, 1992
I have procrastinated long enough. I intended to write to you much sooner but I kept putting it off. Your letter of January 18th arrived about January 24th – Thank you for writing.
I appreciate your bringing me up to date on your dad’s history. We had no idea that he was married or had a family. I will attempt to answer your queries in the order that you asked.
It is many years since I visited Hamilton and the war plane museum was not in existence. However, I have contributed funds over the years to rebuild the plane that you saw. For your information, there is an official government war museum in our nation’s capital (Ottawa, Ontario) – My nephew an army officer and my ex-pilot Bob Boyle have informed me that the major attraction is a life-size replica of “P” for Panic”. I hope someday to see it if time and finances allow it.
Before I answer your questions, I shall give you a bit of trivia on how our Lanc got its name. Officially, aircraft lettering used the phonetic alphabet. We were assigned P – Peter. All documents used that term P – Peter. There might be some significance in the name you received – * (continued below)
Your dad, compared to the rest of the crew was a taciturn gentleman. I personally, probably knew him the best, as we were both senior N.C.O.s – the same mess and barracks – (barracks another story).
My memory is not as sharp as it was a few years ago but will try my best. We were blessed with an all around excellent crew. We, each in turn, proved that we were all conscientious and reliable. Your dad was probably the best flight engineer on the squadron. He had previous aeronautical engineering experience before re-mustering to aircrew.
(*) – I started to digress but will return to the subject. Our squadron’s call sign was “Nitro”. Our base call sign was “strapper”. Returning from a trip, the pilot or I would call on the radio – “quote” – “Strapper from Nitro P. for Peter – landing instructions please”. We used that terminology throughout landings and take-offs. Other crews used nicknames for their kites. (friends of ours changed their name from W-William to “W-The whore of the pack.
Upon our return one time our mid-upper gunner had not had a chance to “billy” and got out of the plane in a hurry to relieve himself. He sighed and said that we should call our aircraft “P for Relief”. The name stuck for sometime until one morning upon the return from a raid. The R.C. Padre met us at dispersal. He notified us that he was often in the control tower when our squadron returned checking on what aircraft made it back. The ladies in the control tower (R.A.F. types) or W.A.A.F.s (Woman’s Auxiliary Air Force) were requested to address us as we identified ourselves. The padre didn’t care but he said that the girls used to blush when he was there. He asked us if we would mind changing our call sign. He was a nice guy so we complied. We had had a particularly traumatic raid & once again the mid-upper gunner christened our aircraft P for Panic. The name stuck for all time.
OK, I’ll try to get this letter back to some form of continuity. Yes, there was apprehension before a raid – we tried not to show it but nevertheless it was there in all of us. (Another little digression) – It so happened that the very first raid that we were on was also the most terrifying (actually) – The Jerrys threw everything at us – Flak, ME 109s, we were combed by searchlight (thanks to Bob & your Dad) we managed to escape scarecrows – everything – We had been hit several times, thanks again to your Dad, we arrived back at base safely. Needless to say, we were a scared crew. When the other more experienced crews returned, they told us that we were lucky to have such a soft raid the first time out. We learned later that they were kidding us, as they had never had a worse experience. Strangely enough, even bad trips after that seemed comparatively mild after our fearful initiation.
Yes Peter, we had a number of close calls. I have managed to forget a great deal of things but your letter and questions seemed to help me recall. I don’t normally dwell on the war but my son John, 37 years of age who is a lawyer in Winnipeg and my youngest brother Dick have often asked questions. They know more about WWII than I do.
You asked what your Dad was like on raids (missions is an Americanism not generally used by R.A.F. or R.C.A.F.). Eric was a calming effect on the rest of the crew. He was probably scared spitless like the rest of us but he didn’t show it. Although I have seen him sweating under hazardous conditions and doing his job well.
The two gunners & your Dad were the “old men” of the crew. They were at or near thirtyish. The other 4 were just kids & I was the youngest.
Peter: You can be proud of your Dad’s experience. Take it from me who knew him the best, your Dad was a man! There are a number of stories to tell but it would take too much time to tell it all.
About crew reunions: We have seen each other individually from time to time however a few years ago the three of us and our wives got together here in the little village of Edberg, Alberta. We had exchanged Christmas cards & both the boys mentioned that they would be at or near Alberta in the summertime. I immediately wrote them and asked them to come here for a reunion. They both complied. We had a grand time.
As to another reunion, it seems very unlikely. You may not realize the immensity of Canada – Matheson lives 1,000 miles west of me and Boyle about 1,000 miles east. Hamilton Ontario is about another 2,000 miles east of Boyle. Bob & Matt are both 70 years of age & I will be 69 on April 24th.
In September or October this year my wife & I plan to motor to Winnipeg to visit my son. Bob and Beth Boyle have invited us to stop over in Portage-la-Prairie to visit them. We plan to do so if at all possible.
Peter, it was nice to hear from you. If you can see your way clear to write again, I would appreciate learning about your Dad, how he fared, how many children, your mother etc…etc…
If we should ever be fortunate enough to meet, we could then exchange a number of stories that I don’t necessarily relish putting on paper.
I am starting to get writers cramp so I’ll end this epistle for now. Respectfully,