Courtesy Peter Jenner, Eric Jenner’s son…
Friday, November 10, 1995 100th Year: No. 104
Back in the cockpit — 50 years after war’s end
BY JODI FERGUSON
A flood of memories came rushing back to Bob Boyle as he crawled into his cockpit 50 years after the end of the Second World War.
There was only one difference — it wasn’t the same plane.
The original Lancaster bomber which flew in 72 raids over Europe had long ago been scrapped so he had to settle for a close replica which is now housed at the National Aviation Museum near Ottawa.
“It’s something I wanted to do and I felt if in 1995 I don’t do it, I probably won’t get back,” said the 74-year-old air force veteran.
The plane is almost an identical replica of the one he flew 50 years ago. Visiting it on the 50th anniversary of the war’s end and only four weeks before Remembrance Day brought back other emotions for the Portage la Prairie native. “There’s a lot of sadness.”
Boyle joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in Winnipeg Nov. 24, 1942 at age 21. He had previously served with the Manitoba Mounted Rifle Association. Following initial training school in Regina, he moved on to Virden for flying training school.
After an embarrassing first landing in Tiger Moth biplane, Boyle got the hang of flying.
“On my solo flight I came in to land and when the wheels touched the grass, something snapped and (the canopy) flew back,” he related.
Surprised, he pulled back on the stick and the plane looped around on one wing. His perfect landing spoiled, Boyle figured that was the end of his flying career so he whipped back up into the air and performed a perfect second landing.
From there he attended service flying training school in Saskatoon, training on the twin engine Cessna Crane. After completing a commando training course in Maitland, Nova Scotia he set sail for England on the Empress of Japan and arrived in April 1944.
He was stationed at Middleton St. George and trained to fly the Lancaster, which was the most powerful aircraft used by the RCAF in the Second World War and capable of carrying 22,000 pounds of bombs “or one big one.”
His squadron, #428, was dubbed the Ghost Squadron because the entire crew from one of its first missions never returned. Boyle was luckier, although he did have some close calls during the 11 bombing missions he flew over France and Germany.
On one trip over Hamburg, one of the plane’s four engines caught fire. The blaze was quickly extinguished but the plane was too heavy to maintain its altitude and another engine began to heat up. The crew dropped its load of bombs but set them so they would not explode. The safe mechanism failed and the resulting explosion caused a burst of hot air that catapulted the craft about 5,000 feet into the air. “It’s a wonder it didn’t blow the wings right off,” he observed.
Boyle limped the plane home on three engines and landed safely.
Although he knew the survival rate for pilots was only about 50 per cent, Boyle said fear rarely entered his mind. “I figured I was going to be one of the lucky ones.”
That confidence likely improved his skills. “If you let the danger get to you, you’re not going to do as good a job because you can’t wait it’s over.”
About the only time Boyle was really scared was on a night raid when the bombers arrived before the pathfinders which would go ahead to light the way to a target. Hundreds of planes were forced to circle the target while they waited.
“I think the night we orbited with 500 other aircraft that was about the scariest I ever was,” he noted. “In the daytime it wouldn’t have been so bad but at night it was pretty heavy.”
When the war ended in Europe he volunteered to serve in the Pacific. But first he was requested to fly one of the Lancasters back to Canada, where they were eventually scrapped, and in the meantime victory was declared in Japan. Boyle was discharged Jan. 8, 1946.