During the decade-long restoration of Halifax NA337, a stack of paper sat by the entrance of the National Air Force Museum of Canada. The forms, titled “You Who Served with the Halifax Bomber,” were to be filled out by Second World War-veterans who had worked with the bomber in some regard- either as air or ground crew. Project manager Bill Tytula saw the importance of not only preserving the plane itself, but the stories that came with it. The project served as a conversation starter. It had veterans recalling stories they had rarely or never shared.

“We put them out and the very first visitor that came in was an ex-Halifax pilot from Uxbridge, ON,” Tytula says. “He said, ‘Have I got a war story for you.'”

By the end of the project in 2005, Tytula had compiled about 800 first-hand accounts into binders, separated by squadron. Over the years, the binders sat in storage at the museum and at Tytula’s home in Trenton and were largely forgotten. Tytula hopes to someday see them published in some form.

Here, nine stories from veterans of RCAF 419 (Moose) Squadron about their time with the Hali.

Reginald Cleaver

FROM: Brinklow, U.K.
MEDALS AND DECORATIONS: Air Crew Europe, 1939-1945 Star, Defence Medal, Victory Medal

Flew Halifax B II JD214. VR. U. I was the flight engineer. We were shot down over Germany on a raid on Wuppertal 24-25 June 1943. Attacked by 3 Focke Wulf 190 night fighters. The first attack hit the starboard inner engine. The propeller and reduction gear fell off, then the engine dropped out of the wing completely and left the wing on fire. Second attack hit starboard outer engine, which immediately stopped and left the whole starboard wing on fire. Ross McClachlan, the navigator, was wounded. During the third attack, our rear gunner hit the Focke Wulf 190 which disappeared smoking. The rear turret was badly damaged but Bill McCleod, the gunner, was incredibly unhurt. The fire on the wing lessened and the pilot George Neale flew on over Holland on the two port engines hoping to reach the North Sea and ditch. We did not make it and crashed through trees into a field. Remarkably, the whole crew survived apart from bruises, etc. We were all taken prisoners of war and spent two years in prison camps, the last year being in a concentration camp. We all survived the war.


The crew of Halifax JD21 VR.U. 1943. (Left to right) Back: navigator Ross McClachlan, Cleaver, pilot Geroge Neale, bomb aimer Bill Jaffray, wireless operator Jack Griffiths.
Front: rear gunner Bill Macleod, mid-upper gunner Dave Kenwell.

A painting by Eddie Scott Jones of Cleaver’s aircraft, VR.U. The two met while interned at prison camp Stalag Luft 6.

Cleaver’s crew at 419 Squadron Headquarters, Middleton St. George. 1943.

Donald George Hall

MEDALS AND DECORATIONS: Flight Engineer Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Aircrew Europe Star with France and Germany Clasp, Defence Medal, War Medal 1939-1945, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal (CVSM) and Clasp, Operational Wings, Flight Engineer’s Badge. Additionally, he was mentioned in dispatches.

Hall’s son Wayne filled out the form on his behalf. Don Hall was born in Sunridge, Ontario in July 9, 1912. He joined the RCAF in Sudbury on July 22, 1940. He went overseas January 24, 1942 as an aero-engine mechanic. He was remustered to aircrew later in 1942 and was posted to 419 squadron November 1942 as a fight engineer. Received his commission in April 1943, and became squadron engineer leader in October 1943, after promotion to Flying Officer and then Flight Lieutenant. He completed one tour with 419 and stayed with the squadron until August 1945. He is buried in Prince George, B.C. in the Veterans’ Section.

John Edwin Hairsine

FROM: Vernon, B.C.
DATE OF ENLISTMENT: January 10, 1942
SERVICE NUMBER: R146421, J87045
MANNING DEPOT: #3 Edmonton

Two ops from Pershore on Wellington to FranceHesdin and Boulogne. 419 Squadron, Middleton from Nov. 6, 1943 to February 19, 1944. 13 ops altogether (4 aiming points). Ops on Mannheim, Berlin (three), Frankfurt, Leipzig (two), Brest Harbor, La Rochelle, Oslo, East Frisian Islands. Had to bail out during a night raid at Cross Country near Banbury Crosswas flying with a strange crew and aircraft died on us. Shot down on last Leipzig raid February 19, 1944. 79 aircraft were lost. Had to bail out again. Landed near small town with a sprained ankle. Picked up by local Burgermeister and delivered to Luftwaffe. Sent to Interrogation Camp near Frankfurt, in solitary for a week and then sent to Prison Camp in East Prussia near Memel at Heydekrug (Stalag Luft 6) Camp was moved to Thorn in Poland in July 1944 (Stalag #357), then moved again to Fallingbostel, Germany as Russian Army moved west. Was liberated on April 16, 1945 by the Desert Rats of the 8th Army. Was flown to England, sent to hospital at Cliveden (#11 Canadian Military Hospital on Lady Astor’s estate). On discovering that I had pleurisy, they sent me home by a ship called the Louis Pasteur. From a weekend at home, I was sent to Jericho Hospital in Vancouver and then on to Tranquille Sanatorium to recover from Tuberculosis where I spent five years and then another year at Shaughnessy Hospital in Vancouver. Was released in April, 1951 and sent home again.

John Richard Harris

FROM: London, ON.
DATE OF ENLISTMENT: November 20, 1941
SERVICE NUMBER: R144102, J22475
MEDALS AND DECORATIONS: Air Crew Europe denied on the ground that I served with 419 Squadron for fewer than 60 days, although I completed 11 missions. We were shot down on the 11th. Incidentally, we were the senior crew on that raid.

I suppose my most noteworthy event was being shot down the night of September 5, 1943 over Mannheim. The plane went out of control very quickly after a sudden jolt. I was still trying to attach my parachute when we went into an uncontrollable spin. Some time later, I saw the stars over my head and realized I had been hurled free of the aircraft. After noticing that I had actually attached the parachute, I pulled the ripcord and struck the ground very soon after. Luckily, I had no serious injuries. I was the only survivor of the crewall six buried in a military cemetery in the Ruhr. Was picked up by some Germans shortly after and sent to Dulag Luft for interrogation and from there to North Compound Stalag Luft III. There I was involved with the Great Escape and hence became part of the group preparing to escape at the time the tunnel was opened, March 24, 1944. Since my priority number was 179, I was not among the 90 or so that succeeded in leaving the camp. I was amongst those awaiting the chance to leave when the whole thing blew up. With around 100 of us caught inside, we were too many to punish with solitary confinement. For 1945 was on forced march from to Bremen, the last part by cattle car. Liberated by British army May 2, 1945.

George Joseph Sweanor

FROM: Toronto, ON.
DATE OF ENLISTMENT: August 4, 1941
SERVICE NUMBER: R123164, J11114, 19705

I had just married a Leamington Spa girl only to get shot down on my 17th operation on the return leg from Berlin 27/28 March, 1943. Got back 800 days later and, after 54 years, I am still on my honeymoon. POW: Hamburg, Frankfurt, Sagan, Nurnberg, Mossberg. Worked on the escape committee for the Great Escape. I’ve written a book called It’s All Pensionable Time.  

Matthew Russel Moore

FROM: Darlington, U.K.
DATE OF ENLISTMENT: March 28, 1942
MEDALS AND DECORATIONS: Service Medal, Oak Leaf, 1939-1945 Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal, CVSM and Clasp

When I joined the squadron, we were flying Halifaxes with inline engines (Merlins). We later had a brief spell with radials (Hercules), then back to inline and later changed to Lancasters. While I was there (1943-1944), 428 Squadron got its title, The Ghost Squadron, through losing one entire flight on an operation. We had many close calls through battle damage but the Halifax/Lancaster were well built and held together long enough to get the crews home. It was not all work, as I remember “scrounging” a couple of flights (testing guns) that I have never forgotten. I later remustered to 39 RCCE Wing and went along with the invasion forces when we started to fight back. January 1, 1945 was my first and only time under fire. The Germans launched an attack on all the front line air fields and caught us unawares. Our Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) and myself and others managed to get out Bren guns into action and returned fire that in turn brought ourselves under direct fire No causalities on our part, but we managed to make them a little wary of baking over our position. I believe the NCO received the Oak Leaf for his part. I returned home just in time for Xmas ’45.

Desmond L. Lewis-Watts

DATE OF ENLISTMENT: Possibly September 8, 1942
MEDALS AND DECORATIONS: 1939-1945 Star, Aircrew Europe Star, General Service Medal, CVSM and Clasp

Lewis-Watts’ brother Wayne filled out the form on his behalf. Des took off for his last mission on the evening of his 28th birthday and was never heard from again. Except on the phonograph records he made for his wife Christmas 1943 while he was stationed at Middleton St. George.

On the label he wrote, “With all my love, Treasure. Des.”

Lorraine (Doug) Hawkes

FROM: Calgary, AB.
DATE OF ENLISTMENT: October 10, 1941
SERVICE NUMBER: R131942, J87164
MANNING DEPOT: #3 Edmonton

I graduated from No. 9 Service Flying Training School in Centralia, ON. March 11, 1943, as a Sergeant Pilot. Before graduating, I was told I would be posted to Ironprior for instructor training. As most of my friends were going overseas, I requested to join them. Most of those I know of that went overseas went as Sergeants, while most that remained in Canada were commissioned. I was in Bornemouth on May 24, 1943 when several FW 190 strafed the park and dropped bombs on the metropole and Bobby’s Dept. Store, resulting in several deaths. Pre-air flight training at Antsy was very enjoyable, seeing England looking like a patch work quilt with its small fields. Then went to Shawbury for advance flying and beam approach training on Oxford aircraft. A pleasant experience. By now had about 276 hours of flying. By August 15, 1943 I commenced flying at an operations training unit when I met some of my crew. Navigator Sgt. John Fletcher and I had met at manning depot and went to ITS together. He was a wonderful pianist, around who many gathered to sing many war songs. On September 1, we set out on our war load trip and navigation exercise to bomb a sunken ship in the Hull Estuary. P/O Sutherland DFC came along as navigation instructor for Fletcher and as he entered he came to me and said, “I have finished a full tour without a scratch, I want to come home the same way.” He must have had a premonition, because we had set course under the cloud base at 900ft and at about 3000ft we lost the port motor with hydraulic failure. The propeller would not feather, so we were losing altitude and had to abandon the trip. As it was a war load, I decided to dump most of the fuel. But being over England I could not dump the bombs, one being live. We broke cloud and then looked for an airfield. Some were being upgraded for American aircraft to use, thus we found runways littered with gravel and equipment. We finally chose Desborough and landed on the grass wheels up and on our belly. No one was hurt.

Crew: Sgt. John Fletcher, Navigator, P/O Frank Houston Bomb Aimer, F/Sgt. Donald Mc Devitt, Wireless Operator, and Art Beckett, Rear Gunner.

John William Ernest Tyler

LIVES: Toronto
SERVICE NUMBER: R123164 J11114 19705

I had a grand crew. Saw them on first reunion at the Royal York Hotel, Toronto. Our hairiest operation was over the Ruhr. We pulled out at 2300 ft full of flak (enemy fire) from 17,000 ft.


Tyler’s crew. From left to right. Back: P/O Brown, P/O Waters, Tyler, P/O Cooke. Front: W/O Ridley, P/O McLean, W/O Soumis.

Tyler in his garden in Sussex.

Tyler, 1943.

Gordon Francis Parker

DATE OF ENLISTMENT: October, 6 1941

Parker brother Gilbert filled out the form on his behalf. I too was in the RCAFground crew. During the last five weeks of Fran’s life, he took part in four raids on Hamburg one on Ramscheid then the 17/18 August, 1943 raid on Peenemunde. Three waves of bombers were sent to severely damage this German rocket-producing base. Last groups 5 and 6, received the worst damage from fiercest opposition40 bombers were lost in this raid. They were the last aircraft to go down just off the English coast approximately 19 miles out. They were damaged in the raid but were able to give their position before contact was lost. The final signal from this Halifax aircraft received at 0515 hrs“Heading to the nearest airfield.” Extensive search of the North Sea area found no sign of it or its 7 crew (5 Canadian). Their Halifax was JD163. The Wing Commander of 419 squadron, Mervyn M. Flemming, wrote, “He would have been one of the best navigators in the squadron” to our family August 1943. In February, 1944 the family was notified that he had been promoted to Fight Sergeant effective from April 9, 1943. His name is engraved on the War Memorial in Runnymede, England an on an Ad Astra Stone in Trenton. Ontario.

The crew: F/S J.M. Batterton, Sgt. A Dixon, F/S/ J.O. Jerome, Sgt. D.A. Lloyd, Sgt. H.U. Morris, F/S G.F. Parker, Sgt L.F. Power.

I live in Bolton ON. Any info from anyone who reads this and knew Fran would be welcomeI know so little about Fran’s life in the RCAF. He was my favourite brother.