This story is by Des Dixon and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
This story is fictional based on history, and a tribute to the nine thousand Americans who came up to Canada to joined the Royal Canadian Air Force ,R. C. A. F, and fought in World War Two when America was still a neutral country. It is also a tribute to the 850 who died.
Tim Corrigan, a twenty year old Brooklyn native, arrived at the Waldorf Hotel and found the Royal Canadian Air Force recruiting office. “Come in Sir and have tea and cookies,” the hostess smiled and handing him an application. He filled it out, noticing there were several other applicants waiting their turn to be interviewed.
It was a long wait and as he sat there his thoughts drifted to the events that brought him there. He recalled the day England declared war on the Nazis and the ensuing Battle of Britain. Tim wanted to be a fighter pilot like his heroes and get into the fray. America was a neutral country so he decided to join the Royal Canadian Air Force.
“Tim Corrigan, your next” It was like an electric shock and his nerves jangled as he realized this could be a life-changing moment.
“Right in that door Sir,” the hostess said casually but he felt it was his judgment day.
“Hello Tim, have a seat,” extending his hand, the kindly gentleman added, “I’m Roger Brown.”
Roger Brown explained he was one of the Americans who flew, in World War One, with the great Canadian fighter pilot and, 72 kill ace, Billy Bishop.
Tim was notified he’d been accepted and, in due time, was given a train ticket to Toronto. He took a taxi to the Canadian National Exhibition grounds now a boot camp.
“This way airman Corrigan,” a stiff-backed sergeant instructed him as a clerk filled Tim’s arms with sheets, blankets, pillow, shirts, uniform, boots, and socks.
“In here Corrigan, we are now entering the Horse Palace.” His new home was a cleaned up horse stall containing four bunk-beds .Things could have been worse as the Cow Palace was also used as a barracks.
In the rush to mobilize the R.C.A.F commandeered anything that could serve them, as their ranks quickly soared to 250,000 personnel.
He spent six weeks in boot camp being converted from a civilian to a military man by an ex-army drill sergeant who had no mercy for slackers and Tim wasn’t one of them.
“On the left, by the left, form squad” Tim shouted crisply as his turn came to command a Flight, platoon, on the drill square. It had to be in cadence and in step with each time the left foot of the marchers hit the pavement.
It was the last drill command he gave before finishing his six weeks of medicals, immunity shots, discipline, rifle drill, and army drill.
His next step was Elementary Flying School in Windsor ON where he attended pre-flight ground school. He was taught navigation, aerodynamics and mathematics.
He went on to elementary flyingtraining where he was assigned an instructor and logged 50 hours of flying time. “It’s all yours,” the instructor said as it was time for his first solo.
“Windsor tower this is Cessna 403, on runway 24.south, take off instructions please.”
It was a strange, lonely, flight not having the instructor sitting beside him. His stomach was in knots, and sweat ran down from his arm-pits. The next half-hour would mean success or failure and, possibly, life or death.
But then he quickly adjusted and did his assigned circuit and approach then called the Tower.
“Ground Control, Cessna 403 request to land runway 24 south.” “Cessna 403, cleared to land runway 24 south, winds NW at 26 Mph.” Tim throttled back, rounded out, and touched the plane down softly.
“Great job,” his instructor said, and he passed with top marks.
Tim Corrigan was now a pilot but didn’t get his RCAF Wings as the real test was to come, in the 16 week Service Flying Training school in Trenton ON, to learn stunt flying, formation flying, and then on to bombing and gunnery school in Fingal ON.
Tim finally became a pilot, received his officer’s commission, and got ready for Wings Parade. The RCAF Central Band played the American National Anthem as WW1’s most outstanding ace and Victoria Cross winner, Air Marshal Billy Bishop, presenting each airman his coveted Wings.
As Billy Bishop pinned Tim’s Wings on his chest he smiled and asked, “Are you from Texas also?” “No sir, I’m from Brooklyn,” Tim answered with pride.
It was rumoured the Canadian girls liked the idea of dating a Texan so many airmen claimed they were from Texas. The truth was that the American boys didn’t have any trouble getting dates with those silver Wings on their blue uniforms and the American Eagal emblazoned on each arm, at the shoulder, with the letters U.S.A. underneath.
Tim was on stream to be a fighter pilot when an urgent request was sent from England for more bomber pilots as the survival rate for bomber pilots was only a 48% chance for a thirty mission tour.
He was sent for training on the two- engine Anson aircraft and then posted to England for operational training on Wellington bombers then on to an operational squadron.
It was now time to go on missions over enemy territory and he was posted to the RCAF “Moose” heavy bomber squadron. He learned to pilot the enormous four engine Rolls Royce Merlin, Lancaster bomber, touted to be one of the best.
He was on his eleventh mission over enemy territory when his plane’s inner port engine was set on fire hit by enemy anti-aircraft gunfire.
Tim carried on, dropped his bombs, and headed for home. He pulled the lever to actuate the engines fire extinguisher but it failed to work.
He had a difficult choice of ordering his crew to bail out, or to attempt to put out the fire. Tim now had the heavy burden of making the best choice, the one that would save his crew.
He mulled over his first option of ordering the crew to bail out and then the consequences.
“They could land in the middle of a lake or river,” he muttered to himself.
“They could land in a town and get hung up on a church steeple or a tree.”
“They could be captured and all shot by the Gestapo,as happened to one crew.”
He turned to his second and only other choice, “Would it be possible to climb out on the wing and not get blown off?” he asked himself.
“Would I have time before the flames reached the gas tank in the wing and blowing the aircraft apart?
He realized both choices put his crew at risk but decided to go for the second. He would attempt to extinguish the engine fire.
Tim got on the intercom and shouted, “Flight Engineer Gzowski, come up front, I want you to volunteer for a risky job.”
“Flt. Lt. Gzowdki was injured by enemy anti aircraft flack Sir,” Sgt. Air Gunner Jones answered. “I guess I’ll have to do this myself,” Tim told his crew.
He called on Navigator Flt. Lt. John Schultz to fly the bomber. “Take control John, and keep her level,” pointing to the Artificial Horizon instrument.
Tim headed back to the wing area, grabbing a fire axe and fire extinguisher on the way. He pulled the release on his parachute and it spilled out onto the floor.
He then instructed two of his airmen to hold onto the parachute cord and feed it out as he crawled out along the wing.
“If I blow off the wing release the parachute cord and the parachute,” he instructed his men.
Each time Tim moved forward he plunged the pointed side of the axe into the skin of the wing to steady himself.
As he was nearing the engine the aircraft started to shake violently and Tim knew it was in a stall. The port wing dipped just as his axe was in the air he started sliding off the wing.
Just as he was about to disappear into the night Tim brought the axe down hard penetrating the wing and, with all of his strength, hauled himself back on.
He finally got to the engine, extinguished the fire, made it back inside the plane and flew his crew back to base.
Tim Corrigan made it through all the rest of his missions with his crew and arrived back in Canada.
Air Marshal Billy Bishop awarded Tim the Distinguished Service Order and Distinguished Flying Cross.
“I remember you, you’re from Texas,” said the smiling Air Marshall Billy Bishop. “No Sir, I’m Tim Corrigan from Brooklyn,” Tim replied “Congratulations, Squadron Leader Tim Corrigan from Brooklyn,” Billy Bishop said as he promoted Tim and pinned on his medals. ###