Monthly Archives: April 2012

Funeral Parade

My Dad, Bill Duff, told me this story two months before he passed away.  I had never heard it before.  Thought it was worth sharing again.

My first experience with death was at the Service Flying School in Yorkton, Saskatchewan in 1942.

We were being trained to Wing Standard on twin – engine Cranes.  It was in Yorkton where I got my wings – and I always joked later to Paula that it was in Yorkton where my wings were also clipped (by Paula who grounded me with marriage).

It was noon the day I recieved my first lesson in the perils of flight.  Our bed was our home and I was having a rest on this particular day.  The Service Police walked up to my bunk.  I wondered what they were coming to talk to me about, but rather than talk to me, they removed the coverings off the bunk-bed below me.  I said,  “Hey, that guy will be back here – he’s just at lunch.”

He was not at lunch.  Little did I know he was never coming back.  Apparently he and his instructor were celebrating his going solo.  They flew into a tree and both were killed.

This affected me greatly.  I made it a point to find out where he was – he was being transported back to Oshawa his home area.  I didn’t know what else to do.

The living quarters in Yorkton Air Force Base were huge.  There were about 60 men in the barracks.  We all were assigned a bunk bed.  We didn’t spend too much time in bed as we were to busy training to fly.  Half day for flying and half day for ground school.  We became quite close all of us.  My buddy McKellar and I became best friends although I never had the opportunity to fly with him in Yorkton.

We all ate together at the mess hall.  The meals were very good – we were considered the top o the line aircrew and so we were treated very well. I remember the milk – for some reason that’s one thing I remember to this day – it was so good!   I also remember the meatballs, but for different reason; I didn’t like the meatballs as I recall.

We were in Yorkton together in training for about six months – it was my favorite place overall as it was in Yorkton that I met my Paula.

They always had a parade for the person who was killed.  And I recall my very first “Funeral Parade”.  I also recall the second Funeral Parade  for an RAF fellow.  He lost his life one night.  He had tried to out-fly a storm that was coming in – the rest of us made it in but he didn’t.  He crashed just north of the base.

It was during these moments that we realized flying was serious business and there was a real possibility that we might be killed.

Categories: World War II Stories | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Match-Making on Chaleur Bay

Before I was stationed overseas, I was assigned to Summerside PEI, to patrol the area for German submarines.  This area, PEI was called the Garden of the Gulf.  There was pretty heavy war -time submarine activity around there.  The base was very active.  I wasn’t excited about my stint there – but I wasn’t disappointed either.

Several sightings of German submarines had been made in Chaleur Bay, New Brunswick over the course of a few weeks in 1942, 1943.  It was decided that they would institute several dawn patrols by putting a depth charge under each wing off 250 pounds.

I flew Ansons at that time.  Ansons were used in Britain and in Canada during the war.  There were four crew:  pilot (myself), student, navigator, and wireless air – gunner.  They were easy to fly – very forgiving craft.  You never had to worry about much when flying that craft.  It was very modern and had a lot of “automation”.   The 250 pounds of under-water bombs were mostly used by the navy – but we carried them too.   The weight of the weapons, however,  reduced the landing and take-off speed of the poor old Anson.

I will never forget this one particular day.  It was a very calm morning.  As we approached the bay, there lay right ahead of us a wake on the water which appeared exactly like the wake caused by the German submarines.

“Frank!”, I called.  “Arm the depth charges!”

Frank, my wireless air gunner, ran up to the nose and we began the “run-in”.  Seconds later I said, “abort, abort”.  The wake belonged to a tugboat towing logs.

The skipper of that tugboat never knew how close he had come to towing a load of toothpicks instead of logs.

Categories: World War II | 1 Comment

Lobster Air


When Dad told me this story – just a few months before he passed away – I was shocked.  Of all the stories I had heard growing up, this one had been kept a secret.  Maybe it wasn’t a secret but it had certainly slipped into the back files of his mind.  Dad didn’t really think this was a story at all and “It isn’t really worth repeating.”, he said.   Writing the update to the story, I did some research about the Straits and lobster there – found an article from the Toronto Star which puts another layer to the story about lobsters.  Kind of interesting read for those of you who are lobster fans!  (–new-brunswick-lobster-fishermen-fight-for-higher-prices)

“Oh, my goodness, Dad.  This is funny!”  I replied.  I must confess that I didn’t understand a few aspects of the story since I didn’t really put the story into the context of World War II and the fact that fishermen didn’t have access to much needed fuel.  After a few questions and a bit of research, however, this is the story that emerged.  Enjoy!

Lobster Air (in Dad’s words)

Yes – lobster can fly – at least they did in Prince Edward Island during World War II!   Truthfully, the crustaceans were assisted with their flight and it wasn’t that the pilots were particularly welcoming of their aerial hitch-hike either.

We, members of the RCAF Squadron, were on patrol in the Northumberland Straits watching for German Submarines.  The Straits are located between Prince Edward Island and the “Mainland” – mainly New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  Today, the Confederation Bridge New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island makes the trek between the two locations a little easier.  But, during World War II, the only way to “access” the area was by plane and air surveillance.  Although there had never been sightings in the Straits,  Germans had surfaced and were even so bold as to buy fish in Montreal.  I never did confirm that was the truth, but the rumor was pretty exciting.  Our mission was to criss-cross the Straits to watch for “enemy” subs.  (Funny how some of my best friends today are German.  Was sure is a strange thing!)

The Straits were well known for lobster.  Since my favorite meal was lobster I felt I was not only defending my country, but also my palate!  During lobster season, the fishermen were out in full force – not like today – but still there was many of them.  Since fuel was rationed during the war, the fishermen had to use sailboats to fish.

Some of the pilots – to conduct their patrol- would fly close above the water.  This would make a “slip-stream” behind the aircraft.  This slip-stream would unintentionally (or not) cause the  lobster farmers’ sailboats to tip over.

Oh boy, the fishermen became quite upset but it seemed there was little they could do.. until they figured out how they could retaliate.  When the low-flying pilots flew too low, the fishermen threw lobster up at the aircraft.  Some of the lobsters would become lodged in the wings.  This wasn’t really too much of a problem.  The fishermen felt they had had their “say” and the pilots were still able to fly without hazard.

The funny part of the story happened, though, when the pilots arrived back at base when the pilots took their planes to the maintenance crew for inspection.  The crew were quite surprised to find lobster stuck in the aircraft.  I guess for a while they figured the lobster jumped out of the water.  No one could figure out how the lobsters managed to hitch a ride.

Finally, the story emerged.  The low-flying pilots and their craft had unintentionally become, “Lobster Air”.  I guess we may have been the first to ship lobster into PEI!

Categories: Duff History, Life After Dad, Life's Lessons, World War II | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments


This is the love of my life… my bride for 64 years.

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The Mumps

I attended flight school in St. Catharines  (EFTS)  Elementary Training School  before I went overseas.  I was 3/4 through my course when I became quite ill.  I didn’t know what I had, so I went to see the Medical Officer (MO).   He tested for mumps.  Imagine!  The test for mumps at that time was simply putting something sour in my mouth.  I could tell right away something was wrong because  it smarted.  The MO said to me, “Son, you have the mumps.”.  I was in my early 20s at that time.

I was given a bed in the hospital to get better.. I was the only one in the entire hospital.  I received very good care.

Once I had recovered, I had to make up for what I had missed.  I was most upset that this put me back enough that I was not able to graduate with my buddies with whom I had studied with.   I had already writen the exams, done all the flight test but my buddies went on to graduate and I had to stay behind.   Not only would I miss graduation, but I  would also miss the grad party to follow.  There was only one thing to do.   I asked the Co if I could join my group – old class for their graduation.

He said, ” no”…  so I went to graduation anyhow.

It was at Port Dalhousie.  Another fellow from my new class and I went to the party.  We met a couple of girls there who were from Toronto.  We didn’t want to send them home on their own and so we volunteered to escort them home across the lake to Toronto by ferry.  What we didn’t realize was that there would be no ferry to get us back where we needed to be at night.  So we had to stay the night in Toronto at my Aunt Sophie and Uncle Dan ‘s who lived at 140 Edwin Street.  Since nothing I did surpised them – they took our visit in stride.

The next morning we came back to St. Kits to realize we had been declared AWOL (Absent without Leave).  We were charged… it was like going to a court.  What a scare!  Fortunately the court  saw our record was clean and so I did end up getting my commission anyhow in spite of the Toronto incident.

What was nice too was that this “new” crew of guys ended up being really great guys.  those of us who graduated, received “our wings” is how the graduation was referred to.  To graduate didn’t mean you automatically received a commission.  Commissions were granted on the basis of marks.    I guess my new group had so much fun together, however, of the 25 % who did earn a commission – half of us got our commission in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, and the other half got their commission in Moncton, New Brunswick.

The announcement of my commission was sent to my home rather than directly to me.  This procedure was the same for all graduates in an effort to prevent us from knowing who got a commission and who didn’t – this protected our dignity, privacy, and our parents from being disappointed or not.

All in all, our actions had been well worth the consequence I paid to be able to be with my buddies for a short while.

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The Catalina Flying Boat

During World War II, many Canadian pilots were “on loan” to Britain and flew for the Royal Air Force (RAF).  I was eventually stationed in Madras, India and spent some time on the Nicobar Islands where we were tasked as the anti-Japanese early warning crew.  I also flew north of Bombay.

We flew the Catalina at that time.  (  It was a, how shall I describe it, big boat.  The number of crew on – board depended on how far the journey was.  On a long trip there may have been between 8 – 10 people on board:  3 pilots, a navigator, a nose gunner to begin.  There were no landing gear – unlike the Canso.  We always joked that the RAF was too cheap to include landing gear.

I remember the first time I went up in the Catalina.  It was massive.  The wings had a massive 103 foot wing span.  You had to move the controls around several times  before it would even move – they were slow to react.  The boats were not sensitive at all – lumbering things.

Some of missions included:

– a shipping patrol to Coconada

– recco. patrol to search for unusual explosions at sea

– shipping patrol to RedHills

– Anti-sub sweep to Cocos Islands with several VIPs on May 2, 1945

On March 2, 1945, I was on shipping patrol to Koggala.  The next day, we did a low level bombing on sumersible target.

My first anti-locust patrol was on March 31, 1945 in Baluchistan.  We found the locust alright.  The bugs were so thick they entered the carb. in the port engine.  That was a bit of a problem as they clogged the engines.  You can read the whole story on my blog entitled, “Bug Patrol”.

We were sent to “Carnicobar” (not sure of the spelling) on the coast of Burma – to so some night bombing.  We were using at that time, depth chargers.

Leonard Birchall, who had trained me in North Bay, also flew out of Ceylon.  Birchall came to be known as the “Savior of Ceylon” as he spotted a Japanese advancement and was able to get word out that they were heading for Ceylon.  He was shot down – but able to communicate his message in time.  He was held prisoner of war for quite some time.  ( View YouTube clip about The Saviour of Ceylon at I also sound an article from a newspaper about Birchall.  Here is the link:

Other than the Birchall Cup, held annually in Kingston, Ontario, Birchall is much better known and celebrated overseas.

Flying Boats.  “Only the RAF, you say?  Pity.”

Categories: World War II | 1 Comment

Jealousy (Jalousie)


I have been looking for this song since my Dad told me the story of him singing it with Helen O’Connell on stage!  (I can only imagine how much rum must have been involved in that task).  Dad had a fantastic singing voice and my Mom would always brag to me about his voice.  She had a fantastic voice too, but, while she was the opera buff, Dad was more blues and jazz.

Finally, this morning while re-reading some of Dad’s posts, I came across this story he told me about “Jealousy (Jalousie).  I continued my search for the song and discovered that it was not a song made famous by Helen O’Connell, rather one that was popular and she chose to sing it.  It seems Frankie Laine was the artist who made the song popular in 1951. Correct me, please, if I am wrong.   I was so excited to find it as it just gives me such great context for my Dad – the person.

I am re-posting this story with great excitement.  Here is the link if you wish to check it out:

Frankie Lane (

Caterina Valente’s version (

Here’s the original story, as told to me in my Dad’s words”

“I have always  loved music.  During the war, music played a very important role to connect us to home and to lift our spirits.  I had a couple hundred records.  In those days the records were “78”s.

One of my favorite artists while I posted in Madras, India was  Ziggy Ellman.  Ziggy played the trumpet. I listened to Ziggy so much and I was such a big fan that my  navigator nick-named my Ziggy.  To listen to my records, though, I had to wind it up… there was no electricity.

I went often into Madras to buy records.  Buying a record then, however, was very different from today.  The way we did it then when you went into the place someone gave you a catelogue.  You’d look through the catelogue for something you’d like played.  A little boy came over and you pointed to the one you’d like to hear.  He had a ladder like the one you see in big libraries.  We’d point out the one – he’d get on the ladder, find the record, and play it for you.  If you liked what you heard, you bought it – if not it would go back into the library of records.He knew where every record was.

One day when I was looking to purchase a record, there was a woman who was in the store at the same time as me.  She was with her daughter.  There was a song playing at the time.  The song was called Jealousy and it was sung by Helen O’Connell.   The lady wanted to know the name of the song – I told her it was Jello- See.  I said it the wrong way just to tease her.  She told the boy she was looking for the song, Jello-See and tried to get him to play it.  There was quite a lengthy exchange while the two of them tried to figure out what she wanted.  The boy had never heard of the Jello song.   Finally he played it on the hi-fi and the lady bought the record.

I sold all my records and gramaphone before I came home – I didn’t need them as  we could just go and see the performer in Canada – we didn’t need the recorded version.

I remember the time when I went to see Helen O’Connell in Collingwood.  .  I motioned her over and told her I heard her record in India – she invited me to get up and sing with her.  So I did.  The song I sang was… you bet…  “Jealousy”.”

Categories: Dad's WWII Diary, World War II | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Jacobina Roy Taylor

My Grandma Duff,  Jacobina Roy Taylor, was a shop-keeper in Scotland.  She was an only child.   I have her certificate of shop-keeping in Scone, Scotland.

(More details to come)

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The Genie in the Bottle

This is one of my most treasured jokes.  It was usually told around a bonfire late at night with a little “body- builder” to help the punch line.

Three guys were walking on the beach.  One of them kicked something buried in the sand.  It was a bottle. The guys rubbed the bottle and out popped a Genie.  The Genie said, “There are three of you and three wishes.  To be fair I’ll give each on of you one wish.”  They all thought that was okay.

The first guy said, “Well, I have a big enough house but I have 7 kids and I’d like acouple more bedrooms. ”  Poof ! He had two more bedbrooms.

The second guy said, “I’ve got a big enough house but I’d like to have a little more money in my account.” Boom! He had a million dollars.

The third guy said, “I wish I were a little smarter.”  Boom! He became  a woman.

This was one of Paula’s favorite jokes… for obvious reasons.

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How to start?

Paula and her sister Anne were at a Wing’s Party in the Mess at Yorkton Base in Saskatchewan.

I saw these two girls off in the corner by themselves -behaing themselves. She. Paula, was wearing a white cloche on her head and I thought, boy I’d like to meet her.  It was a quiet night – not the night I was meant to meet her.

A week later downtown Yorkton I went to a dance put on by City Hall and guess who was there… Paula. I went and asked her to dance and said, “I guess this is our dance.”. So we danced.  The music was provided by a juke box (canned music).  I was happy to see her again.  I knew then that she would be my wife if she agreed.

My friend “Menzes” (Pete) McKeller was also triyng to make time with her but I beat him out – anytime I talked to her about why she chose me and not my buddy, she said I was a better talker than him.

Her parents thought I was great – I brought her home early every night – she never hold them and I never told them I had to be in at 10:30 anyhow.

Paula invited me and a friend for dinner to her parents’ home at 181 Victoria Street. I took a guy by the name of Harry Hardy who had landed an aircraft in a wheat field in Manitoba when he ran out of gas.  He had made a good enough landing in the wheat field that he was able to fly home from there.  He was, however, punished and had to wash aircraft every night for a week.  The wheat field was just at a milky stage – not firm yet – he needed to wash all the aircraft so they were clean.

The dinner was an excellent cook – roast beef I believe.  Paula watched her mom cook and turned out to be an excellent cook herself!  BTW

Coal was used in those days to heat the hangers.   The coal “dispenser” was automatic – one didn’t need a fireman to feed it- it was like a cork screw that continually fed the flame.  Paula’s father was in the coal business.

I was busy that same afternoon revving up the planes engines to test the magnitoes which were back-ups for the generators….something like spark plugs.  Every aircraft had one and it  needed to be test before flight.  The pilot had to open up the engine pretty far to test it – open the throttles quite wide to do the checking.  Paula’s dad just happened to be in area of the backwash.

At dinner, Paula’s father was telling us about some young “pup” who had blown gravel and sand all over him that afternoon while he was supervising a delivery of coal to the hangers.  He said, “If I ever get my fingers on him I’ll fix him”.  I must admit I was a bit scared to tell him, but I told Paula and she thought it was funny.

I didn’t tell him for years that it had been me who blew the gravel and sand that day. Years later we laughed about that day together.

Categories: World War II | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

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