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.