Posts Tagged With: WWII

Remembering the Journey

The Poppy, Flander’s Fields, Last Post, and CBC live from Ottawa. 

These are the things I remember being a part of November 11 in the Duff home when I was growing up.

It was a given that we would all gather, in later years, in front of the television to be a part of the Remembrance Day service offered to Canadians.  It was understood that this was the day that our Dad would shed a few tears… an occasion that was very sombre and rare.  Dad was always laughing and cracking jokes – but not on this day.  On this day, we would not expect him to be telling jokes.  On this day, we would ask him about his friends.  He would tell us stories about the time he spent patrolling the Northumberland Straits, his time on Koggala Beach, India, Burma, and mostly, about his time in the air in his beloved Catalina. 

Today also became know to my brother and I as the day when Dad not only said good-bye to his friends he had lost during World War II, but also the day he said good-bye to his Paula, our mother.  It was this day  – three years ago – when he said good-bye to Mom.  I can still hear his loving words to her even today.  He sat beside her in his wheel-chair in the dimly lit room.  He held her hand.  He calmed her and reassured her that it was okay for her to go.  He reassured her that she would be okay.  He affirmed his love for her and their wonderful life together.  His voice was calm, comforting, and loving.  I am not really sure she heard him – she was unconscious at that point – but I am confident that she would never have left him if she had not been convinced he would be okay.  And Dad knew that.  He let her go.  He wished her well on her journey and that one day, God willing, they would meet again.  She passed away the next morning — he had said his good-bye. 

Dad was a survivor.  What was it that kept him going?  What keeps anyone going through so much loss?  To this day, I still believe it was Dad’s philosophy that one must count his/her blessings.  Maybe that was a philosophy taught to him through the depression, when his family had nothing but what they produced on their own farm?  Dad always claimed he was well off compared to some others who didn’t have food, let alone clothing.  Maybe it was the time he spent among those who lost so much to war?  Dad claimed he was well off compared to the families who lost their sons and daughters, houses, freedoms to war.  He survived cancer, a stroke, and multiple other health challenges. 

Today, a former student of mine sent me a photo of a Remembrance Day program she had taken a couple of years ago when Mom and Dad were able to attend.  What a wonderful surprise to see them in this photo – it was a new photo to me and so it was almost like we had been together one more time – sharing Remembrances.  My student and her colleagues were standing behind my Mom and Dad who were seated in the front row.  They were all happy – it was exactly where Mom and Dad thrived – among young people who offered them so much appreciation.  I remember this day well.  I am so blessed to have others remember it also. 

Two more students of mine today also remembered my parents to me.  “It was so nice for your Dad to be with us on Remembrance Day, Stacey”. 

Although it was a tough day today – I must remember the lessons Dad taught me – to count my blessings.  I count my country and the peaceful state we exist in as one of my blessings – I count my health, my family, my ability to read among the many other blessings I have.  I also consider myself to be blessed to have had such great role models to allow me to see the world with gratitude. 

Today – I thank the many people who have journeyed with my family and I to the place we are at today.  Thanks to the care-givers who helped Dad until, literally, the day he died.  Thanks to the friends who stuck by Dad even when he was no longer able to speak.  Thanks to family who were by our sides always.  Thanks to a country that remembers the sacrifices Dad and so many others made so that we could live a life few others only dream of. 

TTFN, Dad.  Thinking of you today – and always!


Categories: Dad's WWII Diary, Duff History, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 Comments

10 000

When I first began this blog with my Dad, he was shocked that people were interested in his stories.

When he recorded 30 hits he said, “Why would anyone be interested in my life?”.

I said, “Dad, you stories are interesting and very historical if nothing else. ”

He said, “Hmm.  Well I just don’t see it.”

Now, although he is gone, his blog, “High Flight” is nearing 10 000 hits.  He would be over the moon.

I wonder if you, the readers, would be able to fulfill a request?

Could Dad get 10 000 hits to honour his memory and contributions for Remembrance Day tomorrow?

Some of his first stories (some hundred posts ago) contain “his” stories in “his” words – about his WWII experiences.

Would you please take time to read his thoughts – in memory and honour of Bill Duff?

On his behalf, thank-you for caring.


Categories: Duff History, Life After Dad, Life's Lessons | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

WAG the Tail

One of my postings during WWII before I went overseas was in Bathurst New Brunswick.  

We were flying Ansons at the time.  There were usually four of us in the Anson and two students in training – making a total of six.   We all got to know each other quite well – sometimes too well. 

On one of our flights over PEI, my wireless air-gunner (WAG) asked me if I’d land because he wanted to see his girlfriend.  Of course, we couldn’t just land – we were working.   I said, “no”.  He wasnt’ too happy, but accepted and understood my decision. We had respect for one another. 

A bad habit we both had, however, was that we both smoked.  You have to remember that smoking in those days was much more acceptable as the hazards were not well known.  Everyone smoked.  And if you were in the Forces, even more of us smoked.  Anyhow, since even then cigarette smoke was bothersome, we needed to open the windows in the Anson we were flying.   My WAG opened the window so far it actually slid right out.   That wasn’t the biggest problem we had.  You see when it slid out it flew to the back of the plane and hit the tail.  It made one hell of a bang.  I didn’t know what kind of damage the window had done and, wouldn’t you know it, I felt the best thing to do was to land the craft.

I radioed in an emergency landing – guess where – Prince Edward Island.  The landing went well – the plane was checked over – but we couldn’t get back up into the air until the morning.  We didn’t know what to do with ourselves – so we decided to go downtown for a couple of drinks.  My buddy arranged to meet his girlfriend afterall.

We were back in the air the following morning – the plane was fixed and my buddy’s heart too.  I guess some things are just destined to be – with a little help from lady luck.

Categories: Uncategorized, World War II | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Memories of Koggala Beach

Squadron 191 RAF was stationed in India on anti-sub patrol – that was my squadron.

Although I was hired to spot submarines the only thin I ever saw was water.

The water, mind you, was beautiful.

We lived in marquis tents only several hundred feet from the water front.  Even though the water was fantastic, we preferred to swim in the pool at one of the “exclusive clubs” RAF members were granted membership to.

Why did we not swim in the river?  Well, across the river was a pitch of burning ghats.  A ghat is a series of steps that lead down to the Red River.  A departed loved one would be placed on a float  in the river and then the entire vessel was set afire to cremate the body.  It was a very reverent service.  I could never get over the image of that cremation as the body – when it burned – would contract and sit up.  This is not one of my favorite memories.

It was hot there.  When we landed in Bombay on Christmas Day it was 105 degrees.  We sweat a lot and since we’d lose a lot of salt, we had to take salt tablets or a tablespoon of salt dissolved in water.  You’d just add salt to your water glass from a cruet – since salt shakers didn’t shake well in the humidity.

We also had to take methyl quine to protect ourselves against malaria.  These were little yellow pills.  When you sweat, the yellow would come out your body into your clothing.  Our socks quickly turned yellow.

There was once a tornado that came through and sucked up several of our aircraft.  We were able to salvage the auxiliary power units (AVUs) from the sunken Catalinas so that everyone had their own generating units.  We used these units to help light our tents.

We had to be pretty handy in those days and able to improvise.  Catalinas, the craft we so loved, truly “lit up our lives”.

Categories: World War II | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Homeward Bound

I was still overseas in Ceylon (today it is called, Sri Lanka) when the war ended.  Well, at least the German part of the war. I remember the boys and I were so happy – we did was every normal, red-blooded Canadian would do – we tore down the roof of the building were were in.  Seems silly now, but at the time we were pretty excited to do that.

The Japanese were still a threat.  In fact, it was at this time we were sent to England (note from Stacey:  I’m not clear on this location as it was difficult for Dad to get the words out today) for bomber training.  We were being trained to bomb Japan.  I guess I was excited about the fact that I was going to learn how to fly Liberators (4 engines) and I really didn’t think too much about what I was really going to be doing.   We were in England for only a short time at the Operation Training Unit when we heard the Japanese war was over too.

Once again, we were thrilled.  Everybody knew the war was over.  Everyone wanted at that time to get back home.  Me, I couldn’t wait to see my Paula!  I never made it into the plane to train but that was okay because we had so much fun celebrating the fall of Japan.  Little did we know the devastation caused by the nuclear bombing.

When the war was ever everyone  was given their walking papers.  The money didn’t matter.  We were happy.  The plane-ride home was just like a bus route – there were so many of us leaving at one…. so many people getting out.  This was something we had been looking forward to for a long time.  We would first stop in our old barracks in Toronto until everyone and everything was “sorted out”.   The St. Lawrence Seaway was lined with people celebrating our return.  It was quite a sight!

We took a train and marched into the old barracks that we had vacated four years earlier at the Manning Depot in Toronto.  The Horse Palace was the name of the old barracks if you can believe that!  There, we stayed there until we were sorted out to head home.  It was definitively a “hurry up and wait”.

The telegram of my arrival arrived before I did and I guess I was quite surprised but very delighted to see my parents when we arrived in Toronto.  They were happy to see me  believe it or not.  (grin)  I got a big hug from both of them.   We all went together to Aunt Sophie and Dan’s house in Toronto.  There was a big sign at their 140 Edwin Avenue home, “Welcome home Billy”.   Aunt Sophie cooked a big celebration dinner with lot s of beer.  (I used to drink beer then).  I don’t remember what I ate, but I remember being quite happy to be eating home cooking again.

I made arrangements to go to Yorkton, where Paula was still training to be a nurse,  as soon as possible.

She couldn’t meet me on the day I arrived in Yorkton.  Uh-oh! She couldn’t get off duty.  She said two of her nursing friends who were off at the time would come to the station to meet me – which they did.  They took me to the  George Hotel where I would be staying.  Paula met me at the hotel.  A good reunion?!  You bet,  “Yum- Yum! “.

We had arranged to be married long before then and had decided we would marry when she graduated but she hadn’t  graduated yet.  I bought her an engagement ring the day I arrived back from India.  I was all set.  But Paula wanted to wait.  That was the longest wait of my life!

The war was over and my life with Paula was just to begin.

Categories: World War II | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments


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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