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William Henry Fuller
weeks are a blur. What happened generally was that we, as a crew, were posted to
Bombay to await the next leg of our journey home ! I don't remember any of the train
journey back across from India from Calcutta to Bombay (at least three days). I don't
remember how many days we were in Bombay, perhaps a week. It was a boring time
because we were all very anxious to get home before Christmas.
One thing I do remember and that was the very sincere warning all service men were
given on their arrival in Bombay by our senior officers. "Do not walk the streets of
Bombay alone at any time and, unless absolutely necessary, stay on the camp sight
from sunset to dawn. Otherwise you will stand a good chance of being mobbed by the
local dissidents". I remember what our bearer, Sammi, told me in Kolar, five or six
months ago about how the political atmosphere would change in India. He knew what
he was talking about. So our main focus in those few days was to wait impatiently for
the arrival of the ship that was to take us to England.
Finally the good news, we were booked on the P.& 0. ship 'Malaja', a 600 passenger
vessel that would take 3,000 of us to Bournemouth, England ! The passenger list
consisted of the Air Force officers and men, Army officers and men, and many ex-
prisoners of war...civilians who were captured when Japan captured Hong Kong. Even
after many weeks of hospital care and good food, these people looked as fragile and
ravaged as one could imagine. They must have had to endure unliveable conditions
for years. It's a wonder any of them survived.
The voyage to England was eighteen days long. For the soldiers and airmen it must
have been an ordeal. It was so very hot through the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea.
Because of the overload of passengers the men had to stay in their quarters below
decks for the entire day. Their "quarters" were hammocks strung from steam pipes and
anything else they could find to tie to. At 7 p.m. they were all allowed to come up to the
open decks and they would lay down on the decks and sleep there overnight. During
that time the officers and civilians were required to return to their cabins and stay there
until morning. Everyone was required to follow this procedure to the letter because of
the high risk of being so top heavy.
The overload of personnel meant less heavy cargo could be carried in the holds.
They were mostly filled with baggage which was more bulky but much lighter. We were
very fortunate that we had perfect weather throughout the eighteen days at sea. The
Captain told us we were forty-eight hours behind a violent storm that proceeded us
through most of the Arabian Sea, then the Red Sea and even into the Mediterranean
Sea. By the time we got to the Mediterranean the sea was like glass, all the way to the
Gibraltar. We got to see the Gib again, this time... legally. Quite a sight!
One of the memorable sights in the Mediterranean was the performances of the
dolphins. Because of the mirror like surface of the water, we could see the schools of
dolphins for miles away. With little else to do, you can understand why almost
everyone one on deck would try to find a good spot along the railing to watch them
when the sightings were made. This, of course, caused a problem of no little
importance ! The ship's Captain had to recruit several senior officers in addition to his
crew, to block the passageways leading from one side of the ship to the other. There
was a real danger of capsizing if this traffic was not stopped.
Once this was under control, everything was O.K. and when the dolphins had finally
caught up to us, they surrounded the ship and provided a wonderful show to all those
on both sides of the ship. They behaved as though they were purposely showing off
just to entertain us !
One other thing that comes to mind is the overabundance of the best food you ever
saw ! I gained twelve pounds in eighteen days. I went from 126 to 138 pounds and
never looked back !! The food on the squadron was not only very poor but it was also
very scarce. It certainly did not help much to be quarantined for those two weeks early
Nothing much happened after we passed by Gibraltar and got out again in the Atlantic
and on to the English Channel until we began approaching England. The Captain got
onto the horn again while we were still half an hour away from port, to warn everyone of
the danger of crowding the deck on the landing side. None too soon either as the men,
and particularly the British, were anxious to see if they could recognize anyone of the
huge crowd on the docks.
I guess most of the Canadians moved to the seaward side of the ship, as I did, to give
the English a better chance to see their families if they were in fact, on the docks.
It was a memorable moment even though we were only just reacting to their obvious
joy of seeing their homeland again and perhaps their families as well. We would still
have a couple of months before we would get that experience first hand. We only
hoped we would make it home by Christmas.
We were transported to Bournemouth where we were separated as a crew and some
of us were put up in the hotel made over into a huge barracks. Fortunately, I got some
leave to go visit my cousin Nellie Drewry (Uncle Jack and Aunt Annie were her parents,
who lived two blocks from us in Transcona at the time). Nellie had gone over to
England in early 1939 to marry Alf. She had been through the whole war, living some
fifty miles from London. They had their share of the bombing from time to time. I'm
afraid I have forgotten the name of the town, but I'll never forget the royal treatment I
received from the people.
Alf and I did what I guess all the men did in England at eleven a.m.....headed for the
local pub. Of course I was in my uniform (that's all I had) and felt a bit conspicuous
because I was the only one in officer's uniform. The fact is, I expected the locals would
be fed up with military people, particularly from other countries. I had heard many
stories of the strained feelings over the years with the U.S. Army and Air Force types.
To my amazement and embarrassment, I was welcomed like a long lost son ! I was
there a week and couldn't buy a drink for myself or anyone else ! Thank goodness I
had Alf there to help fend off the drinks being put on our table. Somehow he got the
natives to realize I wasn't much of a drinker.
The guy who owned the pub was the most enthusiastic of them all. I remember him as
a huge guy with a big voice and his name was "Bill". He was ex-navy and he thought
the world of the R.C.A.F. and particularly Canadian pilots. He was a member of a
British submarine which was under attack by a German submarine wolf-pack. They
were just about finished when a couple of R.C.A.F. fighter planes came to their rescue,
fought off the pack and the crew were rescued by another Canadian Air-Sea rescue
team. It was a very pleasant time spent there. We played a lot of darts, snooker and
This was a railroad town, as was Transcona, so I had a lot in common with the natives
and it was easy to talk with them without talking about the war. They had had enough
of that by now. Nellie fussed over us like the mother hen she adoringly is. Our
breakfasts were like a Sunday night supper. The main course being Kippers ! Rationing
was still a major concern but Nellie was very good at improvising and we ate well.
They probably starved for a week after I left.
On the way back to Bournemouth I spent an afternoon in London, acting like a tourist.
The main stop was Buckingham Palace where the two princesses (now Queen
Elizabeth and her younger sister Margaret) were just being driven out of the front gate
as I was standing there ! In fact, with the pushing crowd I was nearly bumped by the
fender of the limousine. Princess Elizabeth must have noticed it because we made eye
contact as they drove slowly by. An interesting moment, as I managed a salute in all of
On December 1st, 1945 I set sail for New York on the Queen Elizabeth, the pride of
the British cruise liners at the time. It was the final separating of my crew. Since my
regimental service number was so much lower than the rest of the boys, I was
repatriated first. As a matter of fact I had no idea when the rest of them came home,
although at one time Don must have told me when he came home, and I had forgotten.
I talked to Jeff Smart on the phone two days ago (October 19th, 1992) for the first time
in forty-seven years. He told me he didn't get home until January 29, 1946. So, they
were all well behind me.
I landed in New York on December 7th, 1945 and froze for five days on the trains up
to Canada and on to Winnipeg ! It was bitterly cold and I particularly noticed it because
I had been in tropical weather since the previous March. But I was homeward bound
and nothing else mattered ! I would soon be seeing Ada and Grant in person !! I could
hardly believe it. The train was travelling so slow. It seemed forever for the train to
cover the final few miles. I remember thinking that I was sorry I came home on the
C.P.R. because I wouldn't get to see Malachi as I would have had I been on the C.N.R.
line. Pretty dumb when I think of it now. What did it really matter? My mind was racing
and no doubt I was becoming very flustered and nervous, like "I hope they got my
message straight. Hope they are at the station when we pull in. I wonder how Grant will
react? Will he know me? It's going to be so good to see Ada again".
Well, when I got off the train, Ada was right there ! When we embraced, I'll never
forget it, the months we were apart just melted away and it seemed like I had never
been away. Then I saw Grant, with Ada's Mom and Dad, standing back, waiting. He
was wondering who the stranger was, I just know. He was shy and reserved as one
would expect, so I didn't push it. On the way to Transcona, Ada, Grant and I in the
back seat, I have no idea what we talked about. Before we arrived home though, I had
convinced Grant to sit on my lap, and Ada and I held hands just like always. God, it was
good to be home !!
We spent the Christmas of 1945 in Transcona at Ada's parent's house. Then we left
for Vancouver in time to have New Year's Eve at my Mom and Dad's house at 2676
West 45th Kerrisdale. When I was in England, awaiting repatriation, I had arranged to
receive my discharge in Vancouver, with the proviso that I could stop over in Transcona
for Christmas and pick up my family. This meant the Air Force would pay for Ada and
Grant's fare to Vancouver which was pretty nice. We arrived in Vancouver on
December 28th and it was a great way to welcome in the New Year of 1946, let me tell
On January 15th, 1946 I reported to Jericho Beach Discharge Centre in Vancouver.
The huge hall was filled with Air Force personnel of all ranks. The procedure was to sit
around waiting to have your name called, whereupon you would go into one of the
many booths to be interviewed by some officer. He would then complete the release
papers, then both parties would sign them and that was it. Back on "Civy Street". In
my case, five years less one month, and I'm a civilian again.
As it turned out for me, it wasn't all that cut and dried. The officer was reading my
confidential files when I entered the booth. The first thing he said to me was "Am I
correct in assuming you are here to get your discharge from the Air Force?" I said
"Yes". He thought I might want to reconsider, since I was an experienced multi-engine
pilot, a Squadron Leader, and (get this!) I had been recommended for a Wing
Commander promotion the day before the first nuclear bomb had been dropped ' "I
didn't know that" I said. He said, didn't you bring back all the confidential files on all Air
Force personnel aboard the 'Malaja' to England?" I said "Yes". "Well, your file was
amongst them. Did it not occur to you to read it?" My response was " I was told they
were confidential files and since I was chosen because I was the senior Air Force
Officer aboard the 'Malaja' I got the job of carrying them. I figured they were
confidential so I treated them that way !. I couldn't believe this conversation ! I guess
he was trying to help, but I've never really forgotten how weird that interview was.
He tried to coax me to stay in. He figured I would drop a couple of ranks but there
would be a good chance I would pick them up in a reasonable period of time because I
had been promoted to Squadron Leader on the squadron and if the timing had been
better, I would have had another promotion, all in the space of three months.
None of this was going to have any bearing on my decision to go back to civilian life. I
had been offered other incentives while I was still on #355 squadron, awaiting posting
home. Some officials from Tata Airways, (the main Indian Commercial Airline) had
been given permission to approach pilots on the base to try to hire them to be pilots of
their airline to fly the monsoon season in the Eastern Asia circuit. I was offered
$3,500.00 a month and they would bring Ada and Grant over to India upon my
acceptance. Pretty good pay for 1945 ! I wasn't interested. It didn't even tempt me.
I began to realize there was a change in me. I believe the turning point was the
morning I was flight control officer in the Control tower, when I witnessed that aircraft
crash on take-off trying to fly a mercy mission. What I saw at the crash sight only a few
minutes later, consolidated my decision that I felt my flying days were over;
I had lived my dream since I was a seven year old child on that farm at Decatur,
Indiana. More to the point, I had lived through that dream. It's not that I had suddenly
become afraid of flying, not at all. It's just that my priorities had changed. I had a
family to go home to and the war was over. I realized also that flying as a career was
probably a selfish way of life. I would be away from home more than I was at home. I'd
had enough of that. It was no problem for me to walk away from the Air Force or from
flying in any form.
It was years later I found out from Ada that she dreaded my years in the Air Force ! I
had no idea she feared my days as a pilot. She certainly covered it up well. In
retrospect, I am very grateful she was able to keep that from me, particularly while I
was in India. I don't know if I could have handled that extra pressure. It was enough to
deal with my promises to Mrs. Aitken and Mrs. Aikman to bring their kids home, and my
own determination to survive this period on the Squadron for the sake of my own family
which was priority #1.
To know that Ada had hated my flying would have put extra pressure on me that could
have gotten in the way of my focus. No telling how that would have affected my
judgement. Yes, I was fortunate again, that Ada was a very courageous person, and
still is. I was never able to get even a hint from her letters that she felt unhappy that I
was a pilot.
So when I retired from the R.C.A.F. it was because I wanted to. Now the next step was
to find something back in civilian life to provide for my family and find it now. As I was
to find out, this wouldn't be easy. The fact was, I wasn't qualified for a lot. I only had a
high school education and Dad had taught me how to paint and wallpaper. My Air
Force experience gave me nothing ! So I got a job as a painter's helper with a guy
named Charlie who lived two blocks up the street on West 45th.
Towards the end of February, 1946 I got a letter from the Department of National
Defence, and in it was a cheque for $331.82 plus a statement that I would be receiving
still one more cheque of the same amount in 30 days time. I had just been paid off for
1799 days in the Air Force... $442.50 plus 25 cents a day additional for "overseas" pay
(284 days) = $71.00 plus dependent's allowance of $150.13 for a grand total of
$663.63 for my five years in the service !!
I didn't cash the cheque because I was so stunned by the pittance. I even considered
tearing it up and mailing it back ! I decided to cool down and think about the
alternatives, because I had been working with Charlie as a painter for a month now and
was only being paid by the hour so it was virtually impossible to get in 40 hours a week
unless I would work overtime and Sundays.
It was particularly tough if our job was in West Vancouver. We would leave the house
at 7:30 a.m., arrive on the job at 8:30 or 9:00 and that is when my pay would start ! I
knew I could not get anywhere at this rate, so I started looking at my situation seriously.
That cheque from the Department of Defence was still stuck firmly in my craw. I figured
I had to examine the possibilities of going back to school. I found out that I qualified for
a University Education.
So when I retired from the R.C.A.F. on the 15th of January, 1946, it was because I
wanted to. Ada made it very clear many times during that period between December
12th, 1945 when we were finally reunited on the station platform in Winnipeg, until the
date of my discharge, that it was my decision and mine alone, whether I stay in the
services or leave it.
We are about to enter a new phase in our lives - a family back together again - and on
"civy street". It was going to be a bit scary because there were thousands more out
there going through the same thing as we were.
When I look back at my life, through this account, it becomes very obvious the last
five years of the first twenty-five played a dominant part in my memories.
Living through five years of war, I have to believe I was very lucky. A large number of
my school chums and acquaintances never made it. Fred Irvine, who lived two doors
away from us at Malachi when we were kids, was one of those casualties.
Even more shocking was the fact that, of the thirty-seven Canadian and thirty-seven
American students in my course at #2 S.F.T.S., Uplands, Ottawa, who received their
wings with me, only two survived ! One was 'Rip' Ford, an American, whom I spoke of
earlier (the soldier of fortune who slept in the bunk above me). The other survivor was
With that memory I conclude this phase of my story.
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