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William Henry Fuller
JOINING THE AIR FORCE
February 14, 1941
Canada had declared war on Germany, September 1939. I was working in the C.N.R.
shops as a carman apprentice at this time. The war of course was the subject of most
of the conversation at lunch hours and work breaks. The most common phrases were
"When are you joining up?" "Are you going into the army, navy, air force?"
Well, it was no different with me. I discussed it a lot with my mate who was a retired
sailor, and occasionally with Stan, who favoured the navy and later joined it. I thought
about the navy but only if I could get into the Fleet Air Arm - I wanted to be a pilot. I
found I would have to join the British navy as Canada had no Fleet Air Arm.
As time went by I knew I had to become a pilot, so I told Mom and Dad what I had
decided to do and went into Winnipeg on my bike and signed up with the RCAF. I took
my medical and passed it but was told to go home and put on 20 pounds. They told me
I would likely be called within 6 months but would be rejected if I didn't meet the
required weight. I only weighed 120 pounds at the time.
When I went back to work I told my foreman, Mr. Brown, about what I had done and
that I had to find some way to gain 20 pounds in 6 months. He promptly put me on a
four man rivetting gang and for 6 months we turned out a new refrigerator boxcar a day.
That's a lot of rivets. I gained 25 pounds, got my call and was off to the Air Force
Manning Depot #2, Brandon on February 14, 1941.
I soon found out that if you wanted things done efficiently, don't depend on the
services to do them. We were told by the recruiting officers to take only the bare
necessities with us when we left home for Brandon. There would be no need for
overcoats, winter hats or gloves as we would be fully outfitted in Air Force issue as
soon as we arrived in Brandon, which was three hours out of Winnipeg.
Manitoba, in the middle of winter, with no coat, hat or winter shoes !! That's exactly
what we had, nothing ! In fact we weren't even able to be housed in the Manning
Depot barracks. We were put up in an old warehouse downtown, a 20 minute route
march from the Manning Depot. It was a march we did 6 times a day, to be fed, and
nothing else happenened for over a week. We marched in 15 to 20 degrees below
zero weather in a suitcoat, dress shoes and no hat!
What a start!!
We were a sorry looking group of recruits, and we were not having much fun. But
then, suddenly it got better. We finally got our issue of clothing and it didn't take long
to start feeling better. We even thought we looked pretty darn good in our Air Force
Suddenly one day a bunch of us were called out of parade to report to a certain
Warrant Officer in the main barracks. When we arrived we found we had "volunteered"
to train for the Precision Squad Marching Team. About 40 new recruits, for some
unknown reason, had to learn how to march with a rifle, (a heavy rifle) and become
efficient at many precision marching moves ! As time went on we found that most of us
rookies were Air Crew volunteers, which only added to the suspicion that we were
quickly developing. The Air Force wasn't as organized as we had been led to believe,
only 6 weeks before.
In any case, the brain washing process was working - most of us were finding that the
grueling workout we were getting about four hours a day, was beginning to pay
dividends. We were getting tougher a lot faster than the other guys. We were able to
handle the route marches that we all had to do, much better than the others, and we
began to look pretty good doing our marching routines. Before we were shipped out to
our first posting we had developed a real pride in our company.
Then one day, the rookies nightmare - meaning Brandon Manning Depot was to
become a thing of the past. We were posted to Calgary Equipment Depot !
(immediately adjacent to the Calgary stockyard). This turned out to be a guard duty
posting because they still didn't have room at the flying stations to take on new
potential student pilots.
What a bore this guard duty was - two hours on, four hours off, around the clock for 48
hours, then a day off, then back to two on and four off again.
For about a year now I had the odd attack of chronic appendicitis, where I would
suddenly get a sharp pain in my side that could even knock me off my feet. This
happened one day when I was having dinner with Ada at her Mom and Dad's house.
After accepting the maximum attention and sympathy that I could glean from this
dramatic incident, I shrugged it off with "Oh it's nothing, it might never happen again".
Well it didn't, as a matter of fact, but I was waiting for the RCAF to call me up. An
operation now would surely delay the call up and maybe hurt my chances of getting in.
Now back to Calgary and the disgusting job of guard duty - and how do I get out of
this job? I really do have reason to believe there is such a thing as sympathy pains.
Here I was, lying on my bunk thinking that I had another 15 minutes still before having
to pick up my trusty (and very heavy) rifle to take my next two hour shift on guard duty.
This time it was the 2 A.M. to 4 A.M. shift. It was the worst one for me because I was
never able to sleep during the 10 P.M. to 2 A.M. rest period.
But as I was saying, I am lying on my back waiting the call I knew was coming in 15
minutes, when I got the slightest of twinges in my right side. Then it went away. "Ah,
my appendix again. I had forgotten about that". It had been months since my last one
at Ada's house. However, I hardly felt it this time. "How would it feel carrying this
heavy rifle for two hours. I wonder if I press the spot I might feel the pain again?" I did,
and I did. I pressed the spot, I felt the twinge. Then it struck me, " Supposing I had an
attack like the one I had at Ada's, when I was in the middle of a dog fight over France?
Or if I was a bomber pilot and my whole crew was at risk !". Actually what I was really
thinking was "if I report to sick bay tonight I could get out of guard duty and the
upcoming 2 A.M. to 4 P.M. shift ! "I'll do it!"
I went to the doctor and he said "Better have them out.....can't risk flying with this".
"See, I told you" I said to myself!
Calgary April 1941
Arranging with the station doctor at the Equipment Depot to have the operation for
appendicitis was simple enough. They took me to the hospital the next day. I stayed
overnight and they prepared me for the operation the next morning. It was set for 10
A.M. Incidentally, I forgot to mention this conversation I had with the Station Medical
Officer. When I went in to see him about the appendix and he established that I did
indeed have appendicitis, he told me he could probably be able to dissolve it over a
period of a week of treatment on the base.
I asked him if I would still be on guard duty and he said "yes". I asked "Would I get
sick leave if I had the operation?" and he said "yes", and I said "how much", he said
"ten days to two weeks, I'm afraid". I said "send me to the hospital !".
We are talking 1941 and spinal injections were very new. While I guess most
surgeons knew about them, many of the nurses etc. were not familiar with the
procedure at all or so I was told later.
I was wheeled into the O.R. and prepared for the 10 A.M. operation at the appropriate
time prior to 10 A.M. and the attending physicians promptly injected the drug into my
spine as I sat on the edge of the table with my head between my knees. So far, so
good - then he told me I would be conscious during the operation since this was a
better way to go than the old fashioned anaesthesia !.
I believe I took the news bravely at the moment, or maybe I didn't want to cry in front
of a room full of nurses. Anyway, it was done, now we just had to wait a few minutes
while the drug did it's thing and the surgeon would be in momentarily to take care of the
rest of this simple operation.
I laid there consoling myself and occasionally wondering if I really hated guard duty
this much. Forty minutes later the surgeon came into the operating room, raring to go.
Now I am positioned on the operating table, on my back, looking up into a huge mirror
on the ceiling, which was reflecting back, to my astonished eyes, a perfect view of my
I foolishly said to the doctor "What's that mirror for?", knowing it was of absolutely no
value to him. He said, I mean he actually said "So you can watch the procedure if you
so wish !!" I now know how much I secretly loved guard duty and wondered if it was too
late to change my .... I was going to say my mind, but I guess I mean his mind. I
already knew what my mind was thinking. What I think I did say was "Thanks anyway.
I probably won't watch".
I heard him say "scalpel". I think I heard it, I may have nightmared that. Anyway, the
next minute or two in that operating room was filled with a lot of action, yelling, cursing
and apologies in the background.
When the doctor made the incision, I yelled very loud that " I felt that damn knife!".
He said "no, you probably saw me make the incision and your instincts took over" I
said, "I felt the damn knife" and tried to explain the feeling and reminded him that "I
chose not to watch the beginning of the operation", or words to that effect, such as
"Like hell I was watching"!
I got his attention because he said to someone something like "How much did you
give him?". The answer came "So many CC's but it was administered sharp at 10 A.M.
as ordered". Then came the profanity followed by "Give him a local NOW! Of course
he felt the incision". After that it settled down and everybody did their jobs -1 lay there
waiting for the doctor to say "Sew him up", or something like that.
When they wheeled me out of the room I can tell you there were a bunch of unhappy
campers still in there. I never heard anymore about it, but I did get really good
treatment for the 10 days I was in the hospital. I did have a great two weeks back
home in Transcona with Ada and the family.
By the time I returned to camp, a posting to I.T.S. was waiting for me. So I am getting
closer to my dream - I.T.S. in Regina,...
Initial Training School. Now we are going to start getting lessons in the fundamentals
of flying. I think they call it ground school.
Actually we did go to some classes and looked at world maps and talked about the
different aircrew jobs like pilot, navigator, wireless operator, gunner, but that's about all
because we were still lumped together as "Aircrew" not as prospective pilots, gunners
So I.T.S. was where we answered morning roll call on parade, were issued flying
equipment, answered 2 more roll calls through the day (for exercising and conditioning
they said). Oh yeah, we also marched to our meals every day. (Incidentally I was
beginning to notice that I was marching about the same way as the guy next to me.
Guess my drill experience at Manning Depot was wearing off).
Speaking of being issued our flying equipment, not all of it was brand new as one
would naturally expect. When I opened my flying suit, all agog at seeing how I would
look in it, I found it totally stained inside with blood. It was recovered from a crash of a
training plane and was overlooked and reissued !.
Not a very good start. However, it must not have bothered me for long because I did
forget about it and only just remembered it again as I was writing this. Although I must
admit I did think about it a couple of times at Elementary Flying School, for no particular
Finally the day has come ! We are leaving Regina and heading to Fort William
Elementary Flying School. What a nice sound it had.
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