By Jill Northan, PRBN Staff
“Who would walk when they could fly?”
At the age of seventeen and a half years, when Frank Squires enlisted, he knew army life wasn’t for him. He had come to this conclusion by listening to his older brother’s experiences in the earlier years of WW II.
Born at Fly Shot Lake, just out of Grande Prairie, May 12, 1924, Frank was down the list in the birth order of a family of 11 brothers and sisters.
After leaving home at sixteen and a half, the young Mr. Squires worked in a tin shop, a bakery and was doing contract carpentry work on the side with his brother.
“The war news in 1941 was pretty bad so I thought I’d go and do my bit. My dad was English and of course, anything for Good Old England. And I thought by choosing what I wanted to do I would be far better off than by being conscripted.”
He enlisted in Calgary and after a brief orientation in Edmonton, took his basic training in Brandon, Manitoba.
Frank felt he wasn’t aggressive enough to be a pilot but good eye-sight and mathematical abilities made him an excellent navigator and bomb-aimer. Further navigational training took him to Saskatoon; Portage La Prairie, Manitoba; Bournemouth, England; and Newton Stewart in southern Scotland before he became one of a bomber crew of seven in the 100th Squadron in the RAF.
Time and distance hasn’t blurred any of the 33 trips Frank made into enemy territory. To this day, he is very clear what happened when and while relating his stories, he precedes each one with “It was the first trip,” or “the fifth trip,” or “the 19th.”
Frank remembers that the new crews always started out in the oldest planes. The plane his crew started with felt like it had been on at least one hundred trips. By today’s commercial standards, that doesn’t sound like many until you remember that each mission was fraught with light and sometimes heavy anti-aircraft fire which could blow holes in the aircraft.
On his fifth flight, the plane came home with 27 holes. On his seventh, it came home with 80, which upset the ground crew. On his eighth trip, it caught an 88 right in the starboard aileron (flap) and the hole was as big as a dishpan.
“If it had been half an inch further forward, we’d have lost control of the aileron and we’d have never got back. If it had been a foot further forward, we’d have been a fireball because that’s where the gas tanks were,” muses Frank today.
Another close incident happened when he was in the old plane.
As he relates it, “We were at 17,500 or 18,000 (feet) and everybody else was at 23,000 or 25,000. We were coming to an aiming point. We were 5,000 to 6,000 feet below everybody. We’d just released our bombs and I looked to the right and I could see this cookie (a four thousand pound bomb) coming. It was just a little bit ahead of us. And I thought, Jesus, this is it.’ But you know, that cookie went between our in-board and out-board starboard engines. Missed the propellers. I was looking at some of the planes afterwards. I don’t think there’s more than 12 feet from one way to the other way and maybe eight feet the other way. And that cookie is four feet around. It must be eight or 10 feet long. It actually missed the propellers and missed the engines. And I thought ‘Somebody must have been looking after us.'”
The trip that stands out as Frank’s most satisfying started out poorly.
“Because of the weather, they were going to send us to three different places so they changed the bomb load three times and we took off 30 minutes late. Now, taking off 30 minutes late, you have to understand what happens. In the beginning of the war, they used to send 10 or 15 planes and they’d get half of them shot down. Gradually they would send everybody in a three or six minute period. If it was a bigger bunch, a thousand planes, maybe two, three minute periods. We took off 30 minutes late. We set course on track.
“Normally, you’d climb above the drome (airport) in a circular pattern but we took off, set course on track and mind you, it was pitch black and raining. I never even looked out the window because I had to keep a track log plus I had to bomb at the end of it. And you’ve got to understand, I think it took us about five, five and a half hours but we got to the aiming point 30 seconds early. I never even looked out the window and I had a 200 yard error in the middle of this manufacturing complex. A 200 yard error is like hitting the aiming point. When we got back they called us in and congratulated us on what a wonderful job we did. It was a perfect trip.”
As the war worked its way into Germany, planes were sent where they weren’t designed to go. Fuel capacity versus the ever more distant targets became so critical that the crew would taxi to the end of the runway and refuel before taking off. The pilots learned to ‘let down’ on their return flight to eke out the last few miles across the cold North Sea. Even with those precautions, the RAF pilots were known to land on the British coast in places like Haywood which held the American airport. Frank’s plane landed there once with 48 gallons of fuel left which was only enough to make one loop around the airport.
“On our 19th trip,” says Frank, “we were flying through layered cloud. Black as pitch. You could hear the tail gunner’s comment because we were on intercom. He said, ‘Humm, all I can see is two halos around the exhaust. It’s a fighter. Prepare to corkscrew port.’ So we dropped down to port. And the mid-upper and tail gunner played away but this guy was blazing away with his 20 millimetre and you know, honest to goodness, I thought that if I could have reached up, I could have reached those tracers. That’s how close he was. He missed us by a fraction of a second. Of course, this guy just peeled off and we went straight down and everybody said… Well, we thought we’d got it.”
The 19th trip brought a misfortune to the crew.
“We were flying pretty high. And with all this gyration, all the heating elements for the tail gunner broke. He had boots and a jacket that were electrically heated. He never flew with us again. He was actually hypothermic. He got so cold that he was in the hospital. It was just one of those things that happened.”
Navigating in clouds made it more difficult for the crew. In the beginning of the war, it was done by dead-reckoning. Acquiring G and H2S (navigational aids) made it safer for the flyers and gave them more accuracy in dropping their bombs.
The RAF targeted ball-bearing, gun and tank factories, sometimes some ring manufacturing plants but especially oil refineries or storage.
Says Frank, “We used to go after oil often. Like we bombed Duisburg five times. That’s in the confluence of the Rhine and the Ruhr in Germany.
“Sometimes you’d go on some of these raids, especially some of these Ruhr raids and you’d see six, eight, sometimes 10 planes shot down. You couldn’t see the guys leave the planes because it was late but you could see the planes fall. Sometimes, if it was summer, you’d see the flack bursts but right at the target area, what do you think would happen to the guys? They’d kill them.”
The 33rd and last trip for Frank and his crew was a heavy bombing raid on the island of Helgoland, Germany. It was made even more interesting to him after the war when he and his wife were visiting in Europe. It was then he learned that the Germans had taken the inside out of the whole island and made it one enormous submarine base. The bombing raid dislodged the top of the island and it fell between 45 and 50 feet crushing all the subs below. No one understood at the time why the island was so heavily defended or what had happened during the raid.
After the war, Frank returned to Wembley, Alberta, and worked in a grocery store for a short while before beginning his 38-year career with the railways. He started with the Northern Alberta Railway and worked for them until they were bought out by the Canadian National Railway. As the CNR down-graded its operations, Frank moved with it until 1985 when they closed the Dawson Creek station. It was then he retired.
A casual game of scrub baseball led to the marriage on May 15, 1948, of Frank and Traudy David of Tomslake, B.C. A family of five children followed.
Adele is married to Lyndale (Hap) Britton of Edmonton and has a family of two boys, Scott and Sean.
Barbara Hartley is married to Glenn and they, too, live in Edmonton with their three children, Michael, Gregory and Aaron.
Daughter Darlene Squires Share is married to Dave and lives in Pasadena California. They have one son, Dylan.
Don of Dawson Creek is married to Liz and their two children are Holly Ann and Blaine.
Valerie Squires Seguin is married to Robert and lives in Nelson B.C., with their son, Bret.
Today, Frank and Traudy are busy retirees. One of Frank’s interest is the Pouce Coupe Legion where he is serving as its vice-president.
This article is taken from the Peace River Block Daily News, Dawson Creek, with the permission of the publisher. The Daily News retains all rights relating to this material. The information in this article is intended solely for research or general interest purposes.