It is already Day Seven of Canadian genealogy blogger Patricia Greber’s #MyMilitaryAncestor Challenge, issued in celebration of Remembrance Day and the veterans and war dead to whom we owe such a debt. Today, we help BIFHSGO’s newest addition to our Board of Directors, Lynda Gibson (Research Director), to honour her father, Robert.
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Honouring Our Military Ancestors Challenge – Day Seven
Corkscrewing away from a Junkers 88
Contributing Author, Lynda Gibson
My Dad, Robert Gordon Gibson, enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 1943 when he was only 17 years old. He had his father’s permission to join, possibly because gramps and “the step-mother” were moving to Vancouver for gramps’ health. At first Dad was told to go home, but eventually the RCAF called him up and he started his training. After receiving his commission, he became part of the 1st Group, 100th Squadron, based in Grimsby, UK.
The crew of seven flew a Lancaster bomber. The pilot and flight engineer were in the cockpit with the navigator behind a curtain at the rear of the cockpit in a darkened area so he could see his instruments. The upper gunner sat top centre of the plane. The bomb aimer would lay down and view the target from the dome beneath the front turret. The wireless operator was stationed inside the plane, back of the navigator. Dad, as the rear gunner was squashed in the tiny rear turret with four guns. He wore a uniform with electric heating wires running through the material up his shins and his thighs, but which left his knees locked together and exposed to the horrible cold. They could be flying at 11,000 to 12,000 feet, and in the winter the temperature could reach -50C.
On the night of October 14-15, 1944, they were flying over the Rhur valley (Germany). It was very dark, and Dad’s turret never stopped as he scanned the sky for enemy movement. Suddenly, he saw a shadow way up above them. He started to say something about a dark spot way behind, when it started dropping towards them. He yelled “corkscrew, port, go”, although he should have said starboard instead of port. Their pilot immediately dived to the left, port side, rather than right, starboard.
A corkscrew, as you might imagine, is a manoeuvre taking the plane sharply down, then sharply up and then flipping back again. As they came back up, there was a German Junkers 88 with its belly showing. It couldn’t fire a shot because it was going to crash into them, so it pulled straight up to avoid them. Dad wondered why the Junkers 88 did not topple over. The plane was so close Dad could almost touch it.
On that flight, unfortunately, Dad did not have a seatbelt. He was hanging onto his guns, and when the plane dropped, he went up and his guns went down and he hit the ceiling of the turret. There was a small light on the ceiling of the turret, with a butterfly knob, and that’s where he hit his head. Then when the plane climbed, dad would be pulled the other way and the guns would go up.
Finally, the German plane broke off, and though they had to do a lot of corkscrewing after that, they made it back to base safely.
Why no seatbelt? That was the first time the RCAF had issued pilot-type seats for the rear gunner. Normally rear gunners had a thin cushion on the seat, with a cloth belt to hold them in. But this time, dad had been given a pilot seat, which is actually the parachute. In pictures you can see this dangling behind their legs. Previously, to get at the parachute, the rear gunner would have had to turn the turret around, go through the doors into the fuselage, grab a parachute, put it on, and then get out. So, gunners kept pushing to get pilot seats in order to save their lives. That evening, Dad was sitting on the parachute, but unfortunately, no one had thought to extend the seat belt, so it was too short. Dad had not discovered this until they were leaving, so he just accepted it. After that, the belts were changed.
Find our previous posts in this #MyMilitaryAncestor series, by clicking the following links:
Day One – Infantryman “undoubtedly saved lives” at Passchendaele
Day Two – War was a family affair
Day Three – Measles, Mumps and the Military
Day Four – God who knows best has called you to rest
Day Five – “I expect you will have heard of the death of…”
Day Six – The horror of gas attacks