The bedsprings squeaked as John tossed and turned. Tomorrow he was flying his first sortie. Tomorrow he was flying into danger.
He had always wanted to fly, that was why he had chosen the Air Force rather than the Army like his brother. He had trained for this day, and now it was here. Was he ready for the responsibility? Of bringing his Wellington back? Of bringing his crew back? Of the carnage he would leave behind?
Other bedsprings squeaked. John wasn’t the only one fretting about tomorrow. But tonight . . .
He closed his eyes and dreamt of prairie skies.
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The Back Story:
John Brock Higham, my maternal uncle, “signed up” for the war in the spring of 1940. He received his “call” in September, 1940, and began his training as a pilot in the Canadian Air Force. A year later, he received his wings – he was now Pilot Officer Higham. In September, 1941, he was posted to England, a member of “Moose” Squadron #419 of Bomber Command. On his first few missions, he flew as second officer. In May, 1942, he was assigned his own Wellington bomber and chose his own crew. He was not yet 22 years old.
They flew their remaining missions together and, miraculously, all survived. The Wellington was not so lucky. More than once, John brought his Wellington limping home on a wing and a prayer. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for once such event; King George VI and the Duke of Kent visited on separate occasions and congratulated the Squadron for their service.
In September, 1942, John and his crew were chosen, purely by chance, to go on a cross-Canada tour to raise money for the war effort and to raise the spirits of Canadians, especially those working in factories supplying the war effort. At the conclusion of the tour, he was posted to the west coast where he flew submarine-spotting missions – there were rumours of a Japanese invasion.
In 1944, Trans-Canada Airlines (now Air Canada) was recruiting pilots from the RCAF. John was not about to give up flying just because the war was ending. He joined TCA and trained to fly civilian airplanes. He flew for Air Canada for 41 years before retiring.
John privately published a book about his war-time experiences, a matter-of-fact description of how a prairie ploughboy came to fly over dangerous and deadly German skies. Only once did he describe the emotional toll of the war. One of his crew members had serious moral and religious problems with being the bomb-aimer. John knew if he reported this crew member, he would be court-martialed for “lack of moral fibre” as PTSD was then called. Instead, John reassigned duties among his crew.
Many years later, his younger brother George asked, “Do you ever dream about the war?” “All the time,” John replied.
Pilot Officer (Ret.) John Brock Higham, D.F.C., passed away June 18, 2020, 22 days before his 100th birthday. He now flies safer skies.