It happened on a night in May of 1944. Fred Davies remembered the cannon shell from an enemy fighter aircraft flying past his face. It ripped into the engine of his bomber.
“The engine and wing… blew up,” he remembered, “(creating) an immediate ball of constant flame about 20 feet or higher.”
Davies, 89, is a Second World War veteran who served with No. 405 “Pathfinder” Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force. He had almost piloted his Lancaster safely back to England from that bombing operation when the attack happened. Suddenly he and his crew were forced to abandon the aircraft over Tilburg, Holland. Soon after, he was taken prisoner.
“When you do 46 operations, you have a lot of little crazy things happen,” Davies said. “Some nights are good, some nights are terrible.”
Originally from Halifax, Davies was awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross). This year, he marched in East Toronto as part Royal Canadian Legion Branch 11’s annual Remembrance Day Parade on Nov. 4, held in honour of veterans.
Davies began his operational tour in England in January 1943, serving two and a half years in the RCAF. As part of the Pathfinder force, he had a dangerous job leading other bombers to enemy targets.
“Our death rate was very high,” he said. “Our squadron lost about 800 people… (and) there are hundreds of squadrons.”
Davies returned to Canada in 1945, later married and had five children. He now lives in the GTA and through Legion Branch 11 helps others remember important events in Canadian history.
He joined the Memory Project, an initiative of the Dominion Institute placing veterans inside classrooms to speak with students about wartime experiences. For the past 10 years, he has spoken in schools about his experiences.
“Canadian history is just about forgotten in schools,” he said. “Five years of war history is in a paragraph.”