A Royal Canadian Air Force warrant officer next to the rear turret of a Handley Page Halifax heavy bomber during the Second World War.
"The next thing I knew was flames were shooting by my tail turret and the pilot was saying, “Bail out, bail out, jump, jump!” "
You see, Paris was not that far from the English Channel, so it would have been a relatively short bombing trip, where you go in maybe an hour and a half to get to our target, you know, five minutes less than that over the target and back again, so probably all in all you wouldn’t be gone from your base, which of course – Yorkshire is up in northern England – we wouldn’t be gone more than probably four to five hours. Whereas some of the other boys that had trips in Berlin, they were seven, eight, nine hours this sort of thing. But, no, we just, once you get close to the target the bomb aimer takes over and he directs the pilot, where to fly and at what height. We were supposed to bomb at about 8,000 feet but we received instructions to drop down to about 6,000, something like that, so we bombed at about 6,000 feet no problem. And then we always come out in a slight dive, and shortly after bombing the target I felt a shudder, as far as the aircraft was concerned and the next thing I knew is this Junkers 88* was banking off above and behind us. I opened up with my four machine guns but I don’t think I hit him, but the next thing I knew was flames were shooting by my tail turret and the pilot was saying, “Bail out, bail out, jump, jump!”
I didn’t realize that we were that badly hit. Apparently he’d hit our engines which were up in flames, so consequently we just had to get out as quickly as we could. So normally a tail gunner would take his parachute, which was just outside his tail turret, hook it on his chest pack and then fall out backwards, but I was of concern that by the time I got my chest pack on, opened up the doors to fall out backwards, I’d probably be maybe burned before I could get out. So with that, since the aircraft was still moving in a straight and level course, I went through the fuselage to the escape hatch and there, standing at the escape hatch with the escape hatch door open, was my mid-upper gunner, who was standing there with his parachute all ready spilled inside the fuselage, so there was hundreds of feet of silk spilled inside the fuselage and he was standing there figuring he was a goner and I just said, “Look George, hang on to me, we’ll go out together.” So he wrapped his arms around me and I went out holding the ring on my parachute and the two of us went out together and his parachute just came, followed him out, and mind you, as soon as we hit the slipstream, ‘cause we were doing probably 220, 230 [kilometres an hour], we were pulled apart and his parachute came out, didn’t catch anything, didn’t catch on the tail plane and we landed within fifty yards of one another.
We didn’t see any sign of any other parachutes and of course we figured, well, we were the only two alive. So next we hid our parachutes in the bush and then sort of walked in the opposite direction to where we thought our plane had crashed and the next morning we crawled into a farmer’s hayloft and about the middle of morning we called to him and he was quite surprised of course, sort of thunderstruck to see us, and he came up to the hayloft and our mid-upper gunner, who was from Lachine, although he was English-speaking could speak French. He told this farmer we were with the RAF [Royal Air Force] and wanted to be hidden out and contact the Underground. So he told us, “Well you stay here, wait, wait,” and about half an hour later he calls to us and we look outside the hayloft and there were half a dozen Germans down below, so he just turned us over to the Germans.
*German twin-engine multi-role aircraft employed against Allied bombers over Europe
Interview with James Finnie - FCWM Oral History Project
Accession Number CWM 20020121-019
George Metcalf Archival Collection
© Canadian War Museum