This is the first of several posts marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the end of the Second World War as part of a partnership between Active History and the Juno Beach Centre. If you would like to contribute, contact series coordinator Alex Fitzgerald-Black at email@example.com.
By Anne Gafiuk
Flight Lieutenant Harry Hardy, 440 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, is proud of his experience as a Second World War Typhoon pilot. Harry took a pen and marked another ‘X’ on a list of nineteen names. Dated January 17, 2015, this list showed only nine living Typhoon pilots in Canada remaining.
After visiting with him at his home in Burnaby, BC, Harry pressed me to interview all nine. “You have to talk to us before we are all gone. Combine our stories into a true picture of a Typhooner’s life and how the Typhoons contributed to the success of the Allied armies as we fought from Normandy to Germany during World War Two.”
Harry is a man on a mission. At 97, he is still spreading the word about the importance of the Typhoons from D-Day to VE-Day. He has spoken to numerous groups over the years with slide presentations generously illustrated by personal photographs and infused with his own first-hand accounts (see the video below).
As a writer, Harry’s plea to me could not be ignored, if only to leave some form of record for historians. To let this last chance slip by would be willful neglect.
Harry and I speak to each other on the phone once a week, sometimes more, discussing what I have discovered about the men on the list or providing updates on anything and everything Typhoon related. I tell him I was only able to contact five of the men: Doug Gordon, 440 Squadron; Frank Johnson, 174 Squadron; Jack Hilton, 438 Squadron; John Thompson, 245 Squadron; and Wally Ward, 440 Squadron. Harry, 440 Squadron, makes six. A seventh from the 440 Squadron is unable to speak with me due to medical issues. I have left messages for two other men, Norm Howe, 175 Squadron, and Peter Roper, 198 Squadron, but have received no response. Emails are undeliverable or their telephone number has a new user. I find other men’s obituaries. (Peter, Frank and Norm have since passed away.)
Harry tells me, “Talk to Wally Ward. He might know what happened to some of the Tiffy Boys.” Harry was in charge of the Tiffy Boys in the West; Wally was responsible for the men in Ontario and Quebec.
Doug, Frank, Jack, John and Wally were interested and keen to speak with me. They shared their stories. Their ages range from 95 to 99. “We’ll help you in any way we can.”
“Come visit,” I hear. If I lived closer, they would be guaranteed a personal visit. John and Wally live in the Toronto area. Doug lives near Ottawa. Jack moved to my hometown of Calgary from Airdrie, Alberta, so I did not have far to travel.
“Send me what you’ve written.” I do. They are pleased. Harry is too.
Referring to the Spitfire pilots, Harry says to me, “You leave those other guys alone with no mention of those prima donnas! They got their due in the Battle of Britain. This old surviving Typhooner is looking forward to reading your take on the role the Typhoon pilots played as we moved across Europe in the summer and fall of 1944.”
Harry explains, “Say 400 Typhoons roamed over the battlefields of Europe, any target that was out of range of artillery, the Typhoons were asked to neutralize the problem. In doing so, 665 Typhoon pilots lost their lives, 151 of them were killed during the Battle of Normandy and 51 of them were Canadian. We were always under-strength from D-Day to VE-Day. As the pilots were being killed, we could not replace them fast enough from the Operational Training Units in the UK.”
He has many ideas of what I should write about. “Pump the nine of us dry while we are still with you. Your questions rejuvenate our old memories.”
Another idea: The Anglo-Canadian landing area on D-Day spanned some 25 kilometres. “There were 272 Typhoons crisscrossing this area assisting the armies to gain a foothold of Europe. What was it like to fly 100 miles across the Channel, fight until you run out of ammunition and if necessary, fly a damaged Typhoon back across those 100 miles of water to England? Talk to Jack and to Wally,” he suggests. (Hugh Halliday’s book Typhoon and Tempest covers a great deal of this territory.)
“I didn’t get there until August 10th, just in time to take part in the battle to close the Falaise Gap. Imagine the damage that 272 Typhoons could cause under those circumstances. I was involved in the Battle of the Bulge and the Crossing of the Rhine, too. We were involved in train busting, destroying bridges.” Harry explains the RAF Typhoon squadrons had rockets and how the RCAF squadrons had bomb-carrying aircraft with cannons. “Each trip consisted of one dive bombing strike. Our attack sign was ‘Going Down.’” It was like a synchronized dance in the sky.
“We could make four strikes or hits, but if we budgeted well, we could make five! We had 520 rounds. Most of the time, we went home with twenty rounds in each of our planes. After we had dropped our bombs, we went hunting in packs. We would strafe anything: enemy (stationary or moving) and transport was our favourite target. But we only had two hours of gas.”
Harry continues, “We worked on the ground with the army as their extended artillery. What they could not hit with their big cannons, Typhoons were called in, sometimes 50 miles behind the lines. We flew sixteen aircraft every day, twice a day, and sometimes three times a day! Thirty-two missions a day. Pilots had to double up. Sometimes we fought over who would do the second Op. We were daylight to dark on the beachhead.”
The army engineers also are not mentioned enough in the stories, he tells me. “They had to level the farmers’ fields and lay down a steel mat, approximately 200 feet wide and 1000 feet long for us to land on. Give the army full credit for building those landing strips so quickly. Also, you might say a word about the forgotten landing strip defence crew.”
He adds, “No one in books that I’ve read has ever given credit to our ground crews for the horrendous job it must have been to move the whole Wing with all its maintenance staff and equipment from strip to strip so fast.”
“Explain our living conditions on the beachhead; write about how we lived when we moved into Holland.”
These are the stories that we explored, both in person but also through an extensive correspondence. No email for Harry, only the phone and letters via Canada Post. He writes, “You have caused me to lose a bit of sleep as I dredge the old memory for the facts.” He implores me to keep these memories alive.
For more on Anne Gafiuk’s project visit www.thetyphoonproject.org where, so far, she has compiled over 200 biographies. Anne Gafiuk is also the author of three books: Wings Over High River (2012), She Made Them Family (2016) and Quietus: Last Flight (2017), all published by the Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alberta.
To learn more about Harry’s story. Watch this Juno Beach interview with him: