The Biggs' Boys

By Ken Stofer

Copyright 2005, 2006, 2007 Ken Stofer, All Rights Reserved

Biography of Henry Bruce

   I was unemployed, living in Victoria, B.C., in 1939 and had just turned 20. My brother Kenneth joined the Merchant Navy; two other brothers Charles and Bob joined the RCAF. Charles was a navigator on the east coast and Bob was a Corporal crew member on the Rockliffe to Africa mail run where he was lost over the Atlantic, December 21, 1944. I wanted to join the R.C.A.F. but at that time they required one to have a university degree. Then I heard of Captain Seymour-Biggs.

    Me and my kid brother Doug (year and a half younger), went to see Capt. Biggs and it was soon arranged for us to go to England. We paid our own fare, with two others from Victoria; Austin Webster and John Long.

   We left Victoria on September 3, 1939, on the 3 p.m. boat to Seattle. We traveled across the U.S.A. to Detroit and then to Montreal where we stayed three days and met four other fellows namely: Alex Recina from Vancouver (lost in Africa) W.L. Bush, Shirley, B.C., George Landton, Salmon Arm, J.L. Lawford, whom I believe was from Slave Lake area, N.W.T. and Henry Pearce, from Victoria.

   We sailed from Montreal on the Duchess of Richmond to Quebec City for a one-day stop and then on to Halifax. Here we saw the U.S. Coast guard cutter, which escorted the survivors of the torpedoed ship ATHENIA.

   On leaving Halifax there were seven ships, plus a Canadian Navy escort (for two days) in our convoy. The trip was not too exciting, although, on a couple of occasions, when on our own, we scattered upon seeing an unidentified ship on the horizon.

   On board our ship we had the Plymouth Royal Marine Band who were returning from the Toronto Exhibition. They kept us well entertained.

   Needless to say we constantly had lifeboat drill. The youngest passenger and winner of all hearts was a little four-year-old girl. With her life jacket on, all you could see was the jacket.

   Two days out of Liverpool we were escorted by the British Navy. At the Liverpool dockside we were welcomed by a RAF representative and taken to Uxbridge where we officially joined the Royal Air Force on the 30th of September, 1939.

   We did our square-bashing at Finningley - all eight of us who were still together - for approximately two months. We then split up to go our separate ways in different trades. My brother and I stayed together and were sent to Halton to await a course as airframe mechanics.

   Our course was held at St. Athan, South Wales.

   Upon completion of the course we were both posted to R.A.F. Squadron 604, County of Middlesex at Manston where we really became initiated. At that time we had Wellington bombers, Blenheims, Tiger Moths.

   During my service I have seen and experienced many frightening and courageous acts, not only by members of the services, but civilians, during strafing and bombing of aerodromes and towns and cities in various parts of England.

   I remember the regular evening treks by Londoners on their way to the underground railways for a night's rest and comfort away from the continuous bombings; people sleeping on subway stairways (imagine the contours of the body) and waking up next morning and resuming normal life trying to work amongst the overnight devastation. What courageous and undaunted people.

   One of my most vivid and awesome experiences was being on leave in London the night the docks were all aflame. I was sitting on the hotel steps at midnight able to read a newspaper in the glow from the fires.

   From Manston I was posted to Graves End - Finningley and Middle Wallop, in that order, and then to Uxbridge to be posted to the Middle East. However it didn't come to pass and back to Middle Wallop I went and then to Finningley again and the bombers and the famous 1,000 bomber night raids.

   This was where my brother left to join the B.O.A.C. Airlines in 1942-45. I was an N.C.O. by then and took a crew to Nutts Corner in Northern Ireland, working once again on Wellington aircraft. I spent a year or so there at the Corner and on navigation training at Toomes (American Airforce Receiving Station) and also on two satellite aerodromes in Ireland.

   I was then posted to Finningley and then to work Beaufighter aircraft at Middle Wallop. It was while here that I was discharged from the RAF on Boxing Day 1944. What a blow out that was at the nearest pub saying goodbye to a swell bunch of RAF guys.

   I went to London on December 27th with only 10 shillings left out of 30 pounds. I joined the R.C.A.F at Lincolns Inn, one hand on the Bible and the other hand out for an advance of pay.

   I sailed from Liverpool on January 3rd, 1945, aboard an American repatriation troopship. I was originally billeted on `E' Deck but ended up on `A' Deck to man the anti-aircraft guns. There were about 150 Canadian airforce on board.

   Our ship arrived in new York approximately Jan. 10-12, 1945. I was treated to the first big-city lights I had seen since leaving Halifax in 1939.

   I boarded the train at Montreal and came home on repatriation leave. I was told to stay put until recall to Jericho Beach (Vancouver, B.C.). Jericho never did recall me, nor others, I later found out. In the meantime I had the option to stay in the airforce with the rank of sergeant or else take my discharge.

   Finally I decided to report to Jericho on March 20, 1945, I was slapped A.W.O.L. of all things, and after having a clean service record. There were some hot words and opinions (mine), to the orderly room staff at Jericho. However, I, along with a Bill Sharp, a Vancouver resident who joined B.C. Tel, got off the charge. Bill and I had a final blowout with his brother and fellow shipyard workers in Vancouver. Lasted three days.

   I joined the National Employment Services - now known as Canada Manpower, on March 26, 1945, where I met my wife Audrey Patrick. I served 34 years with the Commission and retired in December, 1978. The last 12 years I was an investigator for the U.I.C.

   My brother Doug returned home March, 1945 and he joined Air Canada. He also retired in 1978.

----- Henry Bruce

Copyright 2007 Ken Stofer, All Rights Reserved

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