Town of Coaldale
In 1939, at the start of WW2 Walter Huff was a 15-year-old lad in Grade 9.
In 1942, right after high school graduation he joined the Royal Canadian Navy in Winnipeg, where he took basic training and then was posted to Esquimalt, B.C. for seamanship and gunnery training.
“I was then posted to HMCS Chignecto at the time when the Japanese army invaded the Alaskan Aleutian Islands. It was our duty to patrol and protect the west coast of Canada, as far north as the southern tip of Alaska,” he said, when recalling his life story for the Town of Coaldale, prior to his guest speaker engagement at this year’s Remembrance Day ceremony at the Gem of the West Museum last Wednesday.
While aboard a ship in the rough waters north west of Prince Rupert, Huff recalled, he suffered severe sea sickness, which regretfully restricted the performance of Huff’s assigned duties. Because he was unable to overcome the seasickness, he was assigned to shore duty.
“I did not relish the thought of becoming a dry land sailor, so I requested and was allowed to transfer to the RCAF hoping I would make air crew. If I couldn’t be a real sailor, I wanted to be a pilot or at least an air gunner and shoot down enemy airplanes,” he noted.
Regretfully, Huff said, he failed the air crew medical requirements because he couldn’t breath properly through his left nostril — caused by getting his nose crushed during his last game of high school football.
Not making air crew, Huff said, he chose to take training as an armament technician — a trade in which Huff believed he was pretty well assured of getting an overseas posting.
After graduation, Huff said, he was posted to a bomb and gunnery school near Portage La Prairie in Manitoba.
Early in December of 1943, Huff said, he was posted overseas and was given seven days embarkation leave, which he spent with his parents. “I remember my father accompanying me on the bus ride from Morris to Winnipeg. In retrospect, it must have been another sad day for my dad having to send another one of his sons overseas,” Huff said.
Huff said he embarked from New York harbour on the troop ship Aquitania and after about 10 days at sea, he landed at Greenock Harbour (near Glasgow) and then travelled by train to Bournemouth in southern England — a holding and dispersal depot for the RCAF).
“From there, I was posted to Coastal Command 407 Squadron stationed in North Devon — south west England,” he said.
Huff said he was assigned to the maintenance and servicing the armament on Wellington bombers.
“We soon realized it took fifty or more dedicated and skilled ground crew tradesmen to keep an airplane airworthy. Yes, we were neither on the front lines nor ever in any imminent danger, but we were crucial personnel required to keep our aircraft airworthy, properly armed and ready for action,” said Huff.
In the summer of 1944, Huff said, part of his squadron, including Huff, was moved to RAF station Limivady (south of Londonderry) in northern Ireland, where the squadron was involved in patrolling and attacking enemy shipping and submarines in the Irish Sea and North Atlantic Ocean.
As the war progressed and the need for the squadron was required elsewhere, Huff said, the squadron was relocated to RAF station Wick in the north eastern part of Scotland. “From there, the squadron patrolled the North Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of Norway.”
As the war further progressed, Huff added, many of the German U-boats were sunk, surrendered or withdrawn and the need for coastal command had diminished and the squadron was disbanded.
“After the disbandment, I was transferred to Tactical Air Command on mainland Europe, to an abandoned German air base near Eindhoven in eastern Holland. The base had been utterly ravished by the retreating German troops, leaving no intact aircraft hangers or buildings of any type — only piles of concrete, rubble and cratered runways. The damaged runways were hastily restored by military bulldozers and then our squadron took over the makeshift airbase. It was now my opportunity to ply some of my earlier training by servicing the 20mm cannons and rocket armament on mosquito bombers,” he said.
In September of 1945, Huff said, as the war was now over and the mop up had been partially curtailed — Huff was posted back to England, this time travelling by ferry boat.
“I was repatriated back to Canada in January 1946, sailing on board the troop ship Il De France to Halifax and was discharged in February 1946.”
“There was much rejoicing and joyous reunions in our family when all three brothers finally returned after years of separation,”: Huff added.
Huff said there was also sadness upon learning some of Huff’s school mates and buddies were among the many who made the supreme sacrifice.
“I reflect and pay tribute upon all my fallen comrades and friends and also to those who have served or are currently serving our great nation of Canada,” said Huff.