F/O Frederick Thomson Guest
Frederick Thomson Guest was a flying officer with the RAF during the Second World War.
Frederick Guest flew his 5th trip on 9 August 1944 out of Dunsfold, Surrey, with 180 Squadron RAF, providing support for the army in France. Their target on this mission was an ammunition dump near Ferrile, France. Flying over a thick forest in occupied territory, they dropped their bombs over their intended target.
Usually they didn't see the results of their bombing but this raid was an exception. They managed to hit the main dump in the middle of the forest, and amidst the smoke and flames, a string of flames ran from the centre to one corner of the forest. They had also caught a loaded ammunition train at the dump.
A Lucky Escape
According to Frederick, after dropping their bombs the squadron leader flew straight and level instead of the irregular pattern of turns and altitude changes that were standard procedure when over occupied territory. They had been flying in this fashion for about 5 minutes when suddenly they were hit by bursts of heavy anti aircraft shells inside the formation. The leader and #2 were shot down, the formation broke up and the remaining aircraft, with varying amounts of damage, took off on their own.
Frederick stayed with the leader as he started down in a dive and reported the damage he could see - a split in the lower wing from the fuselage to the left engine nacelle and fuel and smoke pouring out. He tried to contact the pilot but no transmissions were acknowledged, so they assumed the pilot was dead.
With smoke pouring out of the plane, the front escape door flew off and they watched as one of the crew got out. It was the Canadian navigator, the only one of that crew to survive. Fredrick left the leader at that point and began evasive action. The anti aircraft fire, which was very accurate was very hard to shake. The turns and altitude changes were almost as violent but the gunners eventually fell out of range.
Their plane had taken many hits, the wireless operator was wounded, all instruments for the left engine were shot out, and flack had entered the left side of the aircraft behind the pilots seat and took out the hydraulics. As they approached the airfield, the wheels had to be pumped down by hand and once they touched down the brake pressure failed when they turned off the runway and the aircraft ended up on the infield.
Leave in London
After the mission, Frederick and his crew received a week leave in London. They bought a car, which they ran on "stolen motor transport fuel" until they were sent off to Belgium. After that they used 100 octane in their car, which was easier to acquire and to which they added "red hydraulic fluid" in case they were stopped by the fuel inspectors.
As Frederick recalled, "that car certainly looked good sitting beside our tent", especially when the C.O. and the flight commanders had to wait for regular transport to get about.
Frederick completed his tour of duty in December 1944, after a total of 50 missions. On his return to Canada, Frederick instructed on Mitchells until the end of the war. In 1952 he joined the Reserve Force with 418 Edmonton Squadron again flying Mitchells. He served as CO of that squadron and retired as CO of 18 Wing in 1972 with the rank of Group Captain (Colonel).
The Mitchell Bomber
The North American B-25, otherwise known as the "Mitchell Bomber", was recognized as one of the best medium bombers of the Second World War. The aircraft was named the “Mitchell” in honour of Brigadier General William “Billy” Mitchell, considered by many to be the godfather of an independent United States Air Force. It is the only aircraft in the USAF inventory to be named after a specific person.
In mid-1942, the RAF began receiving the B-25C and B-25D which they designated as Mitchell Mk II’s, eventually receiving 543 of these aircraft. No. 2 Group (RAF) had been transferred from Bomber Command to 2nd Tactical Air Force and during the early summer of 1943, No. 226 squadron which had many Canadian aircrew, converted to Mitchells. The squadron’s targets were primarily enemy airfields and lines of communication such as troop and supply trains and vehicle convoys.
They subsequently took part in pre-invasion attacks on Northern France and on V1 and V2 missile sites in the Pas de Calais area. After D-Day it operated in close support of the advancing Allied armies both inside and outside the immediate invasion area and in October 1944 it was based on the Continent where it remained for the balance of the war.
There were many variations of the Mitchell, but all that knew the aircraft will agree that it was a veritable flying arsenal. One USAAF version mounted up to 18 machine guns giving the Mitchell complete all-round protection from enemy fighters. The RAF’s B-25C and B-25D however, were equipped with two .50 inch (12.7 mm) machine guns in dorsal and ventral positions, and one .303 inch (7.62 mm) machine gun in the nose, plus a bomb load of 4000 pounds (1814 kgs).
The Doolittle Raid
The first B-25 flew in August 1940 and was introduced into military service in 1941. It first gained fame as the bomber used in the April 1942 Doolittle Raid in which 16 B-25Bs, led by the legendary Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, took off from the carrier USS Hornet and successfully bombed Tokyo and four other Japanese cities without loss to themselves. However, 15 of the planes subsequently crash-landed in Eastern China en route to their recovery fields in that country.
These losses were the result of fuel exhaustion, stormy night conditions with zero visibility, and the lack of electronic homing aids at the recovery bases. Only one B-25B landed intact; it came down in the Soviet Union, where its five-man crew was interned and the aircraft confiscated. Fortunately, 71 of the 80 Doolittle Raid crewmen survived their historic mission and eventually made it back to American lines.
The Mitchell Bomber After the War
The Mitchell bomber continued to serve in the RCAF after the war with No. 13 Photographic Squadron at RCAF Station, Rockcliffe, Ontario in 1946. In 1947 the squadron was renumbered as 413 Photographic Squadron and alongside Avro Lancaster Mk. X’s were instrumental in mapping Canada’s vast northern territory. Two auxiliary squadrons were also formed after the war and equipped with Mitchells. They were No. 406 (Saskatoon) and No. 418 (Edmonton). Both these light bomber squadrons flew the Mk. II and Mk. III versions until they were retired in 1958.
Additionally No. 412 Transport Squadron of RCAF Station, Uplands, Ontario, operated VIP configured Mitchell’s between 1956 and 1960 and the Air Navigator School in Winnipeg utilized special modified B-25’s as trainers for future CF-100, AI (Aircraft Interceptor) Navigators throughout the 1950’s. This aircraft was finally retired from Canadian military duty in 1961.
Nipper Guest, Boy Warrior
Nipper Guest, the brother of Frederick Guest, had his own unique experience during the Second World War, which he shares here.
At the age of 17, full of patriotism and expectations of heroism, and with the aid of an altered birth certificate, I joined the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps. It was 1943, the Second World War was well under way. After training in Saskatchewan through the fall and winter I sailed for England and more training in the spring of 1944. The voyage, on the Isle de France, once France's flagship passenger liner, was quick and calm. I read in the paper many years later that the Isle de France had been sold for scrap and sunk for the making of a movie.
By the time the battle for Normandy was over, casualties were such that most able bodied reinforcements were transferred to the infantry. After additional training, I found myself a foot soldier with the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada in the Second Canadian Infantry Division then resting near Dieppe and soon to advance into Belgium.
I was assigned to be a Bren machine gunner in a regular infantry platoon. A few days later a blister on my foot became infected and I was sent by ambulance to a hospital far to the rear along with several walking wounded casualties. I felt like a fraud being included with fellows who were there due to enemy action. Three weeks later, on return to the regiment, now close to the Dutch border I learned that the fellow who took my place on the Bren gun had been killed by a sniper.
Shortly thereafter my company was sent on a "fighting patrol." When the enemy is falling back the role of the fighting patrol is to locate the enemy and prod them along. German resistance was soon encountered. Our platoon, about 22 strong, was ordered to make a frontal attack to capture their position. This would be my first time in real action.
The Germans were entrenched in an area reforested with evergreens planted in neat rows. The trees were about ten feet tall and limited visibility at eye level. Being dug in, the Jerries could sight below the bottom branches. Our artillery support fired a few token rounds overhead and we were on our own. When the sergeant shouted "Lets go!", I was afraid but didn't hesitate. I consoled myself with the thought that one was more liable to be wounded than killed. We advanced at a trot across an open space and into the trees firing blindly at where the Germans might be.
I heard something swishing past my ear and glanced back to see the chap next to me firing his Bren machine gun from the hip. I took a step sideways and hoped for the best. As well, one could see from wood splinters popping off tree trunks as bullets passed through, that we were being shot at from all sides.
The fire was intense, many of our platoon were down. One fellow was screaming in pain, for some reason I assumed he had a burning tracer bullet lodged in him. Our attack faltered and we went to ground. The Germans were very well concealed. I was looking for someone to shoot at when our sergeant, who was about 25 feet away, called over, "cease fire." Moments later he slumped forward.
"Sarge are you dead?" I asked. A stupid question that embarrasses me to this day.
He lifted his head and looked at me with utter scorn as though to say, "What sort of nincompoops are they sending me for reinforcements?" However, I noticed there was a pink hole between his eyes. He crawled away, and, as it turned out, soon died. He is buried along with seven others of the platoon at Bergen-op-Zoom in Holland.
A German Sniper
A few moments later there was a tremendous blow to my left side accompanied by a loud bang. It felt as though I had been slammed with a sledge hammer." Simultaneously I was flung into the air in a complete rotation. I saw a puff of smoke and while facing up noted blue sky and small white clouds through green tree tops. By all accounts I had been hit by a large calibre exploding bullet.
I had landed about three feet from my rifle and when trying to reach for it I could hear bones grinding and feel blood pouring down my armpit. I said to myself, " That is near your heart, you will bleed to death within a minute. You had better pray." Then, "No, you don't believe, and if there is a God you aren't going to suckhole now."
There was a sizzling sound. My hair and maybe my tunic were on fire I tried to get my water bottle but failed so I called for help. One of the uninjured fellows crawled over and poured water on my head. He tried to put my field dressing on the wound but the hole was too large so he gave up and lay flat. Part of the shoulder blade and much muscle was blown away yet there was no pain.
It must have been a bloody mess and he thought I was a goner. "Give me your mother's address" he said, "I'll write and tell her you did not suffer." A few moments later he slumped forward. There was a small opening in the back of his head with some skull hanging by a flap of skin and a bit of gray stuff on his uniform. We were in view of a marksman so I pushed my face in the dirt and tried to make myself small.
My war was over.
It was also over for the fellow who came to my aid. If I hadn't called for help would he still be alive or would he have been picked off before we got out of our mess? Would he have been killed in some other action? I didn't even know his name.
After a couple of hours or so, two stretcher bearers appeared, loaded me onto a stretcher and my long journey home began. We passed several dead, one fellow, who's face was chalky white I assumed had bled to death. I was a relieved to be alive. A jeep, fitted out to carry stretchers, took me to the regimental aid post. There our regimental doctor cut away my tunic and prepared me for evacuation to a field hospital. There was still no pain. Later I learned that tanks came with flame throwers and cleaned out the Germans who were from a tough SS division. Our platoon was wiped out.
The Royal Army Medical Corps, or the R.A.M.C. as it is known to the Brits, and cynically referred to by the infantry as Rob All My Comrades, now had me in their dubious embrace. A bag with my personal effects was hung on one end of the stretcher and my boots on the other. The bag seemed small. I asked the orderly if my camera was in the bag. He assured me it was "And the spare film too."he added. They were never seen by me again. Conventional wisdom among combat troops was to hang onto your boots if one became a casualty as they were a saleable item.
Next stop was a field hospital located in a church basement in Antwerp. Dressings were changed and I was treated to four bottles of blood. The effect of the blood at less than body temperature or perhaps shock, set in and I shivered intensely. As darkness fell it was time to move again, this time to a base hospital in Brussels. However, the last bottle of blood was not empty so it was hung above me in the ambulance, just like on the posters. There were four of us attended by an untidy corporal who appeared better suited for the Pioneer Corps, digging latrines, than for the Medical Corps.
After a while the blood in the bottle ceased to flow. The corporal now took a dangerous interest in my welfare. He checked the blood level a couple of times and shook the bottle. Then said cheerfully, "Don't worry laddie I'll get this into you." He disconnected a tube and prepared to blow. Had he been wearing a white smock and carrying a stethoscope I might have been uneasy but probably would not have objected.
Fortunately, I knew something of the bends and that air in the veins was not a good thing. I certainly did not want his breath in my bloodstream. 'Don't you blow into me!" I said forcefully and he reluctantly gave in with a 'you don't know what's good for you' shrug. I subsequently learned that my biggest danger was that the stoppage of flow was likely caused by a blood clot, and, had he blown, the clot could have entered the blood stream with disastrous results.
The base hospital in Brussels was a large civilian establishment taken over by the British military. The stretcher bearers who took me to the operating room were a couple of volunteers from the Boy Scouts. One was very tall and the other short resulting in an uneven gate that made me feel like I was riding a camel. On the operating table a doctor gave me a needle which had no noticeable effect and as they seemed about to go work on my back I called out in alarm "I'm still awake." "Not for long" he smiled and gave me the second needle. I slipped comfortably away, my long day over.
Next morning I awoke in a bright clean room with a cheerful British nursing sister bustling about. She exuded competence and compassion as she went about the ward. I particularly admired the way she introduced the chap in the next bed, just regaining consciousness, to the stump, where his hand used to be, and which she referred to as "Polly." My torso was encased in a light temporary cast that held the arm and shoulder immobile.
Somewhere along the way my boots had disappeared.
Back to England
That afternoon four of us were taken by ambulance to a Brussels air field. The driver went at high speed over the pot-holed roads causing discomfort to all of us and great pain to one fellow whose badly injured leg, though in a cast, was bouncing about. Our cries went unheeded. The final transportation indignity was yet to come. While loading me into a DC-3 for my first airplane ride, the RAF ground crewman rested the stretcher on a bracket while he changed his grip.
Unfortunately, my whole weight was on the bad shoulder and the thin cast gave way. I heaped curses on the fellow who seemed indifferent to it all. The night flight across the channel was noisy, cold, dark and scary. We flew for what seemed like hours, apparently due to fog at the landing sites, before getting down. A long and wearying drive in dense fog followed, ending at the 17th Canadian base hospital west of London.
Next day final repairs were made to my shoulder and secured by a substantial cast. Later the doctor, his two hands spread apart, told me that was how large the hole on my back was. "The operation was simple," he said, "I just pulled out the loose pieces of bone and sewed the edges together." A third of the shoulder blade remains in Belgium. Small bits of bone and bullet worked their way to the surface for the next twelve years.
After two months the cast was removed. I hurried to a mirror which revealed a partially closed hole surrounded by tightly stretched skin. My shoulder sagged, the muscles were slack.
Momentarily, and for the only time, I felt sorry for myself. Two months later, even though the wound wasn't completely closed and dressings were necessary for another month, I was discharged to return to Canada. I believe they kicked me out for an insubordination. When one has come from the sharp end of the war there is little inclination for infantrymen to take guff from medical corps orderlies.
Home to Canada
Shortly before embarking for home I was instructed to report to an army intelligence unit where to my surprise I was handed a package containing my writing case and a book of poetry that had been in my kit bag which had remained in company storage while I was on the ill fated patrol.
The return crossing was on a hospital ship, the New Amsterdam, which was still on its maiden voyage. When the Germans invaded the Lowlands, in 1940, she fled her home port, Rotterdam, before being commissioned and had yet to return. The crossing was made in a classic North Atlantic storm. I was sick as a dog for four days.
On the journey from Halifax the train stopped at many towns en route to Calgary. At each stop women's welcoming groups came aboard distributing fresh fruit, candies and treats not seen since leaving Canada. I stuffed myself. On arriving at Mewata Barracks in Calgary and in the midst of reporting to the orderly room I was caught short.
Despite a mad dash and a wrong turn I made it to the washroom but not to the toilet. My war ended with me on the pot. The boy warrior was home, fantasies of glory reduced to boots full of dung.