While Bob was attending high school in Red Deer, Alberta, he joined the Air Cadets and rose to the rank of Flight Sergeant in the #7 Penhold Squadron.
Bob joined the Air Force shortly after his eighteenth birthday in December 1942. During his training he was posted to the #10 Air Observation School in New Brunswick where he won his wings as a pilot officer.
He trained in Tiger Moths in England before being posted to the #1655 Mosquito Training Unit in Oxfordshire, where Bob and his skipper were chosen as Pathfinders and posted to RAF Squadron #627 at Woodhall. This elite squadron flew the DH Mosquito in their role of providing precise targeting by dropping visual target indicators for Bomber Command.
Robert (Bob) O'Connor was born in Red Deer, Alberta on 9 Sept, 1924. The following year his family moved to Alice Arm B.C., a small and remote mining town approximately 100 miles north-east of Prince Rupert at the upper end of Observatory Inlet.
In Nov 1930, Bob's father was killed in a landslide at the Bonanza Mine at Anyox, about 20 miles west of Alice arm.
In the spring of 1931, Bob's mother, took him and his elder brother Jerrold and sister Patricia back to Red Deer. In the fall of 1931 they moved to a farm N.W. of Red Deer where they endured a decade during the “Dirty Thirties”.
When the Second World War started in 1939, Bob's brother joined the Air Force and the family moved back into Red Deer where Bob started high school. While there he joined the Air Cadets and rose to the rank of Flight Sergeant in the #7 Penhold Squadron. Bob considered this very good preliminary training for aircrew in the RCAF, and during Christmas of 1942, shortly after his eighteenth birthday, he joined the Air Force.
Bob began his training in June 1942 at the #3 Manning Depot in Edmonton, Alberta, and then the Initial Training School (ITS) at the University of Alberta. This was a twelve week intensive course for potential pilots, navigators and bomb aimers.
Bob wanted to be a fighter pilot flying Spitfires, however while in Air Cadets, Bob became quite interested in navigation and during mid-term exams at ITS, Bob got the highest marks in navigation.
All this turned into a blessing of sorts as he was the only student in the course to get to an operational squadron. Bob subsequent trained as a navigator at #6 Bombing and Gunning School at Belleville, Ontario. After Bombing and Gunning School he was posted to #10 Air Observer School in Chatham, New Brunswick where in May 1944, he won his wings and commission as a pilot officer.
Before going overseas he was sent to a thirty-day commands course in Calgary. From there he proceeded overseas, leaving from Halifax, Nova Scotia on the Canadian Pacific’s "Empress of Scotland".
The Second World War
He landed in Gourock, Scotland, and after a brief stay in Innsworth, Gloucestershire, he was sent to Marshall Field in Cambridge where for six weeks he flew Tiger Moths in order to get used to flying conditions in England. His crew was then posted to Bishops Court in Northern Ireland, where he spent two months flying Ansons in difficult weather up until Christmas 1944.
To Bob's "great delight", he was posted to #1655 Mosquito Training Unit at Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire, where he crewed up with skipper, David (Hutch) Hutchison from Pine Falls, Manitoba.
Bob and Hutch hit it off very well and they became life long friends. In early March 1945 they were chosen as Pathfinders and posted to RAF. Squadron #627 at Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire. 627 Squadron was unique as they did their markings by dive bombing under the light of parachute flares. As Bob recollected, "we would dive from 4000 – 5000 feet down to 1000 feet which gave a very good accurate marking for small targets."
Bob and Hutch were a close team, working in conjunction with the Lancaster squadron. They practised flying every day they could. "We had mines on our Mosquitoes. The mines were 1,250 pounds and we could carry two of them. We would be given an area on a particular river..."
Bob's aircraft did experience some enemy fire. "Once they start shooting at you, it caught your attention. We could outrun the Messerschmitts. We never got hit, but I was scared... never panicked. We just had to handle it."
When the war ended, Bob said, "I was relieved the war was over, but we were also disappointed because we wanted to finish our tour. We would have really accomplished something. The highlight of the RCAF for me was the sheer joy of flying. The Mosquito was such a beautiful aircraft."
After the war Bob received a degree in Geology from the University of Alberta in 1950, and worked for a number of large and small oil and mining companies over his distinguished career.
Bob eventually got his private pilot's license, owning a Chipmunk up until the mid-1970's, when he crashed the aircraft while flying in the mountains when the engine stalled. Bob and his passenger walked away from the wreckage uninjured.
In later years he spent his time volunteering at the Aero Space Museum of Calgary helping to restore old Second World War aircraft. Bob was also a staunch supporter of the Mosquito Society of Calgary's project to restore a vintage RAF Mosquito.