By Anne Gafiuk
Flight Lieutenant Harry Hardy, who flew with No. 440 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, is a proud Second World War Typhoon pilot. During my visit with him in May 2017, Harry had taken a pen and marked another ‘X’ on a list of 19 names. Dated January 17, 2015, this list showed only nine Canadian Typhoon pilots remaining.
After my visit with him at his home in Burnaby, British Columbia, 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.”
He then added, “We are the ghosts to your Mrs. Muir. Do you know the story?” I told him I remembered the TV series featuring Hope Lange as Mrs. Muir and Edward Mulhare as Captain Gregg. “Watch the movie,” he suggested. “Mrs. Muir did a great job for the sea captain.”
Harry is a man on a mission. At 95, 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. (One of his talks can be found in three parts on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G23UB-QUdac.)
He approached Langley, British Columbia artist Virginia Ivanicki when there were 36 Canadian Typhoon pilots on his list. “The Typhoon was the plane that did the most to help the Canadian and British armies advance across Europe. As you can see, I push the Typhoon all I can and you would be a great help. My aircraft P for Pulverizer, was the most photographed Typhoon in Canadian squadrons 438, 439 and 440, probably because of her nose art.”
Ivanicki said of her illustration entitled Typhoon Bail Out, Harry J. Hardy, D.F.C., C.D., L.d’H., 12/25/44, (Christmas Day): “I did the painting purely as an homage to Harry to celebrate him and his squadron.”
Robert Bailey of Stony Plain, Alberta and Len Krenzler of Calgary, Alberta, painted pictures depicting the Typhoon in action: Typhoon Fury, Typhoon Warning, Typhoon Target by Bailey; Operation Varsity — Crossing of the Rhine and Clash of the Titans by Krenzler. Surviving Typhoon pilots signed each of the prints, but their numbers dwindled as each successive painting was completed.
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 wilful neglect. I have joined Harry’s mission.
After my visit with Harry, we talk on the phone once a week, sometimes more, discussing what I have discovered about the men on the list. 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 makes six. The seventh, Currie Gardner, also of 440 Squadron, is unable to speak with me due to medical issues. I leave messages for two other men, Norm Howe (175 Squadron) and Peter Roper (198 Squadron), but get no response. Emails are undeliverable or their telephone number has a new user. I find other men’s obituaries.
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 are interested and keen to speak with me, share their stories. Their ages range from 94 to 98. “We’ll help you in any way we can.”
“Come visit,” I hear. If I lived closer they would be guaranteed a personal visit. Frank, John and Wally live in the Toronto area. Doug lives near Ottawa. Jack has just moved to Calgary from Airdrie, and I met with him.
“Send me what you’ve written.” I do. They are pleased. Harry is too.
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,” referring to the Spitfire pilots. “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.”
I had heard about Harry a few years ago, but did not meet him in person until I attended the memorial service of Bob Spooner, in Victoria, British Columbia, in August 2016. Bob and I became friends through Gordon Jones. Both Bob and Gordon were instructors at the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan’s No. 5 Elementary Flying Training School in High River, Alberta.
Bob was sent overseas eventually flying the Typhoon, with one of his stories depicted in Robert Bailey’s Typhoon Warning. Gordon remained in Canada as an instructor.
I recall Gordon telling me it was supposed to be him sent overseas, not Bob. He later admitted, “Staying in Canada probably saved my life.” Gordon knew the casualty rates.
Bob shared with me some of his more harrowing stories: the ‘almost’ bailout, the shooting of tanks, trains, railways, and truck convoys. He stressed, “I never shot at people.” He, too, knew the percentages were against him. Halfway through his tour, however, he realized — he knew — he was going to survive and re-established the romance he broke off in southern Alberta when he was posted overseas.
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 understrength 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: “Gold Beach (British), Juno (Canadian), and Sword (British) had a combined length of 20 miles. 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.
“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 Royal Air Force Typhoon squadrons had rockets. The Royal Canadian Air Force 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 20 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. We were the army’s extended artillery. What they could not hit with their big cannons, Typhoons were called in, sometimes 50 miles behind the lines. We flew 16 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 1,000 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.”
He asks me to “Explain our living conditions on the beachhead; write about how we lived when we moved into Holland.”
No email for Harry, only the phone and the fax. Harry sends me weekly memos via Canada Post. He writes, “You have caused me to lose a bit of sleep as I dredge the old memory for the facts.” His letters are reminders that time is of the essence for Harry and all other surviving Typhoon pilots:
To: The woman who is going to tell those who are interested in what the Typhoons contributed to the success of the armies as they fought from Normandy to Germany.
From: The Dimming Memory of an old Typhooner.
To: Our potential salvation.
From: One hopeful Typhooner.
To: The woman that’s going to tell OUR story the way it was while we are still standing beside her.
From: One of the nine.
From A potential thorn in your side and very interested observer.
Remember: I’m watching you. If I die first, I’ll haunt you if you let us down.
From: The guy that’s relying on you to bring the Typhoon out of the shadows...1000s of us are watching you. When you are interviewing a front line veteran, remember: the war may be over on the outside, BUT it will never be over on the inside. Dig deep.
Remember: Nine of us are hoping that YOU will tell OUR story the way it has never been told before.
You are our last hope
Tell it as it was
Don’t be squeamish
Mrs. Muir wasn’t.
Will you be our Mrs. Muir?
Last fall, I travelled to Ottawa to scour Library and Archives Canada and research the Typhoon pilots who did not make it home, adding their stories to the ones I heard from Wally, John, Doug, Jack, Frank, and Harry.
I will be their Mrs. Muir.
Author’s note: Since the article’s writing, two more names have been crossed off Harry’s list: Frank Johnson and Peter Roper.