Jack Dye Followed His Star

Jack Dye, a brave young bomb-aimer from Regina, Saskatchewan, saved everyone on board his Halifax bomber in this terrifying incident that took place on June 3, 1944 -- seventy-one years ago today.

Readers often send me compelling wartime stories of their own. This week's post features two of them.

The first is from Nancy Cuelenaere of Edmonton, who sent me this story about her brave young uncle Jack Dye. It was published in the book From Hull, Hell & Halifax: An Illustrated History of No. 4 Group 1937-1948, by Chris Blanchett.

 

              Jack Dye Followed His Star

Jack Dye was born in Regina on July 16, 1924. His parents were Clarence and Gladys Dye, and his sister, Betty was four years younger.

Jack joined the Royal Canadian Air Force on his 18th birthday in 1942, received his commission in July 1943 and went overseas. He flew with RAF 77 Squadron in Elvington, Yorkshire.

This is Jack with his mother, taken just before he went overseas.

Here’s the story:

On June 3, 1944 (seventy-one years ago today, and just three days before D-Day) 105 Halifaxes were sent to attack the marshalling yards at Trappes, southwest of Paris, and another sixty-three aircraft to raid coastal gun batteries in the Pas de Calais.

The attack was part of the D-Day deception plan. The raid on Trappes was carried out in clear moonlit conditions, and was to prove costly.

The German night fighters were able to take full advantage of the clear conditions and they ravaged the Halifaxes. Fifteen were shot down. No. 158 Squadron lost five crews, 76 and 640 lost three each.

Flying Officer Doug Morrison from Calgary, Alberta, was pilot of a Halifax Mk111 from 77 Squadron. Doug Morrison had reasons to recall the events of that night.

“Quite suddenly, as we approached the target area, but while still some distance ahead and below, it became increasingly bright as flares and marker flares exploded into action.

"As we closed in on the target and began our bombing run, we could see aircraft above and below and on both sides of us. The cloud, smoke, flares and markers below us, and the aircraft all around us, presented a most impressive sight.

"A few verbal course commands over the intercom from our bomb-aimer, Flying Officer Jack Dye, and we heard the familiar: 'Bombs Away!' We cleared the target and then made a turn to starboard to head for home.

"Suddenly the urgent voice of the rear-gunner, Scotty MacRitchie, shattered the steady drone of the engines: 'Corkscrew port!' I responded immediately as tracer laced overhead. We continued evasive action until Scotty gave instructions to level out.

"About two minutes later, there was a blinding flash and an explosion. Smoke, dust and pieces of aircraft flew in all directions. We began to corkscrew to port,  but soon realized it was too late for this fighter pass.

"A quick check revealed the port inner engine to be on fire, and a large, gaping hole in the side of the fuselage above the navigator’s table. Our flight engineer, Sandy Moodie, announced that he was shutting down the port inner and activating the fire extinguisher button. The fire was soon out.

"I then initiated a crew check and all replied “okay” except bomb-aimer Jack Dye, who had been hit. Jack was still lying in the bomb-aiming position, so navigator Tommy Melvin assisted him to the rest position aft of the wireless operator’s table.

"A short examination of Jack’s injuries disclosed multiple shrapnel wounds to his legs and back from the cannon shell that had exploded over the top of him. Tommy stopped the bleeding and made Jack as comfortable as he could before returning to his navigator’s position.

"In the meantime, I had adjusted course according to the magnetic compass since the gyro-compass was acting up. A further check of the aircraft revealed that all the flight instruments had been knocked out, and all our charts as well as the navigator’s bag had been sucked out of the hole in the fuselage.

"By this time we had left the brightly-lit target area behind us, and were feeling more comfortable with the darkness all around us as we continued on our northerly heading.

"After a period of time, perhaps thirty or forty minutes, the wounded bomb-aimer asked if we would move him up to the second pilot’s station, which he normally occupied during takeoffs and landings.

"He was moved into the seat beside me just as we emerged from under cloud cover. Above us we could see the stars shining clearly overhead. Jack asked what course we were on, and I replied that we were flying due north by the magnetic compass.

"His quick reply was: 'We are not flying north, we are going due east! Look, the North Star is directly off our port wing!' Sure enough, we were heading straight for the heavily-defended Ruhr Valley!

"A rapid calculation by Tommy Melvin based on an estimate of present course, time and speed, indicated that we would need to alter course 120 degrees to port to reach England. This eventually turned out to be very accurate, considering that he had no charts or instruments to work with.

"Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, we crossed the coastline and before long we saw the welcome shores of England. We knew we would need identification to enter England but our list of 'colours of the day' had been lost with the navigator’s bag.

"We fired off several white signal flares as we crossed the coast, hoping our fighters would identify our Halifax as friendly. We broke radio silence to request an emergency landing, and received landing clearance. At least one fighter could be seen following us. The lights came on below us and we began a descent without any flight instruments to guide us.

"As we circled around trying to judge our height, the runway lights came on. This helped, and we lined up for a landing, not knowing our airspeed or height, and flying on only three engines. Our first approach failed, as we came in a bit too high and fast.

"The next approach we got down okay, just stopping as we reached the end of the runway. We later learned that we had landed at West Malling aerodrome, a fighter field with short runways.

"An ambulance rushed up to where we stopped to assist the injured. Jack Dye insisted on walking unaided to the ambulance.

"He turned, saluted, and was then whisked away. We never saw him again.

"He died two hours later – a gallant man who had saved our lives."

Thank you, Nancy, for this wonderful story. Jack's memory will live on in the hearts of anyone who reads this. Rest in Peace, Jack Dye.

                                                     * * * * *

The second story, from Brenda Blair of Calgary, has a happier ending.

 How Adolph Hitler Saved My Grandfather

During World War Two, my grandfather Albertus Meyer was a young man in his late 20s in Holland. On May 101940 the small country of Holland surrendered to Hitler, after the Nazis had mercilessly bombed Rotterdam until it was mere rubble. This was the beginning of a five-year-long nightmare for the Dutch people.

During the occupation of the Netherlands, it was not uncommon for the Nazis to conduct “razzias” -- raids where they would gather up able-bodied men and transport them to Germany as forced labourers to help the Fuhrer conquer the world.

My grandfather Albertus was one of these men. Being a baker by trade, he was made to bake bread for the Nazi army. One of the other bakers, a young German about the same age as Albertus, did not feel particularly passionate about being part of Hitler’s Aryan race. 

Together they planned an escape.

Albertus had spent enough time in Germany that he was able to speak fluent German. A Nazi officer’s uniform was found for Albertus to wear, false ID was obtained, and an escape route calculated.

It would not have been an easy journey back to Assen, in the north of Holland, where Albertus’s fiancée Baukje (my grandmother) was waiting for him. Before Albertus left, the young German baker gave Albertus a bright orange book with “Adolf Hitler” embossed in big gold gothic script on the cover.

Here is a photograph of that very book.

In 1936, cigarette companies gave out these books as propaganda about the Third Reich.

The books were used like scrapbooks; sheets of photos could be obtained from the tobacco company by sending in coupons cut from cigarette packs. The photos would then be pasted into the book to illustrate the text with photos of the Fuhrer interacting with his people.

By carrying this book with him, Albertus would be able to demonstrate his “loyalty” to the Fuhrer, as well as to imply that he had been in Germany prior to the war.

Who else but a loyal subject of the Reich would so painstakingly collect cigarette packages to get the 200-plus photos needed to complete the album?

My grandfather did make it back to his fiancée’s family home in Holland, where he hid for the remainder of the war. If he had been found by the occupying German army, and they discovered he had escaped the work camps, he would have been shot on the spot.

As for the book, Albertus hid that as well.

After the war finally ended, Albertus married Baukje and they had two lovely girls. It took years for Holland to slowly recover from the devastation of war. Housing was scarce and basic necessities were still difficult to get. Albertus and Baukje decided to emigrate to Canada to give their family a new start.

Here is a photo of Albertus and Baukje Meyer and their children.

Though space was extremely limited, the big orange book managed to make it way across the Atlantic and was passed to my mother and eventually to me!

Why my grandfather kept the book I do not exactly know.  Maybe it was a reminder of the young German baker who helped him escape. Albertus was a highly intelligent man and maybe the contents gave insights into how not to let a tyrant like the Fuhrer come into power again.

Personally, I like to think that, in a weird twist of irony, a book full of propaganda about Adolf Hitler’s new world order brought my grandfather to a new land, full of opportunity.

                                                    * * * * * 

Thank you, Brenda, for this heart-warming story of survival!

Brenda is an aviation enthusiast who has been heavily involved in getting community engagement for the current exhibit in the Founders Gallery at The Military Museums in Calgary called The Maple Leaf and The Tulip: The Liberation of Holland in the Second World War, an exhibit by Senior Curator, Rory Cory.

This is one of the many interesting displays at this impressive museum. If you're planning a visit to Calgary, don't miss it!

                                                      * * * * *

        The Woman With the X-Ray Eyes

If you have been reading this website, you will know about my admiration of Constance Babington Smith, the British aerial photographic interpreter who worked at RAF Medmenham during World War Two and was in many ways the inspiration for my novel, Bird’s Eye View.

So I was very happy to learn that  Constance was last week inducted into the American Geospatial Intelligence Hall of Fame in a ceremony in Virginia, the very first Commonwealth partner ever to receive the honour!

This organization is dedicated to “Intelligence based upon the Earth’s physical and man-made attributes—and the art and science of interpreting that information.”

Now, of course, the tools are satellite imagery and global positioning systems – but back in Constance’s day, they consisted of a magnifying glass and a stereoscope.

You can read more about the award by clicking: Geospatial Intelligence.

If you want to know more about the woman herself, read my previous blog post by clicking here: The Woman With the X-Ray Eyes.

                                                           * * * * *

 

    Calgary Woman in the Secret Service

Yet another woman was honoured this week for her war work, Marion Booth of Calgary, Alberta.

This youthful 88-year-old served with the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service from 1944 to 1946, using a short wave radio and Morse code to intercept Japanese communications.

After the war ended, she learned, intercepted and translated Russian for the Canadian government – collaborating with fellow spies at Bletchley Park in England.

 

For her efforts, British Consul General Tony Kay presented her with the Bletchley Park Commemorative Badge in recognition of her “vital, secret service.”

You can read the Calgary Herald article by clicking here: Calgary woman in the secret service.

In this interview, she said: “I don’t think I deserve any award, because I did what I was supposed to do, what I was hired to do.”

I beg to differ. Mrs. Booth's attitude is typical, I think, of women of her generation. Congratulations, Marion Booth, on a job well done and an honour well deserved!

                                                    * * * * *

                  Well Done, Son!

This recruiting poster for the Royal Canadian Air Force made me reflect sadly on Jack Dye’s mother, and all the other mothers who sent their sons off to war.

They weren’t even allowed to feel badly about it! It was considered an act of patriotism to encourage your son to join the battle for freedom. All too many sons, and their mothers, paid the price.

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During my research into Canada’s wartime past, I uncovered some fascinating facts and anecdotes. I’ll share them here and welcome feedback and stories of your own.

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