Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Jack McGregor - Course 78

By Dave Johnson Welland Tribune August 17, 2021 and Mike Renzella The Haldimand Press November 4, 2021 Files When Jack McGregor was only 20 years old and still in high school, he enlisted to join the Royal Canadian Air Force at a time when World War II was raging. Now, 80 years later, he might just be the last living Lancaster bomber pilot still alive in Canada. “He’s the most gentle person, you would never think he would want to go into the service,” said Jack’s sister, Donna Grey, 90 years young herself. “I look at him and I think, ‘How could he have handled all that?’” Jack, who grew up in Dunnville, comes from a proud history of military service, with both his father and grandfather serving before him in World War I. “We were a wartime family,” said Donna. “My father was badly injured in the First World War. His philosophy was that ‘the soldiers come first’. If anybody was in the service, my father knew who they were, how they were doing, and he was involved in building houses for them when they came home.” "I always liked aircraft. I guess that's what influenced me," he said of his decision to join the air force and become a pilot. After enlisting, Jack trained on twin-engine planes at Hagersville before being assigned to the 419 Squadron, known affectionately as ‘Moose’ squadron, where he would end up flying multiple missions throughout World War II in a Lancaster, which is a British-designed four-engine strategic/heavy bomber. “Our family was devastated to have him away. We were very close at that time, and it was just horrible not to have my big brother home,” reminisced Donna on life back at home while Jack was off serving. “There was only three of us children. For one of them to be gone was unbelievable as we did everything together.” After his time with the 419, Jack was transitioned to the 405 Royal Canadian Air Force Pathfinder squadron, where he was part of a crew who ran missions over Germany, France, and Austria. "I wasn't scared really, just tense. You were trying to see everything going on around you." Jack was involved in many prolific bombing missions, including the town of Hamburg, home to many German shipyards and U-boat pens, as well as a three-day bombing campaign carried out by Allied Forces over the town of Dresden, and one run at Hitler’s personal hideaway, known as the Eagle’s Nest, near the town of Berchtesgaden, toward the end of the war (April 25, 1945). "We were hoping he was there," he said.
(Above: Flying Officer Jack McGregor and his crew's trip to bomb Bertesgaden, April 25, 1945) Although the German air force, known as the Luftwaffe, was known for deploying numerous planes at night to hunt down and destroy bombers like the one Jack was stationed on, the 405 crew managed to avoid their line of fire. He said the planes had "just enough instrumentation" to rely on at night that they're weren't any problems. "I never got hit. I was very fortunate." Dresden, he said, was the worst air raid (February 13/14, 1945) he flew.The city was bombed in a three-day campaign by Allied Forces. "I'm not proud of Dresden. It was terrible ... everything was on fire. It was devastating." Flying at 18,000 feet, he got to see the devastation below as Allied planes dropped incendiary devices and high-explosive bombs. At the end of the war, Jack’s crew was deployed to drop food to the people of Holland, as well as take part in (Operation Exodus) the liberation of German prisoners of war (POWs). “I have a letter that he wrote that went in the Dunnville Chronicle that was published while he was overseas. At the end of the war, he took his bomber to Germany and he brought back 24 POWs that the Germans had captured,” said Donna. “This letter was written to my mom and dad to tell them what had gone on. He talked about how even though they looked terrible, they were in such great spirits because the bombers were coming to pick them up.” Once home, Jack would go on to become an insurance salesman, running his own business out of Stevensville, Ontario. "I was was anxious to get out and get back to my family." “We only saw him on the weekends, but there was no change in him. I’m 10 years younger, my sister was five years younger,” remembered Donna. “They squabbled just like they always had. With me, he was always very gentle. To this day, he protects me if he thinks I’m in danger of anything.” She touched on the importance of Remembrance Day and passing down the stories of the previous generation’s great sacrifices: “You have to pass things down. We have done so much searching between my mom and my dad’s family to get our history…. I wish I could find more on Jack, so I would know almost day-to-day what he did.” These days, Jack resides in a retirement community in Port Colborne. According to Donna, he’s almost completely deaf and is blind. His family threw a celebratory dinner for him on his 100th birthday. “When they told the restaurant who he was, the entire group, at least 30 people, every single one of them came up to our table to congratulate him or thank him for his service. There were some Dutch people there who said, ‘You were the one who helped us’, mentioning how they always remembered the Tootsie Rolls that always came with food packages.” She concluded, “I’ve always been proud of him.” After the war, he never kept in contact with his crew mates. "They were a good crew and good friends but we were spread out across Canada. I guess that's the reason why we didn't keep in touch." December 7, 1944: Posted to No. 419 Squadron from No. 76 Base; (Op 7) January 16/17, 1945 Lanc KB772 (R) Target Zeitz; (Op 8) February 4/5, 1945 Lanc KB 772 (R) Target Bonn;(Op 9) February 13/14, 1945 Lanc KB 772 (R) Target Dresden; (Op 10) February 21/22, 1945 Lanc KB 869 (Q) Target Duisberg; (Op 11) February 27, 1945 Lanc KB 869 (Q) Mainz; (Op 12) March 1, 1945 Lanc KB 854 (T) Target Mannheim; March 10, 1945 Posted to No. 405 Squadron; (Op 13) March 27, 1945 Lanc NE140 A Paierborn; (Op 14) March 31, 1945 Lanc PB233 D Hamburg Supporter; (Op 15) April 14, 1945 Lanc PB282 (Y) Bayreuth Supporter; (Op 16) Berchtesgaden Lanc SW 360 April 25, 1945; May 7, 1945 Lanc SW260 (E) Rotterdam Marking for Supply Dropping Backer Up; May 9, 1945 Lanc PB288 (D) P.O.W. Evacuated from Lubeck/Blankensee To Westcott. Evacuated 23 personnel. May 15, 1945 Lanc SW360 (E) P.O.W. Evacuated from Juvincourt to Wing. Evacuated 24 Personnel