Spitfires, Mozzies & Lancasters!

bomber

I sat down with Dave McCullough the son of Gordy McCullough who remembered his dad, Gordon McCullough, the band, the war, his life and his friends in the band!

 

“How did your dad get into the band?”

Delamont sent flyers around the neighborhood saying that he was starting a boy’s band in 1928. All the kids lived in Kitsilano. One joined and then another. There wasn’t a lot to do. My dad was a really focused person. He went from a boy who hung around the beach, to hanging around the golf course trying to caddie, to playing with Norie Pearson kicking the ball around. Then he played roller hockey and then he joined the band. He started on trombone but his embouchure was just not right.

“It just doesn’t sound right,” he would say. So he wanted to switch to drums. He used to hang out around the Orpheum and Strand Theatres and watch the drummers doing all the fancy stuff. (Bang, bang, crash, putt) Then he took lessons from a fellow who played in vaudeville. He stayed with him until the guy said,

“I can’t teach you any more!” By about 1933 when all the original members were becoming really good players due to Arthur Delamont’s strictness, Dad would say,

“He was pretty strict. The work ethic rubbed off on all of us. I told Arthur that I wanted to switch to drums or I would quit so he let me.”

When dad went to the World’s Fair in 1933 with the band he said,

“They couldn’t believe how good we were.”

In 1934 when they went to England they said the same thing.

“They just couldn’t believe how good we were. They had only adult bands over there.”

Dad went across Canada nine times with the band. He never played again after age twenty. Only time I ever heard him was sometimes at the supper table he would turn over a plate and do a little ditty with two knives.

Later on dad resented spending so much time in the band. He wished he had done some other things, maybe more sports. After the band, UBC was everything to him. He did receive a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1938 and a Bachelor of Commerce in 1939 but his first love was music, always whistling. Frank Sinatra was his favorite male singer. Doris Day his favorite female singer. He loved to go to clubs and hear the bands.

“Probably came from his days in the band.”

Oh, I think so.

“Your dad was a bomb aimer in the war?”

Yes, he had lots of stories from his war days. My dad trained in Winnipeg. It was around -30 degrees. They would march back and forth in these hangers. Sometimes they would waver a bit and the sergeant would say,

“Steady men. You have to be steady if you’re going to fight the hun!”

One time when he was coming back from one of his bombing missions, the Germans jammed their radar box. England would be blacked right out. They didn’t know where they were going because their compass was broken. So, the rear gunner was really good at aligning stars. Davie says,

          “I got a fix!”

Turned out they were heading towards Greenland. They turned around and came back and landed at a smaller place called Ford in the south of England. The Mozzies as they called them, the Mosquito’s, small planes like Spitfires, would only land at this place. Lancasters, like my dad flew, wouldn’t land there because the runway was too short. Keith Perry was his pilot, so he radioed this small airport and said,

             “I’m coming in!” They said,

“No! No, you can’t come in!”

              “I’M COMING IN!” he repeated. When it came in (boom), it hit hard and then down again (Boom), and finally it stopped at the end of the runway. When they stopped there was only nine minutes of petrol left. Another time my dad had the flu and they got hit. He went to see the guy who had replaced him in the hospital. He was covered in gauze from head to toe.

My dad lived a charmed life in many ways, especially during the war. The survival rate for anyone in the RCAF was twenty-four percent and he did thirty-five trips. Many didn’t survive their first trip, let alone thirty-five. His squadron, traveled across Canada to Halifax. He had traveled across Canada with the band then he did it again in the air force. When they arrived in Halifax the squadron was split in to two boats. My dad’s boat went up to Greenland and over to England. His boat did not get hit by the German U-Boats. The other one did. Like I said, he lived a charmed life. He was pretty shaken up after the war. After a bit of a rest in Torquay he was to be called back for another series of missions and then the war ended.

Back here he worked for a company called MCleary and Weston. They sold building supplies. Half way through the day he would have to go to the washroom and say to himself,

“I have to get through this day!” He found it hard to cope with civilian life, the nine to five jobs. War time was a wild life. There was no tomorrow during the war. You were either on ops, flying planes or you were on leave.

You could go where ever you wanted. Drinking was a way of life in the pubs of England. He drank with a guy in a little town on the coast of England. He said,

“See you later!” He had a mission to fly. Never saw him again. Quite often he was sick to his stomach. I wrote down a bit of what he told me before he passed away. He said,

“The Mozzie planes would come in first and set the flares. The Lancasters came in and marked the targets. The Lancasters flew at eight thousand feet. Then the Lancasters at twenty thousand feet would drop the bombs.”

His first fifteen trips my dad flew in at twenty thousand feet. He was in the front of the plane telling the pilot:

“Left, right, go, steady, steady.”

His last fifteen missions, he flew in at eight thousand feet, marking the targets. He was stationed at Skellingthorpe, Lincolnshire. On D-Day they bombed Caens. He had missions into Germany. The wireless operator got a fix on the way to Greenland. They would, “Jam the G-Box!” as he put it. Bernard Loosely was the mid upper gunner. Jimmy Riddle was in charge of the G-Box. Keith Perry, the pilot, he said, “Was the best of them all!”

“Tell me about the other boys in the band that he knew.”

Norman Pearson my dad called Norie. He was an excellent athlete. The only thing my dad could beat him at was running. My dad was a star runner all the way through school. He said,

“When we played mark, which is kicking the ball back and forth in football, Norie always won. When we took up golf, Norie was a way better player.” Norie was in Kitsilano High School. He went into woodworking and my dad went more for academics so they drifted apart. They didn’t hang out together in the band as much. They were best friends as kids. They went swimming together at Kitsilano Beach. Norie became a great cricket player. Norie is in the B.C. Hall of Fame. When my dad was going to university he heard that Norie was very sick. He was just fading away. He died of St.Vitus’ Dance.

My dad talked about Art Van Dunfee a lot. He was in a dance band with Art who played trombone and my dad played drums. Don Endicott played trumpet. That was at the end of high school up until the age of twenty. They played at the Alma Academy at fourth and Alma. My dad was born October 26th, 1915.

They were all great players. According to my dad, Roy Johnston, was the star of the band. He was a great trumpet player. Arden Steeves was also a childhood friend. His dad was a butcher. Ardie had a pretty good life. He was the youngest and he was spoiled. He became a pretty good trumpet player. He used to go to the picture shows all the time. In the 1930s, that was something else. His mother had a little jar of coins. She used to let Ardie take some out and go to the picture show.

My dad talked about the depression all his life. Doug MacAdam came from a wealthy family. His dad had some money in the stock market and he got it out before the crash in 1929 so he had cash, over a million dollars! That was an enormous amount in those days. Dougie Cooper played with dad. Pete Watt, my dad said was a really fine trombone player. Don Endicott contracted polio in the 1950’s and ended up in a wheel chair. But he had been a really good trumpet player. Doug Harkness was still alive at the time of this interview (2007). He became a psychology professor at Berkeley in California. He inspired my dad to go to university. My dad graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1938 and a Bachelor of Commerce in 1939. There was another fellow named Harry Mordie. Then there was Dodie Baird or Dorwin Baird.

“Sounds like a lot of the fellows all lived around the same neighborhood?”

“Yes, they sure did! When I drove around the neighborhood with my dad, he would point and say, “Dodie Baird lived across the street from me. Norie Pearson lived next door. Ardie Steeves lived there. So and so lived down the street. Harkness lived over there.” I wish I had written it all down.

“What was his life here like after the war?”

Dad passed away August 15, 2004. He had done fairly well in life, yet he was kind of down at the end. He had a tough time coming back into civilian life after the war. He separated from my mother in 1956 and that was a disaster. I was born in 1953. He worked for himself in the 1950s, in accounting and construction. He had to close his construction company during the recession of 1958. Then he worked for the Department of Transport from 1958 until 1971. He was a cost accountant. We lived on Piggott Road in Richmond from 1958 until 1967. Then we moved into an apartment in Kerrisdale. Two years later, he sold the house in Richmond and bought an eight suite apartment block at forty-first and Vine, best thing he ever did. He was in the rental property business from 1969 until the end of his life.

In 1949, dad inherited $2500 from his grandfather, James McCullough. He and his mother built a house on 38th Avenue, sold it and split the money. Then he built a house with his wife on Camosun in 1950. They sold that one in 1956, split it and then he bought the house on Piggott Road in Richmond. He was fifty-four when he got into rental properties, that was 1969. Brian Bolam’s (Kits band 1950 trip) son Mike married my wife Marion’s daughter. Whenever the families got together, we would sit and talk for hours about the Kits band.

My dad was nuts about golf. He got into the 1980 Masters by giving a guy a couple of hundred dollars for weekly tickets behind a barn. It all started with him and Norie at the Jericho Golf Course. During the war Jericho became an air force base. My dad idolized Ben Hogan.

Dad had pretty good health all the way up until about six months before he died in 2004. He had two apartment blocks that he kept on working with up until the end. One apartment was a thirty-five suite block in Marpole and the other, a thirty-seven suite in Calgary and four houses in Surrey. That was it. He sold most of them before he died.

He lived several separate lives, the band, university, the war, rental properties. Socially he was a great guy. To live with him was difficult. He was a perfectionist. He became down on people in the end. He was unable to find a successful marriage almost misanthropic. He was very tenacious the way he approached things though.

He talked about the depression a lot. How unfair it was with twenty-five percent unemployment. He never owned a stereo but he had a copy of the Kitsilano Boys’ Band record. It stayed in his cupboard. Old habits die hard, I guess!

2 thoughts on “Spitfires, Mozzies & Lancasters!

  1. Very interesting and insightful. And well written. Mr McCullough was able to disclose more about his feelings as an aviator than lots of others. My uncle Doug Booth was flight commander of a Spitfire unit returning to England when his engine failed and he had to bail out into the English Channel. He didn’t talk about it until he was well into his 80s and then he turned it into a funny story. But a client’s father spent a lot of time in special units behind enemy lines and did some horrible things to other humans ending their lives at very very close range. He never talked about it, but had nightmares in his 80’s about what he did.

    Thanks for these reflections on Mr McCullough’s thoughts about the Band.
    I didn’t regret a minute of the time I spent but I didn’t have the athletic talent that Mr McCulough had, so I didn’t miss much. Lorne Ginther

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    1. Thanks Lorne! yes, I was surprised that Dave could recall so vividly the accounting that his father told him of his war experiences. It was very heart felt and emotional at the time.

      My uncle was the same way as your client. he never talked about his war days.

      Chris

      Like

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