Amica at Quinte Gardens
Royal Canadian Air Force – #427 Squadron – Served 3 years
Jim served 3 years in the Royal Canadian Air Force, Squadron 427. He completed his training in Trenton, Ontario and in Manitoba. He was stationed in Leeming, North Yorkshire, England.
In November, 2014, Jim received the French Legion of Honour from France President Francois Hollande. On an official visit to Canada, President Hollande presented the major French award to Jim and six other Canadian veterans, in a ceremony at Rideau Hall.
The veterans were honoured for their part in liberating France in June of 1944, in World War II. Jim, an air-gunner whose bomber plane had crashed in Belgium months earlier, was fighting with the French underground at the time of the liberation.
In a 2014 interview with Luke Hendry from the Belleville Intelligencer, Jim recounted his final bombing run over Germany on March 30, 1944. “It was a suicide mission.”
At the time, Jim was the crew’s tailgunner and could see other bombers being destroyed. “The mission was plagued by errors and bad planning. Allied losses were more than double that of the usual mission. I counted 22 shot down in 20 minutes.”
It was on the return trip to England that he heard pilot George Laird’s last words.
“He said, ‘What the hell?!’ and then there was a crash.”
The Halifax had collided with another Royal Air Force plane, a larger Lancaster bomber. The upper part of the Halifax’s fuselage and part of the tail were gone and the Halifax was spinning tail-first toward the ground.
Jim parachuted into a clearing and was the only survivor of the two crews. He spent six months in hiding, relying on the brave kindness of Belgian and French citizens to avoid capture.
“The funny thing is I was never scared, even when the machine guns were shooting at us.
“I was always thinking, ‘What should I do?’ I was cool as anything. I just couldn’t believe it.”
One of those who kept him safe, Belgian gendarme Albert Paul, was later discovered and executed by the Nazis.
After months of close calls, malnutrition and illness, he made it to England, where he was hospitalized before returning to Canada in 1944. “I weighed 165 pounds when I parachuted into Belgium. When I came back I weighed 125.”
His sister, Belleville broadcaster Mary Thomas, penned his biography, Behind Enemy Lines, in 2001.