Compiled by Pat Fowler, March 2007,
based on interviews with Doris Mercer, Ernie's widow
I n 1942, at 19, Ernest Handyside Mercer enlisted in the RCAF full of plans to marry his sweetie pie, 17 year old Doris Ward upon his return. They had just met and fell instantly in love. They continued to date while Ernie went thru his extensive training to become a Flight Officer.
E rnie enlisted at North Vancouver, BC on April 16 1943, with a rank of AC2 (Aircraftsman 2nd Class). All recruits joined as "Aircraftsman 2nd Class" usually called Acey-Deucey after the abbreviation AC2. Ernie was initially sent to Edmonton, AB, where he withstood the lengthy rigors of the Manning Depot which included parade square training, spit and polish, lessons in military courtesy, and other measures to turn civilians into "uniformed raw material suitable for further training", as one BCATP graduate put it. His life was completely controlled by the junior NCOS and he had a complete lack of privacy. After basic training air crew trainees received their white cap flashes.
E rnie was then transferred to the Winnipeg Manning Depot where he received wireless training and then on to Saskatoon, SK, to take Initial Training School (IT). ITS training was a ground school of ten weeks, and so intensive that, as one trainee put it, "if you stop for a leak - you'll fall a week behind". The best and fittest ITS grads then proceeded to an Elementary Flying School (EFS) for an eight week course. Ernie took this training in Virden, MB. While there, Ernie received some training in the security of aircraft simulators which could move in three geometrical planes to imitate the turn, bank, and pitch of real planes.
T he trainees learned to fly on De Havilland Tiger Moth biplanes, and later on Fairchild Cornells (built by Fleet Aircraft Ltd. at Fort Erie, Ontario). In EFS Ernie learned navigation and something about armaments; they worked on engines, airmanship, and the theory of flight. A substantial proportion of trainees failed to qualify and would wash out in six weeks.
A fter this was completed, Ernie was sent to Brandon, MB, to take his Service Flying Training School (SFTS) where he flew tricky, unforgiving Harvards, multi-engine Cessna Cranes, or Anson IIs. He began to master night flying, formation flying, and radio work in a course that was twenty-one weeks long. Those who passed received their wings. About a third were commissioned as pilot officers; the others became sergeant pilots. Ernie attained Sergeant Pilot status, earning a Pilots Flying Badge (honours) in Calgary, AB.
E rnie was then posted to Boundary Bay, BC, to work for his AFU (Advanced Flying Unit) and then to Lachine, Quebec, for his Operational Training Units before being posted to a squadron overseas. He embarked from Canada, with his crew of 10 on Dec 22, 1944 and Disembarked at the U.K. on Dec 31, 1944, just in time for New Years.
W hen Ernie arrived in England, he bought Doris a beautiful Sterling Silver Vanity Set and mailed it home for her birthday.
E rnie piloted a B-24 Liberator for the 357 Squadron (formed at Digri, India on February 1, 1944) of the RAF in the 231 Group. His group was one of the groups that flew for the SEAC (South East Asian Command) and was based in India at Mingaladon from Sept 1945 to November 1945. Ernie's group was one of the groups that flew the KH401 Liberator in 1944.
T he 357 Squadron was a special Duties Squadron flying clandestine sorties including supply drops, supplying agents to insurgent groups behind Japanese Lines in Burma, Malaya and Indochina. They also flew sorties over the hump to China. Some of their sorties were for the OSS which was an American Agency.
E rnie also flew similar sorties for the 8th Squadron as well as for the OSS (USA squadron). It was on a sortie for the 8th Squadron that he was involved in a SNAFU in Minneriya. While they were taxiing down the runway the brakes failed and they ran into the ditch.
M eanwhile back at home, Doris kept herself as busy as she could so that she wouldn't be so worried about Ernie. However, it didn't completely work as the thought of him at war was never far from her mind. She registered in Business College and before she could finish she got a job at the Department of Plant Science at the University of Alberta (U of A) as the university were crying for stenographers.
D oris prayed every night for Ernie's safe return from the War. She worked as a Stenographer at the U of A during the week. On the weekend she worked at Birks as well as a Elevator Operator for Woodwards. When she wasn't at work or knitting socks by the car load for Ernie as well as writing letters to him, she enjoyed playing tennis, speed skating, and cycling.
A s Ernie feared, there was never much mail made it home from overseas. So he promised Doris that he would send her a bouquet of her favourite flowers when he was on his way home.
T hree years after Ernie had enlisted, as Doris returned home from work one day, her mother met her at the door and pointed to the dining room. There on the dining room table stood the biggest bouquet of huge yellow mums that she had ever seen. A chill ran down her spine as she declared, "He's coming home, Mom, he's coming home!"
O n August 31, 1946, soon after Ernie came home from the war, Ernie and Doris were married at the Edmonton Metropolitan United Church. Whenever Ernie called Doris by name he always called her Dorie but mostly he continued to call her "sweetie pie" or "sweetie". The couple went on to have three children, Richard, Robert and Linda, and remained very close throughout their marriage.
E rnie spoke very little about the war. Later, one of the few stories that Ernie told Doris about the war was about an episode that happened to him and his crew while they were flying. They must've been flying too low as all of a sudden a high mountain peak loomed up out of the clouds in front of them. He didn't think they were going to make it but he pulled back on the throttle and hoped for the best. His plane just barely made it over the top of the Mountain.
I nstead of dwelling on his years in the war he chose to look forward and live his life to the fullest. He took a job in the oil fields as a Petroleum Engineer. He stayed with them for 11 years until they wanted him to move his family into the trailer and live in the middle of nowhere. He refused to do that. He quit working in the oil fields and took a job with the Hudson Bay store until he figured out what he wanted to do with his life. He decided to become a teacher and went back to University. He earned his Bachelor of Education and taught at Ottewell Junior High for 23 years.
E rnie had two passions in his life, his family and his garden. He became a Boy Scout leader for three years when his middle son became interested in the Cubs and Scouts.
E rnie was so keen on gardening that he joined the Sherwood Park Horticultural Society and was an avid gardener all his life. As soon as she was barely old enough, his young daughter became his very able assistant. Whenever he was working in the garden, she would always ask Doris to dress her in her "dirty" clothes so she could go out and garden with her Dad.
rnest Handyside Mercer died of Cancer in 1985 at the age of 62. He is survived by his loving wife Doris, his children, Richard, Robert and Linda, and five grandchildren, Brent, Leanne, Kelsey, Jonathan and Amanda.
|Burma Star||1939-1945 Star||Canadian Volunteer Service Medal||War Medal 1939-45|
T he "Lib" was primarily a high-level bomber with a range of 1,590 miles (2,560 km; 40 percent longer than that of the B-17, The Flying Fortress), a maximum speed of 295 miles per hour (475 km/h), and a ceiling of 28,000 feet (8,540 m). The B-24 was modern and impressive rather than beautiful, with a deep and stumpy fuselage and very large oval fins and rudders contrasting with the graceful wing. It took more effort, more aluminium, and more aircrew went into the Liberator than into any other flying machine ever built. The B-24D saw service in every theatre, and in 1942-43 was by far the most important long-range bomber in the Pacific area. Designed as a heavy bomber, it served with distinction. Compared to it's precursor, the B-17 Flying Fortress, the B-24 was shorter, had 25% less wing area but a six foot (1.8 m) greater wingspan and a substantially greater carrying capacity.
A t the same time, the B-24 was a complicated and advanced machine, leading to prolonged pilot training programs and on occasion to severe attrition. Not only was it demanding to fly, even to a pilot fully qualified on the type, but it was eventually cleared to operate at such high weights that take-offs became marginal even with full power on all engines. Flight stability was also marginal, and escape from a stricken machine was extremely difficult once the pilot or pilots had let go of the controls. Moreover, though more modern and in most ways more efficient than the B-17, The Flying Fortress, the overloaded late-model B-24s were hardly any improvement over their more primitive partners, and several commanders, preferred the old B-17s.
T he Liberator's appearance was distinctive; it had a twin tail assembly and a boxlike fuselage slung low beneath its high wing. It had a retractable tricycle landing gear. The craft normally carried a crew of 10 and was armed with 10 .50-calibre machine guns mounted in pairs in the nose, tail, dorsal, and ventral turrets and singly in two waist ports. Its bomb bay accommodated four 2,000-pound (907-kilogram) bombs, and one 4,000-pound (1,814-kilogram) bomb could be mounted under each wing. The wings, which spanned 110 feet (34 m), contained 18 separate self-sealing fuel tanks.
F or Bomber Crews, the war was terrifyingly dangerous. Casualties were staggering. There was none of the glamour of the fighter pilots for the men in Bomber Command, just long periods of boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror. As Pilot Murray Peden, with 214 Squadron of RAF Bomber Command put it, "Once we hit the enemy coast, the ever-present strain mounted rapidly to the higher level due to being in the enemy's ball park, blind folded by the night."
T hen there were the Luftwaffe's night fighters firing cannon shells able to riddle the heavy bombers and send them, trailing smoke, to the ground. Some carried upward-pointing guns, and sidled underneath the unknowing Bombers to deliver a nasty surprise.
T he SEAC Squadrons were working harder than ever as the allied winter offensive of 1944/45 pushed the Japanese south out of Burma. The 357 & 358 Squadrons carried out Special Duty activities throughout South East Asia Command for British SAS, American OSS, and the French SIS, transporting agents and supplies into Drop Zones located in Burma, Malaya, Siam, French Indo China and the Dutch East Indies.
T hey flew American B-24 Liberator bombers which had the required range and carrying capacity. Takeoffs were in the afternoons to give the maximum number of hours under the cover of night while over enemy territory. This often provided spectacular sunsets outbound and colourful sunrises many hours later on the return flight. The blackness of night also enabled them to penetrate the monsoon weather fronts by flying between the lightning flashes emitting from the ever present clouds. The missions were solo, unescorted sorties that penetrated deep into enemy territory. The shortest mission was to Burma and the 8 hour duration was considered only a circuit and bump.
N o. 200 Squadron, which was to become 8 Squadron, was flying Liberator VI's from Jessore in India. The Squadron had, as a special duties unit, been operating over Burma, Siam, and French Indo China. At its period of transfer to 8 Squadron, No. 200 was engaged in supply dropping, mainly over Burma. The movement from Jessore to Minneriya in Ceylon started on 21st May and was complete on the 29th. From Ceylon, the "new" No. 8 Squadron continued special duties operations to Japanese held Malaya and Sumatra.
S pecial operations (dropping supplies to guerrilla forces) reached their peak in July 1945 with 54 sorties flown of which three went to Sumatra - the remainder to Malaya. In all, 75,332 lbs of stores were dropped together with 1,577,000 nickels, thirty agents and one dog! In August, Japan surrendered and 8 Squadron was involved in flying food and medical supplies to Allied Prisoner of War camps. These drops were vital to the prisoners' survival - their bestial treatment in the Japanese camps is well documented.
A fter the war against Japan was over, there was a need to get medical supplies and food to POWs and civilians. The Liberator Pilots of the RAF were asked to mount voluntary mercy missions.
A part from essential medicines and drugs, airmen donated such things as clothing, tobacco, soap and other precious items they'd received from home. The air drops also included copies of newspapers containing news of the Japanese surrender.
W ith the Japanese surrender, no ordinance was left on board. They had been stripped from the aircraft to provide more lift, and where the 500 and 1,000-pounder bombs used to be were large drop-canisters strapped to parachutes. Overload tanks were installed for extra fuel for the long journey over the Indian Ocean.
T hey were tail heavy, and it seemed doubtful that they'll ever leave the runway, but just at the last moment they creak and grumble upwards and then, with the four Pratt and Whitney engines roaring at full belt, slide over the perilously close ground, with the pilots tugging at the controls.
D ue to the lack of insulation in the craft, it was difficult to converse among the crew except over the intercom. Once they discarded their headset they had to shout to make themselves heard.
U pon arrival at their destination, the streets seem to be teaming with life. They flew so low that they could see hundreds of people, all waving, all with mouths open, shouting - men, women, soldiers and scores and scores of children - rushing from the shadows into the sunlight. Every house seems to be flying a flag. Union jacks flutter everywhere.
T he sight of such a large aircraft flying so low must be intimidating. They would drop their cargo until the craft was empty. Then with cramped muscles, lulled into a sleep by the drone of the engines, they'd head back to base for another load.
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