Interview with Roddy MacKenzie


Interview with Roddy MacKenzie


Roddy MacKenzie’s father, Roland, joined the Canadian Royal Air Force in 1942. He trained as a pilot and worked as an instructor in Canada before being posted to RAF Kirmington, where he joined 166 Squadron and received the Distinguished Flying Cross for completing thirty-four operations between April and August 1944. Born in 1948, Roddy grew up with little knowledge of his father’s wartime role. He describes a rare encounter in 1985 when, after sitting in a Lancaster together, Roland opened up about his time as a pilot. He conveyed his respect for flight instructors, the difficulties aircrew faced during operations, and the dangerous consequences that lack of moral fibre caused. In 2017, Roddy met with his uncle to learn more about his father, who died in 1991. Upon hearing a pre-war description that was inconsistent with his own experiences, he postulates that Roland had been traumatised by his service in Bomber Command, thereby explaining Roddy’s struggle to connect with his father. Roddy expresses his opinion regarding the mistreatment of Bomber Command in Canada, compares this to remembrance in Australia, and cites the negative media portrayals that have tainted national memory. He suggests that as discussions are either heavily critical or romanticised, society lacks an understanding of Bomber Command’s contribution to the outcome of the war. In 2018, Roddy visited RAF Kirmington to attended a ceremony to honour 166 Squadron as the official representative for Canada, which introduced several new contacts that allowed him to conduct further research.




Temporal Coverage




01:01:31 audio recording


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DE: What is today? The 9th.
RM: It is. So —
DE: The day after VE Day.
RM: Yeah. So, my name is Dan Ellin from the International Bomber Command Centre. I’m here today to interview Roddy Mackenzie. It’s the 9th of May and we’re in Canwick, in Lincoln. So, Roddy could you tell me a little bit about your father’s service in Bomber Command please.
DE: Yes. My dad is Roland W Mackenzie, DFC and he flew thirty four combat sorties in World War Two with 1 Bomber Group, Squadron 166, based in Kirmington which is now the Humberside International Airport. He flew all thirty four combat sorties from that base and he was the pilot of Lancaster L for Love and his flights were from April to August of 1944. Now, I was born and raised in Calgary in Canada. I was born in 1948, three years after the war and I was born in a city that was really starting to move ahead in incredibly optimistic and major ways and I was raised in an environment in Calgary where we knew virtually nothing about the war. My Grade Twelve textbook at Queen Elizabeth High School was published in 1938. I got the trophy as the best person in Social Studies but the war was never really addressed as I was growing up and my dad spoke virtually never about the war so it was mainly a mystery. But I had three situations with my father. We were not emotionally connecting. He did have anger issues and unfortunately he also had perfectionism issues which were not helpful to me as an adult because burdened with this idea of perfectionism I steered away from areas that had high probability of failure. In other words perfectionism gave rise to a fear of failure. In recent years I’m discovering that a lot of people I’ve known also had a dad in Bomber Command and had exactly the same experience as I did. They can’t emotionally connect with their son. They have anger issues and they have perfectionism issues and that this is quite widespread. Now, my dad’s younger brother they were ten years apart, flew a Spitfire with Fighter Command and in the last year of, I’m sorry the last month of my uncle Bruce’s life which was January, June, June of 2017 I had four major meetings with my uncle because he knew he was dying. I wanted to learn everything I could possibly learn about my dad before the war. My uncle welcomed that opportunity to really search his memory from times past and also his love for his eldest brother. His children welcomed it as well because it really gave my uncle more of a sense of purpose and it was a really good experience for him as well as for me. And ultimately although he was ten years younger than my dad I got quite the picture of a very happy, a very humorous, a very generous person who did a lot of nice things. He was a young banker at that time in the Great Depression up in the Peace River District which for me as an urban Calgarian he might just as well have been at the North Pole. I mean, it was so isolated. Dad has often said to me those were his happiest years with the Royal Bank of Canada. Up north. But my uncle painted this picture that was just not consistent with my personal experiences with my dad and so in that I’m a lawyer I was forming the view that something extraordinary had happened in Europe while he was overseas. I have virtually nothing in the way of documentation. My dad died in 1991 and in his will he very clearly gave to me all of his war memorabilia including the model aeroplanes he had made of every plane he ever flew and they were all in correct size to one another. But I had an uncooperative stepmother and she simply ignored all of that. Worse still she discovered that my dad and my mum had written to each other quite a bit while dad was overseas. I had thought my parents didn’t even meet until he returned home from the war in January of ’45. It turns out they had been good friends for years prior to the war and they wrote to each other all the time during the war and the loss of that correspondence is just, I think a criminal tragedy of terrible proportions. It would have given me the clearest possible understanding of my dad’s evolution and his relationship with his wife, my mother. The other problem that our family experienced is that when I was about three years old my mother was struck with Polio which was an epidemic in Canada at that time in the early 1950s. So she was removed from Calgary, sent up to Edmonton, put in that dreadful iron lung at the University Hospital and was gone for quite a while. I was looked after by housekeepers when my dad was working. So now I have a father who I’m of the view was totally traumatised by Bomber Command, a mother who was totally traumatised by being completely paralysed by Polio living in a city which at that time was not good with anybody who was disabled. They were referred to as cripples. People really thought they should be kept out of sight, out of mind. It was a very unpleasant situation and neither of my parents got any kind of psychological help, any kind of emotional assistance of any kind whatsoever and ultimately I feel developed quite a strong dislike for one another. So I was raised by these two people in this situation that was emotionally a desert and where anger issues trained one not to ask much in the way of questions about anything that was in any way sensitive and that definitely included the war. Virtually nothing was said about the war. The one thing though that was interesting in Calgary at the time was Lancasters. The major city between Calgary and Edmonton is Red Deer and at the entrance to Red Deer there was a Lancaster I always looked forward to seeing as we’d go up to Edmonton to see my mother. And then in 1960 a Lancaster appeared in Nanton about an hour south of Calgary and also we had a Lancaster that flew in to Calgary which then spent thirty years on a spire right outside the main terminal of the Calgary International Airport such that it formed almost like a traffic circle. You had to go around the Lancaster to get in and out of Calgary’s airport terminal. So these Lancasters made quite an impression on me. They were obviously regarded as being very very important. The most powerful experience I ever had with my dad was quite a number of years after my mum had died, she died in 1970. In about 1985 my dad and I were driving alone from Calgary to Lethbridge and at that time Lethbridge was Alberta’s third largest city. My mother’s sister and her family lived in Lethbridge so we went there fairly often and I always looked forward to seeing this Lancaster that simply sat by the side of the road in Nanton. So we stopped there in 1985. I’m not sure we’d ever stopped before but we actually stopped and at that time I was a thirty seven year old lawyer living in Vancouver and raising, with my wife two young children. But I just happened to be in Alberta, happened to be with my dad and the two of us happened to be alone which was extremely unusual and there we were on our way to Lethbridge. So we stopped at this Lancaster. Now, the Lancaster Society in Nanton, it’s gone on to become the Canadian Bomber Command Museum etcetera with Carlsberg was not created until 1986. So this was a year before and the plane was simply sitting there. I proudly announced to the three or four people who were milling around looking at it that my dad flew one of these in Bomber Command and two of the men looked up in interest and one of them said to my dad, ‘Is that true?’ And they exchanged a few words and then this man said, ‘I’ve got the keys to the Lancaster. I’ll open it up and you and your son can spend as much time in there as you want.’ So we climbed in to this Lancaster and what makes it unique or one of very very few is it still had its World War Two interior configuration. A lot of Lancasters got reconfigured after the war for other purposes post-war but this one had the original World War Two configuration. So there we are inside this Lancaster. My dad made a few brief comments about where people sat and in particular where he, as pilot, sat. A few brief comments about flying the plane but he really didn’t say very much. Mainly we just sat there and I’m not sure how long we sat there. It could have been fifteen minutes. It could have been fifty minutes. We were there until my father suddenly said, ‘Time to leave.’ So out we go. One of those gentlemen was still there and we did the thank you’s, the goodbyes and we were back into the car and off to Lethbridge at which point as we were leaving Nanton my father started talking. It was in a very low, measured tone. He was strictly looking at the road. I don’t think we ever made eye contact and I simply sat there. Now, I tend to be the one that talks a lot. He tends to be very taciturn but in this situation for whatever reason I didn’t say a word, didn’t ask for any clarification on anything. I just simply sat there and my dad talked for the duration of the drive which I suspect was close to an hour and essentially he talked about flying Lancasters, and how you got one of those Lancasters into the target, how you managed to actually hit the target and how you managed to get yourself out again without getting killed. He’d had an extraordinary amount of experience flying. He was with the Royal Bank of Canada and of course Canada in all of its wars only fights with volunteers. For World War Two we had about nine and a half million people and so many people volunteered that we actually ended up putting one point two million who were accepted into our armed forces. One point two million volunteers and a lot of these were in the Air Force. My dad volunteered in late 1941 and I believe was accepted by the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942. So he began his training but he was a thirty year old and he seemed to have a real gift for flying planes so he got the Gold Medal and was kept in Canada to train others to fly planes for an extended period. Another person that was there was actually James Middleton. The grandfather of the Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William’s wife was stationed in Calgary actually. James Middleton. And he was doing exactly the same thing. He was teaching people how to fly. My father told me that his greatest admiration within the Air Force in that war was for people who were instructing others how to fly. He said it was, he thought far more dangerous than anything that ever happened to him over Germany. In November of ’43 the Royal Canadian Air Force decided to send my dad over to England and by that point he had a staggering number of hours. I believe it was over a thousand and they started training him on the big heavy bombers. And then in the beginning of April 1944 he found himself in Kirmington as a member of 166 Squadron which interestingly is the Royal Air Force’s original bomber squadron. It was created in April 1918 only three weeks after the Air Force itself came into existence. So 166 was the original bomber squadron. It was in 1 Bomber Group and it was based in Kirmington in what we now call North Lincolnshire and it was abandoned for about thirty years after the war but ultimately re-emerged as Humberside International Airport. So the runway that my dad used for every sortie in World War Two is being used on a steady basis especially by KLM going to Amsterdam. So he arrived and flew his thirty four sorties with 166 squadron and got the Distinguished Flying Cross, the DFC for his work as a pilot and it’s a very glowing report on him. It also refers to him as being deputy flight commander. I don’t know what that is but it’s in the DFC citation and they talked about his tremendous ability to keep people’s morale up in that base. Which is interesting because I didn’t know that part of him when he was raising me but it was very consistent with what my Uncle Bruce had been telling me about him prior to the war. Squadron 166 had nine hundred and forty four young men killed. Nine hundred and forty four men killed. Average age twenty three. My dad when he arrived in England was thirty. When he flew his first combat mission he was thirty three. But the average age of those dead was twenty three and of those a hundred and thirty three were Canadians and approximately sixty five were Australians. My dad was part of the twenty eight percent that got out of that in one piece. The problem is he didn’t get out of it in one piece and something that I’m very very critical of is the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Air Force and their use of that dreadful concept lack of moral fibre. And it’s particularly annoying now that I discover that the United States Army 8th Air Force and even the Royal Australian Air Force were actually much more enlightened on that issue than the RAF or the RCAF. With the RAF and RCAF essentially if you were starting to fall apart you were simply out and it was LMF. The others had rest homes. They had psychological care. They had a number of things but this LMF was, I think a horrible thing and I think we’re really paying for it with the next couple of generations of people that returned from Bomber Command. My work in doing a book on what Bomber Command accomplished has been drawing a lot of attention in Canada. Particularly the Sir Winston Churchill Society, the Royal Commonwealth Society and the Royal Canadian Air Force at its ninety fifth anniversary where I became the guest of honour and the feature speaker and my remarks had a profound effect on all present at that dinner on the 30th of March 2019. So I’m now one of the newest members as of January 2019 of the Australian Bomber Command Association and as of April 2019 of the New Zealand Bomber Command Association. My RCAF paper has struck a major nerve cord in both of those nations and I’m learning a lot from them about Bomber Command. Now, Australia had twenty thousand fliers in Bomber Command and they now have the concept of the Bomber Command family which they say are the children, the grandchildren and the great grandchildren of Bomber Command aircrew. The Bomber Command Australia family is two hundred and fifty thousand Australians and these people have been angry about Australia’s reaction to Bomber Command and they have carried out a complete paradigm shift in how Australia regards Bomber Command. The first Sunday in June is now Bomber Command Sunday in Australia and New Zealand. It’s now, I’m told become the third biggest military event of the whole year in Australia. I think July 2017 one of the issues of the Sydney Morning Herald, one of the great newspapers of Australia the headline was essentially Bomber Command aircrew were not shameful. They were among our greatest heroes. And I think that captured the complete paradigm shift in Australia. A paradigm shift has not happened so far in Canada. Now in Canada one out of every four Canadians killed in World War Two was killed in Bomber Command and yet my experience, I was born in 1948 is that pretty much anybody younger than I am has literally never even heard of Bomber Command. Its absolutely unknown and most people who are older than I am in Canada what they know about Bomber Command is wrong. There’s been some spectacular sensationalist negative assertions about Bomber Command that were completely rebutted by credible sources but nobody seems to remember the reason of the rebuttles. They only remember the scandalous assertions. Two of the biggest, one was January of 1992 which thankfully was six months after my dad had died the CBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, national TV network and the National Film Board hit their all-time low of irresponsible journalism and broadcast, I believe it was on the 19th of January 1992 an episode of the, “Valour and the Horror,” about Bomber Command in which Brian Mckenna who was the producer of this travesty more or less said that Bomber Command spent the war bombing innocent civilians in cities of little or no military value and Bomber Command’s contribution to the war was minimal if any. Well, it created a huge stir at the time and it really shocked a lot of people. It totally shocked me. Bomber Command aircrew formed a class action to sue both the CBC and the National Film Board but the Ontario Court of Appeal dismissed the action saying they did not think Bomber Command aircrew constituted a class action. Well, if they’re not a class then they really have no action at all because for individuals what damages to that particular individual suffered it had to be a class action. And yet in March of 2019 that same appeal court ruled that Uber drivers get to be a class action but in 1992 Bomber Command aircrew did not. The Senate of Canada however did take a full look at this, a full examination and they said that that journalists are entitled to their point of view and should be able to express it. But in looking closely at what this documentary says there is nothing to support what they are saying. The whole situation was just an absolute travesty but nobody remembers the Senate’s full report. Everybody remembers that scandalous TV show. And likewise in 2007 I was in Ottawa and the National War Museum had just opened a Bomber Command exhibit in which they call Bomber Command aircrew war criminals. While I was in Ottawa I saw it as a headline in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper. So the first thing the next morning I was down there as soon as the place opened to see this exhibit and I got in to a very spirited discussion with museum staff members because I was absolutely furious. There was no truth to what they were saying. They were the worst imaginable defamatory statements and did they want the grandchildren of my dad to think that he was war criminal? It was infuriating. Now, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation happened to have a TV crew for other reasons there at the time and so they asked if I would like to speak to their television network and I welcomed the opportunity. Made my full speech. My understanding is they did broadcast it and my memory is people had mentioned that to me afterwards but I’m uncertain. I hope they broadcast it and I hope it influenced people. What I do know is I was one of quite a number of Canadians that were totally outraged so the war museum completely changed its presentation and I’m told two or three people lost their jobs. I hope that’s true. But again, most people just remember those incredible headlines. Bomber Command aircrew being war criminals. Nobody remembers how anything got sorted out thereafter. But what bothers me the most is I don’t think anybody has really properly focussed on what Bomber Command actually accomplished and that’s what bothers me the most. As I said one out of every four Canadians killed in World War Two were killed in Bomber Command but I think they were killed doing something that was incredibly important. In World War One we make a big fuss now that the last of the World War One veterans are dead, we make a big fuss nowadays about the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Militarily it was expertly carried out and every element of the Canadian Army for the only time in Canada’s history all fought together and it was a decisive Canadian victory and we took the Ridge. It turns out that taking the Ridge really didn’t make much of a difference one way or the other. The Germans said the battle was just a minor footnote but we had as many casualties in five days taking Vimy Ridge as we had fatalities in five years in Bomber Command and my submission is Vimy Ridge accomplished not much of anything other than to give us a sense of self confidence whereas Bomber Command I feel was decisive to the Allied victory in World War Two. But now I’m discovering that there is a great deal of difficulty getting accurate information on exactly what they accomplished because so much of what is written about Bomber Command is either criticising them or just heart-warming reminiscences of particular people in Bomber Command aircrew. Nobody is really focussing from what I can see on what they actually accomplished. Now it’s difficult to know exactly what they accomplished because even though photographs were taken by each aircraft as they were leaving bombing sights those photographs didn’t do a whole lot more than prove that the plane was actually at the bombing site and not unloading its bombs in the middle of the North Sea and then just heading home again because what could they actually tell you? And so increasingly I’m of the view that the people that have the most accurate knowledge of what Bomber Command accomplished are the Germans. And they have had a lot to say about Bomber Command. Most of their leading generals have said that Bomber Command was decisive to them losing the war. That losing control of the air and the endless bombing depriving them of their means of making war was decisive in World War Two. And the one person that has the most to say of course is Albert Speer because Albert Speer was the munitions minister that had to keep quickly rebuilding all of these places that were bombed. He was the one that was busily trying to move all the factories that were bombed in the countryside places which created all kinds of other issues of transporting stuff and people etcetera etcetera. But he was in very very deeply in this whole situation and what he said was Germany’s failure to defeat Bomber Command was Germany’s greatest lost battle of the whole war. The strategic bombing offensive did more damage to the German war effort than losing every battle in Russia including the surrender of Stalingrad because bombing continuously damaged with ever increasing ferocity and then ultimately destroyed Germany’s ability to produce the means necessary to make war. That’s Speer. Rommel is possibly the most famous of the generals and after D-day Rommel said to his superiors, ‘If you can’t stop the bombing we can’t win the war.’ And the other major German leaders also talked about the devastating, absolutely devastating impact of Bomber Command. It also condemned close to two million people many of whom could have been at the various fronts but nobody ever knew where Bomber Command was going to strike next. So they had to man these anti-aircraft guns all over Germany and maybe Bomber Command would only come to a particular place once or twice in the entire year and other than that these people are paralysed there but they can’t leave because they have to be there if Bomber Command does show up. And also probably the most valuable gun that Germany had in World War Two was the, I think eighty millimetre dual purpose anti-aircraft, anti-tank gun. That was their most useful gun in the war according to Albert Speer. They had forty thousand of them. They had to pull twenty thousand of those guns back from their Fronts and particularly the Russian front in order to shoot down Bomber Command aircraft. They did manage to destroy nine thousand Bomber Command aircraft. We lost nine thousand at any rate. Well, pulling those guns away from the fronts and especially the Russian Front really seriously hurt because those guns were the only ones that penetrated Russian tanks and yet fifty percent of them had to be brought back into Germany. Nine hundred thousand soldiers were manning these guns all over Germany when they all could have been fighting on the Fronts if they weren’t forced. And also just a fraction of those that were fighting Bomber Command could have actually destroyed Bomber Command if Bomber Command had restricted itself to a small number of clearly defined targets. It’s the fact that Bomber Command was bombing all over the place that paralysed the nation. And they say with the skilled and unskilled workers to keep rebuilding everything, with the soldiers that were doing various things in these cities to deal with Bomber Command bombing and then the nine hundred thousand that were locked in to the anti-aircraft equipment two million people were paralysed. Also, Lord Trenchard, Hugh Trenchard, the person that is called the father of the Royal Air Force says the number one role of any Air Force is to put the other air Fronts on the defence. Well in the early years of the war the Germans had a lot of easy victories all over Western Europe with the Luftwaffe in the air busily bombing everything and then the Armies just moving in and taking over. But Bomber Command forced the Luftwaffe off the offence and into an unsuccessful defence, forced the production of endless fighters when what they really wanted was bombers, forced everyone into producing pilots that could fly fighter planes etcetera. The Luftwaffe was withdrawn in large part from all three fronts, the Mediterranean, the Western and the Russian Fronts to cope with Bomber Command and that was absolutely enormous. Bomber Command also had a huge impact at sea. Whereas the Royal Navy sunk three of the seventeen major ships of the German Navy Bomber Command sunk eight and could have sunk two more except they were withdrawn by the Admiralty of the Royal Navy just before they did so. Bomber Command according to Albert Speer wiped out about three thousand U-boats in their bases and made the production of U-boats extraordinarily difficult. So the other area where Bomber Command was incredibly helpful was the helping the Armies. Very very helpful with the Canadian and British Armies in Normandy. Very helpful with getting the Americans across the Rhine River and very very helpful with the Russians at Dresden. Yalta of a dying franklin Roosevelt, a depressed Winston Churchill and a jubilant Joseph Stalin was only about four or five days before they bombed Dresden. Stalin asked point blank for the bombing of Dresden. It was a major marshalling yard. It was a major communication centre. The Deputy Supreme Commander of the Soviet Forces, Anatov had said they had to destroy those communications and Stalin did not want the Russian Army which was already hopelessly overextended, extremely vulnerable, lost in the swamp of a city the way in which Canada was in Ortona in Italy which we call Canada’s Stalingrad. Where we were fighting those Germans building by building and room by room. It’s called [unclear]. So Bomber Command bombed Dresden for the Soviet Red Army. Now, after the bombing of Dresden just two days later on the 17th of February 1945 the Associated Press of the United States which had incredible respect among Americans as being incredibly accurate started to speculate that Dresden looked like terror bombing. Immediately the most respected person in the entire United States Armed Forces, General George C Marshall issued a personal statement. Dresden was a military target and the bombing was requested by Joseph Stalin. There was not a word about Dresden from that day forward in America even though they had about five hundred and thirty bombers participating with our seven hundred and sixty odd bombers in the bombing of Dresden. But what we got in Britain was dead silence until Churchill issued a very unfortunate signal which he later reputed on the 25th of March. So the Americans instantly quashed any criticism of Dresden and we allowed Dresden to fester into something that bears no connection with reality. Two of the biggest lies the Nazi Germans told in World War Two concerned Dresden. The morning after the bombing the local authorities in Dresden signalled to Berlin that about twenty thousand people had been killed. The Americans, the United States Air Force, in their 1953 report says that there were fifty thousand war workers in about a hundred and twenty war related plants in Dresden. Also, a huge number of German soldiers in Dresden at the time of the bombing because that’s where they were marshalling them to defend themselves from the Red Army. Anyway, the signal to Berlin was that about twenty thousand were killed. Goebbels simply added a zero and said two hundred thousand were killed. All he did was add a zero. And I was one of the many that believed that outrageous lie until February of 2015 when German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the real number was less than twenty five thousand and she could hardly believe the west would actually swallow a Nazi lie of that magnitude. Well, I was one of those people that swallowed that lie of that magnitude. It got me wondering just how much else about Bomber Command that I was told wasn’t true. I think of Mark Twain. Mark Twain says, “It’s not what you don’t know that’s going to hurt you. It’s what you do know that aint so.” And overwhelmingly what Canadians know about Bomber Command aint so. The second lie that they told, Goebbels told was that it was just a quaint medieval town with beautiful architecture but no military value. In fact, as I say it had fifty thousand war workers, it had about a hundred and twenty factories and other places that produced war material. It was a major marshalling yard of great importance for Germany’s defence of the homeland against the Red Army and it was a major communication centre. But those two absolutely appalling German lies on who was killed and the military value of the city are still believed today and all of this is very very very disturbing. So getting back to my dad he comes back to a Canada where an awful lot was not properly understood about Bomber Command, where Churchill’s appalling failure to even mention Bomber Command in his VE Day speech kind of opened the works for all kinds of people publishing books saying the most sensationalist things imaginable all of which gave a really erroneous, erroneous impression of Bomber Command. Now, Churchill did to some extent come to his senses by 1951 when he was doing his histories of the Second World War and he does conclude there in “Volume Five, the Closing the Ring,” Churchill does in that book say, “But it would be wrong to end without paying our tribute of respect and admiration to the officers and men who fought and died in the fearful battle of the air the like of which had never before been known or even with any precision imagined. The moral test to which the crew of a bomber were subjected reached the extreme limits of human valour and sacrifice. Here chance was carried to its most extreme and violent degree above all else. They never flinched or failed. It is to their devotion that in no small measure we owe our victory. Let us give them our salute.” And I think that is so true but that is not what is happening. Bomber Command has been badly defamed. It is not understood. My submission is Churchill was vital to Bomber Command and Bomber Command was vital to victory in World War Two. My father was part of all that but it was never really discussed after the war and it wasn’t until 2017, my dad had died in 1991, 2017 somehow on my computer I penetrated a wall in the Royal Air Force and like magic all this information came flowing forward about my father. Right from the day he was born in Westfield, Nova Scotia in 1912. All this information came flowing forward and it gave me the two things I needed to know. I needed to know Kirmington, that’s the Air Force base he flew from and I needed to know the squadron that was 166 Squadron and 1 Bomber Group. So in the summer of ’17 I showed up at Kirmington, I saw things there and they had a guest book for 166 Squadron. They’d stopped having their annual reunions in 2014 which was a tragedy for me but I took pictures of the pages because they left a lot of email addresses and I emailed everybody and people started contacting me. Then in the spring of 2018 CTV, the other national television network in Canada, the private network, Canadian Television network wanted me to come to the Prince Harry’s wedding in Windsor to explain that CTV was not just covering the marriage of some celebrities, they were covering a marriage that was part of the constitutional monarchy which was the basis of both the law and the governance of Canada. And of course, Queen Elizabeth is the Queen of Canada. So there I was in Windsor to comment on this wedding and to make these speeches about the constitutional importance of the event but my half month got completely hijacked by the Royal Air Force and I found myself being introduced to all manner of people and seeing all manner of things. And that led to my being summoned back to the United Kingdom in August of 2017, I’m sorry 2018 to participate with my sons as the official representatives of Canada at the ceremonies honouring 166 Squadron. Ceremonies that were taken sufficiently seriously that the Royal Air Force was represented by Air Marshall Sir Christopher Coville and Air Vice Marshall Paul Robinson and they were extremely interesting people for me to meet. And Air Vice Marshall Paul Robinson has evolved into a major part of my life and is the key reason that I am now back in the United Kingdom for a month researching Bomber Command because I feel I must write a book about what Bomber Command accomplished and how our failure of remembrance is wrong and how these aircrew, a hundred and twenty five thousand air crew, eighty thousand of which became casualties, fifty seven, fifty five thousand seven hundred and some odd were killed are some of the greatest heroes in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, the four countries that constituted Bomber Command. That the truth needs to be told about this and I feel a strong compelling thing to do that. My concluding remarks are what I have learned from 2017 has caused me to have a complete paradigm shift on my father, on his life and what he had to cope with etcetera. He and so many of his colleagues, these people were men of extraordinary character, bravery, determination and what they did was absolutely essential to our winning the war. They need to be remembered with gratitude. Thank you.
DE: Thank you, Roddy. Well, I had a list of things and I’ve ticked them all. Could you talk a little bit more about the conversation you had with your father in the car? What sort of things did he tell you about?
RM: Well, I understood from what he was telling me that perfectionism was essential to survival when you’re in the process of bombing heavily defended German targets. That the slightest error generally tended to mean death and so therefore you had to do things essentially perfectly and even then of course there was a high risk you were going to be killed. But he told me that Lancasters were remarkable aircraft and if a person knew enough about how to fly them which evidently took a tremendous amount of physical strength and sometimes the flight engineer had to actually assist in the flying just because of the enormous strength it took to move some of the levers that needed to be moved, especially in evasive actions that the Lancaster was an absolutely extraordinary aircraft for doing that. He explained how the night fighters functioned and where they came from and how they tried to be invisible until you were dead and they liked shooting pilots because that was a good way of shooting down the aircraft at the same time. He talked about their guns. Those incredible anti-aircraft, anti-tank guns that were incredibly effective. It was extremely difficult once you got locked into the cones of the spotlights. The floodlights that they had. But corkscrew manoeuvres of various types could save the day if you were incredibly lucky. He talked about the extreme difficulty of actually hitting the target and sometimes you had to fly over more than once. In his citation for the DFC what they say in this this citation is, “This Canadian officer has now completed thirty four faultless attacks on enemy targets ranging from Germany to occupied Europe. He has consistently shown himself to be a pilot of great skill and has displayed high leadership qualities of courage and has been determined to press home his attack regardless of the opposition and has always been successful. His tenacity of purpose was magnificently displayed on his last sortie in August 1944 when on proceeding to the target an engine failed. He made no less than three runs over the target despite heavy flak to ensure that his bombs fell in the target area.” They go on to say, “On the ground as deputy flight commander he has shown willingness and enthusiasm which had been an inspiration to the whole squadron. For his determination and devotion to duty he is strongly recommended for the award of the DFC.” So he was explaining how all of this had to be perfect and he also explained this lack of moral fibre which he thought was part of the insanity of the Royal Air Force High Command most of whom had never actually flown in Bomber Command situations so they had no idea what was being experienced in these horrendous casualties of Bomber Command aircrew. He said that once a young pilot on one of his first sorties got out of that Lancaster totally traumatised, totally shaken to the core and the next night virtually at gunpoint he was put back into the cockpit of a Lancaster. The insanity was just overwhelming and of course for huge flights they flew in tight formation. This youngster completely lost his nerve, pulled forward his joystick, the Lancaster shot upwards and ripped out the belly of the one on top of it and in the ensuing chaos six Lancasters crashed because the Royal Air Force High Command had this insane policy of lack of moral fibre. He also talked about approaching the targets. The long flights into Germany. Some of these places were a long way away. It was freezing cold in the Lancaster except for the navigator who was sitting next to the heater and was at risk of being burned. He talked about how difficult it was to get out of a Lancaster if you are being shot down. He talked about how you had to be aware of all the other planes that you were flying with, of these night fighters, of the flak, of the guns. He had enormous respect for those 88 centimetre, millimetre anti-aircraft, anti-tank, he said those guns were incredibly effective. And how difficult it was to get into that target, to have your perfect timing and to make darned sure those bombs fell exactly where they were supposed to fall and not anywhere else. He talked about the incredible pressure that was on people within an aircrew and the camaraderie and he was one of those that agreed with Canada. A huge conflict between Canada and the United Kingdom and Bomber Command is Canada felt very strongly every person in that aircrew should be a commissioned officer. It was ridiculous that half of them were non-commissioned, and they were treated totally differently back at base and my father felt that very very strongly. That everything about that was wrong. He essentially said you had to keep total focus. You couldn’t let anything distract you because there were so many things happening at once you had to rely so heavily on the other people within your aircraft for what they saw, for how they described it in order to take evasive actions that would actually work and how the entire exercise was absolutely extraordinary. A nightmare that was virtually unimaginable.
DE: Thank you. I’m just struck. You just mentioned that that Canada was very keen on all aircrew being officers. So there was obviously strong support for the Royal Canadian Air Force and Bomber Command during the war. When, when did that support ebb away in your opinion?
RM: Well, that’s a really good question of how support fell away and by who and by where. Part of the problem was after the war we seemed to have this culture of not talking about the war very much. Canada is an unusual country because it’s both French and English and this country almost split in half in the First World War on the whole issue when conscription came up in World War One. They had a referendum where English Canadians were about ninety percent in favour and French Canadians were about ninety percent opposed and it was catastrophic. Our Prime Minister in World War Two, William Lyon Mackenzie King was really determined that was not going to happen a second time. Now, if somebody was conscripted they never had to leave Canada. They were actually called zombies but in both wars they did have to get into some element of conscription towards the end of the war to at least free up volunteers that were doing things in Canada to get them over to the front. But it raises a very very important point that isn’t well understood and that is William Lyon Mackenzie King, the longest serving Canadian Prime Minister first got elected Prime Minister in 1921, was out of office for five years during the Great Depression so he never had to take responsibility for it and then resigned in November of 1948 after becoming very sick at a Commonwealth Conference in London where King George the 6th, Nehru, Smuts, Jan Smuts from South Africa and other people came to his bedside to say their farewells. Mackenzie King had known Churchill since 1900 when they had more or less equivalent positions in their respective governments. So he had known Churchill for forty years before Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940. They were born just three weeks apart so these men were essentially exactly the same age. They were both great leaders in their own way but Mackenzie King was a virtually invisible leader whereas Churchill was the exact reverse. He loved the limelight. He loved the spotlight. So they functioned well together in that regard. But Mackenzie King entered the Second World War absolutely determined this was not going to be a rerun of the First World War and slaughters over battles like Vimy Ridge. That this was not going to happen. And he recognised the only way we could avoid a rerun of World War One is we had to take control of the air. Mackenzie King was absolutely definite we had to take control of the air and his theory was the only way we’re going to take control of the air is by having the world’s finest aircrew. And so in December of 1939 Australia, Canada, Britain and New Zealand signed an agreement in Ottawa creating the Commonwealth Air Training Plan which trained about a hundred and thirty one thousand of the world’s finest aircrew. The United Kingdom put fifty four million dollars in to that and also about a hundred and sixty million dollars in used equipment that was used for training purposes. Australia which only had about five and a half million people put in sixty eight million and New Zealand which probably only had about a million people put in forty five million dollars. Canada with nine and a half million people put in one point six billion dollars into that training programme to create the world’s finest aircrew and it was very much that way in the war itself as well. Canada’s support of the Bomber Command was rock solid. From January 1st 1943, we got our own bomber group. Bomber Group 6 but the majority of Canadians were flying in the other squadrons like my dad. They were all seconded by the Royal Canadian Air Force to the Royal Air Force. Now, two things happened after the war. The first one is of course that Mackenzie King resigned in November of 1948 and was dead in July of 1950. But he never was one to rally the flag much anyway. He never made speeches people could remember except maybe his most famous speech because it was the most decisive issue in Canada and that was the possibility of conscription. Mackenzie King’s position on conscription was conscription if necessary but not necessarily conscription. And that was probably the most famous speech he ever made but it held the whole country together. But he died and he was replaced by Louis St Laurent from Quebec City, a French Canadian and the French had a very different attitude towards the war. And then he was defeated by 1957 by John Diefenbaker, the first Prime Minister of Canada that was neither English nor French but he was regarded by the establishment as very outsider. Heavily heavily criticized. He may be the only honorary member of Bomber Command Association. He was definitely that. But then after that we got into Pearson who got the Nobel Peace Prize and then we got into Trudeau who amalgamated the armed forces and virtually destroyed them in the process. So other than Diefenbaker right from the end of the war there was nobody in Canada to speak up for Bomber Command. And in 1968 they actually amalgamated the Army, the Navy and the Air Force into one unit. We’re the only Navy in the world that didn’t even have the word Navy in its name. So there was never anyone to kind of speak up for Bomber Command. It was never talked about much and then we get this scandalous CBC and National Film Board January 1992 deal which just ripped Bomber Command to shreds. But we didn’t have any national leader that really spoke up for it and it just sort of fell into the mists of confusion and misinformation.
DE: Thanks. I mean, you said about your father’s role in, as an instructor and you’ve hinted at the importance of Canada to aircrew training. What happened to all the heritage? I mean there are hundreds of old airfields where training took place. Are they, are they not remembered or are they not memorialised?
RM: Most of them just went into total disrepair. Just got completely grown over. The whole situation in Nanton, Alberta it’s a little tiny town of three thousand people it is almost unique. Everything just sort of, just somehow ceased to exist. There was no effort really to maintain anything other than the fact that the Lancaster somehow had a very distinctive hold on the Canadian population. And now the city of Toronto last Fall has given its Lancaster to the city of Victoria in British Columbia and I’m in continuous communication with the people there who are rebuilding it. British Columbia finally has a Lancaster again after decades. The Lancaster has been the one reminder of the war that resonates very very powerfully with Canadians. But virtually everything else just simply evaporated. I mean our National Bomber Command should not be in Nanton, Alberta. It should be on Wellington Street in Ottawa across from the Parliament Buildings. That’s where it should be. Our remembrance is terrible. Now, to its credit the government of Canada at least on its website, if anybody ever actually looks at the website, the Governor, this is what Canada says on the internet. The heading is, “Canadians in Bomber Command.” Canada states, “The efforts of the approximately fifty thousand Canadians who served with the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Air Force in Bomber Command operations over occupied Europe was one of our country’s most significant contributions during the Second World War. The men who served in Bomber Command faced some of the most difficult odds of anyone fighting in the war. For much of the conflict the regular duration for a tour of duty was thirty combat sorties. The risk was so high however that almost half of all aircrew never made it to the end of their tour. Despite the heavy losses Bomber Command was able to maintain a steady stream of aircraft flying over U-boat bases, docks, railways and industrial cities in Germany as well as enemy targets in occupied Europe.” That’s what the government of Canada says.
DE: That’s pretty good I think.
RM: But nobody knows they say that on the internet but even I was astonished when I saw it there. And then the Canada Bomber Command Memorial says, “The bomber offensive mounted by the Commonwealth countries during the Second World War,’ notice they’re actually focussed on the Commonwealth countries and whatever monuments you do find in Canada it’s always talking about the Commonwealth countries has been described as, “The most gruelling and continuous operation of war ever waged. It lasted for some two thousand days. Bomber Command until the tide turned offered the only weapon capable of waging war against Hitler’s European fortress and then it concludes saying Bomber Command’s successes were purchased at a terrible cost. Of the volunteers who flew,” over fifty five thousand were Canadian err, “Fifty five thousand were killed and almost eleven thousand of these were Canadians.” And that’s in Nanton, Alberta. So yeah, the official statement of the government of Canada actually catches people by surprise. I’ve done a number of major speeches now in the last few months in Canada and every time I read that everyone is very surprised. But essentially our government since the war have not been supportive of the military. Most of them are totally focussed on electoral situations in Quebec. Quebec does not like being reminded of the war. And we have just been sitting ducks for things such as that documentary and that War Museum. I think in a single sentence my friend, Brother Maximus said, ‘Regarding Bomber Command Canadians have become a people who are forgetful, ungrateful and easily deceived.’ And I think that’s precisely what’s happened.
DE: Ok. I think Roddy unless you have anything else to add we’ll leave that there. That was just over an hour. Thank you very much.



Dan Ellin, “Interview with Roddy MacKenzie,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 8, 2023,

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