The elderly gentleman walked into the room and quietly selected a seat near the back. Were it not for his bright red ball cap, I probably wouldn't have noticed his arrival. But on that cap, if your looked real close, was a badge for 410 Cougar squadron.

I soon learned the gentleman was Pat Anderson, a veteran of 410 Sqd., who'd been a navigator and radar operator on night fighting Mosquitoes. I was honoured when he invited me into his home to share a beer and some war stories. Sadly, just days before his 90th birthday, Pat passed away, leaving me with our brief friendship and his stories.

Although he was proud of his military service Pat never wrapped it up in a cloak of patriotism or duty. Three uncles were in the Army in the First World War - two survived - and Pat's childhood was full of their stories and every military book he could get his hands on. He matter-of-factly told me he eventually enlisted in the RCAF because he expected to be conscripted into the Army and felt his chances of survival were higher in an airplane.

After graduating high school Pat headed for Washington, DC, where he'd been offered a job in the British Embassy because the Official Secrets Act also applied to Canadians. It was an exciting time for a 17 year old; France and mainland Europe had fallen to the Germans and the Battle of Britain raged. The United States was still neutral and Pat and his coworkers were kept busy as Prime Minister Churchill tried to convince President Roosevelt to become involved in the European war. Then, on a quiet Sunday afternoon in December, while enjoying a baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Washington Redskins, a voice came over the loudspeaker calling Generals to the telephones and Admirals to their headquarters - Pearl Harbor had been bombed.

By the summer of 1942, Pat was giving thought to military service and thanks to a Christmas-time flight that his Flying Instructor brother had arranged for him, he knew he wouldn't wash out of the Air Force because of airsickness. The last thing he wanted to be was a soldier. "The day I was getting off the train in Washington I got a draft notice from the US Government. I took a red pencil and wrote I was going back to Canada to join the Air Force," said Pat. "I didn't expect that being a British subject."

The journey into combat began in a manning depot in Toronto, then by train to the tiny town of Souris, Manitoba where enlistees were greeted with temperatures of -52C. Eventually they began flight training in Uplands and Pat graduated as a navigator in Malton soon after.

Reaching England meant embarking on the cruise ship Andes. It sounded glamorous but it was meant to slowly sail to South America, not dash across the North Atlantic in the howling winds and rough seas of January 1943. The pitching and rolling, and the cramped quarters was only relieved by Pat's memory of one serviceman's utter disappointment discovering his 'bed' was nothing more than a clearing on the cabin floor.

It was after he was in England and walking the streets of Bournemouth that he spotted a poster that read Volunteer for the Night Fighters. "There's something you learn in the Air Force and that's never volunteer for anything," Pat explained, "but I'd started hearing about the casualties in Bomber Command." Not keen on the idea of putting his fate in the hands of others, he stepped inside. When the interviewer asked why he wanted to volunteer Pat gave the honest answer, "Because I don't want to be in bombers." He was on the list the next day.

After being sent to Charter Hill, Pat and his classmates learned the ins and outs of the night fighter's Mk. IV and Mk.VIII radar using a rag-tag collection of Bristol Beaufighter Mk.Is, IIs and IVs. "When we arrived at Charter Hall we were told before we graduated we'd lose a crew, and we did. People don't realize how many people we lost in accidents," Pat said in disgust. The clapped out Beaufighters were simply in no shape to carry the crews and the heavy radar equipment on many of the missions. In fact, during one training exercise Pat and his pilot, F/O Harry Connolly discovered why so many crews were lost during training. At night and over the North Sea one of the engines, obviously in desperate need of an overhaul, began acting up. The pair decided to scrub the mission and return to base but rather than being commended for bringing his plane and crew home safely, Harry was reprimanded for failing to "press on regardless." Had they, there was no doubt in Pat's mind they'd have been lost in the icy waters.

After relocating to Cranfield, the navigators were given training on the new American-made Mk.X radar. This time however, two or three students were seated at stations inside a Vickers Wellington with an instructor supervising them as they attempted to intercept a Hurricane fighter.

Taking a break, Pat and a companion hitched a ride on a freighter down the Thames River to London only to witness the Luftwaffe's last big raid; 255 bombers. On a later visit they saw the devastation being caused by Hitler's buzz bombs.

After D-Day, Pat was assigned to 410 Squadron and sent across to the continent. After docking in Austend, he and his fellow replacements moved into the French countryside. "When we got to Ameins I spent my first night in a bombed out building with no heat and no (spare) clothes in the middle of October."

A group photo of 410 Sqd.'s aircrews. Pat Anderson is in the back row, third from the right. (Pat Anderson)

Although the squadron had started off flying Paul Boulton Defiants and early model De Havilland Mosquitoes, they were now flying late-production Mosquito Mk.XXXs, and Harry and Pat took to familiarizing themselves with the plane. Compared to the Beaufighters these Mosquitoes were real hot rods, theoretically capable of reaching an altitude of 30,000 feet. "We tried but only managed 25,000," he recalled. During another flight, the pair found themselves in the same sky as a group of American Martin B-26 Marauders returning from a mission. Thinking they could use their allies as practice for an interception, they were instead greeted by a hail of .50 calibre bullets. To weary eyes, a British Mosquito looked a lot like a German Ju-88 heavy fighter.

As the crews were now flying operationally, each Mosquito had to be given a test flight before they were it could be declared ready for each night's mission. Sadly, on October 29, F/O Harry Connolly was killed during one of these tests. He lost an engine, then airspeed and dove head first into the countryside. It was the only time he'd flown without Pat.

Pat's new partner came from Cuba and was a veteran with two victories and a probable already to his credit. He was obviously experienced but it was his impatience that worried Pat the most. On one mission he tried to switch runways by taxiing across the field, but he only succeeded in getting stuck in the mud. Firewalling the throttles, he used all 3,400 horsepower to wrench it free. "I heard a bang, but he took off." Now unable to trim the airplane their mission was scrubbed and they diverted to Brussels while another crew assumed their place. The problem was soon discovered; "The tail wheel had been bent and when it got stuck it was rubbing against the control cables." Had they "pressed on" with their mission they probably would have sawn through the cables and come crashing down. On another flight the pilot was ill with a fever but didn't tell anyone. He took off with a temperature of 103F, but Pat didn't realize this until he'd passed out.

Soon Pat was flying with a calmer pilot, an American by the name of Ray Lee. Ray was already on his second tour, having been an instructor on Mosquitoes in Nova Scotia, and a combat pilot who'd flown some of the first experimental night fighter intercepts. Ray's early work was archaic compared to the Mosquito's radar; directed by radar operators on the ground, Ray would pilot a Douglas A-20 Boston which had been modified with massive spotlight towards a target. When he was close enough, he'd turn on the spotlight and hopefully illuminate the enemy airplane long enough for a nearby Hurricane to shoot it down.

But the air war was winding down in 1945 and the partners were able to enjoy a little relaxation. They learned to ski on the slopes of the French Alps, and sunned themselves on the shores of the Mediterranean during a 10 day visit to Cannes. It was while the two were on leave in London that peace was finally declared. They drifted into Hide Park to see the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace, passed Whitehall during Churchill's victory speech, and watched as thousands celebrated in Piccadilly Circus. Pat remembered clearly one woman who, illuminated by massive spotlights, danced atop a bus shelter and stripped off her clothes - much to delight of the cheering of the crowd.

With his Air Force service behind him, Pat returned home and re-entered the peacetime world by earning a chemical engineering degree from Queen's University. He worked for Shell Canada for 23 years (and recalled attending aircrew reunions with Douglas Bader), then with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business in Winnipeg. Pat was active with the Air Crew Association of Southern Alberta, the Progressive Conservative Party, and the Calgary Mosquito Society. We were honoured that Pat accepted our invitation to share his experiences as a speaker during last August's 'Meet the Mosquito' event at the Bomber Command Museum of Canada, and I'm honoured that for a brief time I was able to call him a friend.

Trevor McTavish

After almost a year in combat, Pat was happy to have survived. Ultimately, Pat would spend the rest of his life upset at the frivolous loss of life because of poor training and accidents. According to one source, more than 25,000 air crewmen lost their lives in non-operational flying accidents. (Pat Anderson)

They never liked being called 'heroes', but the men of Pat's generation truly were "the Greatest Generation." (Pat Anderson)


Pat Anderson interview, December 2011.