It is with sadness that we report that Robert (Bob) O'Connor passed away on December 25, 2013, at his home in Calgary, Alberta. He was 89. In his honour, we present these two stories about Bob. Anne Gafiuk retells his experience as a Mosquito navigator in the Second World War, and Richard de Boer tells us a little about the man who helped restore old airplanes and would become our Vice-President.

In Bob's Own Words

"I was born on September 9, 1924 at Penhold, Alberta."

"When I joined up, at least 90% of the fellows I knew wanted to train for pilot or air crew. I wanted to be a pilot. I was an air cadet for two years before I was old enough to join the Air Force, where I started to get interested in Navigation."

After he turned 18, Bob took the train to Edmonton where he signed up for the Royal Canadian Air Force. "They couldn't take me right away, but they gave me a badge to show I was in the Air Force, but hadn't been called up yet.

"My motivation to sign up was just the excitement." Bob was not the first of his family in the RCAF. "My elder brother had to quit school in the 1930's. He didn't have enough education to be air crew, so he was ground crew for the first few years he was in the Air Force. But he finally got into air crew, got his wings as an air gunner, then got his commission."

Bob was sent to Manning Depot No. 4 in Edmonton where he spent a month learning Air Force law and marching, then he went to Initial Training School for six weeks.

"At the Initial Training School, half way through, they gave you a sort of mid-term test. I made the mistake of leading the course in Navigation. And that was the wrong thing to do if you wanted to be a pilot! Two days later, I was called up by the Medical Officer and he said, 'We are going to retest your eyes.' He then told me, 'There is something wrong with the muscle balance in your eyes and you won't be able to land the aircraft properly.' That was just a crock. That was the Air Force's way of telling you were going to be a navigator whether you like it or not. I was upset, but you just did what they told you to do.

"If I would have known, I wouldn't have been the best navigator in my course. And I have a feeling of regret I didn't become a pilot. I wanted to be a pilot. There, in the air crew, the pilots were more appealing to the girls!"

Bob's official RCAF portrait, taken after receiving his Observer's wings.
(Bob O'Connor)

After receiving his wings, he was sent overseas for further training in England. After experiencing a bit of "rambunctious fun" flying Tiger Moths, he and his course came back to their base from a four day leave at Christmas time in 1944. "We hadn't finished the course or taken the final exam, but they told us, 'Pack your bags.' They sent us to some place in Southern England. There were all these Mosquitoes sitting on the tarmac. This is what we were being trained for."

It was here at an airport just north of Oxford where Bob and his skipper initially met each other.

"It was by luck actually that I got paired up with Dave Hutchison from Pine Falls, Manitoba. We called him 'Hutch' or 'Old Hutch' because he was twenty five. My nickname was Okie. I was only 19.

"The first month we were there through January, we were flying with all the different pilots. There were about twenty pilots and twenty navigators in that course. We would fly with a different guy every day until we flew with them all," allowing people to see if they were compatible with each other - or not. "I had been having some trouble with the other pilots and not doing too well. It was a big jump in speed! In the Mosquito: 350 mph...and we had just come from flying Ansons, which were less that 150 mph... and oh how fast you had to work!" Bob admits he was struggling. "I guess Hutch realized I was getting a little flustered and he said, 'Take it easy.' He turned the radio on. They had a channel called War Time or something like that. It was military, but only music. And that music just seemed to settle me down and we had a really good trip."

Because of Hutch's understanding, Bob realized then Hutch was the pilot he wanted to fly with. "We were going to do some more training with flying the Mosquito, but I misjudged the time to go down to find out who we were paired with and I was the last one to get down to the place we were supposed to meet. It was the navigator's choice as to who we wanted to fly with. There were three or four other navigators who liked Hutch, too. All the pilots' names were up on the blackboard and in front of the blackboard, there was a big long table. I asked someone where Hutch's name was but there was a Daily Routine Orders and a corporal had just thrown it down and it slid across the table, curling up against the blackboard, covering up Hutch's name at the bottom. Nobody saw it. It was empty. I put my name beside Hutch's!"

Bob and Hutch were together for five months. "He was quite happy to have me as his navigator. We really hit it off." Right after having earned his wings in Canada, Hutchinson was sent overseas, not to fly operationally but as an instructor at an Advanced Training School in northern Scotland where he stayed for two years, acquiring many hours on 'heavies'. They realized how many hours he had; he was skilled in night flying. They said he would be very good Pathfinder material." Both Hutch and Bob were posted to the RAF 627 Squadron.

"We didn't know how we were going to operate. They told us, 'We do our marking by dive-bombing, so you had better get used to dive-bombing.' We were the only squadron in the Air Force that did that!"

Bob explained how he had "to do everything in the Mosquito, except fly the plane. Hutch and I were a team. There was a trust between us, working in conjunction with the Lancaster squadron." They practiced every flyable day they could. "We had mines on our Mosquitoes. The mines were 1,250 pounds and we could carry two of them. We would be given an area on a particular river... and we only did two trips doing that, but we would have done more had the war lasted. We would put it down as a 'gardening trip' or a typical operation. We only got six missions in. Three wind-finding, two gardening and one marking."

Bob told of experiencing some enemy fire. "Once they start shooting at you, it sort of caught your attention. We got shot at. We could outrun the Messerschmitts. It was just ground flak. We never got hit. Not a scratch. But I was scared... sure. I never panicked. I just had to handle it. I just did it.

"I was relieved the war was over, but we were also disappointed because we would have liked to have finished our tour. We would have really accomplished something."

Hutch had been away from home for over three years and he decided he was not going to continue onto the Pacific. "The war in Europe ended in early May and by the time I got home, we started our training to go to the Pacific because we would be using different types of aircraft. They were not going to send any Mosquitoes over to the Pacific. We were going to train on the 'heavies'; but the war ended in Japan in August."

Hutch returned to Pine Falls and worked for Abitibi Pulp and Paper, with the thought of possibly getting on with Trans-Canada Airlines. He told Bob, 'Oftentimes, I relied on you to see.' Hutch had developed colour blindness, so TCA was out. "When we were flying, I would have to verify if it was a green light. It must have been getting worse, Hutch would say, 'I wasn't lookin'. What was that?' But I had no trouble at all. I would tell him the colour. It must have come and gone, but once in awhile... I just figured he was looking somewhere else."

After the war, Bob attended the University of Alberta, graduating as a geologist. His education was paid for, what with three years with the RCAF. "I made a good choice. It was good for me. It gave me an opportunity to work in different parts of the world, doing foreign work."

No regrets for Bob. "The highlight of the RCAF for me was the sheer joy of flying. The Mosquito was such a beautiful aircraft."

Bob did get his private pilot's license, owning a Chipmunk up until the mid-1970's. "And there was no problem with my eyes!"

Bob, in Alberta, and Hutch, remaining in Manitoba, stayed in contact throughout the years until Hutch died at the age of 92.

As Told to Anne Gafiuk


Bob O'Connor interview, October/November 2011.


The following is from CMS President Richard de Boer, who reflects on his personal recollections of Bob and a relationship that spanned, much to his own surprise, over 45 years.

Bob was a staunch supporter of the Mosquito's restoration through the years. In 2005 he helped stop one of the first attempts to sell the plane, then joined the Calgary Mosquito Society and served as Vice-President. If there was a CMS function, you'd find Bob. Here he was helping man the booth with Richard de Boer at the Canadian Business Aircraft Association. (Paul Gary)

Five years ago I was driving Bob home from an event we were attending. Though I had known Bob for some years through our shared membership in the Aero Space Museum and our efforts in 2005 to prevent the first attempt to sell the Mosquito, I had never driven him home before so had to ask for an address and directions. As we got closer I mentioned growing up not far from where he was residing. He mentioned that he too had had a home just down Elbow Drive not far from the Glencoe Club.

That's when the penny dropped. "You're THAT Bob O'Connor!" I excitedly informed him. "You have two sons named Pat and Mike!" He didn't disagree.

Back in junior high, Bob's youngest son Mike was my best friend. Funny thing was, I don't recall ever seeing Bob at their house when I was a kid, though I used to hang out there a fair bit. Come to think of it, that was forty five years ago. I am sure we both looked a little different.

The O'Connor's was cool place to hang out; there was lots of fun stuff to do and a pretty girl named Janet living right next door. Mr. O'Connor, as I would have known him them, kept a couple of boats out at Chestermere as well and I did my first ever sailing out there with them. The O'Connors had a basset hound as well. He came sailing with us once. We boys found out that he liked beer and that he swam like a rock - especially after too much beer.

Over the past few years I learned a lot more about Bob as we pooled our efforts to see our favourite airplane saved here in Calgary. Bob was passionate about sailing and used to race. He learned to fly after the war and he owned a DHC Chipmunk. He crashed it near Sunshine Village when the engine quit on him. The investigator from Transport said that he had seen twenty crashes like it, but that Bob and his passenger were the only survivors that he knew of. Seems that everyone else did the obvious and incredibly tempting: they tried to turn away from the hill and ended up stalling in the turn. Bob flew it straight ahead into the crash and walked away from it.

Our lives and passions continued to cross paths. Bob and I also shared a love for Nissan sports cars. He had a 280ZX that he drove for over 15 years. I had the next model, the 300ZX.

Before there was a threat to the Mosquito, Bob put in a lot of years working on the restoration projects at the Aero Space Museum and playing tour guide when the occasion warranted. When things got a little tense up there, Bob channeled his love for history into being a docent at the Military Museum on Crowchild Trail. Bob was also very committed to the Allied Aircrew Association rarely missing a Thursday lunch with the gang at Mewata Armory.

What I will miss most is our drive time to and from Nanton. Even as he began to slow down and to struggle with some of the activities and recollections of daily life at age 89, his memory and clarity for the details of the Mosquito and for his training and his combat operations was faultless. Off the top of his head he could rattle off the empty and loaded weights of different Mosquito models, describe the details of GEE operations and names of all of his squadron mates.

I loved seeing Bob at all of the open house and special events we attended on behalf of our society. He was a quiet fixture and a treasure waiting to be discovered by passing visitors. On one of our Nanton drives, he told me how after the war, no one wanted to talk about it. 'Shut up and get on with your life' was the prevailing mood in Canada after 1945. Yet it touched me almost to tears when after learning that he was a veteran that a grizzled biker, or a ten year old boy would ask if they could shake Bob's hand. Times have changed. People are now openly grateful and honoured to meet a man who flew and who served. Some sat with him for hours.

When Mosquito KA114 was scheduled to star at the Warplane Heritage air show in June, Bob was fortunate to be able to attend and to see his beloved Mosquito in the air again. As a Mosquito veteran he was a special guest of the hosting museum. He came back from Hamilton praising their efforts and the way they treated him and the other veterans.

In July Bob joined fellow Mosquito Society board member, Dr. Stephane Guevremont on a battlefield tour of England and north western Europe. Again, Bob's status as a veteran was recognized and warmly appreciated as he revisited the wartime sites of peril and youth.

Retain. Restore. Honour and Educate. Bob did them all. He has been our touchstone with the Mosquito and with those pillars and since day one, the first man willing to stand and actively work for them all.

Richard de Boer

As Richard said, the respect younger generations are showing veterans truly is heart warming. During the CMS's Meet the Mosquito event in 2012, and the Canadian Warplane Heritage's Mosquito Gathering in 2013 Bob could be found sharing his stories. Here, avid photographer Eric Dumigan captured Bob doing what he did best - inspiring a youngster. (Eric Dumigan)