Hawker Hurricane I, by Philip De Lacey Markham.
Copyright Canadian War Museum (CN 78052).

Hawker Hurricane I, by Philip De Lacey Markham.

Life for a fighter pilot may seem to have been safer and more glorious than life for the infantryman or the sailor. In fact, fighting in the skies over Europe was perilous. The RCAF lost scores of aircraft during bombing runs and lost many more good men in aerial battles.

Canadian fighter pilots often fought day after day in a seemingly endless string of operations. The strain weighed heavily on the men. Many developed stomach and other nervous problems, such as insomnia. Some would have to go through the ordeal of ejecting from an aircraft downed by enemy fire. The lucky flyers bailed out in friendly skies; more commonly, however, they abandoned their airplanes over water or, perhaps worse still, over enemy territory. The least fortunate of all fighter pilots burned up in the smoking, flaming wreckage of their aircraft as they plummeted earthward.

Conditions were also grim for Canadian bomber crews. They had to endure long, harrowing missions over central Europe, during which time enemy fighters and anti-aircraft gun crews made repeated efforts to shoot them down. Over the course of the war, less than one in three bomber crews escaped with their lives after a 30 operation tour. In fact, the average life-span of a bomber crew man was only eight missions. However, their efforts were not futile. The bombing raids helped to weaken the enemy and hasten the end of the conflict.

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