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Art Gault

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An officer bows his head at a stone

Art Gault sits comfortably beside his wife Jo at their Newmarket residence. Our conversation with the 90-year-old former Canadian Air Force bomber pilot has a nice easy flow and his recollections of the war are vivid and evoke real emotion.

He begins with his youth. The Gault family lived in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan - Art, two brothers, Bill and Tom, and their mom.

With the start of the Second World War, Art's brothers signed up, Bill joined the Army and Tom joined the Navy.

On May 8, 1942, at the age of 21, Art joined the Air Force.

"I had a couple of buddies at work and we got to talking about joining up and one thing and another. And of course, my friends were looking to join up with the Air Force. I said, gee, I don't know one end of the plane from another. But I went with them and we all joined up together."

At this point Jo laughs.

"He can't swim," said Jo. "That's why he didn't join the Navy."

The Air Force initially sent Art to Brandon, Manitoba.

"That was where we learned how to march and salute officers. Then we went to Yorkton at the flying school, just to do odd jobsI was on the line and I went out with them to get the airplanes. I would bring the fire extinguisher in case an engine caught fire.

We were there for a couple of months before being posted to Saskatoon in the ITS (Initial Training School). That's where you find out exactly where you're going to go, to be a pilot or rear gunner or a navigator. I was a pilot and so were my two friends. We learned everything from astronomy to arithmetic and also trained on a link trainer, an airplane on a stand that helps you learn how to fly.

I graduated and went to Brandon to the flight station and took my pilot's training at the flying station there. I was there for three or four months. I won my wings there and was awarded a commission and was posted overseas. Eventually we shipped out from New York aboard the Queen Elizabeth to Bournemouth on the south coast of England."  

Six days later, Art landed on the shores of England. It was 1943. In Bournemouth he continued advanced flight training on larger four-engine planes - the Oxford and the Wellington - as well as learning about clouds and weather. 

After numerous training flights and solo qualifications, Art obtained his flying wings from the Royal Canadian Air Force and was assigned to the 432 Squadron, stationed at the East Moor in Yorkshire, England. Art was now an active bomber pilot flying in the skies over Europe in a Halifax airplane.

In total, Art and his crew flew 31 missions over Germany or German occupied territory. He was meticulous about keeping a log book chronicling his experiences and he refers to it often during our discussions.

Art had many brushes with death during the war including one that occurred while attempting to take off on a bombing mission on August 18, 1944.

As his plane began to roll down the runway, reaching 125 miles per hour, Art felt the aircraft pull to the left. He knew this indicated serious trouble. The plane was loaded with 2,500 gallons (10,000 litres) of high-octane fuel and 8,000 pounds (3,700 kilograms) of bombs. Art immediately throttled back all four engines and as the four propellers dug into the ground, the plane stopped. The plane was on fire leaving very little time for the crew to escape.

The rear gunner dropped from the back of the plane, causing his neck to break, the rest of the crew got out without further incident and Art escaped through the cockpit escape hatch. It was Art's quick actions that stopped the plane before it crashed and with no lives lost. Immediately after the crew cleared the wreckage, the plane exploded leaving a huge crater in the ground. The force of the explosion threw the crew, but they were alive.

Art recalls running away from the plane with his crew. While he was running he remembers a tractor passing him hauling another plane.

"I remember the plane was 'R' Roger. I was also thinking it was quick thinking by that person to pull that plane out of dangers way," said Art.

Fifteen years later, while Art was working for Swift Canada in Moose Jaw, he visited a local farm and while talking to the farmer noticed a framed picture of a man in uniform on the mantle. He asked who the Air Force officer was and the farmer replied that it was himself. As Art always does when he meets an Air Force veteran, he asked where he was stationed. The farmer replied Yorkshire. When Art asked if he remembered the big explosion the farmer replied 'Do I! I was working in the maintenance building when I saw the flames. I jumped on a tractor and headed out to the runway and hooked up to "R" Rogers and got it out of the way.' Art then told him he was the pilot of the burning plane.

Although this accident was life-threatening, it was the mission of November 4, 1944, that had the most devastating outcome and ultimately ended Art's flying career.

Art and his crew left East Moor on a bombing mission into Germany's Ruhr Valley. As they approached their target they came under attack from the ground and the air. Art continued to fly into the drop zone, releasing all the bombs on his target. As the engineer checked the bomb bay to ensure all the bombs had been released he was struck by flack. This created a serious problem for Art. As a pilot he relied heavily on his engineer to keep the plane flying.

"I hadn't even closed the bomb doors yet. A burst of flack hit, right, we figured it was right between the wing and the tail plate. And one piece of flack came through and hit my engineer right in the leg. He pressed his microphone and said skipper I'm hit in the leg. I said hang on I'll get help for you, which I did. At that height it was thin air and he lost all his blood. He bled to death. I got the boys to him with portable oxygen bottles but it was too late. He was dead. He was the only married one on the crew."

The bomber and myself took over the job. You have to switch tanks to make sure that every engine, all four of them, has gas behind them and going into them. There's a series of cogs on his dash board and you have to know how to work them."

So between the bomber and Art, they switched the cogs and kept it going until they got to England.

Once over England he radioed to have a doctor meet them. Art had managed to safely land the plane in Woodbridge, England. It had been a long two and a half hour flight back. The doctor did meet the plane and immediately checked the injured engineer. Unfortunately he confirmed the sad news. The engineer was dead.

"They sent down another engineer from the squadron near York and he was my engineer until we got back to the squadron in Yorkshire. The commanding officer called me in not too long after we got back and he wanted to know what happened and I told him. He said, "Art they almost got you on your 30th trip to Dusseldorf, now they really got you on this trip to the Ruhr Valley. You've only got one trip to go but I don't think you'd better do it." I thought, now there's a gentleman. We shook hands and I said, 'That's all right with me.' The whole crew felt the same way. That was the end of my flying career."

I went on to a desk job and signed all the railway warrants and dished out leaves. I did that for quite a while and then I was posted to Canada. I went to Warrington in England to the disembarkation station, then by troop train to Glasgow, Scotland where we boarded the Aquitania and went on to Halifax, Nova Scotia."

From Nova Scotia, he made his way across Canada arriving back home to live with his mother.

On March 15, 1945, Art was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by the Vice Marshall of the Royal Canadian Air Force in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  The award was for many successful operations against the enemy in which he displayed high skill, fortitude and devotion to duty.

After serving his country, Art settled down in Saskatchewan where he met his wife of more than 60 years.  Ironically, Josephine was also enlisted in the Canadian Military, but she was under the age of 21 and was not permitted to go overseas. Josephine remained in Canada where she was assigned to transport duties with the Army. Upon their engagement, the military allowed Josephine to be discharged so she could marry her recently retired Air Force pilot.

Art began his new career with Swift Canadian and remained in the province of Saskatchewan, raising two daughters and a son.

In 1965, they moved their family to Ontario. Art continued working for Swift Canadian until his retirement in 1986.

Following his retirement, Art remained active by golfing, bowling and challenging anyone to a game of bridge.

Art and Josephine now reside in Newmarket where they remain close to their family and friends.

When asked if there was a secret to more than 60 years of marriage to life-long companion and soul mate Jo, he laughed.

"Keep your mouth shut." 

Well said Art!

Photo Gallery: Art Gault will appear here on the public site.