- This Article was written by Marie Fischer and published in May 2009 Edition of “Briar Crier” -
“The Navy can lose us the war, but only the Air Force can win it. Therefore our supreme effort must be to gain overwhelming mastery in the air. The Fighters are our salvation, but the Bombers alone provide the means of victory.” British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Summer, 1940 – WW2
A boy, Royce, and his friend Bunny (Arthur Ludlow), while on their time off from picking vegetables in the Holland Marsh, decided it would be fun to rent a plane at Barker Airfield in Mississauga, and so that’s what they did. As the pilot flew the boys around, they excitedly requested him to “Get Lower! Get Lower! Lower!”. As the plane dipped, the boys opened a window and threw stones they had tied to ribbons before getting on the craft at the workers below. When later told that they could have killed somebody, Royce responded with “We’re better aimers than that. We didn’t aim for them!”.
On May 23rd(2009) Royce Bertram Mabee, along with several other war veterans, will be inducted into the Veterans hall of Valour at a banquet being held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Ottawa.
Royce, the son of Bert and Ethel Mabee, was born in Schomberg, Ontario in 1923. Until he enlisted in the RCAF, Royce worked on his father’s farm on the 12th Line of King, near Schomberg.
Royce enlisted in the RCAF on October 1, 1942, at the age of 19. He commenced initial training later that year, at various bombing and gunnery schools in Ontario, where he also received considerable training in navigation. Because Royce chose the post of Bomb Aimer, he received training in every position in heavy bombers. Following his Canadian training, Royce Bertram Mabee received his commission as Pilot Officer and was posted to the Canadian holding station at South Maitland, Nova Scotia to await his trip to England.
On arrival in England, Royce received further training on various types of aircraft, including single engine, as well as two and four engine types of aircraft. Royce met his crew at the training station at Honeybourne, with Pilot Sargeant Andrew McNeil, as well as five other Sargeants, making a crew of seven men who were to become staunch friends that would depend on each other for their lives for the remainder of the war. Royce’s crew was part of the 431 Squardron (Iroquois Squandron). The crew was assigned a new Lancaster Bomber ‘K’ (for King), a four engine aircraft which they flew in on their first night bombing operation. Upon returning to base, the aircraft was put in for repairs from anti-aircraft fire, as well as damage from German night fighters. Repairs to the aircraft were needed after every subsequent flight made over enemy land.
The crew of the Iroquois Squadron flew both day and night. It was hard to say what time of day was more hazardous. While night missions provided for some protection from enemy fighter aircraft, the aircraft and crew were not protected from anti-aircraft fire that, with the help of searchlights, could be deadly accurate. In addition, with many large bombers over a target area over a short period of time, night missions were vulnerable to mid-air collisions. On daylight missions, between the time the aircraft left range of their own fighter protection and the time they got back into range of that protection, the aircraft and crew were wide open to enemy fighter aircraft and had to rely on their own guns. The four-engine planes (big and strong enough to almost carry their own weight again), were no match, however, for the enemy fighters. While Iroquois Squadron was over the target area, the enemy anti-aircraft guns generally had a clear view of the sky full of very large four engine planes. Over 60 percent (9,900 Canadians) of air crew who began a tour of 30 missions lost their live before completing their tour.
On the way home, with still many miles to go before they would meet the protection of their own fighters, those fortunate to have survived the flight out, were met by enemy fighters that had been refueled and re-armed and were waiting for the vulnerable aircraft. It had already been a very long day! The crew operated in cramped conditions, and at night, temperature in the turrets frequently fell to minus 40 degrees. Frostbite was common.
Soon after May 6, 1945, Royce volunteered for flying service in the Pacific, against Japan. He was sent home and arrived in Canada on June 23, 1945, and after a 30-day leave, he was posted to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia for more training. With the end of the war in Japan, Royce’s training was ended and he was discharged in September, 1945 with a commission of Flying Officer.
Upon his return home, Royce skipped the welcome awaiting the soldiers returning from war to be with his fiancé, Ruth Atchison, and his family. He drove directly to Toronto to pick Ruth up, and then the two of them drove to Schomberg to be with family. Royce married Ruth one week later, on June 30th, in Schomberg, where they settled down to raise their two children: son Daniel and daughter Dale.
Royce, like most war veterans, prefers not to recall the memories of his years in the war. He did, however, tell me a couple of stories.
After dropping their bombs, the pilot of the Lancaster Bomber “K” aircraft would dip the nose of the plane down in order to pick up speed and quickly descend out of range of enemy aircraft. Because bombs were carried at the back of the Lancaster and the four guns were in the nose of the plane, enemy aircraft always attacked from the back. On a night that was so black you couldn’t see your hand held up in front of your face, Royce had quite the shock when another Lancaster Bomber passed directly in front of them. (The wing span of a Lancaster is over 100 feet and the aircraft about 80’ long.) The Bomber was so close, Royce believed he could have reached out and touched it. All he could think about was the parachute at the back of the plane that he wouldn’t be able to gert to in time. His life on the farm came back to him in a flash. The words that came out of his mouth were “Whoa Skipper, whoa!!”… lots to laugh about later!
Royce is a humble man, who although an officer, preferred to eat with the junior ranks in their Mess Hall, rather than in the Officers Dining Room, where the junior ranks were not allowed. He says he needed and wanted the friendship of the men he served with. Veterans will tell you that, once at war, it is not Queen and country that motivates them to fight for what they believe in and survive; it’s the men at their side.
Over the Years, Royce enjoyed several occupations, including farming, owning a gas station in Woodbridge, and in 1965, Royce started a very successful career in real estate, working alongside his wife in their business Ruth Mabee Co. Ltd., Realtor. Royce and Ruth retired to Green Briar in 2008. They are now enjoying a quiet life and time spent with family and friends.
On May 23rd (2009) Royce, along with several other war veterans, will be inducted into the Veterans Hall of Valour at a banquet being held at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Ottawa. Royce says he doesn’t know what all the “ballyhoo” is about. His wife, Ruth, however, has no trouble reminding him that he does deserve the honour. He did, after all, volunteer his life for his country. Royce showed me the aircraft identification flash cards he still has before I left. The cards were used to teach the gunners to recognize whether approaching aircraft were friendly or foe. I think Royce does (quietly) appreciate our gratitude.
Royce got 75 cents extra a day for flying over Germany.
email address is mariefischer @ briarcrier . ca
Pilot - Pilot Officer Andy McNeil
Co-Pilot/Engineer - Sgt. Sammy Salmon of RAF
Navigator - Sgt. Gus Burgess
Wireless Operator - Sgt. Lorne Kerr
Mid-Upper Gunner - Sgt. Andy Elder
Tail Gunner - Sgt. Roy Topp
Bomb Aimer/Front Gunner/Navigational Instrument Operator - Flying Officer Royce Mabee
Royce died August 31, 2011 after major stroke
This page updated April 26, 2016.