By Malcolm Uhlman, Greenwood Military Aviation Museum|
David Patrick (Pat) Gilbert was born in 1923 in Kenora, Ontario and
grew up 380 kilometers south in Thunder Bay. His father
was wounded twice at Vimy Ridge in WWI, so the family experienced the personal dangers of war. In 1943, at the age of 19,
this young Canadian felt it his duty to join the war effort. The rough and tumble of Army life didn't appeal to him, and he had
promised his mother he would not fly in the RCAF,so he enrolled as ground crew. During basic training in Edmonton, further testing indicated he was more valuable
|Pat Gilbert with Painting of the Bolingbroke|
as air crew, and he began training as a wireless air gunner (WAG)withholding this information from his mother.
| Wireless Air Gunner Wings|
His initial period took him to Vancouver for training with WETP, Wartime Emergency Training Plan, and radio flight training
was done in the rudimentary radio
equipment used at the time, which included three interchangeable
Harvard aircraft. Gilbert remembers the coils: T-53, T-54 and T-55, yielding three different frequency areas - all in the low-frequency bands. He graduated transmitting 25 words
per minute using Morse code, and then took a navigational course flying in the Norseman, logging lots of night-time hours of
Lethbridge, Alberta was where D.P.Gilbert encountered the Bolingbroke. Here he was immersed in a six-week
course in gunnery training in the dorsal turret, the regular course
being a full three months. A simple, but effective, routine
to start the course was, not surprisingly, skeet shooting. What an appropriate way to practice shooting at a moving
target! Now, if YOU are also moving, it's a whole different ball game. He was instructed with a single barrel,
Browning .303 machine gun. Firing a machine gun was not just pulling the trigger, but included target vectoring, judging
distance, speed etc. of both the target aircraft and one's own. He was trained to "sleep with your gun" - meaning the student
had to know it inside and out, as combat required instant or automatic reaction.
| Bristol Bolingbroke|
At Lethbridge, the RCAF used a Lysander
to tow the drogue chutes for gunnery practice firing from Bolingbrokes.
A student was given a strip of 300 bullets for the day's exercise, each were colour-coded with different colour wax. Piercing
the fabric of the drogue, each student's bullet left a distinct colour around the hole, showing the accuracy of each student. Pat,
in fact, won the Silver Bullet award as the best marksman in his class. Pat recalls it did not take long to empty his daily allotment
of 300 rounds with the Browning. During these testing exercises, three students were crammed in the mid-section of the Boly, each
taking his turn in the turret firing on the drogue. Three Bolingbrokes lined up in tandem formation during each firing exercise.
Not surprisingly, Pat was left with permanent hearing damage due to the din within the cramped confines of the dorsal turret.
A distinct memory for Pat was the "J-switch" at his radio station in the Bolingbroke. This three-position switch enabled him to
transmit Morse code and have voice intercom with his pilot and his bomb aimer at the front of the aircraft. On occasion, one would
inadvertently select the incorrect position and send loud "dits and dahs" into one or the other's earphones - not endearing him
to the rest of the crew. Also, in the radio station mid-fuselage of the Bolingbroke was a 100-foot retractable wire radio antenna
wrapped on a spool and deployed by the WAG. With a lead weight on the end of the antenna, it would fly behind the aircraft.
The radio operator, however, had to remember to wind it in if the aircraft was landing or at low altitude because the antenna
would destroy itself if it struck the ground - and, for losing the antenna, a fine of a day's pay was imposed on the WAG. Some
pilots were known to suddenly dip to a low altitude, causing the antenna to snag, resulting in its loss and a fine for the poorer
Fate intervened in Gilbert's career
at Lethbridge: he contracted chicken pox, which delayed his course, graduation as a WAG
and promotion to sergeant. The war came to a close shortly after his graduation, negating the next part of his career: going
overseas to the war a gunner in, no doubt, the Lancaster bomber.
Four years after the war, Pat earned his commercial pilot's license and flew his own aircraft - an Aeronca Champion - for several
years in the
northern part of the Canadian west. After marriage, his wife, a registered nurse, preferred that he not fly, so Gilbert
sold his beloved aircraft and finished his working career with the Canadian Pacific Railway at Thunder Bay. He still lives in Thunder
Bay, near his brother. Pat visits his son, David, and family in Nova Scotia, where David is an RCAF pilot and his grandson Pat, a
biology student, received his private pilot's license through the Air Cadet program - a multi-generational flying family indeed!