It was a warm summer day. Bill Baird stood in a field beside his school chum, David Kelly, harvesting the crop on their farm near Forrestburg as his family worked nearby. Suddenly, they heard a low buzz humming on the horizon. He recalls never having heard anything quite like it.
Moments later two low flying tiger moth bi-planes flew over head. It was the first airplane Baird had ever seen, but as World War II ragedin the world around him – he knew at that moment it wouldn’t be his last.
“I remember my dad saying it looked like an apple box with a motor in it,” recalls Baird. “I’m suprised the things even flew.”
That night, following dinner, he asked to speak with his mom and dad.
“I want to join the air force,” he remembers telling them as a look of worry came across their faces. “My mom said to me she was proud ofme wanting to enlist but that I was never to fly an airplane or she would never sleep at night.”
Grudgingly he agreed, and away his parents took him to Edmonton to enlist at the age of 20.
Baird recollects the enlistees were given a half hour to complete the exam. He finished it in 10 minutes, in that time he did the test twiceto verify his answers. He walked to the front of the classroom and handed it in.
“I told him I’d already done it twice,” said Baird. “So he agreed to mark it early for me and with the time left I could go back and fix anyanswers – but I never ended up having to fix anything. He came back and said to me as serious as could be, ‘I’m very pleased with yourtest… you’re going to be a pilot’.
“I just turned to him and said ‘Well no sir, I’m not – I made a promise to my mother’.”
Baird took pride in his intellect, but knew he shouldn’t disobey his mother’s wishes and to this day does not regret his decision to turndown the position. With his intellect and knowledge of machinery from his life on the farm, he was placed as a aeronautic mechanicalengineer for the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Following his training in St. Thomas, Ontario he journey to Montreal where he worked on the first Lancaster plane to come to Canada –then, he was off to Europe where he journeyed to England, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. It was his sole responsibility to ensuretwo bombers in his squadron were operational day after day.
During his time over seas, which ranged from 1942 -1946, Comrade Baird saw first hand a number of historical days. On June 30, 1944,he and his squadron approached Juno Beach en route to a forward landing strip near Bayeux.
“There was a rumor there was a 75% casualty rate for the Allies there,” he remembers. “It was so loud you couldn’t hear yourself think, weweren’t into the beach yet – the boats were all firing in and the Germans were up on a bank firing down at the boats.”
“I remember saying to the fellas – it was nice knowing you. I remember landing on the beach, getting the truck off the boat, and shell aftershell of artillery going off around us, shrapnel falling all around us. For two months that went on – both sides fired for 23 hours a day,then for one hour a day during the dead of night both the Germans and the Allied boats would stop firing.”
Finally the Allies pushed through and he was off to Belgium for a few weeks. Then it was off to Holland where his life would changeforever. After a few weeks, finally their commanding officer agreed to allow them to journey into the nearest town from their base,Eindhoven.
He and a comrade decided on this particular night to skip the usual show the other members of their squadron were planning to attendand instead opted to find a dancehall.
“We walked in with our rifles, found a table and sat them nearby. We started looking around when we spotted two girls dancing alone,”recalls Baird, stating one was ‘husky’ – the other was smaller, prettier and radiantly glowing as she twirled around the floor. “My friendsaid, ‘I call the little one’. I turned to him and said ‘Not a chance, I outrank you’ and that was that. Five months later on April 17, 1945Truce and I were married and we were married for over 60 years.”
The day he met his wife Truce, wasn’t the only exciting day in Eindhoven. He still remembers New Year’s Day of 1945.
Following weeks of bad weather, the air was finally clear leaving open skies for the Luftwaffe,a German aerial warfare branch, to maketheir last large scale strategic operation during the war. It just so happened the base they were bombing that day was the one Baird wasstationed at. Baird was armed only with his camera that day and took a number of photos as the Germans destroyed their airfield. Hisphotos were later featured in a book titled ‘Bodenplatte: The Luftwaffe’s Last Hope – The Attack on Allied Airfields’.
Following the war Baird, now 93 years old, returned to Canada and has been a member of the Royal Canadian Legion for 69 years. He hasrecieved the 1939-1945 star, the France and Germany Star, the Defence Medal, the War Medal and the Canada Volunteer Service Medal w/bar as well as was awarded with the rank of Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour.