TIMMINS – When the Americans officially joined the war effort after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Canadians had already been at war for a little almost three years.
Both the troops and the people they left behind at home were battle hardened and used to the drill, so to speak. Every corner of the then British Empire was affected by the conflict – and that means we here in Timmins were not any different.
The early days of 1942 saw some tragic news for the community. Sgt. Pilot B. O’Neill, the first airman from Timmins to receive his “wings” in the Royal Canadian Air Force (from this area, that is), was reported missing in action after being on a bombing flight “somewhere in Europe”.
Sgt. Pilot O’Neill graduated in May 1941 at Uplands (the RCAF training grounds in Ottawa). He was transferred overseas soon after his graduation and took part in a number of raids over Europe. While some people tend to romanticize the life of an RCAF pilot during the war, the job was anything but easy.
According to the Royal Air Force website, “Wartime flying, piloting a 350 mph fighter daily to within an inch of your life, was in fact a deadly serious business requiring a cool head and a steady, calculating nerve. Only a fool would treat it casually as, if he did, he would soon be bounced by an Me 109 and become another name on a war memorial.”
It was estimated that the lifespan of air crews during the battle of Britain was an optimistic four weeks – and not because they weren’t taking the job seriously! The work was just plain dangerous. Many of the men had clocked in about one hour flying time in their planes before being sent on a run.
Sgt. Pilot O’Neill, son of Joseph and Isabelle O’Neill was one of 17,397 RCAF airmen who lost their lives in Second World War. He was 23 years of age when he died on Jan. 2nd, 1942.
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