We remember

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You probably didn't see Otterville's Grant Wilson Mountain at Tillsonburg's annual Remembrance Day service Tuesday morning at the cenotaph.

The 92-year-old Second World War veteran was a backseat passenger in Martin Mattes' L-29 'Dolphin' jet when Mattes, Danny Richer in his BAC Strikemast er, and Larry Lysiuk in a T-28, performed a three-plane fly over just after 11 a.m.

Mountain was an aircraft electrician in Britain during the war, signing up at the age of 19 in 1942. He went overseas in 1943 and his aircraft bases ranged from the tip of England to the northern extreme of Scotland.

"I worked on Beaufighters – they carried 20mm cannon and eight rockets, Mosquitoes, and Liberators."

He remembers his first base, which had just been taken over by Canadians for the headquarters of a six-week bomber command.

"That was the only station I ever knew that was completely Canadian. This was going to be a Canadian station run by Canadians. I don't know if there was another one on the whole island."

Mountain did not go over with a trade, but he was soon given the opportunity to learn two jobs -- telephone repairman and movie theatre operator.

"When I went over there I wasn't anything, just a GD. I can't even remember what the initials stand for now. I didn't know what I wanted to do. I knew I didn't want to fly, but I didn't know what kind of trade I wanted."

He also fell in love with a local English girl. It didn't end well.

Relocated to take an electrician course – his girlfriend was a secretary to the officer who reposted him – he was sent south.

"While I was down there, I wrote a letter to tell her how much I missed her. I never got one in return. She planned the whole thing. She knew she wasn't going to come to Canada and she knew I wasn't going to stay in Scotland. I cried for a couple months."

That's when he was posted to the north.

"You couldn't get any further north than that because you're next to the North Sea. But there's where my luck started, again."

For three months, he learned every nook and cranny of the Beaufighter, and finally he was told, "I can't teach you any more."

He was given a temporary assignment on the Shetland Islands to fix two aircraft.

"We had to fly about 250 miles in a two-seater, about 50 feet above the deck. We used to fly underneath the radar – not very quick though. I suppose we were running about 240 (mph)."

He remembers a storm came through the islands one day with 100 mph winds. Mountain and crews spent the day sandbagging and tying down wings.

His flight back in bad weather was even more memorable, riding with a group of mechanics in one of three twin Cessnas.

"I'm sitting in the doorway with my feet down the well – I had trouble sitting on the floor with my legs out straight. All of a sudden the pilot says, 'where's the third aircraft?'"

The third aircraft had veered off course, then flew back into the path of the other two. It missed Mountain's plane by inches, and collided with the other one.

"They dropped down about 500 feet and landed and we came home alone. We were coming to land and the pilot said, 'what direction from here?' I said 'we got to go west.' And he said, 'you better be right because we're out of gas.'"

Two days later, he was talking to one of the mechanics who crash-landed and asked what it was like.

"He said 'well, first we were on the floor, then we're on the ceiling, then we're back down on the floor again... I said 'I was looking out the door.' He said, 'if you'd been looking out our door you would have been killed because the guy put his wing tip through it. Took five feet off the end of his wing – we thought we were going to fall out the door.' They landed okay – didn't need much runway, just dropped it in."

Toward the end of the war, while the Allies were still fighting Japan, Mountain was re-posted to a squadron about to be shipped to India. He had to take a two-week course on the supercharger aircraft engine with a corporal from his squadron.

"At the end of that time, this corporal said to me, let's go back up to Scotland for holiday. So we were up there for two or three days and we got a telegram. We didn't know if we were going straight to India or what was going on. We go back to the squadron – it was the 2nd of September – and Japan capitulated that day. We stayed with that squadron almost a week, and finally a girl came up and said 'you guys get your gear together, you're leaving here. You're going to a repatriation depot.'"

'We're going home?' Mountain had asked.


So Mountain and another serviceman went to a repatriation depot the next morning, full of men waiting to go home. The next morning, Mountain and one other made it through... only to be sent to another repatriation depot. The next morning, another depot.

"And the next morning we were at the boat," Mountain smiled. "On the 21st of September, I was home. The squadron I was with didn't get home till Christmas time. Someone centred us out."

Years later, doing a history of his squadron, he was told to get out that quick, you had to be 'related to the king and queen.' We never knew why. Someone singled us out and looked after us."

Returning home, he got into the printing business, then barbered for 40 years.


Late Monday morning, Mountain said he was looking forward to Tuesday's L-29 fly over.

"Dan (Richer), one of the other pilots, said 'Grant, the flight isn't going to be much... one of the problems is getting you into the thing.'"

Mountain laughed. "He said, 'We might have to get a skyhook and drop you in.'

"I was quite thrilled to be asked. I'm quite honoured. And to tell you the truth, I'm also very surprised because... you see... we (electricians/mechanics) didn't do any fighting."

But he's Canadian. And proud of the job they did.

"I remember a guy, Eddie Lee, and he's got a pair of rubber boots, half cut off. A pair of issue trousers. Turtleneck sweater, no hat. Well usually, if you're in a training place you're in a collar and tie and you walk at attention. This old CO walks over and asks one of our guys, 'who's that?' He had never seen a Canadian before. We never saluted any officers. We just went to work, we did our jobs."



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