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Flying veteran remembers the horrors of war

By Don Fennell

Published 3:18 PDT, Fri November 1, 2019

Last Updated: 3:19 PDT, Fri November 1, 2019

It was 1942, three years into the Second World War, and Doug Milton felt he had no choice but to enlist.

“I was still in high school when the war broke out,” remembers Milton, now 98 and living at The Maple Residences in Steveston. “I got involved in the air force in 1942. I was living in Regina at that time and pretty well everybody was signing up. As a matter of fact, as your walked down the street people were pinning white feathers on young, healthy guys. It wasn’t too pleasant. You pretty well felt you had to sign up. Life was pretty miserable for guys that didn’t.”

Milton was sent to the Manning Depot in Brandon, Manitoba. After a spell there, he returned to Regina to attend the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Elementary Flying Training School.

“I started out to be a pilot but realized I wasn’t going to be a good pilot, so I remustered,” he says. “I actually went back to the Manning Depot, then to Portage la Prairie (Manitoba) to start learning to be a navigator. Eventually I got commissioned out of that.”

Heading overseas in 1943 and began operational training in northern Scotland before moving on to York, England with the 77 Squadron Royal Flying Corps. He wound up flying Halifax bombers, completing 43 missions over Germany.

Milton still isn’t sure how, or why, he was able to survive.

“I remember getting shot at, and guns exploding all around us,” he says. “What I particularly remember is one flight over Essen. We got so badly shot up that when we got back to base there were so many holes in (the plane) that they scrapped it. It wasn’t worth fixing.”

He says he didn’t think much about the missions at the time, believing it was simply his job. But he knows now the likelihood of surviving dropped exponentially after 10 missions.

Following the war, Milton bid adieu to flying and returned home to Canada, taking advantage of an opportunity extended veterans to get a four-year university degree in three years—by working through summers. In 1948, he earned his Bachelor of Commerce degree and became a Chartered accountant.

Later that year, his wife’s sister moved to the West Coast and Doug and his wife soon followed suit.

“I spent the rest of my (working) life sitting behind a desk, working mostly for the government in national revenue,” Milton says. “It was a pretty good job, and as a matter of fact I became director of appeals for Western Canada.”

But in moving to the West Coast, Milton left a job in Saskatoon he had begun during the summer, working for a man named Charlie Hay at Hi-Way Refinery. At first, he wasn’t sure if he would regret leaving it behind.

“(Hay) took a liking to me, so he wanted me to come back there,” Milton says. “A couple of years later, Gulf Oil took over the refinery. I would have gotten a position in New York if I had stayed with them. Overall, though, I’ve never regretted the move here.”

But with this Remembrance Day upon us, Milton is reminded of the horrors of war.

“It’s a terrible thing and should be avoided. It doesn’t do anybody any good. Instead, be friendly. Make love, not war.”

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