Former RCAF pilot recalls the time prior to D-Day

Al Walsh was just seven years old when D-Day took place on June 6, 1944.

The former Royal Canadian Air Force Captain said that period of his life was terrifying, as he heard the many reports about atrocities, casualties, the damages and the thousands of lives that were lost during that Second World War.

Walsh, 82, said he had relatives, as well as many people he and his family were acquainted with from their hometown of Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland that were involved in that war.

Being young, Walsh said, they lived in constant fear. His father Augustus Joseph Walsh, who was a First World War veteran and fought in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, was always vigilant, constantly monitoring reports and listening to the news.

“We always had blackouts every night,” Walsh recalled. “We had to put huge curtains on the windows. The Germans were off Newfoundland. They actually came in St. John’s Harbour. They did via submarines. We were scared. We didn’t know the whole danger. It was frightening. I was only seven years old. It was nerve-wracking.”

When the news of the success of the Allied forces’ invasion of Normandy came out, Walsh vividly recalls the involvement of Canadian soldiers on Juno Beach of the Normandy coast in France.

“The great cost of lives at Juno Beach that’s one of the things that I remembered the most,” said Walsh. “When the Nazis were defeated, there was a lot of jubilation, a lot of praise, a lot of people where happy that it was over and done with. It was quite an event. It’s always stuck in my mind.”

D-Day is considered to be one of the most pivotal battles in the Second World War that led to the eventual downfall of Nazi Germany.

“D-Day changed the world. That was the turning point,” said Walsh. “If that hadn’t occurred, who knows what would have happened to us.”

Later on in his life, Walsh decided to enlist with the Royal Canadian Air Force as an airman.

“I wanted to fly, to travel and see the world,” said Walsh. “I was a pilot before I joined as my regular job was aircraft maintenance engineer with Transport Canada. I used that licence in the air force.”

Walsh spent two tours in Germany one in the Middle East at Sinai Desert where he transported people and supplies to troops. He is proud of the years he spent with the RCAF, which he said spanned 41 years, 11 months and seven days.

“It was a very, very good experience for me,” said Walsh. “It broadened my knowledge of the world and I loved it.”

Walsh celebrates D-Day, as well as other events such as Remembrance Day, every year. He is a member of The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 76 and 888 Wing Royal Canadian Air Force Association. On June 6, Walsh will take part in the 888 Wing’s celebration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

“I am very, very grateful for the success of that mission,” said Walsh. “That success, all the lives that were sacrificed for that particular battle, I get so emotional about it. Who knows what would have happened? I am so grateful for the people who fought and gave their lives.”

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