(Clifford Bird - Tail gunner in 460 Squadron RAAF)
by 12 year old Suzy Bird

An award winning speech at her school in Southern Ontario, Canada



Ms Weatherall and fellow classmates this year I am doing my speech on my Grandpa Bird. As you can probably tell he flew in an airplane, the airplane was a Lancaster Bomber and he was in it during World War II. Let me tell you about his life before the War. Clifford Daniel Bird was born in 1924. He was named after my Great Grandpa Daniel Clifford Bird, are you confused? Never mind, so am I, even more confusing is that my brother’s middle name is Daniel after both of them!

My Grandpa is the only son born to Alice and Daniel Clifford Bird.  Grandpa has a wonderful sister who is my Auntie Doris. Grandpa’s family lived in the Niagara area while he grew up. He learned the value of hard work while doing his paper route. During the summers while he was in high school, Grandpa helped to build war planes. World War II was on at that time. World War II started in 1939, when Grandpa was 15 years old. Between grade 11 and 12 he built bombers called Mosquitoes. Between grades 12 and 13, he built Lancaster bombers. When he later went to Europe to fly in the war, he flew in a Lancaster. Maybe it was one that he built! After high school, he joined the Air Force. He was taught how to fly planes in Saskatchewan. He had 45 hours of pilot time in a single engine plane. Then, Grandpa was shipped out to England. He was based in the North part of England at a base near the town of Binbrook. This gave him a chance to visit the relatives in England. He was trained to be an air gunner, and graduated as an officer gunner. There were about 120 people that took the air gunner training. They took the best three and made them officers.

The Lancaster bomber had a crew of seven men. There were two pilots, a navigator, a bomb aimer, and three gunners. Grandpa was the tail gunner. His job would be to sit in the back of the plane and shoot at planes that chased his bomber. Training was necessary once he got to England and during this time, he flew on missions over Nazi Germany to drop bundles of tin foil, to fool the German's radar. The German fighter planes would chase the tin foil, while the real planes would be able to fly safely to bomb the enemy.

One of Grandpa’s missions on the Lancaster was to drop food to the hungry in Holland. Thousands of years ago God dropped food called ‘manna’ from heaven down to earth to feed the hungry. Because of that my Grandpa’s food drop mission was code-named "manna." They loaded up the airplanes with food instead of bombs and flew very low over Holland dropping out food and water to the people waving below. A special route for the airplanes to fly was agreed to by the Allies and the Germans. Last year a man that was one of the many people who almost starved opened a new subdivision in Southampton, Onrtario, Canada and called it Manna, after the missions that Grandpa flew, that saved him from starving to death.

The Lancaster bomber was made in Canada by Avro and was the beginning of the aviation industry in Canada. There is still one flying today out of the Hamilton air museum. My grandfather also flew in a Wellington. Before you could go in the war you were taught not to let the deaths of many friends and relatives hurt you. During the training, one of Grandpa's planes lost an engine and they attempted to land in a muddy farmer’s field. The plane was hard to control, and they crashed hard in a firery storm. The plane blew up and everyone was killed except Grandpa. He was in the very tail of the plane and managed to roll out of the back door.

He joined a new crew on a new plane and then one day, a substitute tail gunner was placed with Grandpa's crew as Grandpa had to complete some air exercises with another crew. His regular crew crashed, destroying his second plane, and killing everyone aboard. He was then put in a holding unit to get together with a third crew, and a third plane. There was a crew from Australia that needed a tail gunner. My Grandpa joined them, because Australia was on our side during the war. The crew had seven men all together, six from Australia who wore Australian uniforms and my Grandpa who wore a Canadian uniform. It was 30 to 40 degrees below zero up in the air so the servicemen had to wear electrically heated suits and slippers under their uniforms while flying. The heater in the planes just was not enough to keep the men warm.

When the training was complete, his crew began going on bombing raids to Germany. The safety of the crew and bomber depended on my Grandpa to shoot down any German planes that chased their bomber. I am glad that he was a good shot. Sitting in the back of the plane in the tail section Grandpa had four 303 machine guns that all fired simultaneously. Later in the war he had two .50mm machine guns and a 20-mm cannon that shot exploding bullets. These weapons would shoot the enemy planes down in just one good shot.

Flying at night was the best time to shoot down the enemy planes. It was very hard to see targets in the dark but it was much safer for him and his crew because the Germans could not see them either. The way they could see their targets was that another plane that they call the Pathfinder would fly ahead and drop flares on the target. They were looking for cities, factories, and things like submarine docks as their targets. In defense the Germans also were trying to shoot down their enemy. They would use large search lights and have large guns to shoot at their targets. You always hoped that your plane did not get in the path of a search light. My Grandpa flew in the tail of the plane to shoot down any planes that tried to attack them. The crews of these bombers were very brave to fly through the enemy bullets to bomb the factories that were producing weapons to attack England. They also were very brave to fly in and bomb Hitler’s house. They did not kill Hitler but they sure blew up his house!

In a normal raid close to one thousand planes would be sent out and 100 would never return to base. All planes had parachutes but when hit you never had time to even get to the door of your plane to get out before the plane blew up.

Germany was trying to take over the world and the only way we could stop them was by force. In 1945 the war ended and most of the countries got together and formed the United Nations. The United Nations runs out of a building in New York, and almost all countries are represented there. Their plan is to sort things out by diplomacy rather than war.  Many of my Grandpa and Grandmas friend were killed in World War II. These people died for us so now we live in peace and freedom. We remember all those who died every November 11 that is Remembrance Day. My Grandpa came home from World War II where he attended the University of Toronto where he earned a degree in Economics. Love found my Grandpa when he met a young nurse named Audrey Cameron who is now my grandma. My Grandpa was married to Audrey not long after University and they raised 4 boys: my Uncle John, my dad Larry, my Uncle Bims or James and my Uncle Don. My brothers and I are the only grandchildren so far. I am very glad to have had a Grandfather fight in the war and help make it possible for there to be peace on earth and for me to be here today.

Suzy Bird


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This page first produced 12 April 1998

This page last updated 22 February 2020