MARTIN McGINNIS enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force on December 18,
1940. He was thirty-four years old. He lost the sight in an
eye in 1941, working on a plane at the airbase in Dartmouth, Nova
Scotia. He was entitled to a medical discharge, but remained in the
RCAF. A year later, he had the first of several heart attacks while playing
tug-of-war at a training base in Fingal, Ont. He married my mother, Agnes
Murphy, on November 27, 1943. He served till October, 1945, when
he finally received his discharge papers.
Losing the eye may have been the best thing that happened to him -- Canadian air crews overseas had a 1 in 3 chance of surviving the bombing raids on Germany. In his mid-thirties, and blind in one eye, it was pretty unlikely that my father would have joined an air crew, but bases were bombed and strafed, and ground crew injured working on damaged and burning planes. Sgt. Bill McGinnis stayed in Canada, however, servicing planes on their way to England and Europe at a succession of air bases in Ontario and the Maritimes.
These letters are all that remain of my father's correspondence with my mother throughout the war. My sister and I found them in a worn, fake suede wallet, tucked into a plastic shopping bag full of photos that our mother constantly browsed through in the last years of her life. The letters from the first four years -- their courtship, his accident, and their marriage -- are missing, as are all of my mother's letters, perhaps discarded during a soldier's constant moves or thrown out, like many things were, after his death in 1968.
Sergeant Bill McGinnis and Agnes Murphy had been married for barely nine months when this first letter was written.
- Rick McGinnis
Rockcliffe air base was just outside Ottawa, where my father was part of
the 168 Heavy Transport Squadron. He had previously been stationed
at the Dartmouth NS, Torbay Nfld, and Fingal Ont. air bases.
168 Squadron converted and flew B-17 and B-24 bombers, operating the tran-Atlantic mail service to troops in Europe. The unit had been formed just the year before.
Bill McGinnis had been promoted to sergeant the previous year, having moved
up from air corporal 2nd class. He would become a flight sergeant in two
months time. For RCAF records, he was #R85755.
|*My mother and father had honeymooned in Montreal the previous year.|