My dad, flight-lieutenant Bruce Mitchell enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and learned to fly in 1941, when he was just 18. After basic training he was stationed in Northern England and flew U-Boat patrols over the North Sea. During one mission, the engines on his Anson aircraft failed and his only option was to land belly-first on the open water. He managed to bring the plane down safely, giving the crew time to escape in a dinghy from which they were later recovered.
He suffered facial lacerations during the rough landing and was sent to Royal Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, Sussex, where he and others –including airmen suffering terrible burns from cockpit fires –were treated with the new art of plastic surgery. The hospital became renowned for pioneering this reconstructive work and its wartime patients (including my father) became lifetime members of the “Guinea Pig Club.”
My dad died in 1976, ten years before my own son was born. But a couple of years ago I was surprised to see a photo of my dad in his wartime flight gear tucked into my son’s wallet and I realized that he felt a special connection to this grandfather he had never met.
-Bruce Mitchell (son)