Harrison, Reginald

Reginald “Crash” Harrison was born August 16, 1922 in Pheasant Forks, Saskatchewan, not too far from Regina.  Reg’s parents had come to Canada from Yorkshire not long before the Great War, and Reg’s father returned to Europe as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force to fight alongside his brothers still in England.  He returned and returned to the farm, though his health suffered as a result of the brutal conditions in the trenches.  Reg grew up against the backdrop of the decades between the wars, when the Great Depression was the dominant fact of life.  The dust storms and grasshoppers and men riding the rails were all facts of life for Reg.  Conditions in rural Saskatchewan were difficult as plumbing and electricity had yet to reach them, and the local one room schoolhouse only went to Grade 8, after which Reg did correspondence courses to get through Grade 10.  In 1941-42 he had to attend pre-enlistment school to prepare for the RCAF.  After that Reg went into the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, and his first stop would be at Manning Depot, followed by ground and elementary flying schools at Virdon and Yorkton, and Yorkton was the base not too far from his home!  Reg’s time in the BCATP lasted a little over a year, and by the summer of 1943 he was on his way overseas.  Reg made the crossing on the Louis Pasteur, and once in England he and the other RCAF airmen were sent to Bournemouth.  Soon he met the rest of his crew, and their time together began, initially flying Halifax bombers in 431 Squadron out of RAF Croft.  It was a difficult task for the men on those air crews, as they confronted flak, fighters and fear – and freezing cold temperatures.  They would lose friends along the way too, and for Reg that meant the loss of his good friend Buddy.  On his first “trip” Reg flew with an experienced pilot on a mission to Amiens; one bomb did not fall though, and on the landing it dislodged and exploded, killing and maiming the crew.  Reg ended up in the famed Guinea Pig Club, recovering from serious phosphorus burns and receiving early skin grafts.  Even with that, his war was only just beginning.  Later, they were heavily damaged on their 17th mission, and Reg describes how they reported to the Central Medical Board in London – and that five of the seven were found unfit for further service.  Reg and the tailgunner continued on though, and they were converted to Lancasters at that time.  They went on to serve in missions centred on the Normandy campaign, and Reg remembers a mission the night of June 5-6 itself, where he saw the gliders on their way across the Channel.  Reg earned his nickname over his RCAF career – he was involved in 4 crashes which he was lucky to walk away from:  “Crash” is a suitable sobriquet!  Reg’s war finished early in 1945, and when he returned to Canada he went to meet his friend Buddy’s fiance Jean – after his “little voice” urged him to do so.  The two of them shared reminiscences about the man they both had known, and their own relationship developed too.  Reg and Jean eventually married in their own right, raising their own family and playing their own role in potwar Canada.