Pushing the sleeve of his shirt up, Reg Harrison reveals a scar on his arm. It’s a phosphorous burn from the time a 500 pound bomb exploded while the plane he was piloting was taxing on the runway.
“If we’d been going a wee bit slower we’d all have been blown to bits, because it cut the aircraft in half,” Harrison says, almost nonchalantly.
It’s one of the four times that Harrison nearly died while fighting overseas in the Second World War.
The 93-year-old enlisted back in 1942 as a pilot for the Royal Canadian Air Force Bomber Command when he was 19 years old. He flew out of England, in a squadron that was nicknamed the “jinx” squadron.
His second brush with death came after he lost an engine during takeoff. He said it was something every pilot dreaded would happen.
“’Bang!’ And the aircraft just went off the runway. I was knocked out…they found me out on the wing.”
The bombs on board the plane started exploding about 20 minutes later, Harrison said, showing pictures of nearby buildings that had been destroyed.
Harrison also had to bail out of a plane mid-air when his engine failed, and he crash landed another aircraft with one wheel after it had been shot at.
“I survived four plane crashes, so they labeled me ‘Crash’ instead of Reg,” he said with a laugh.
When asked why he kept going back up in the air, Harrison smiled and said back then, he felt somewhat invincible. He said he had to push fear aside in order to do his job.
Harrison was discharged in 1943 as a Flight Lieutenant. These days, the war veteran spends a lot of time sharing his incredible stories of survival. He volunteers with the Nutana Legion, delivering poppies to 19 different locations in the Cumberland Mall area.
He also visits schools and speaks to children about the war. In the last eight to 10 years, Harrison said he has seen a dramatic increase of interest from the younger generation when it comes to Remembrance Day.