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Walsh’s love for flying led him to serve with Royal Canadian Air Force for 42 years

Errington man recalls extensive travelling, adventures over the years
Albert Walsh served 42 years in the Royal Canadian Air Force. (Michael Briones photo)

Albert Walsh joined the Royal Canadian Air Force when he was 17 years old.

He tried to enlist sooner when he was just 16, as he was extremely eager to learn and get behind one of the aircrafts he often saw up in the skies. He said he developed an intense passion for airplanes and just couldn’t wait.

Despite passing and doing well in the exams, Walsh was told he was too young. He waited another year and when he got in, Walsh ended up serving the RCAF for 42 years. It was a career he said he never regretted pursuing.

“I just love airplanes,” said Walsh. “I like to fly. When I am up in the air, it makes me feel like I am in heaven.”

Walsh’s time as a member of the RCAF allowed him to travel to a wide variety of locations.

When he signed up, Walsh was first shipped to St. Jean, Que., for military training on the Canadian CL-13 Sabre aircraft. Following his stint there, he went to North Bay, Ont. to train on the CF-100, an all-weather fighter plane and spent three years there. Their group was later transfered to Cold Lake, Alta., where he spent five years and also where he found the love of his life, Maise, who he has been married to for 63 years.

“She’s a wonderful woman,” said Walsh.

Walsh’s next stop was in Ottawa and he was there for eight years working on the CF-100 fighter planes and also the CF-101 Voodoo aircraft. He also took an 18-week flight technician’s course and upon passing that was assigned to 412 Transport Squadron in Rockcliffe, Ont., where he flew the Douglas DC-3 Dakota.

“It was a wonderful squadron but after four years flying with them, I got a message I was being transferred to Zweibrucken (Air Base) in Germany,” he recalled. “I could not understand it because I was in air defence for a long time then I was in air transport. They were quite happy with my performance.”

Before heading to Europe, Walsh was sent to Cold Lake, Alta. to take a course on CF-104 planes. Upon completing that, he flew straight to Germany in November 1966 and ended up working on the CF-104s also known as the widow-makers.

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“That’s the Cold War,” said Walsh. “Not very many people know about the Cold War. I can tell you now because everything has changed. We had four bases in Germany and we had at least two squadrons in each of the bases. They were armed with nukes and they were pointing East. And we were on five-minute standby 24/7. I spent a lot of time in the QRA (Quick Reaction Alert). A lot of time you were away from home for a minimum two weeks and you’re with the airplanes. They were loaded with nukes. Not everybody realizes it but it was a war. A Cold War.”

The Zweibrucken Air Base eventually closed down and Walsh was then transferred to the Canadian Forces Base in Baden-Baden, Germany.

“I didn’t know why because normally most people get transferred back home,” said Walsh. “But because my technical ability was good, they sent me on snag crew in Baden-Baden, diagnosing problems on the 104s. That’s why they sent me there.”

Two years later, Walsh was transferred back to Canada and ended up at 19 Wing Comox where he worked on the Labrador helicopters for search and rescue and then later on to the Buffalo squadron.

Walsh’s stay in Comox was disrupted when he was assigned to the Sinai Desert in Egypt outside of Cairo midway on the Suez Canal as part of the United Nations peacekeeping force. Walsh said it was a dangerous region at the time as a Buffalo plane in 1974 with nine people on board got shot down.

“We went to fly there,” said Walsh. “I went to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and all those places to supply stuff for the bases. You had to fly in a corridor, three miles wide, and 3,000 feet high. If you got out of the corridor you’re dead because the Syrians had Russian SAM (Surface-to-Air-Missile) sites. They’re all in line and as you are coming in the SAM sites, they pick you off and they track you along. Then they hand you off to the next one. It was quite hair-raising. That’s what happend to the Buffalo. It was in the corridor but for no reason whatsover, they shot the airplane.”

Walsh spent seven months in Egypt before being sent to join the 442 Squadron in Comox. He didn’t last long there as he was assigned back to Baden-Baden.

“The commanding officer wanted me to stay in Comox but I told him, I can’t afford to fly to Europe so if they’re sending me there for four years, I’ll take it,” said Walsh. “So I went back there with my wife and two daughters. It turned out well for us because my wife was a teacher and was able to teach in a school in Baden-Baden.”

As well, Walsh got involved in restarting the Baden-Baden Flying Club and got aircrafts back in service.

During his stay in Baden-Baden, Walsh received a commander’s commendation for preventing a dangerous situation on Oct. 27, 1977. Walsh was conducting a final check on a CF104D, which was taxiing towards him. He observed a massive fuel leak and quickly signalled the aircrew to stop the aircraft, shut it down and leave. He risked his life but standing by the aircraft to assist the crew to safety.

When his stint ended at Baden-Baden, Walsh was called back to the 409 Squadron in Comox to work on the CF-101 Voodoo and then on the CF-18s in Cold Lake again before returning to Comox again. This is where he and his wife decided to find a place to settle down.

“My wife’s mother lives in Parksville so we decided to move and retire somewhere in Parksville,” said Walsh. “This bookstore was for sale in 1994. So we ended up buying it and have been operating The Bookcase (Qualicum Beach) for 27 years. But it was a store since 1984.”

Walsh retired from the air force in 1996 with a rank of captain after more than four decades of service.

“It’s a long time but I got to travel,” said Walsh. “I love the airplanes. That’s what kept me in the air force for a long time.”

Over the years, Walsh had the opportunity to fly an array of military aircrafts that included fighter jets, Buffalo airplane and Labrador helicopter. His favourite is the Buffalo.

Walsh also remembered the number of close calls he had experienced on air that could have been tragic.

“It wasn’t my turn,” said Walsh. “God didn’t want me yet. I had some things I still have to do, I guess.”

Walsh is now 86 years old and lives in Errington. He is thankful he is still around to share his knowledge and experience to others especially the air cadets, which he is very involved with.

He says Remembrance Day for him is a special occasion he always observes.

“I always think about the people who died for democracy,” said Walsh. “My father was in the First World War. He was a soldier who fought at Vimy Ridge. In the Second World War, 50 per cent of bomber command did not return. That’s the sacrifice that they gave and I just get emotional when I think of what these guys did. They were fantastic people.”

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Michael Briones

About the Author: Michael Briones

I rejoined the PQB News team in April 2017 from the Comox Valley Echo, having previously covered sports for The NEWS in 1997.
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