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Richard Earl – Wartime experiences with the RAF in India and Burma and an original member of 435 Squadron

Updated: Jun 6

By Martin Zeilig


Richard Earl has many stories to tell of his time in the Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Air Force during the Second World War.

Mr. Earl and his friend Richard Henry, a former Search and Rescue Technician with 435 Sqdn

An original member of 435 Transport Squadron (now Transport and Rescue) when it was first formed in 1944 by the RCAF in Gujrat, India, Mr. Earl will turn 100-years-old on July 3.

His centenary coincides with the 100th anniversary celebrations of the RCAF.

Mr. Earl was in attendance at the theatre in Building 90 on May 27 to view the launch of the official RCAF 100 music video, Tous Unis, To The Skies—your official RCAF centenary song.

“It’s such a tribute to the RCAF to have him here as we celebrate our history and look towards the future,” Colonel Aaron Spott, 17 Wing Commander, said following the video presentation and a brief Q&A with Mr. Earl.

“He’s bridging both worlds now. For him to be able to participate here is exceptional. He’s very energetic and passionate, so it’s great for him to tell his stories.”

Mr. Earl agreed to an interview with The Voxair reporter at his retirement residence in late May.

Mr. Earl’s friend, Richard Henry, a former Search and Rescue Technician with 435 Sqdn, was present as well during the interview.

“I turned 18 years old in 1942,” Mr. Earl said.

The war in Europe was on.

Photo of Richard Earl with his wartime unit in India

“So, I volunteered for the RCAF on November 25,” Mr. Earl continued.

“They took me in. They trained me in Winnipeg, and other places in Canada as a wireless air gunner. I could use the wireless and use the gun in the air turret to knock an enemy fighter out of the air. I learned the Morse Code.”

He trained under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). Located in Canada, its “mandate was to train Allied aircrews for the SWW, including pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, wireless operators, air gunners, and flight engineers,” notes the Canadian Encyclopedia online.

After completing his training, Mr. Earl was deployed to Doncaster, United Kingdom in April 1944, and, awaited his marching orders.

“I fully expected to be attached to a bomber squadron,” he said.

“Then, I was informed that I was being transferred to the Royal Air Force (RAF). You don’t ask questions. You just follow orders. We were  posted to India with 62 RAF Transport Squadron.  As the only Canadian flying on the DC3, I served as a wireless operator with the British.”

Based at Imphal Assam, India, a mere 35 miles from the Burma border, the squadron’s mission were to supply the British 14th Army Division that were fighting the Japanese army in the jungles of northern Burma.

“Most of the deployments were airdrops from the side door,” Mr. Earl said.

In 1944, he was transferred to the newly formed 435 RCAF Transport Sqn in Gujrat, India.

Mr. Earl began training for the new posting in Chaklala, India.

“He performed extensive training as a wireless operator, towing gliders, formation and low level flying and paratroop deployments,” notes Mr. Earl’s bio.

“I trained as a jumpmaster, training Gurkha Nepalese soldiers to become paratroopers,” he said.

Richard Earl WWII Vet

“I volunteered to make one parachute jump in order to have some credibility and also some idea of what the men had to face prior and during a parachute drop.”

Mr. Earl calls the Gurkhas “wonderful, fearless soldiers.”

“You had to put in 700 flying hours,” he said.

“At first we were dropping supplies. Then the British Corps of Engineers cleared the jungle and made landing strips for the DC-3. We would land, unload the aircraft, and then takeoff. We would have food, ammunition, everything to the fighting men.”

An emergency happened on one of those resupply missions.

“We had landed already and a British army Sergeant came running up to our aircraft and said ‘Get out of here now.” The Japanese were counter attacking. So, the pilot swung around, put on the brakes, revved up the engines and we took off.”

Captain Steven Huntley, 435 Squadron Air Combat Systems Officer, gives Richard Earl, Burma Campaign veteran, a tour of a CC-130 Hercules aircraft cockpit on January 29, 2019, during Mr. Earl’s visit to 435 Squadron at 17 Wing Winnipeg, Manitoba. PHOTO: Sergeant Daren Kraus, FW2019-0005-21

The war in Europe was still on when he returned to England via ship.

Then, it ended on May 8, 1945.

“I stayed on and volunteered for an aircrew that was flying businessmen onto the continent,” Mr. Earl said.

“I wanted to stay on and tour southern England where my parents were from. They immigrated to Canada in 1920. I still had relatives living there.”

Richard Earl, a Burma Campaign veteran, stands by the nose of "Spirit of Ostra Brama" C-3 Dakota aircraft during his visit to 435 Squadron, 17 Wing Winnipeg, Manitoba, on January 29, 2019. PHOTO: Sergeant Daren Kraus, FW2019-0005-32

Mr. Earl returned to Winnipeg in late 1945, and was honourably discharged from the RCAF in 1946.


“I returned to CN Rail to finish my apprenticeship as a journeyman mechanic and remained with CN Rail for 17 years,” he said.

“Then, I decided that I wanted to become a salesman. So, I took a course offered to me that indicated I would be a good salesman. I worked for Prudential Assurance Company Ltd. of England.”

Mr. Earl, a widower, has four children, four grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

He calls the wartime years “a wonderful time of my life, and the Indians are wonderful people.”

Richard Earl, a Second World War Burma campaign veteran, sits in the co-pilot seat of a CC-130 Hercules aircraft on January 29, 2019, during a visit to 435 Squadron, his wartime squadron, at 17 Wing Winnipeg, Manitoba. PHOTO: Sergeant Daren Kraus, FW2019-0005-24

“All I can say is that for a young man, that was a very memorable part of my life,” Mr. Earl, who was “elated” to have attended 435 Sqdn’s 75th anniversary, added with a slight smile. 

Thank you, sir, for your service to Canada during the war.


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