A look at Don McTaggart, a WWII tail-gunner for the RCAF.

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When asked on what makes someone a hero, McTaggart said: "Someone that had done exceptional work or something exceptional," Photo by Sean Cann-Sheppard

BELLEVILLE – It's said that the role of a tail-gunner was one of the most dangerous during the Second World War.

But for Don McTaggart, who would serve as a tail-gunner for three missions during the Second World War, he insists that he was only doing his job.

Born in Tweed, Ontario, McTaggart's family would move to Thomasburg when he was still fairly young. His mother would pass away when he was just six-years-old, but he and his family would help work on their farm and attend school.

But by the 1930's he would be forced to drop out at Grade 10, and work at a general store in Thomasburg.

"Times were pretty tough back in the 30's," he said. "My dad couldn't really afford sending us to high school,"

After working for about four years, he would enlist in the Air Force in 1943 at 19-years-old, and rather than waiting to be drafted into the Army, McTaggart chose the Air Force.

Pictured here is a photo of McTaggart, shown center of the group before taking part in his final mission before the war's end. He was one of the last to fly on the famed VR-X Lancaster, which had the highest mission count during the entire war. Photo from Bomber Command Museum of Canada.

"I had heard a lot of stories about the Army and had read a lot of books about the invasion of Normandy way back when, and it was pretty rough going at that time," he said.

He would travel to Kingston to enlist, before being selected after basic training to become an air-gunner.

Gunners during the Second World War would man machine gun turrets on bombers to defend the aircraft against attacks from enemy aircraft.

McTaggart's training would take him to Prince Edward Island at Mount Pleasant, where he would spend six weeks training to be a gunner, before reporting to Manitoba for crew training.

During this training, he would meet his future wife, and the two would regularly see each other before his deployment overseas. They would continue to keep in contact throughout his service via letters.

He would be shipped to England in June of 1944, shortly after the Allied assault on Normandy. Once arriving, he would receive additional training and take part in diversionary raids where his crew would drop metallic particles known as chaff to confuse enemy radar.

After that, he would finally be assigned to 419 Squadron, based out of RAR St. George. 419 was a Canadian bombing squadron, one of many active in England during the Second World War.

"We were kinda late getting to an active squadron," he said.

From here he would take part in three bombing operations before the end of the war. He would notably take part in the final mission of the famed Canadian-built Lancaster "KB-732", or well known as "VR-X Terminator". This bomber would take part in 84 missions, one of the highest mission counts in the war.

After the war ended, he would fly this aircraft back to Yarmouth in June of 1945, almost a year after leaving for England, before being discharged from service in September of that year.

Afterwards, he would work part time for several months before going to Belleville to attend a business college in 1946. From there he married his wife and would raise a daughter together.

He would work for several different companies until his retirement, including a 21 year stay at McDonnell-Douglas in the shipping department as a foreman. He would retire in 1987.

After working in the courthouse in Brampton, Ontario as a court-attendant, he and his wife would move back into Belleville. He said that much of his outside activities by then were cut due to taking care of his wife.

"My wife became ill with Alzheimers, so I had to cut down a lot of my outside activities,"

While he did become involved in the local Legion, after his wife became ill, he says he started to attend less and less.

"Since then I've never attended regularly, I'd only go on special occasions," he said.

She would eventually die in 2012, and since lives alone in his home in Belleville, though he says his daughter visits him regularly.

When asked about his role in the military, McTaggart says he wouldn't consider himself a hero.

"People look on us as heroes," he said "But we were just doing our job as far as I was concerned."

 

 

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