Richmond “Dick” Deck will lay a wreath at the Cloverdale Cenotaph Nov. 11 to honour his fallen comrades. It’ll be his second year in a row after laying a wreath for the first time last year.
Deck, a World War II airmen and former POW, said he’s planning on laying wreaths for years to come.
“I think about what I’ve got to be thankful for, and I’ve got so much to be thankful for,” he said. “I’m kind of a religious person in a way. I say my prayers every night. I give thanks for everything I have and what’s happened with my life and my family.”
Deck, now 101, will again lay a wreath for POWs. Deck was captured in World War II after his plane was shot down over Nazi Germany. But he remembers, he shouldn’t have been flying that night.
“The rule was, you do 30 ops, operations, and then you go on leave,” Deck explained. “Well, on our 29th mission, we were sent on a gardening trip. Gardening is sowing mines in the ocean. But they never counted it.”
Deck was a bomb aimer on a Halifax bomber, “E” in the RCAF’s 429 Bomber Squadron, which Deck and the boys nicknamed “Easy.” The Halifax aircraft required a crew of seven: pilot, navigator, flight engineer, wireless operator, bomb aimer, mid-upper gunner, and tail gunner.
Easy was to “garden” a supply route in early January, 1945. They were meant to mine Nazi shipping lanes between Germany and Norway. Deck remembers turning on his navigation system when Easy was over their target, but nothing worked. They didn’t turn it on until the target area to avoid detection.
“Everything was supposed to be set up—the radar, because everything was done by radar—and when I turned it on, nothing worked. They screwed up before the plane left Britain.”
Deck said the pilot circled the target area a few times, giving Deck time to fix the equipment, but he couldn’t get anything to work. When the crew returned to base, they didn’t welcome the news from the airfield’s station manager.
“He didn’t count it as a trip,” said Deck. “So, we went out and had to do our 29th mission again, which would have been our 30th, and on our 31st mission, which we would never have gone on, but we were sent on it … we got shot down on.”
It was the night of Jan. 16, 1945. Easy had dropped its bombs over Magdeburg and the plane was heading back to England. The mission had gone well and their target was “bombed accurately.” That night the RAF had launched a massive bombing mission against Magdeburg. The bombing raid, which was reported in the papers the next day, destroyed much of the city and around 2,500 people died.
Deck said Easy was several minutes west of Magdeburg when the gunner spotted a German Junker crossing their path. Things had been quiet for several minutes after that until they heard four massive bangs on one side of the plane. Soon one of their wings was ablaze.
“When we got shot, the flight engineer told the pilot on the intercom the plane was on fire and it was going to explode,” Deck remembered. “So the pilot told us all to get out.”
Deck sat in a small area close to the nose of the plane. He and navigator Chuck Chapman lifted their seat to expose a trap door. First Chuck dropped out, then wireless air gunner Roy Bourne. Deck was next. He said he stuck his legs out the bottom of the plane and let the heavy night air whisk him out.
“As I was coming down, I didn’t see any of the other parachutes anywhere,” said Deck. “I did see a German plane coming straight at me. I thought for sure that was the end of me. But he turned away before he got too close.”
Pilot Bud Biddell was the last one off the plane and he made it out just before Easy exploded. (Deck only found this out months later when he met Biddell in one of the Stalags.)
Deck figures he landed in a field about 20 minutes west of Magdeburg.
“I didn’t know where the heck I was. I tried to hide my chute quickly. AA guns were shooting in the night sky and I was on the loose.”
Deck wasn’t hurt, but he had little food. He was travelling at night and hiding where he could. He was by himself for about a week before he got caught. But he said there was very little drama to his capture.
“I was travelling along a road outside a village and the burgomaster of this little town came out, waving his arms and yelling at me in German,” recalled Deck. “I pretended I didn’t hear him and kept on walking.”
A woman walking towards Deck then stopped him. She told him the burgomaster was calling to Deck to stop and go back to the town. Deck, starving, malnourished and extremely fatigued, accepted his fate.
“I turned around and there he was, still beckoning at me to come back.”
The burgomaster took Deck into his house and sat him down at a table.
“He was asking me questions, and other people were interested in me, and they were looking in and staring over.”
Deck said the burgomaster then got on the phone and contacted a Luftwaffe station that was on the outskirts of the town. Two German soldiers arrived on foot and walked Deck back to the station where he was detained.
As they walked, the soldiers asked Deck if he wanted food and he eagerly replied, “Ya, ya!”
Deck got shuffled around to a few different prison camps until he ended up in Stalag VII A in Moosburg. One day, he and the other prisoners woke up in the morning and found the German guards were gone. General George S. Patton and the U.S. 3rd Army had entered the area and that was enough for the guards to leave.
Years later, Deck found out Easy did get credited for their failed gardening operation over the North Sea on Jan. 12, 1945. Officially, Easy had flown 31 ops.
When Deck reflects on the war and his life now, he thinks mostly of family and friends.
“I’m very thankful for it all. For everyone I’ve had the good fortune of meeting. And for my health.”
And Deck has met a lot of people over his 101 years. He was born on the family farm near Brooksby, Sask., Oct. 8, 1921. Deck’s father had immigrated to Canada after World War I and bought three quarters of a section, which was about 480 acres, in an area between Melfort and Tisdale.
Deck was named after his uncle, Richmond Frank Deck who was killed in World War I. Second Lieutenant Deck fought with the Suffolk Regiment and died in 1915 at age 29. He is buried in Belgium.
“My dad named me after the brother that he lost,” recalled Deck. “I never knew him personally, but my dad talked about him, and we always knew of him as Uncle Dick.”
Deck joined the airforce to do his part “to help stop Hitler.” He signed up in 1942 and wanted to be a pilot. After getting “washed out” of pilot school, Deck decided to become a bomb aimer. He crisscrossed Canada for training and was sent to England in 1944. Deck flew his first mission in the summer of ’44 when they bombed enemy troops in Falaise, France.
Deck Married Jean Taylor after the war in 1947 and the couple moved out to Surrey in the ’50s. He, Jean, and Jean’s dad, James Taylor , bought a motel and campground, Aldon Bungalows, on about 5 acres just off King George Hwy and Fraser Hwy. They sold the place in 1974 and moved out to Langley. Deck lives in the same house to this day. Jean passed away in 2004 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
Jean and Dick have three children, seven grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren.
The crew of “Easy”
As for the crew of Easy, they all floated safely to the ground after their plane exploded west of Magdeburg Jan. 16, 1945. Each of them were eventually captured by the Nazis, but all seven made it home after the war.
Pilot F.H. “Bud” Biddell (Regina, SK), navigator Charles “Chuck” Chapman (Ridgedale, SK), wireless air gunner R.H.S. “Roy” Bourne (Blairmore, AB), bomb aimer Richmond “Dick” Deck (Brooksby, SK), flight engineer R.H. “Ron” Streatfield (Kent, England), mid-upper gunner Fred “Pete” Peters (Verlo, SK), and tail gunner Roy “Phil” Phillips (Ontario).