Jack Hobbs on lost friends, bombers in the dark, and the heal­ing power of mu­sic

Sherbrooke Record - - REMEMBRANCE DAY - By Clau­dia Ville­maire

Jack Hobbs doesn't talk about medals awarded or speak of the courage it must have re­quired as he pi­loted the Ansell bomber from Mid­dle­ton, Eng­land to tar­gets in Ger­many and Nor­way. His story is about the friends he lost daily as one hun­dred bombers took off - in the dark - with only ra­dio sig­nals and a nav­i­ga­tor – and flew for hours to the des­ig­nated tar­get, be­fore head­ing back to base.

"The av­er­age daily loss was ten per cent," he re­mem­bered, "and we were one hun­dred planes each time we were sent on a bomb­ing mis­sion. So, you can imag­ine many of the friends you made often didn't re­turn."

Jack Hobbs grew up in As­bestos and joined his fa­ther at the CJM As­bestos plant when he was six­teen and fresh out of high school.

"We had the 7-11 Hus­sars Squad then, but join­ing up didn't be­gin to tempt me and my friends for a cou­ple of years. But by 1940, the idea took hold and off we went to Sher­brooke to en­list. We sure didn't have any idea what we were get­ting into then," he says rue­fully.

With the de­ter­mi­na­tion to learn to fly, Hobbs made the trans­fer from the Hus­sars to the RCAF and his ad­ven­ture be­gan al­most im­me­di­ately.

"We had to pass ba­sic train­ing in Sher­brooke, at the old fair­grounds where the camp was si­t­u­ated. From there, we went to Monc­ton, then, as we com­pleted var­i­ous stages of pi­lot train­ing, to dif­fer­ent camps across Canada."

He re­mem­bers his first fly­ing in­struc­tor, who showed him the ver­sa­til­ity of the sin­gle-engine train­ing plane.

"He 'looped the loop’, flipped side­ways, and did all kinds of scary things and I sup­pose it was a test of courage and de­ter­mi­na­tion for us young fel­las who at the start had no idea what would be ex­pected of us."

Once in Eng­land, the Cana­dian pi­lots, nav­i­ga­tors, and wire­less op­er­a­tors were wel­comed into the RAF where bomber plane crews were in short sup­ply. This was 1941 and de­vel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion of ef­fi­cient war planes had barely started. The Ansell was a large, bulky, four-engine ma­chine; ca­pa­ble of long flights, but not known for speed and agility. Missions could some­times take up to ten hours, flown in dark­ness, def­i­nitely not in any par­tic­u­lar for­ma­tion.

"They were long, tire­some flights with anti-air­craft flak com­ing at us as we ap­proached our tar­get."

Hobbs doesn't talk about see­ing other planes be­ing shot down be­side him. But he hes­i­tates to re­mem­ber all the friends he lost ev­ery time they went out.

These days, this al­most-ninety-nine-year-old vet­eran fills his time with keep­ing in touch with fam­ily mem­bers. Neph­ews, nieces and lots of cousins keep him oc­cu­pied with phone calls and visits. These days Hobbs prac­tices the piano, his in­stru­ment of choice since child­hood when 'Mother', who was a mu­si­cian her­self, in­sisted on piano lessons.

"But, I had a friend who played pop­u­lar mu­sic and by watch­ing and lis­ten­ing and with a lit­tle in­struc­tion I was soon play­ing the fa­vorite songs of the day."

Hobbs formed a small band and is still re­mem­bered for his mu­sic at lo­cal dance halls around Danville and As­bestos.

"I play ev­ery Satur­day morn­ing here in the so­lar­ium,” he ex­plained, and soon

"Has Any­body Seen My Gal", a pop­u­lar hit in the for­ties, was ring­ing out, catch­ing the at­ten­tion of a few res­i­dents as they gath­ered at the el­e­va­tor to go down for sup­per. "I have to ad­mit mu­sic has been my good medicine. Af­ter 18 missions, I couldn't take the stress any­more and had a break­down. At the time, the av­er­age bomber crews suf­fer­ing from men­tal stress and fa­tigue was af­ter 13 missions and they were al­most al­ways done as bomber pi­lots. I guess I out­lasted many of them but get­ting back on my feet wasn't easy. Mu­sic played a ma­jor role in my re­cov­ery."

These days Hobbs, now a bit hard of hear­ing and with eye­sight fail­ing a bit, is get­ting ready to cel­e­brate his ninety-ninth birth­day Novem­ber 24th at the Home.

"Oh yes, they're all com­ing and we'll have a great party up on fourth floor,” he said, sur­rounded by pho­tos and sou­venirs, “It's not the first time the fam­ily gets to­gether here for my birth­day which is ac­tu­ally Novem­ber 26th.”

Time was slip­ping away as Hobbs sto­ries un­folded and he re­mem­bered the tough times and the good times. Our con­ver­sa­tion was com­ing to a mu­si­cal end as he played the songs even I re­mem­bered as a child. Mem­o­ries of Ar­mistice cel­e­bra­tions in Sher­brooke flooded back to me as well, re­call­ing my Dad, in uni­form, min­gling with Army, RCAF and Navy vet­er­ans and, of course, Jack Hobbs and I found friends we had both known as mem­o­ries flooded back. Talk­ing to a vet­eran whose par­tic­i­pa­tion in WWII, his ac­count of bomb­ing missions over Ger­many and Nor­way, brought to life the im­por­tance of re­mem­ber­ing these vet­er­ans and un­der­lined the priv­i­lege of meet­ing and talk­ing to one of the last sur­vivors of that part of our his­tory.


Hobbs in front of the photo of an Ansell bomber, the type of plane he flew on 18 missions.

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