War made men out of boys

War made men out of boys

By Stephen Shaw

From the Echo archives

This article was originally published in the May 2, 1995 edition of the Haliburton County Echo. We are republishing some of the articles from that year to mark the 75th anniversary of  the end of the Second World War.

In the days following the Allies’ victory in Europe, Murray Linkert was reassigned to the United States as a fighter pilot in the war across the Pacific Ocean.

And after three years as a Canadian flight instructor for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, preparing and readying pilots for the heat of battle, Linkert was looking forward to finally fulfilling the teenage dream he had when he dropped out of a Hamilton school and enlisted.

Just two weeks before he was to head overseas, though, his conversion from instructor to fighter was put off and his dream along with it.

But looking back a half century later, he says it was just as well.

“The war was over in Europe but not Japan and I was on leave for two weeks before I was supposed to go over.  But while I was on leave, they dropped the big one.  I wanted to go over but since then I’ve thought I’m lucky that I didn’t. It’s one thing to want the glory but it’s another thing to be alive,” says Linkert, 50 years wiser.

Like many teenagers during World War II, Linkert left school to enlist in the military. When he realized that he required a Gr. 12 (equivalent) before he could be accepted to flight training school, he sped through night school to achieve it and re-apply.

“I could only be an air gunner with the education I had and most of the tail end gunners were always dead within six months.  I was a young kid at the time and I wanted the glory of being a fighter pilot,” says Linkert.  “I was still young and stupid.”

As a talented “tumbler” in high school, he was a perfect fit for the cockpit, considering he was used to spinning motion. Upon his completion of aviation training, rather than being sent off overseas as a fight pilot, he was sent back to the classroom.

Much to his surprise, and disappointment, Linkert was assigned the trustworthy task of flight training under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan – which trained and prepared more than half of all Allied fighter pilots.

The training program was gruelling and risky, and those who made it were changed for life. “Once you were finished if you said jump, they would say how high. They would learn discipline and they would grow up.”

The plan was responsible for readying Allied countries’ future pilots for the unfriendly war-time skies.  After VE day, both Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt said victory could not have been achieved if it weren’t for such skilled training.

Linkert spent three years during the war as an instructor and trained more than 50 pilots on Harvard fighter jets before they moved onto the more advanced Hurricane jets. There were many more than the 50 he mentions, but those were just the ones that survived the training.

“One-third of all Allied air force casualties were killed during the training. You’d think they would get killed over there not here,” says the remarkably young looking 74-year-old Cardiff banker.

Linkert was one of four Flying Officers presented with the distinguished Air Force Cross.

Posters and pictures of classic bomber and fighter aircrafts such as the Mustang, Harvard, Hurricane, Lancaster and Spitfire jets line the walls of his office at the Wilberforce bakery where he works.

Following the war, Linkert was twice offered a permanent lifetime commission and twice turned it down.  He had enough of the military but kept up his aviation skills doing aerobatic air shows with the City of Hamilton Squadron.

“It was nice to be young and it’s one of those things that you wouldn’t have missed it for the world; but you wouldn’t want to go through it again.”