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Review: A gripping tale of survival

Bomber pilot survives four crashes.
Deana Driver tells the story of Crash Harrison’s experiences as a Canadian bomber pilot during the Second World War.

“Crash Harrison: Tales of a Bomber Pilot Who Defied Death”

By Deana J. Driver

Published by DriverWorks Ink

$24.95 ISBN 9781927570821

There is a reason Reginald Wilfred Harrison earned the nickname “Crash.” He was in four bombers that crashed – first as co-pilot on a training mission; the last three as pilot. Amazingly, he survived all four.

In Crash Harrison: Tales of a Bomber Pilot Who Defied Death, Deana Driver tells the story of Harrison’s experiences as a Canadian bomber pilot during the Second World War. Or rather, she lets him tell his story in his own words. It’s like he’s sitting right there beside you, telling his tales.

Harrison developed an interest in flying at an early age, watching Harvard training planes flying overhead at his family farm near Finnie, SK. He enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and said that one of his proudest moments was when his commanding officer pinned the Pilot Wings badge on him.

On reaching England in 1944, Harrison trained on Wellington and Halifax bombers. Following that, he was posted to the Canadian 431 Iroquois Squadron, which was called the Jinx Squadron. It suffered the highest loss rate in all of Bomber Command.

Harrison’s first crash occurred when landing after a raid. Unknown to the crew, one of the 500-pound bombs had failed to release. Just as the wheels were about to touch down, the bomb

dropped and exploded. Harrison was blown out of the plane, landing in a pool of high-octane fuel, with flames creeping towards him.

The phosphorous bomb created a four-inch burn on Harrison’s arm which refused to heal. This burn earned him membership in the Guinea Pig Club, so named for Allied aircrew who underwent experimental reconstructive plastic surgery. Doctors grafted sixty little patches of skin from his leg onto his arm. He says his leg still looks like a cribbage board.

After his third crash, Harrison had nightmares, dreaming about crashing or bailing out, waking up perspiring. Despite the nightmares, he said he wasn’t afraid to fly again. However, he had to endure lifelong back problems.

Harrison’s story is tinged with romance. When his best friend, Donaldson “Buddy” Holloway, wrote to his sweetheart, he asked Harrison to add a few words. When Buddy was shot down and killed, Harrison felt obliged to visit her personally. Kinship blossomed into romance and then marriage.

In addition to a timeline of Harrison’s life and a list of helpful resources, Crash Harrison: Tales of a Bomber Pilot Who Defied Death contains nearly a hundred black-and-white photos, illustrations, and maps.

In the Fun Facts section of the book, Harrison reveals that he has a fear of heights, saying he feels uncomfortable looking over the balcony of his Saskatoon seniors’ complex. This comes as something of a surprise, considering that he routinely flew bombers at 20,000 feet. His 431 Jinx squadron is now famously known as the Canadian Forces Snowbirds Air Demonstration Squadron, and he is an honorary member.

Still thriving at 101 years, Harrison resides in Saskatoon and speaks at various events, raising awareness about Canada's war veterans and the importance of Remembrance Day.

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