Remembering Bert Joss - Swordfish Pilot

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On Wednesday, August 20th, 2008, Robert “Bert” Joss died suddenly at the age of 83. Bert, as we all knew him, was a great friend of Vintage Wings of Canada. He was a Fairey Swordfish pilot during the Second World War - a service pilot at No.1 Naval Air Gunners School at Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, taking budding Gunner/Telegraphists aloft on training flights and though he longed for combat like every instructor or service pilot, he cheerfully went about his duty for King and Country. 

Just eight days before he was to go overseas to the action he longed for, he suffered serious injury in a forced landing and missed the boat - literally. Sustaining serious leg injuries, his career ended before he could get into the fight. Bert would always play down his contribution to the war effort, happy to let the fighter and bomber boys get the spotlight. At Vintage Wings of Canada, we would have none of that. What Bert accomplished, did, endured and how he suffered his entire life for it is, for us, an example of the quiet selflessness that all our flyers displayed. Bert did his duty no matter what it was he was asked to do. He loved to fly and whatever flying duty he was given, it made him happy.

He loved history and enjoyed sharing his experiences, though humbly so, with young and old alike. In particular, he became mentor to and friend of Vintage Wings pilot  Rob Kostecka, who absorbed all the information, "skits" and stories Bert would offer up.  Bert and Rob (the Obiwan Kanobi and Luke Skywalker of modern day Swordfish flying) were often seen talking together over the past year, Bert's last.

Bert showed up one day last year at our first open house event and before you could say "Vintage Wings of Canada", he was one of us. He was proud of his Vintage orange shirt, which he called his “uniform” and he offered his Second World War logbooks and memorabilia for display in our hangar. As he handed over these dramatic souvenirs of a career cut short, Bert said to Vintage Wings Swordfish pilot-to-be Robert Kostecka, “I don’t have sons of my own, but now I have Vintage Wings [to give them to]”. His death struck us all at Vintage Wings but none more so than Rob who will now never see the look on Bert's face when he steps down from his first flight at the controls of the Swordfish. We are grateful to have known him and it underlines the urgency we feel to find men like Bert and get their stories down for our future generations.

Godspeed Bert, and may the "erks" in heaven know the proper way to assemble a fuel-cock.

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On 16 October, 1944, Bert Joss suffered a forced landing, Swordfish HS487 being a write-off. Bert and his crew suffered no serious injuries, but the Swordfish was a write-off. Photo: Bert Joss

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Bert suffered more than one crash landing. On 28 January 1945, HS486, a Swordfish piloted by Bert crash landed in Nova Scotia - the result of an incorrectly assembled fuel-cock.  Bert’s own recollection tells how it happened  - “When I selected “normal” I was actually running on “gravity” and in due course drained the gravity tank. We were fairly low over trees at the time and I had no choice but to pancake into the forest. Unfortunately, we landed on top of a tall dead tree that I couldn’t see, and the aircraft was rolled up into a ball. I received a broken left ankle and right thigh, the joyrider behind me a cracked hip, but the poor student, who didn’t even know we were crashing, wasn’t injured, perhaps due to his rearward-facing seat. Some loggers from a nearby camp got us out of the aircraft minutes after the crash.”  Bert suffered a life long injury that forced him to walk with a cane until the day he died. Here we see the remains of Bert’s Swordfish still visible on the forest floor where it impacted - stripped and vandalized by souvenir hunters, but still a testament to the risks men like Bert took every day.

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Bert Joss shared his knowledge and stories at our Open house events, coming all the way from Montreal to attend. His wartime injuries forced him to take a seat in a wheelchair for his presentations - underlining the sacrifices he made but always played down. Photo: Peter Handley

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