‘Everyone in the RCAF ends up in Trenton’

News Article / November 10, 2016

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By Ruthanne Urquhart

From Day One, Danny Swant knew what he wanted to do with his life.

“The Air Force has always been in my blood, ever since I was an 18-year-old kid during the war,” he says. “I love the Air Force. I’d go back in today if they’d have me. If I was young again….” His eyes sparkle and, for just a moment, his voice is young again.

It’s a comfortably warm September 18, 2016, in Ottawa, Ontario. Sitting in the sunshine on a folding chair, cane in hand, his blazer brushed and the creases in his trousers razor-sharp, Mr. Swant is waiting for the Battle of Britain Sunday ceremony at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa. “I come for the Battle of Britain ceremony every year,” he says. “Last year, my daughter wheeled me around on Parliament Hill, and some Air Force officers did, too, for that wonderful air show and ceremony.” The special 2015 Battle of Britain Sunday ceremony marked the 75th anniversary of the battle.

The 93-year-old veteran, originally from Eganville, Ontario, joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1944 and wound up serving with the RCAF’s 428 Squadron, also known as “Ghost Squadron”, at Royal Air Force Station Dalton, in Yorkshire, England. “I came top in the class, so they put me in as a hydraulics specialist,” he says. “Groundcrew on Lancaster bombers.” His pride is evident.

Mr. Swant got out when the war ended in 1945, and then signed on again in ’46, in Trenton, Ontario. “Everybody in the RCAF ends up in Trenton,” he says with a shrug and a grin, “and I wound up working on the Golden Hawks.”

The Golden Hawks were a demonstration team of gold-painted F-86 Sabre fighter jets that was formed in 1959 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of powered flight in Canada and the 35th anniversary of the RCAF. The pilots delighted audiences by flying low, sliding their canopies back and waving at the crowd. The team performed 316 shows before it wrapped up in 1963 with a final show in Montreal, Québec.

“I did the overhauls,” Mr. Swant continues, “and I was in charge of the crews.

"And I did the 400-hours inspections on all the Golden Hawks aircraft. I was congratulated several times by Squadron Leader [Fern] Villeneuve for a job well done.”

Mr. Swant also received three awards for inventing several improvements to aircraft that “saved the government money,” he says. “I think some of them are still in place today, though you never know. It was so long ago.”

He retired from the RCAF in 1969. “I could have put another five years in, but I decided to take a civilian job. I wound up as a director of computer systems in the public service.” He and his wife, also from Eganville, bought a home in Ottawa when he retired. “My wife died in 2012,” Mr. Swant says, “so I'm just marking time now.

“I go to the gym twice a week to keep in shape. I'll be 94 in February. I feel pretty good, except for my legs. I played too much hockey during the war, for the Air Force,” he says ruefully, “and I lost the cartilage in both knees. They wanted to operate but everyone said, ‘Don't get that surgery!’”

After knee replacement surgery, Mr. Swant played old-timer hockey for the RCAF, and refereed baseball and softball. “And then they told me I was too old for it,” he says. “I was in a state of shock!”

CTV Ottawa interviewed Mr. Swant “a while back. I did some exercises for the Morning Show. So, a lot of my buddies, when I went for a beer, were all saying, ‘Ah, yeah, we saw you on TV.’” His grin says he enjoyed hearing that.

The hollow thump-thump-thump of a finger testing a microphone heralds the start of the day’s Battle of Britain ceremony. Mr. Swant straightens in his chair, tugs his blazer flat and pinches the creases in his trousers. No exercises today. Rather, it’s a time for remembering when his love of the RCAF was born, when he listened as a teenager to news reports, first of the terrible losses and then of the amazing victory of the Commonwealth aircrew and groundcrew who waged the Battle of Britain.

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