Soaring above racism

Allan Bundy (centre). Photo: Jim Bates

When Dartmouth’s Allan Bundy served his country during the Second World War, he had to overcome discrimination

I was researching another topic when I first came across Allan Bundy’s name but his story quickly stole my attention. Born in Dartmouth in 1920, he was Canada’s first Black fighter pilot and part of a family that has a rich history.

The now-defunct Pittsburgh Courier shared the Bundy family’s long history in a 1943 story. The story says that in the 1700s, the Duke of Kent brought members of Bundy family to Nova Scotia (likely enslaved) to help build fortifications in Halifax. I was able to contact an ancestor of those Bundys who now lives in Cherrybrook, N.S. and he’s proudly aware of his ancestry.

Allan Bundy spent much of his youth participating in athletic competitions. He was known for his track and field talent and specialized in the mile and half-mile run and the pole vault.

After he graduated from Dartmouth High School, he attended Dalhousie University. He was a bright student who studied science and chemistry and continued his athletic pursuits, joining the varsity football team and continuing to compete in track and field.

At the onset of the Second World War, Bundy decided to join the Canadian military. His family had a tradition of military service (his father served in the all-Black No. 2 Construction Battalion during the First World War.

Allan Bundy tried to joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, following a long-held passion for aviation. He was turned down, while a close white friend of his, who had applied at the same time with similar credentials, was accepted. Bundy realized his rejection was due to the recruiter’s racism.

The problem was broader than one man though, as the RCAF actively discouraged non-white applicants. The discrimination became official policy in October 1941, when brass told recruiting officers to accept only men of European descent as air crew.

The demands for personnel soon forced the RCAF to set aside its prejudices. By March 31, 1942, non-whites could sign up as air crew, technicians, and mechanics. Bundy reapplied and was this time accepted.

Allan Bundy

In September 1943, following training in Ontario, Bundy earned the rank Flying Officer. His commission made news in Canada and the United States.

The Pittsburgh Courier recounts a training accident that Bundy barely survived: when he was about 75 metres off the ground, he made an error sending “the plane crashing to the ground… [He] catapulted headfirst through the fabric covering of the cockpit.”

Bundy woke up in hospital, where he spent two months recovering from a fractured skull and other injuries. “At first they thought I was going to die, but I’m lucky and got completely better,” he recalled.

His urge to fly was undiminished and his training continued. Following his commission, he spent nine weeks doing reconnaissance training in Prince Edward Island and was posted to the U.K. in December 1943.

Upon his arrival in Britain, Officer Allan Bundy was stationed with the 404 Maritime Patrol Squadron, AKA the Buffalo Squadron. He joined an operational training unit equipped with Bristol Beaufort and Beaufighter aircraft. To fly these multi-engine planes in combat, the pilot needed a qualified navigator or co-pilot. Bundy was unable at first to find anyone willing to fly with him (almost certainly due to racism) but Sergeant Elwood Cecil Wright eventually volunteered.

Wright and Bundy trained together throughout September, stationed in Dallachy and Banff, Scotland, specializing in missions relating to coastal defence.

They were deployed on their first combat mission on Oct. 15, 1944, sinking two enemy ships off coast of Axis-occupied Norway.

Bundy served steadily through the rest of the war, flying many such missions, returning to Nova Scotia when the Second World War concluded. Only five years later, the Bundy family and the local  community suffered a devastating tragedy.

On Nov. 30, 1950, Kay’s Department Store on Barrington Street caught fire. Among the 10 dead were Bundy’s brother Milton, 21, and father William, 51.

In the 1950s, Bundy married Marie Kane and moved to Toronto, building a new life away from the site of that tragedy. He became a supervisor with a local manufacturing company. Cancer claimed Marie and a few years later, he married his second wife Jennie.

He died in 2001 after a long illness. He was remembered for his work with the Legion and his skill on the golf course, but few knew the details of his military service, overcoming racism to become Canada’s first Black combat pilot.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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