The Second World War produced many heroes, including Kamloops’ own John “Moose” Fulton.
Fulton was the first commander of the famous RCAF 419 Squadron and became one of the most decorated and revered Kamloopsians to ever serve in the Second World War.
Fulton was born in 1912 and acquired the nickname “Moose” during his childhood. After attending high school in Kamloops, Fulton went to the Boeing School of Aeronautics in Oakland, Calif.
There, in 1931 at the age of 19, he earned his pilot’s licence.
In 1934, Fulton joined the Royal Air Force and was commissioned in March of 1935 as a pilot officer. He was posted to a bomber squadron in Egypt for training and was promoted to flying officer.
In 1936, he returned to England, where he was stationed. In 1938, Fulton served his first tour as a bomber pilot. In September of 1939, he was promoted to flight lieutenant as a test pilot for the Experimental Section, Royal Aeronautical Establishment at Farnborough.
Fulton then served as a bomber pilot with the 99 and 311 RAF squadrons, participating in 20 raids over enemy territory in the first year of the war. He did this from June to October 1940 and was named squad leader on Sept. 1, 1940.
Moose received the Distinguished Flying Cross in September of 1940 for his actions in a raid on a marshalling yard in Brussels with the 149 Squadron of the RAF.
On the night of Sept. 15 and into the morning of Sept. 16, Fulton and his crew crossed the Belgium border at about 9,000 feet and attempted to attack their target.
The aircraft showed signs of icing and the starboard engine lost power and stopped.
Squad leader Fulton turned for home, dropping to 2,000 feet near Orfordness. The lifeless engine started up again at this height and Fulton decided to finish what he started.
He came from the southwest, but found conditions too poor and again turned back. He retreated to the Belgian coast, pinpointed himself and tried a different approach to Brussels from Antwerp.
The weather was clear and Fulton and crew approached the target, but were met by anti-aircraft fire, which kept the planes at bay. Fulton increased their altitude to make the run at a greater height.
Cloud temporarily covered the target, so they waited a half-hour before making two successful attacks from 11,000 feet. They destroyed their target despite constant setbacks.
This earned Fulton the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Fulton was reposted to Farnborough as a test pilot, testing aircraft, engines and night flying in England during 1941. This earned him the Air Force Cross in 1942.
In December of 1941, Fulton became the first wing commander of a new bomber group— the 419 Squadron.
As commander, he served for seven months and completed more than 30 bombing raids.
The 419 Squadron formed at Mildenhall, Suffolk, England, on Dec. 15, 1941, becoming the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 17th bomber squadron formed overseas.
Pilots flew Canadian-built Lancaster aircraft, along with Halifax and Wellington, on bombing raids.
Under Fulton’s command, the squad took on the nickname “Moose” and, in the spring of 1942, Fulton led the squad on a devastating attack on the Baltic port of Rostock.
On a return flight from a successful raid on the Kiel Naval Base in April of 1942, Fulton’s aircraft was hit by a Messerschmitt 110 Night Fighter at 1,500 feet.
The port engine was knocked out and one of its propellers shot away.
The rear gunner was wounded, while the hydraulic system and many instruments were damaged and unserviceable. The rear turret had also been shattered.
But Fulton managed to get his crew home safely, flying about 118 miles in a damaged aircraft.
This earned him a Distinguished Service Order.
Midway through 1942, Moose had been in nearly 60 missions.
In the overnight hours of July 28/29, he made his final run. On a return flight from a raid on Hamburg, Fulton’s aircraft was hit by German night fighters, suffering substantial damage.
The last recorded message from his plane was “attacked Night Fighters, wounded, 500 feet going in.”
The plane was last seen crossing the French coast over the English Channel. The body of one of his crew members washed up along the French coast, but Fulton was never found.
On Aug. 4, 1942, Fulton was reported missing in action by the Air Ministry, the same day he was awarded his Distinguished Service Order. He was 29 years old.
In April of 1943, Fulton was officially listed as “presumed dead. Kamloops had lost a tremendous war hero.
His squadron would go on to serve in the remainder of the war, becoming one of the most honoured squads, with 194 decorations.
The group was disbanded in Yarmouth, N.S., on Sept. 5, 1945.
As for the relationship with the Moose Squadron and his hometown of Kamloops, it began with a Feb. 11, 1943, city council meeting.
The airfield at Kamloops Airport was named after John Fulton on May 29, 1944. That November, the official crest of 419 Squadron was revealed. It showed a charging moose with the Cree Motto “Moose Aswayita” (Beware the Moose).
Though the original Moose Squadron and its auxiliary were disbanded after the war, the Royal Canadian Air Force 419 Tactical Fighter Training Squadron in Cold Lake, Alta., has adopted the “Moose” moniker and the crest.
The squadron maintains a close relationship with the City of Kamloops and its members visit the Tournament Capital often.
— This story was written with the help of myriad files in the Kamloops Museum and Archives.