Name:Joseph Earl McGrath

Aircraftsman second class J16363 | Royal Canadian Air Force 418 SQDN.

Aircraft: Douglas Boston III, deHavilland Mosquito FB Mark II

Service Personnel Information

  • Name: Joseph Earl McgGrath
  • Service Regimental Number: J16363
  • Rank: Aircraftsman second class
  • Height/weight: 6'2.5" and 149 lbs
  • Colour of eyes: brown
  • Marital status:single
  • Religion:Roman Catholic
  • Address:1017 Strathcona Street (in Winnipeg)
  • Next of Kin (and relationship):Major Joseh Earl McGrath
  • Date of enlistment:February 8, 1941
  • City and province of enlistment: Winnipeg, Manitoba


Major Joseph Earl McGrath

Personal Information:

Joseph Earl McGrath was born in 1922 in Quebec City, Quebec but moved to Winnipeg as a child with his parents in 1927. He lived with his parents at 1017 Strathcona Street in Winnipeg. Joseph was named after his father Major Joseph Earl McGrath and his mother was Agnes McGrath. Joseph was a tall man, standing 6 feet two and a half inches tall. He was fit, weighing 149 pounds and he was an active person. Joseph had just graduated in 1940 from St. Paul’s High School. At the age of 19 he enlisted on February 8, 1941 in Winnipeg. This was a time when many young men were being recruited for military service, and like so many of his friends and family members, he wanted to be part of the military action overseas. Although young, Joseph would have been full of energy and enthusiasm and being a SPHS graduate, he would have wanted to help in the war effort. He was religious, born Roman Catholic, so he had a sense of needing to help others. He was very courageous to want to go to war considering he just turned 19. Joseph’s hobby was building model airplanes, so it was fitting that he chose to enlist in the Air Force.
Military Movements:

Once Joseph enlisted in Winnipeg in 1941, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and wanted to be a pilot. Training for military pilots was throughout Canada. The RCAF Home War Establishment (HWE) established training centers in both Atlantic Canada and Western Canada. At the time Joseph was training, there were 39 pilot schools throughout Canada. Joseph was sent for training with the RCAF to Yorkton Saskatchewan and was in his training program for 6 months, graduating with his pilot training in September 1941. He kept preparing for his commission, which came in December 1941, when he was sent overseas. All of this happened when Joseph was only 19 years of age! Joseph was assigned to the 418 RCAF Squadron, which meant he was ready for overseas service. His service number was J16363. As the war progressed, RCAF officers were pressing for more squadrons to be established overseas and Joseph was part of the wave of new recruits coming from Canada. The 418 Squadron was formed in 1941, the time when Joseph enlisted, and the time when Canada was asked by Britain to come to their defence after the Battle of Britain. The 418 Squadron was considered a very unique and courageous group of men. Their motto, “Defend even unto Death” speaks to the dedication and courage these young men like Joseph had.

The 418 Squadron that Joseph was a member of was one of Canada’s highest scoring squadrons in WWII in terms of air-to-air and air-to-ground kills and in terms of day and night operations. The Squadron was active in Europe during the War and conducted risky missions on a daily basis. They were referred to as an “Intruder Squadron”, a unique role within the Canadian military. Unlike many other bombers or fighter crews, the 418 Squadron men did not fly in protective packs with other planes, but rather they flew alone. Many of their missions took them into the heart of enemy territory against Luftwaffe fighters and their goal was to shoot up enemy airfields. The later was Joseph’s task. His job was to fly to German locations and get in close enough so the gunner could shoot at the ammunition holding depots, known as ammo dumps. This was to reduce the source of the German’s ammunition supply.

Joseph was an Aircraftman Second Class. His job was to fly the plane, firstly a Douglas Boston III then a Mosquito FB Mark II plane. The Mosquito planes help to define the legacy of this Squadron. The deHavilland Mosquito planes were the most common plane flown during WWII and there were approximately 8,000 built. It was commonly known in the forces as the “Mossie” and nicknamed “The Wooden Wonder”. To save on scarce metal it was constructed of plywood with a balsa wood core between Canadian birch wood. The Mosquito was considered very versatile. The plane was considered multifunctional and was flown with a two man crew. The Mosquito was adapted to many other roles during the air war and re-designed as a tactical bomber, high altitude night bomber, fighter-bomber, maritime aircraft and a photo-reconnaissance aircraft. The design of the plane was for speed, instead of defensive armourment and the plane was considered to have excellent speed, altitude and range capabilities. Production of the Mosquitoes started in the mid-1941s and continued until after WWII. When it entered production and use in the war, the Mosquito was one of the fastest operational aircraft in the world. Joseph and his pilot colleagues would have considered themselves very lucky to be trained and fly these planes overseas.

Joseph’s role was to fly the plane while the gunner, located towards the back of plane would shoot at military targets. The plane was designed with straight front wings, and sloping on the back, because it helped with aerodynamics of the plane and accuracy of the gun. The gunner in the back was the person who would shoot at the target, but it was up to Joseph to ensure the plane was accuracy placed. The light guns were in the front, but the heavy guns were in the back of the plane. Although the plane was heavily armoured and considered a stable plane, it had its risks. The heavy guns were in the back and so the pilot had to fly the plane in front of their enemy which left them very susceptible to being shot down. It was, like many things in war, the issue of who had the best trigger reflex and accuracy in aim.
Mosquito FB Mark II airplane pilot control area of a Mosquito FB Mark II
Joseph was a part of the success of 418 Squadron and was the recipient of several honours and medals. Joseph received the 1939-45 Star medal, given to military personnel who served for at least six months of active air-crew duty. The date on the medal denotes the time Joseph served in Europe. The ribbon has three equal stripes on it, dark blue, red, and light blue that represent the navy, army and air force. Another medal Joseph received was the Air Crew Europe Star. This medal was awarded for air crew personnel who flew from air bases in Britain over Europe between September 1939 until June 1944. This medal honoured military that flew into dangerous areas and risked their lives on a daily basis. A person must have received the 1939-45 Star medal before qualifying for the Air Crew Europe Star medal, meaning they must have served at least six months in the air force first.

Joseph’s military medals:

The Air Crew Europe Star medal honours the great bravery these men had to do what they did. The ribbon is light blue representing the sky the pilots flew in and the black edges between the blue and black represents the continuous service by day and night that the pilots fly in. The yellow represents the threat of the enemy search lights the pilots faced. He also received the General Service Medal and the C.V.S.M., the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal.


1939-45 Star medal Air Crew Europe Star C.V.S.M.

Lest We Forget:

Sadly, Joseph did not make it home to Canada after the war. Joseph was reported missing in action when he failed to return in December 1943. It is not recorded the exact flight Joseph was on or where he specifically was flying when he went missing. At that time, his Squadron was flying from Britain over into Europe and most likely into German held territory, maybe France. The military pronounced him dead January 3, 1944 after attempts to find him were unsuccessful. Joseph was just 21 years old. Joseph left to mourn his mother and father, living in Winnipeg. He had not married yet.

It is not known whether or how Joseph actually died. At that time though, not finding personnel was common and many service people were never found. During the War, the bodies of many airmen and military personnel were never found and they are honoured at the Runnymede Memorial Cemetery in Surrey, England. There are 3,050 Canadian airmen, including Joseph whose names are inscribed on the Stone of Remembrance. Joseph’s grave is panel 247.

Joseph was one of many young men who went into active service for the love of his country and with a sense of need to do the right thing. In WWII, Canada lost just under 18,000 personnel in the Air Force alone and Joseph would be one of them. It is easy to get lost in the numbers of the war, but the reality was that Joseph was a young man, just like many of us who are SPHS graduates, ready to start our lives after high school. He was only 21 years of age, had not married yet and had not had the chance to have a family and he lost his life for something he believed in. It is important that we remember these war veterans like Joseph and know that they did loose their life for no reason.

Military Service Record

  • Age (at death): 21
  • Force:airforce
  • Unit: 418 (RCAF) SQDN
  • Service Number :J16363
  • Honours and Awards:1939-45 star, Air Crew Europe star, General Service Medal, C.V.S.M.
  • Photograph: On SPHS 1940 class photo, memorial, and DND memorial photo
  • Next of Kin: (and relationship): Parents: Father-Major Joseph Earl McGrath; Mother- Agnes McGrath
  • Date of Death: January 3, 1944 (presumed dead by military)
  • Country of Burial: United Kingdom
  • Cemetery:Runnymede Memorial Cemetery
  • Grave Reference: Panel 247
  • Location: Runnymede, Memorial, Surrey England
  • Book of Remembrance: Page 386

Grave Reference

  • Name of Cemetery: Runnymede Memorial Cemetery
  • Grave Reference:Panel 247
Include the diagram of the cemetery if possible. Also provide some information about the cemetery if possible.

Archival Reference

Military service files of Joseph Earl McGrath obtained from Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa, Ontario.

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