Allan Selwyn Bundy, pilot (born 1920 in Dartmouth, NS; died 9 December 2001 in Toronto, ON).
Allan Selwyn Bundy, pilot (born 1920 in Dartmouth, NS; died 9 December 2001 in Toronto, ON). Allan Bundy was the first Black Canadian combat pilot. He flew with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) during the Second World War and earned the title of Flying Officer. Officer Bundy flew more than 40 combat missions in Europe as a member of the 404 Squadron.
Allan Bundy was born in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, to father William Henry and mother Ruth Bundy. Allan was the eldest of four siblings: sister Lillian and brothers Carl and Milton. According to an article published by the Pittsburgh Courier in 1943, the Bundy family had a long history in Canada: Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent and father of Queen Victoria, reportedly brought members of the Bundy family to Canada in the 18th century to help build fortifications in Halifax.
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, Bundy attended Dalhousie University through an Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire scholarship, studying science with a concentration in chemistry. Bundy was also selected for Dalhousie’s varsity football team and continued to compete in track and field.
At the onset of the Second World War, Bundy decided to enlist to the Canadian military. The Bundy family had a tradition of military service (his father, for example, served in the all-black No. 2 Construction Battalion during the First World War) and Allan had long had a passion for aviation. In 1942, he officially traded in academic life for service in the Canadian military.
Joining the RCAF
Allan Bundy initially applied to join the RCAF in 1939, but was turned down. A close white friend of his, who had applied at the same time and with similar credentials, was accepted. Bundy believed his rejection was due to the recruiter’s racial prejudice. In fact, the problem was more widespread, as the RCAF actively discouraged “Negro” as well as “Oriental” applicants; this policy was made explicit in October 1941, when recruiting offices were officially instructed to accept men of European descent only for appointment as air crew.
Prior to a policy change in March 1942, therefore, Black Canadians were limited to labour or service roles in the RCAF. A similar policy existed in the navy, but not in the army (although individual army recruiters sometimes created difficulties for Black Canadians who tried to enlist). However, the demands for manpower forced the RCAF to reconsider the prejudice of these policies, and as of 31 March 1942 visible minorities were able to enlist as air crew, technicians and mechanics.
Prior to the change of policy, Bundy received a conscription notice ordering him to report for military service. The document assigned him to the Canadian Army as one of the ground troops. Bundy, who still wanted to join the RCAF, ignored the summons. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police followed up on his lack of response. When a police officer showed up at his home, Bundy demanded that he be given an opportunity as an airman with the RCAF. He was allowed to reapply to the RCAF and was finally accepted, three years after his first attempt.
Flying Officer Bundy
In September 1943, following training in St. Catharines and Aylmer, Ontario, Allan Bundy earned the title Flying Officer. His commission made the news in Canada and the United States. Soon after he was commissioned, an article on Bundy appeared in the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the top African-American newspapers in the United States. According to the article, “all Dartmouth is proud of the curly-haired Bundy whom they recalled first as a promising school boy who sold newspapers to buy his books, then as a scholarship winner and champion athlete.”
The article also recounted a training accident that Bundy had been lucky to survive: when he was 250 feet off the ground, he had made an error that “sent the plane crashing to the ground and caused him to be catapulted head first 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,” Bundy told the reporter.
The accident had not diminished Bundy’s desire to fly, and he continued his training once he had recovered. Following his commission, he spent nine weeks at the General Reconnaissance School in Summerside, Prince Edward Island. Bundy completed his training and was posted to Great Britain on 11 December 1943.
Upon his arrival in Britain, Officer Allan Bundy was stationed with the 404 Squadron, also known as the Buffalo Squadron. He was then sent to 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 — likely due to racial prejudice — but Sergeant Elwood Cecil Wright eventually volunteered. (Sergeant Wright later became a flying officer in 1945.)
Sergeant Wright and Officer Bundy trained together throughout September and were authorized to fly in combat as of 8 October 1944. The pair flew the Bristol Beaufighter and the de Havilland Mosquito, as these were practical aircraft for coastal combat. Bundy and Wright were stationed in Dallachy and Banff, Scotland, and specialized in missions relating to coastal defense. They were deployed on their first active mission on 15 October 1944, sinking two enemy ships off the Norwegian coast.
Wright and Bundy participated in at least 42 missions. When the Second World War ended, the 404 Squadron was disbanded and Bundy returned to Halifax. In August 1945, he was released from the RCAF, concluding his military service.
Only five years after the war, the Bundy family and the broader Halifax community suffered a devastating tragedy. On 30 November 1950, Kay’s Department Store, a popular shopping location, caught fire. Many shoppers and staff were reportedly trapped on the building’s third floor —the building’s windows were barred to prevent burglary, leaving no chance for the desperate to escape. Amongst the 10 dead were Bundy’s brother Milton, 21, and his father William, 51.
In the 1950s, Bundy married his first wife, Marie Kane, and the couple moved to Toronto, Ontario. Marie later died of cancer and Bundy eventually married his second wife, Jennie. Bundy lived on Gerrard Street in Toronto and worked as a supervisor in a manufacturing firm.
Bundy was a member of the Baron Byng Branch No. 1 of the Royal Canadian Legion. He was also a charter member of Pickering’s Whitevale Golf Club and was a friend and golfing partner of famous black Canadian hockey player Herb Carnegie, who won numerous club tournaments.
On 9 December 2001, Bundy passed away from a long-term illness after having been hospitalized at Toronto East General Hospital.
Bundy was a true pioneer, the first Black Canadian combat pilot. Fellow Black Canadian and Second World War RCAF airmen Gerald Bell and Tarrance Freeman also challenged the status quo: Bell is widely regarded as the first Black Canadian to earn a pilot license in Canada, and Freeman was the first Black Canadian to be commissioned in the RCAF. Together, these men broke down the barriers of prejudice and helped to revise the policies and cultural attitudes of the RCAF and the Canadian military at large.
Bundy and his family are also examples of the significant military contributions of Black Canadians during the two world wars. His grandfather and father — both named William Henry Bundy — had served in the First World War in Canada’s No. 2 Construction Battalion (the segregated all-Black labour unit). Allan’s younger brothers also followed in this military tradition: Carl enlisted with the RCAF in 1943, and Milton (who was too young for military service during the Second World War), signed up as a member of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets during the war.