Born Nov. 1, 1919, he — like many youngsters — romanticised flying, imagining themselves at the controls and taking off into the wild blue yonder.
“We all had ideas that we’d like to learn to fly and be a bush pilot in the Canadian North,” he said.
And during the 1920s, Edmonton’s airport was a happy hangout.
There, Bannock came under the influence of such legendary bush pilots as Clennell Hagerstown, “Punch” Dickins and Wilfrid Reid “Wop” May, so nicknamed because his young cousin couldn’t pronounce “Wilfrid,” calling him “Woppie” instead.
By April 1939 — about five months before the start of the Second World War — Bannock earned his commercial pilot’s licence and secured a job with Yukon Southern Air Transport.
“As the war rolled around, every commercial pilot in Canada received a telegram from the Minister of National Defence, inviting us to become RCAF pilot officers,” Bannock recalled.
A couple of days later, he was in Vancouver, dressed in leather helmet and goggles, undergoing advanced training in an old, open-cockpit Tiger Moth bi-plane.
Most young pilot officers were keen on going overseas to fight the enemy. Bannock was one of them.
But the madness of those first few months of war turned his fate in a very different direction as he was ordered to become a flight instructor with the vital British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
It was not until June 1944, after more than 2,000 hours as an instructor, that Bannock’s request for overseas duty was finally granted.
He was posted to England, ending up with the RCAF’s No. 418, City of Edmonton Squadron, flying intruder missions over Europe in the incredible Mosquito attack aircraft.
It was the perfect pairing of man and machine.
The plywood aircraft had a capability of flying at speeds of 640 km/h and was a heavily-armed killer with four, low-mounted, 20mm cannons and four .303-calibre machine guns in its nose.
Bannock was an artist and a daring airman at the controls.
He was teamed with a Scotsman named Robert Bruce, the great-grandson of the 8th Earl of Elgin and 12th Earl of Kincardine.
Bruce started the war as a conscientious objector but, after a change of heart, became a Mosquito navigator in 418 Squadron and earned the DFC and bar.
As navigator, it was Bruce’s responsibility to put the aircraft on target.
Out of the turmoil of war, Bannock and Bruce became lifelong friends.
“Sitting side-by-side for four or five hours every night in a cramped cockpit, in a life-and-death struggle for freedom, naturally (we) became pretty close,” said Bannock.
The British press wrote of Bannock and Bruce: “These two airmen spell death to Nazis.”
After the war, Bruce became a music professor and composer.
His Symphony in B Flat was inspired in part by his night sorties with Bannock and dedicated to him. Eventually, it was performed by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
Three days after Bannock arrived in England, a single, V1 Nazi rocket exploded in the centre of London, killing 119 civilians and the Second Battle of Britain was on.
Bannock was thrust into the conflict in a big way, racking up a count of 11 German aircraft and 19 V1 rockets destroyed, making him Canada’s second-highest scoring ace and our leading, night fighter pilot of that war.
On July 3, 1944, he shot down three rockets over Abbeville, France, and three days later, four more in one night — all from a distance of less than 275 metres.
On Sept. 27, 1944, after shooting down two enemy aircraft, one of his engines was set afire by flying debris and he was forced to limp back some 960 kilometres to home base, flying above the English Channel at an altitude of only 60 metres.
Before the age of 24, Bannock was commanding 418 Squadron as Wing Commander.
A couple of years later, he retired from the RCAF and became chief test pilot for de Havilland in Toronto, where he was later appointed company president.
He had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and bar and the Distinguished Service Order for his incredible, wartime service.
In England, they called Bannock “The Saviour of London” but at home, his exploits have been largely unrecognized for much of his life.
For some time, his name was excluded from the list of World War II Flying Aces.
This didn’t bother Bannock at the age of 100, it is more than fitting to honour this ace fighter pilot and a true Canadian hero.