Canada 150 Vignette Series
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Vignettes
PART XIV: Nos. 76-80
By Greg Sigurdson/Bill Hillman
76. REMEMBER THOSE WAR BRIDES?
77. RCAF Aircrew Badges and Nationality Titles
78. BCATP Stations - 8 BGS Lethbridge Alberta
79. BCATP No. 8 BGS Lethbridge Official Opening
80. A WWII Memory - Sam and Glen Merrifield Part 5
Continued in PART XVII: Nos. 81-85
076 of 150: REMEMBER THOSE WAR BRIDES?
We found the following article in the Legion Magazine, September 1972 edition. It provides some good background to a deeply human experience for many men and women as a result of World War II.
At the end of World War II the new wives of thousands of Canadian servicemen poured into this country. Most of these young women were from the British Isles. Reaching their new home had proven frustrating and exciting.
REMEMBEFR THOSE WAR BRIDES?
By Joyce Hibbert
With the world-wide homeward movement of fighting men then in full swing, the girls in most cases had had a long wait. Young love, cooling heels and red tape didn't mix too well. At war brides' clubs all over Britain they met and decided on tactics to try and get things moving faster.
Today, no doubt they'd parade with placards. Canada House ln London was besieged by girls clamouring to get to Canada. Patient and polite workers explained to them that early departures depended on some sort of point system -- and each wife would be shipped off in due time. So they went home and waited at least a month before bothering Canada House again. Meanwhile, more forms had to be filled, medical examinations passed and loads of letters written to placate impatient husbands already in Canada. And each war bride should write to her local MP asking for help. Back would come a courteous note on British House of Commons wartime notepaper. The member would do his best but "you will be the first to admit that men who have been abroad four or five years have a higher priority."
Months passed, a year, and maybe a few more months but In time every girl's ship did come in. One such was the Cunard liner Scythia, a troopship turned brideship. To the nostalgic strains of a military band on the quay playing "Will ye no come back again" and "Auld Lang Syne" the Scythia steamed out of Liverpool on February 18th, 1946. On board she carried 800 brides and children.
After ploughing through the rough Irish Sea, the Scythia ran into an Atlantic storm and simultaneously developed turbo-feed trouble. All this within twenty-four hours of leaving Liverpool. The London Daily Mail of February 22nd, 1946 read thus: "Her speed of 16 knots was halved. The heavy Atlantic rollers battered her with the full force of a winter gale. The war brides went down like ninepins; scores of girls were ill as the 26-year-old Scythia limped to Belfast.... while the ship underwent repairs, one girl was taken off on a stretcher, her long-awaited journey to Canada again postponed. So much sympathy was felt by the others that they collected enough money to pay for her passage by air.
Eleven days after leaving Liverpool the voyage ended in Halifax. When the war brides disembarked, most boarded the massive Canadian trains for destinations westward. Travelling under the watchful eyes and care of the Red Cross, they gorged themselves on the comparative abundance of food -- and were duly presented with a Canadian Cook Book for BritIsh Brides.
Following the excitement of welcomes, showers and unrationed clothing sprees, these new Canadians were soon fused into the life of their adopted land. Most of them, during the next twenty years or so, were kept busy raising their own breed of Canadians.
The brides of wartime were happy indeed to become peacetime wives and mothers. Today they can be found all across the country doing all manner of things. Scratch the surface of almost any occupation where women are employed and you're bound to turn up some of those erstwhile war brides.
Writer Elinor Florance’s web site deals with many subjects from that war. Her contribution, packed with many wonderful pictures of war brides and spouses can be seen at:
While researching this vignette, We ran across some excellent web sites devoted to this World War II phenomena.
A web site by the name of Wartime Canada is where we found the picture of the booklet "Information For Wives of Soldiers – Coming from Overseas." It provided good advice to Canada’s newest immigrants, but hardly explained all that the war brides were to encounter in Canada. It can be seen at:
Bill Hillman's AS YOU WERE. . . Military Tribute Site features many personal accounts of 12 War Brides from the book:
WOMEN OF THE WAR YEARS
as well as an INTRODUCTION and PRESS GALLERY:
Photos from the book are presented in the accompanying collage poster:
077 of 150: RCAF Aircrew Badges and Nationality Titles
Air Crew Badges of the Royal Canadian Air Force – WWII
For much of the history of the Royal Canadian Air Force, aircrew members were awarded 'Wings' to verify their qualifications in a specific trade within the aircraft they flew. As was the case in World War II, aircrew members other than pilots, were awarded ' half-wings' to be worn on their uniforms above the left Brest pocket and above any ribbons or decorations.
RCAF half wings were modelled on those used by the Royal Air Force. During WWII, the Canadian wings carried the Royal Crown of King George VI, the initials ' RCAF' and one stylized wing on the left side of the badge (as viewed by the person wearing the unfirom). Within a laurel wreath in the centre of the badge, was the initial(s) for the trade they represented. In the case of the RCAF, 'N' stood for Navigator, 'B' for Bomb Aimer, 'AG' for Air Gunner, 'WAG' for Wireless Operator Air Gunner and 'E' stood for Flight Engineer. Early in the war, RCAF aircrew included Observers whose badge was the same as those used by the Royal Air Force with the initial 'o' in the centre. Navigators succeeded Observers as aircrew members.
Nationality Titles of the Commonwealth Air Forces - WWII
During World War II, Great Britain and Canada experienced a surge in personnel from foreign countries enlisting in their air forces. Generally the enlistees came from other Commonwealth countries and countries overrun by the enemy. While serving in the RAF or RCAF, the enlistee's home country was identified by means of a nationality title (patch) sewn on the shoulder of their uniforms. Guidelines for the design of the nationality title were as follows. Officers wore curved titles embroidered in light blue on a grey-blue background while other ranks were issued nationality titles in light blue on a dark blue or black background which was usually rectangular in shape.
Variations to these rules occurred when the great numbers of manufacturers producing the titles used their own standards of production. Probably the most common variation was the inclusion of the national title with the RAF eagle. British airmen serving in Canada began wearing a 'GT. BRITAIN' title on their shoulders. Khaki badges with red embroidered lettering were worn on tropical uniforms.
Information for this article was gleaned from the book: Air Force Badges and Insignia of World War 2 by Guido Rosignoli.
078 of 150: BCATP Stations - 8 BGS Lethbridge Alberta
On what was known as Kenyon Field near Lethbridge Alberta, the Royal Canadian Air Force opened No. 5 Elementary Flying Training School in July 1940. Due to the high prairie winds, the air force determined that it could not continue operating light biplane aircraft for elementary training there and relocated the school to High River Alberta in June of 1941.
In November 1941, the RCAF opened No. 8 Bombing & Gunnery School at this airfield. A major expansion was needed to facilitate bombing and gunnery ranges and 100 square miles of land was leased from the Blood Indian Reserve nearby. No. 8 BGS closed in 1944.
Fairey Battle, Westland Lysander, Avro Anson and Bristol Bolingbroke aircraft were used to provide target towing and gunnery bombing practice. No. 8 Bombing & Gunnery School offered training to Observers (eight weeks), Navigator Bs (eight weeks), Bomb Aimers (eight increased to 12 weeks), Wireless Air Gunners (12 weeks) and Air Gunners (12 weeks) from the Commonwealth Air Forces. Ground and simulator training was intensive for students who spent the majority of their time at No. 8 BGS at these activities as opposed to those requiring flying time. For example, between 1940 and 1942, an Observer in training could look forward to only 20 hours of practice in an aircraft and air gunners could expect only seven hours. In 1942, the courses were lengthened for all trades.
Bombing students were given instruction in the use and maintenance of bombsights, directing the pilot to fly the bombing run, releasing bombs and recording the results of the bomb run. In air, bombing students were given 5.2 kilogram practice bombs which were released from Fairey Battles, Avro Anson and Bristol Bolingbrokes.
The Gunnery student curriculum included learning to load, aim and clean their 303 machine guns. They started out on the ground-based gun range. Once proficient with rifles and live ammunition, Gunnery students graduated to ground-based aircraft turrets with multiple machine guns. They then took to the air in Fairey Battle aircraft shooting at targets on the ground and at airborne drogues towed by Lysanders.
To graduate, all students had to demonstrate proficiency in aircraft recognition of 72 different types of aircraft.
079 of 150: BCATP No. 8 BGS Lethbridge Official Opening
Introduction – The Official Opening of No. 8 Bombing and Gunnery School, Lethbridge, Alberta was November 8, 1941. It was also the day that the first Bombing and Gunnery Class graduated and received their Wings. Earlier this year, we received a package of photographs and documents from No. 8 BGS as a donation from Robert Quirk. In this Canada 150 Vignette, We offer some digital copies of these archival materials from that day. It would appear that the graduation took place inside one of the hangars due to inclement weather. Today it is our pleasure to present to you, Canada's newest Bombing and Gunnery School and its first class of Air Gunners. As you pass through the Station today, it will be apparent that many of the buildings and facilities are not yet completed; it is, however, very fitting that the official opening of our Station should coincide with the graduation of. our first class, because this is the first contribution to the sole purpose for which this School exists, THE TRAINING OF AIR OBSERVERS AND AIR GUNNERS.
A MESSAGE FROM OUR COMMANDING OFFICER
We will never lose sight of the fact that our best efforts must and will always be concentrated on attaining the highest degree of efficiency possible in the training of our students. We are not unmindful of the fact that much remains to be done to make No. 8 Bombing and Gunnery School the smart and efficient Unit that will reflect the keenness and alertness of its personnel.
We, at this school are deeply grateful, for the many kindnesses and expressions of goodwill which have been shown to us on all sides, particularly, by the residents of the City of Lethbridge. The preservation of these good relations shall be one of our constant endeavours.
It is our desire to pay tribute to the unceasing and tireless efforts of the Station Personnel who have brought about the degree of proficiency already attained. I am confident that with such cooperation, our hope to make No. 8 Bombing and Gunnery School the best shall soon be realized.
(W.A. Jones) Wing Commander,
No. 8 B & G School, RCAF.,
Lethbridge , Alberta.
BUILDINGS NO. Hl, H2, 3, 9, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 24, 28, 30, are opened for your inspection, until 6 P.M. Your cooperation in refraining from smoking, in and about buildings, or near Aircraft, will be appreciated.
080 of 150: A WW II Memory - Sam and Glen Merrifield Part 5
Sam and Glen Merrifield continue to give us their recollections of work and social life at the Pocklington Air Base in Yorkshire, England.
Part 5 - During the summer of 1941 I remember being sent on a crash party to a field atop a cliff on the English Channel near Plymouth. One of our aircraft had made it home to England with maybe a hundred feet to spare and belly landed. It was well shot up and we had to go and retrieve our command set crystals and other gear before it was sent to the repair depot. We were a party of two, the AEM being an RAF lad who had at one time lived in Plymouth. We went down by train and then took a bus through the city. It was a sight to see the center of the city where little remained but a pile of rubble. From the upper deck of a city bus you could see over the rubble as far as two or three roads either side.
After our work at the aircraft we had the evening to spend and went to a Pub. My mate was very despondent at seeing his city in such a shape and proceeded to get drunk. I did not drink and for each of his beers I had what the British call a mineral water. To this day I do not know what it feels like to be drunk but I do know what it feels like to be full. The night ended up with no bed available so we searched out a police station and spent the night on the benches in their poolroom before catching the train home next day.
During our time in Pocklington we spent most of our time away from the airdrome in the City of York, about twenty miles west of our drome. The DeGray Ballroom was a favorite but sometimes we went to the Co-op Ballroom. Mostly we sampled the fare at the Willow Cafe and spam and chips kept our hunger at bay as this was all that was regularly available. The Rialto cinema and the White Swan Pub were also places we gathered to meet and greet friends.
During the heat of the summer of 1941 someone, I forgot who, decided it would be a good idea to get our heads shaved, like we did when we were kids. Sam chickened out but Tom, Hutch, Roxy and I had it done. It did not take us long to realize our mistake when we learned that it portrayed the serving of a sentence in a Military Glass House or Prison to the British public. The part of the public that worried us - the gals in the dance halls and many never believed it was just a prank.
At this period, after cross country or operational flights IFFs were removed and kept in our section stores under armed guard. One night when Sam was doing the pickup in our van, which had a high workshop as a box, he ran into and damaged a Wellington mainplane. Against orders, one of the aircrew had left an a/c on the perimeter road during the fog. Sam did not have a chance as all vehicle headlights were partially blacked out and visibility was very limited. Our van's box was knocked off square but we got it back to normal nearly and it stayed like that until the end of the war. Needless to say there was an investigation and both Sam and the crew were questioned. While we awaited the outcome and the blame laying a stroke of good fortune appeared. During a practice session of circuits and bumps another Wellington pancaked and the Starboard mainplane was not damaged. A quick swap was made and all breathed easier.
Shortly after the repaired aircraft was lost on a training flight with Armstrong, one of our Wireless Mechanics aboard. All on the aircraft were lost so we thereafter questioned the wisdom of a major structural change in an airdrome.
During the fall of 1941 we had a half dozen RCAF types from 400, 401 and 402 Squadrons come to get some experience and training on Bomber equipment. These lads had been in reserve prewar but had no time on equipment other than command sets for R/T (radio telephone), which at that time were the TR9F, or fighter equivalent. Our kites had much more, including long range wireless sets, the T54 & RSS. As a result of this extra manpower, Tom, Hutch, Roxy, Sam and I were able to get away on leave together and went to Aberdeen for a leave that included New Years and Tom met his future wife Margaret at the New Year’s Eve dance.
Fall periods were often foggy and when flying was not possible, our work load was light. Our Cherie called the shots and days off were common as parades and other military dressings were unknown on operational stations. The mail started to come more regularly and parcels were getting past the submarines and were a treasured delight.
Often we pooled our supplies and had section parties which were much enhanced by Roxy Lawson and his four string tenor guitar leading the sing song. Sam bought a violin and after a few practice sessions was prevailed upon to get rid of it.
Our first newspaper "hound" attacked us in February 1942 and the write-up headed "Manitoba Men'' etc. tells it better than I could.
Manitoba Men Help "Keep 'Em Flying" In Overseas ForceFeb. 13 (1942) - ground crews are the forgotten men of the air force. The men "behind the lines" in Britain's air war, they play a silent supporting role in keeping the big bombers in the air. Their work never brings them into the headlines but they are "tops" with the men who fly the machines and there is a kind of mutual admiration among them.
By The Canadian Press
A ROYAL AIR FORCE STATION SOMEWHERE IN ENGLAND
A bomber is as good as the ground crew. Fliers can’t feel safe in the air unless they have confidence in the men who service their machines on the ground. (unreadable)… when in the company of officers of the Royal Canadian Air Force Wellington aircraft when stationed here. It is imperative to have very good ground crews—and we have.
Ground crew with the squadron come from all parts of Canada. They come from all walks of life to join the air force and come to Britain.
A group warming themselves around a stove in a base dispersal hut represented each of the three Maritime provinces, Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. Their only complaint was that bad weather was keeping their planes on the ground and there wasn’t enough work to do.
The group included L/AC. Pat Collings, Lethbridge, Alta., who has a brother Allen in the Canadian army; L/AC. Jim Coulson, Edmonton; AC George Shearer, Saskatoon.
Inside one of the big hangars on the rambling aerodrome, wireless electrical mechanics were at work on defective radio sets. L/AC. Norman Lawson, 22 year-old Winnipegger who would like to be posted to Russia, and Cpl. Tom Cranston, 20 of Midland, Ont., were repairing one set.
At another work bench were L/AC. Sam Merrifield and L/AC. Glen Merrifield of Wellesley, Sask., who have been together since they joined up in March, 1940, and Cpl. Herbert Woodhead of Winnipeg, who proclaimed that "we Westerners control the station here."
The station "twins" are L/AC. Donald (Squeak) Harden and L/AC. Michael (Kayo) Shopka of Brandon, Man. They knew each other in Brandon before the war, joined up together in November, 1939 and came to Britain with an army co-operation squadron. They were at a Canadian fighter station before they came to this bomber squadron.
Wellington Dispersal by Michael Turner
Cranston Fine Arts
The snapshot (left) is a print of a painting by Michael Turner in 1976. It depicts very accurately what would have been found at Pocklington during the winter of 1942 with two exceptions. The squadron letters "LN" need to be changed to "LQ" to be correct for 405 squadron. The engines pictured here are the radial PEGASUS not inline MERLINS that powered our Vickers Wellingtons.
The light snow, being removed by shovel, is shown. The NAAFI wagon with the boys lined up for a cup of hot tea and a bun shows in the upper left hand corner. A tractor and the bomb cart train are shown backing under the belly of aircraft "X" in the distance. The tractor pulling a fuel tank trailer is positioned in front of the starboard mainplane of the aircraft. The mechanic is on the mainplane waiting to take the hose and fill the wing tank. A wireless mechanic or electrician is standing on the pilots seat, his head out the escape hatch, shouting down to his helper on the bicycle probably asking him to get repair parts from the workshop in the hangar.
The two aero engine mechanics (RCAF) or fitters (RAF) are probably cleaning spark plugs and chasing the ever elusive 'mag-drop' which robs aircraft engines of their power. They are wearing their leather 'jerkins' which were much needed in the cold damp Yorkshire winters. One of the fellows at the NAAFI wagon has his Wellingtons folded over, as was the custom, to make them easier to get on and off and to reduce the rubbing on your legs. In the upper right hand corner we see the crew shack, a Nissen hut, which usually served three dispersal pads for three aircraft which remained outdoors except for major repair.~Sam Merrifield Narrative.
Click for full-size collage poster
BCATP Vignettes are Continued in PART XVII: Nos. 81-85
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