Canada 150 Vignette Series
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Vignettes
PART XVII: Nos. 81-85
By Greg Sigurdson/Bill Hillman
81. Jack Hanlen – Video Oral History
82. No. 1 Technical Training School - St. Thomas Ontario
83: The Flight Engineer
84: BCATP: Cover For Convoy
85. A WWII Memory - Sam and Glen Merrifield - Part 6
Continued in PART XVIII: Nos. 86-90
081 of 150: Jack Hanlen – Video Oral History
Jack Hanlan served both in the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Air Force. He together with his Scottish war-bride wife talk about his experiences as a Flying Officer (Engineer) in training in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and on operations in a bomber crew in Europe.
While on operations, Jack’s aircraft was shot down and for a short time he was a prisoner war.
Pearl and Jack talk about his return to Canada and resettlement on the farm near Miniota, Manitoba.
Jack Hanlan’s Oral History Video can be seen on YouTube at:
082 of 150: No. 1 Technical Training School - St. Thomas Ontario
No. 1 Technical Training School in St. Thomas Ontario was opened by the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1939 in facilities appropriated from the Ontario Psychiatric Hospital. This $7,000,000 hospital was newly built and the had not opened before the RCAF took over.
No. 1 TTS was the largest school in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and was designed to facilitate between 2500 and 3500 students at any given time. It was open between November 1939 and April 1945. When closed, the facilities were returned to the Ontario Government to be used as the originally intended psychiatric hospital.
Courses at No. 1 TTS averaged about 18 weeks long. The original syllabus called for the training of 2500 RCAF personnel per cycle of which 1100 were to be engine mechanics and 1100 were to be aircraft mechanics. The remainder of the trainees received instruction, for varying amounts of time, in other trades including electrical and instrument workers, fabric workers, parachute packers and metal workers. While in operation, No. 1 TTS operated a large receiving hospital with connected surgical and laboratory wards. The hospital offered 200 beds and a large x-ray department for patients. That number increased to 700 beds in 1944 to accommodate wounded and sick patients returning to Canada from service overseas. The hospital also operated a dental hospital and air-ambulance service.
No. 1 TTS had a large administration builing with two barracks wings which each contained a library and recreational room. Officers and Technical Instructors were located in a detached three story brick building. All buildings were connected by tunnels. The RCAF added seperate assembly and drill halls to the school which could accommodate 2000 people. The RCAF also built a large training hangar for training.
The original syllabus called for the training of 2500 RCAF personnel per cycle of which 1100 were to be engine mechanics and 1100 were to be aircraft mechanics enrolled in 18 week courses. The remainder of the trainees received instruction, for varying amounts of time, in other trades including electrical and instrument workers, fabric workers, parachute packers and metal workers. In February 1940, No. 1 TTS became home to the RCAF Equipment and Accounting School. No. 1 TTS originally relied heavily on Royal Air Force instructors to teach students their trades.
A monthly station magazine known as the "Aircraftman" was published at No. TTS.
083 of 150: The Flight Engineer
The Avro Lancaster and Handley Page Halifax bomber aircraft in service to Bomber Command during World War II utilized a crew of seven airmen including a mid-upper gunner, rear gunner, wireless operator, bomb aimer/gunner, navigator, pilot and flight engineer. Other British aircraft including the Short Stirling included a flight engineer. Missing from this crew was the co-pilot whose duties were assumed by the flight engineer and pilot.
The flight engineer occupied the seat beside the pilot in the cockpit. This seat could be moved to allow the bomb-aimer access to his position in the nose of the aircraft. The flight engineer’s main responsibility was to monitor equipment with a relatively complicated instrument panel with multiple gauges, switches and dials. He would maintain power and propeller pitch for flight control of the aircraft. As such, the Flight Engineer would set the throttles, monitor oil, pressure, and fuel gauges, He would shift fuel consumption from six fuel tanks in the Lancaster to maintain appropriate trim for the aircraft.
He also assisted the pilot with takeoffs and landings by monitoring and adjusting the throttles, Most Flight Engineers had enough knowledge to keep the aircraft on a straight and level flightpath but would only attempt landing the aircraft if the pilot had become incapacitated.
Flight Engineers received limited formal training in flying the aircraft. Initially during World War II, most Flight Engineers in the Royal Canadian Air Force were Royal Air Force trained. This changed in July 1944 when a Flight Engineer School was set up in Aylmer Ontario. It closed on March 31 1945 having graduated 1913 Flight Engineers who went on to replace RAF Flight Engineers in RCAF aircraft overseas while others served in multi-engine units for the Home War Establishment.
084 of 150: BCATP: Cover For Convoy
This short story was published in the Legion Magazine, February 1973.It was a large uninteresting brown paper envelope, headed at the top with the letters OHMS and RCAF underneath. At the bottom was the warning: Don't waste words - Don't waste paper." Inside the envelope was a book. It was labelled Royal Canadian Air Force, Pilot's Flying Logbook. The pilot's name must have been written by himself at the bottom, but was indecipherable now from frequent handling.
Cover for Convoy
Reprinted with permission from the London Free Press
By Helen Waugh
A few typewritten words under the Royal Canadian Air Force letterhead informed her that: "The enclosed Logbook, which is part of the service estate of the above named, is passed herewith for your retention." It was signed by a wing commander for chief of the air staff.
The first page enumerated the pilot's certificates of qualification such as, first pilot of Tiger Moths, Harvards, Spitfires and Lysanders. Then followed a record of his life, day by day, from AC2 to FO. There were the dates, names of his instructors with the results of tests and remarks. All very methodical.
She felt his excitement when he first wrote "Self" under the pilot's name. She had the same feeling when she read "first solo." She remembered the letter that told about his first flight alone. He wrote, "Up above the clouds is another world and one is another person. I would not have been surprised to see the fairy castles of Mother Goose loom up in front of me."
There were special entries such as "cross country" and "50.hour check," followed by "dual navigation," "map reading" and "night-flying". Then came the certificate which made him a pilot having passed written and cockpit tests to the satisfaction of Wing Commander So and So. This meant graduation. Relatives did not go to graduation in 1941. A pity. She wished she had that memory. He was so proud of his wings.
Two blank pages followed. Not blank to her though, but alive with a vivid picture of his embarkation leave days; the sound of laughter and young voices, the memory of his warm smile as he ran down the steps. She had waved him off as she had waved his father off to another war.
England and the entries told of Miles Masters and Spitfire planes, alternating down the column, sometimes with an instructor, generally alone, mention of dogfighting aerobatics and sometimes a landing at this place or that, reason not explained. Aerobatics – she smiled. He had written : "We looped the loop, banked this way and that, all very exciting, but when we landed I slipped behind the drome and lost my breakfast! "The best of them did that."
Page after page told his daily story, with the flying hours mounting up. Circuits and landings, formations, formations, formations, cloud flying and air-firing at D with notation: "Not so Hot." Assessment of ability as pilot: "Above the average." She glowed. There were the little notes such as "Crashlanded at W., lack of petrol," "Hit telephone pole" and one which landed him in hospital.
He wrote about that one: "Landed In some trees, came to a stop two fields away, with only the engine and cockpit Intact, but passenger and myself not scratched - not much. Guess I was born to be strung up, Mom!"
Then there was the strident note in red ink which said briefly: "Endorsed for disobedience after flght." Oh-oh, always the nuisance boy. He wrote about that too, rather naively, "Had words with my flight commander, he got mad and I laughed, so I am leaving this squadron."
The change seemed to have pleased him. He was now on Lysanders. It was about this time that two Jerry warships made headlines by a dash through the Channel. She had shivered at the news on the radio that told her "forty of our planes are unaccounted for." For two days the sound of the doorbell terrified her. Later he had written : "The Jerries were all about me in the fog, and I was badly scared as my plane carries little armament."
He was back to the Spitfires, working hard for the great day he mentioned so often now in his letters. He wrote : "The improved Spitfire is a beautiful job, but a flying arsenal, and I have a lot more to learn about it."
He leaned through page after page of machine gun calibrations, formation flying, formation interception. Moves from one Squadron to another, refresher courses, one after another. It was at this time that he joined the squadron where he spent his last year, a year of the great excitement of "ops". Moments of triumph and fear.
The records of operations were brief, as if he feared to say too much. There was "a sweep to T, no trouble at all" or "patrol channel, nothing seen,"Thunderbirds had all the fun again.’’ Now and then a bit of action like, "took a squirt at a 109F, damaged it." "Burst a tire on takeoff - landed OK, surprised myself," or "Got a train in France."
There was a short note, "Lost Bob," and she wondered, was Bob's mother reading his logbook too? The flying hours went up and up and escort duty took him to many places.
At last the invasion, though the record seemed as laconic as before.
"Invasion started - fighter cover for beachhead" she read. "Hit by flak just behind the cockpit."
He had changed planes the next day when he noted "Fighters around -- flak heavy." Then the last short entries with no added notes "Cover for invasion -- escort for Bostons -- cover for convoy." That was the last entry and the end of the month.
The first two days of the next month which had not been logged, his squadron had been cover for convoy too. She knew about the third day. It was on that page that she recognized the two signatures of the flight commander and the squadron leader for they had both written to her.
They had said : "A great little fighter pilot – his services to the squadron in all its activities were invaluable."
She closed the book, took it to the living room and put it on the bookcase below his picture. She looked at the picture, firm, stern and old for his 26 years. She replaced the book in its brown paper envelope and saw again "Don't waste words -- Don't waste paper". Only lives, dear God, young gay lives, their ambitions and sweet dreams unfulfilled.
Through her jangled thoughts came the clear ringing of a bell. Prayers for peace at the mission church across the road. Blindly she turned to the hall. Her steps echoed on the porch and crunched the gravel of the drive.
A few children were trying to force open the chapel door, swollen by the recent rains. She opened it for them and under her outstretched arm they tramped noisily in, smiling up at her as they passed. She smiled too.
"Cover for convoy," she thought, and followed them in!
085 of 150: A WWII Memory - Sam and Glen Merrifield - Part 6
At Pocklington I had my first airplane ride. This day Tom and I were repairing a TR9 (radio) when a crew of two pilots came to get the aircraft, accompanied by a flight commander who was to check them out on circuits and bumps. They said they did not need the command set and that we could continue working. The first time around I was thrilled and did more watching than working. Now this was a dual control machine which meant a flip up seat for the second dickey blocked the main aircraft entrance. The second time around, the new boys took over, and with the guidance from the instructor we made it in. Tom and I were busy working as we heard the door go slam as a voice said, "That's it, you can kill yourself without me aboard... have fun." Well the engines roared and we took off again. The first try we overshot and went around again, the second try we bounced her in from much too high and we informed the novices that if they did not let us out there would be no more circuits unless they wanted to fly with us pounding on them from behind. We enjoyed the ground when we got back onto it. I received a few anecdotes from Russ "Stoney" Stonehouse, an AEM (Aircraft Engine Mechanic), now a resident of Digby, N.S., in January 1981 and recount them here as they tell their own story.
Remember how we did battle getting to the NAAFI wagon for tea, buns and drippings?
Remember how on clothing parade the old stores keeper would not issue replacement gloves for our RCAF issue... reason... leather gloves were not an RAF issue. How we would size up a new ruddy Canadian posted to the squadron and try and con his oldest RCAF uniform for our best blues. Remember Pocklington, Yorkshire in 1941 doing aircraft duty on old Wimpies with rifle and all and doing guard duty at entry points to the airdrome and the Colonel in the RAF Regiment who loved to personally catch you sleeping at the post, wake you up, demand a salute, then put you on a charge?
Remember also in 1941 at Pocklington having to be alerted to DRO's to see if your name was posted for the famous Backers Up Course, as they called it, headed up by the RAF Regiment. This was set up to give us proper training to fight the Hun when they parachuted into England. On this exercise you reported to the Station armament Section to draw your firearm. I like many of the fellows ran around the Yorkshire Moors for about two weeks with a piece of metal with a bayonet welded on the end. I thought how safe it was with such equipment including wooden anti-aircraft guns with sand bag encasement. The bottom line of the course was the enactment of the Germans landing or arriving at the squadron. What a fiasco. Because we were not going to be issued with at least a weekend pass for doing the course the Canadians started throwing rocks at Station Headquarters and only two casualties resulted from broken glass. Gad how lucky we were Hitler decided to attack Russia.
Getting to the more serious aspect of the war and our effort as a squadron. Remember Christmas 1941 at Pocklington and the squadron being on standby for an operation. The running up of the old Wimpies every hour on the hour so as to be ready. The target was to be Brest (as we later learned) to try and get a famous German Battleship docked there. Not too many weeks later and after bombing raids on Brest and devastating the pocket battleship it sailed up the channel without incident for the fjords of Norway. The Germans had her so well camouflaged and protected in Brest that the raids caused no harm. The time the German Night Fighter was shot down near Pock, The pilot went for it and what a grand funeral he was given. A parade with the casket draped with the Swastika and carried on a flatbed vehicle. Unfortunately the pilot had to go minus his Iron Cross and beautiful high leather boots. They went missing almost immediately when he was taken to the Station morgue. Coming home in 1945 on the troopship Mauretania I was shown the Iron Cross, the boots were gone when this party arrived to pay respects... end of Stoneys Pock remembrances.
Our cousin Lloyd Brown, at that time a Sgt WAG (Sergeant Wireless Air Gunner), visited us during the early spring of 1942 while finishing his training at an OTU (Operational Training Unit in the Midlands. Lloyd and I met twice more before he was killed during this training on May 6, 1942. "Ginger" as we called him, and I met by chance at the Beaver Club while I was on leave in London and at Covent Gardens Opera House, converted to a wartime dance hall, on another occasion. Lloyd is buried at Kempston Cemetery near Bedford and I hope to visit his grave during our Memorial Window Reunion in the spring of 1989.
The winter of 1942 gave us some heavy snow and bitter cold weather. Being Canadians we were expected to be able to handle the snow and we did - everyone - and I mean everyone ~ shovelled snow and we were able to keep our drome open and operational. The only one in 4 Group and that meant we had other aircraft as well as our own to look after.
There are two side stories to the wintery conditions. The first was the cold weather made it necessary to sand the runways to help the alc brake to a stop on the slippery runway. After the spring thaw this sand started cutting the a/c tires and we had to go out and sweep it. You can believe me a runway takes a lot of shovelling and sweeping.
The second story results from Pock being a temporary wartime drome with the water and sewer lines too close to the surface to withstand this unseasonable weather. Our toilets soon became solid blocks of ice and so polluted that we took turns going into York for a decent wash in one of the Cinema washrooms. This cold weather only lasted a few days and then all back to normal.
I do not remember the squadron pictures being taken when we had the Winipies but they were. I obtained copies from Mac McCrady here in Vancouver in the mid 1980s. Copies were never made available to the rank and file as they were in the Leeming picture so maybe that has something to do with it.
Created in 1921 by the British government, the Navy Army Air Force Institute was tasked to run recreational establishments for the the British Armed Forces and provide servicemen and their families with necessities for sale. Still in action today, NAAFI is run by civilians and offers supermarkets, launderettes, restaurants, clubs, bars, shops and the iconic NAAFI wagons. They are located on most British bases and as canteens on many British Navy ships. Officers are expected to find their necessities in the Officer’s Meeses. Duting World War II, by April 1944, 7000 NAAFI canteens were in operation with 96000 personnel. It also controlled ENSA, the armed forces entertainment organization.
No. 1 Flight Engineers School - Aylmer Ontario
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BCATP Vignettes are Continued in PART XVIII: Nos. 86-90
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