OVERSEAS PART 1
HALIFAX TO POSTING ADVANCED FLYING UNIT (AFU)
The next session heading with regard to the Performance Evaluation papers is A.F.U. hence this is Part 1 of being overseas. The diary has a late December memorandum page and noted is that the train ride was three days with a stop at Montreal for a few hours; there were 148 of us on the way to Halifax; Bill Cameron (Cam) and I roomed together in Halifax. Letters sent from home while in England are at my side along with the diary (two books) kept from January 1, 1943 to June 6, 1944 with the rest either not completed or lost. An interesting statement in a letter written to my mother the first day in Halifax was:
“I hated to leave (home) and yet I didn’t you know how it is don’t you mom?”
Knowing how my mother really felt. It was far more sadness than gladness!
The next letter explains how it felt in the decompression chamber, still in Halifax. The first time was for two and a half hours with oxygen masks since one is an environment simulated to about 35000 feet to test and no doubt emotional reactions. In my case some aches and pains but nothing serious and I did not feel too badly about the experience. Meals in the mess, good food, were 25 cents a day. I had assigned $80 a month for the family but the actual pay per month I eventually received overseas I do not know at this time.
A total of eight hundred and fifty of us left by train for New York. The date was January 4 but it left at 2 am next day to arrive at 11:30 am January 5. As predicted, we had only a glimpse of New York and were ferried quickly from new Jersey into the huge Queen Elizabeth ship, supposedly the largest in the world. It was January 6, 625 am when we finally left for Grenock in Scotland. Humorous now to me is the notation that my beard was coming along nicely now. A letter home states we were allowed only two pieces of baggage so a suitcase had been sent home. Too much baggage! The story of my life but that’s another story!
How many on the boat? In the thousands of all sizes, shapes, races, and whatever. Great food, crowded bunks perhaps twelve in a room; a fellow named Swede reads at night and keeps us awake; I lost my officers cap but still had the wedge (this worried me quite a bit it seems); a stormy couple of days so much so that one could not walk down the hallway without being shifted from one side to the other; much gambling of all kinds but a great concert every night; my activity was mostly cards with a few airmen; shaved what may have been a beard using salt water; then on the sixth day at sea arrival at Grenock, near Glasgow in Scotland at 6:30 pm.
From the ship it was into the train and it being dark I was disappointed in not seeing the countryside as we headed south to the beautiful city, Bournemouth, located on the coast of the English Channel about midway on England’s southern coast. Arrival was January 14, 1943. All or most of Canadian were sent here, a period of orientation to the country and probably other reasons. The city had been a tourist one so there were many wonderful hotels. Can and I had a room at the Carleton situated on the coast overlooking the Channel as well as the beach with its barbed wire protection from possible invasion (note: post was Kath and I and family visited Bournemouth and had a wonderful time – a fine place to visit indeed).
Food was reasonable with brussel sprouts served for almost every meal it seemed. Many soldiers and airmen comment about, this after the war was over. Cam and I went together to many places such as Brights for tea where a three piece orchestra played and the dances most evenings at the Pavilion wit very fine bands. I played some basketball with someone named Eric and did this often with him and others while in Bournemouth. Movies? A great many to be sure and I remember Cam who loved the Glen Miller dance band going each night for a week to see the movie Orchestra Wives with this band featured. In most ways we were airmen tourists except for the special events to come later while in Bournemouth.
We paraded every morning at a particular time and more often were free for much of the day. Many familiar faces appeared from time to time having been at various stations in Canada where we had trained such as Reg Bray, David Shewan, Frank Moffat, McGillivary, Gordon Milne, Scotty Sisson, Cece Durnin, to name a few. Correspondence with John took place and he was on leave at this time still in Canada soon to go to an operational training unit in Summerside, Prince Edward Island.
A two-week leave was promised and then cancelled but finally on January 24 we left for a week to where else but London. This was a short visit since arrangements had been made after a few days in London to stay with a family at Greatbridge House near Romsey which is a bit north of Southampton. Even though we had a few days in London, Cam, David Shewan and I certainly made the rounds to see the places we had read or heard about: Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, Tussauds, movies, Picadilly, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, and you name it. Thank goodness for youth legs but then the rapid transportation underground tube was an experience all on its own. How easy to get from one place to another at a reasonable cost as well. An interesting image I have in mind today is remembering arrival and stepping out into the street in the evening. It was pitch dark and three “green guys” now had to locate Nuffield House where we had arranged to stay. Finally someone suggested a cab after waving one down we were on our way. Those taxis were really something as were the drivers who weaved in and out of traffic with apparent ease.
Mrs. Buxton, lady of Greatbridge house, treated us royally and the countryside was beautiful. What was not so beautiful was taking a bus to Southampton and seeing what bombs can do. This brought to us the reality of war in no uncertain terms since up to now we had not seen any such devastation. The week then was filled with eye-opening places and in looking back, what a wonderful way to become oriented to England.
Life in Bournemouth was resumed with but a few changes such as some lectures, learning to get into a dinghy in full battle dress, and finally some flying time but in a link trainer rather than an aircraft. Still it was great to see the familiar instruments, to bank left and right, and go up and down. Movies? Once again, many of them, as well as the evening dances. Girls a-plenty and I did take one home finally but the diary indicates that the walk was a long long way from the Pavilion and she had only the one way to walk.
Many letters were written and this was kept up for more of my days in England. The result was that I did receive many letters from family and friends after a couple of months in England and these were precious to me. My regrets as mentioned before, is that not one sent to me was kept. One letter indicates that my address was simply P/O M. Spack, J 21452, RCAF Overseas. The weather by the way, even in January, was in 1943 like summer at home with some rain naturally which was welcome but later in the midlands during the winter the rain came far too often.
In mid-Febuary a numb of us were sent to the Army for two weeks and my roommate was someone who trained with Reg Bray by the name of Scotty Sissons. I believe it was SFTS in Carberry near Brandon where each of them received their wings. We related to each other so quickly as roommates perhaps because he came from Elm Creek where our family used to visit when I was a youngster.
Post-War: I read about Scotty retired and owning his own golf course built by him and his sons in Elm Creek. He had married a Scots girls and they had a large family. Kath and I visited the second time. Remembered always are the many tussles we had, friendly wrestling, as well as earnest revealing chats. A great guy was and is Scotty.
At Little Hampton, the Army base for the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, located not far from popular Brighton both on the coast, we were fitted out with uniforms including big heavy boots (which did not fit properly). The brigade was to go on a scheme called maneuvers. What an experience: the food great, walked about 13 miles, my feet blistered, sheltered overnight in the woods and it was pouring “cats and dogs” as the saying goes, everyone awakened at 3:30 am to eat breakfast in the dark, hitching a ride on the tank since my feet were too blistered but had been treated. “What was this airman doing in the Army?” came to mind many times. One positive was that the blistered feet meant I did not participate in the next maneuver thank goodness. For the last one however, I decided to go but due to my feet, was allowed to ride on a carrier. This time the scheme was quite enjoyable. Even so the Army was not for me!
Diary indicates one grand viewing experience (in the country of Sussex Southwest England) from a high hill and this was beautiful English countryside at its finest, “just like a picture postcard” as one letter shows. The other memory is chatting with some of the RHLI soldiers around a campfire in some wooded area, who had more recently been to Dieppe. Many, many buddies dies over there and one almost came to tears in listening to their experiences. Somewhere at this time I met jack Limerick, a fine basketball friend from Winnipeg, who later was killed when collided with another aircraft while in cloud.
The ten day Army overall was a change and in looking back a valuable exercise in learning about Army life and especially the chats with soldiers who had survived the Dieppe Raid. Friendship with Scotty was an added bonus. When we went back to Bournemouth February 24th, our friendship continued in many ways. The sad part was that once posted to flying our paths never did cross again until I read of his retiring and building a golf course in Elm Creek ten or twelve years ago.
A visit to the Ford and Tangmere Aerodromes, not too far away, was so exciting in viewing all kinds of aircraft and to sit in my favorite twin engine aircraft, the Mosquito. “What a thrill it would be to fly this machine” I thought. At the time it seemed to be an impossible dream. Some airmen including yours truly were so anxious to get back to flying and dairy indicates that being bored and then homesick as well, was setting in from time to time. Cam had been posted to flying, EFTS again, for familiarization in early February so he was one of the early and lucky ones to move on. Is “lucky” the right word since a possible result was that he went on operations early and unfortunately was killed in action. He was only 20 years of age. How very easy it is to type this but when it sinks in, how sad. A fine friend, a roommate, from the same city Winnipeg having met his mother and father, and later finding out he was killed in action.
Back to Bournemouth to Carleton Hotel and roomed with David Shewan who by now has a very close friend, (see picture of the two of us and Carleton Hotel in the background). I had been moved earlier to the Majestic but back to Carleton I went. The routine started again: tea at Bright’s pavilion, movies, some basketball, even tennis more often, writing letters one asking for some film for my camera since films were difficult to buy in Bournemouth (February 14th). By the way shorter letters were written on a small four by five inch paper called AIRGRAPHS. The blue ones were the longer letters called AIRMAIL and I used correctly. Once in a while regular paper was used. Meanwhile the end of February was near and our hopes for flying remained as strong as ever.
Lo and behold we found ourselves in a naval exercise course this time indoors identifying ships and listening to lectures. Of course it was realized by now that there must be a surplus of pilots and we had to be occupied some of the time in useful rather than tourist activities. And to think we had not seen an enemy aircraft all this time although soon after we left or was it earlier a German Fock-Wolfe, single engine plane, had attacked Bournemouth with only a little damage? Perhaps a large batch of Canadians were not exactly a prime target for the Germans!
It is wonderful to scan through the pages of the diary, a very happy and grateful way to revive memories of friends. I mentioned Scotty who did come back after the war as did Gordon Milne who lives in Winnipeg now and I communicate with him form time to time. Wilf Pascoe and I met after 45 or so years absence at the only Air Force Reunion I ever attended this one in Toronto and we talk on the phone occasionally. Max Norris was in Ottawa until he passed away in 1995 while Bill Morton, another air force buddy, lives in Shabot Lake north of Kingston and communication continues with him. Frank Moffat was killed inaction as was very fine friend and roommate Reg “Bud” Bray (accidentally and his story titled “My Friendship with Reg is available some of which may be moved to this disk). I may have mentioned that former roommate Davey Shewan was also killed in action.
About five or so years ago I decided to include an insert in “Lost Trails”, legion publication, to try to locate Max Pascoe, and Bill Morton. Wilf and Bill phoned after a month or so but it was only by luck that Max finally got in touch with me. A sister in Vancouver phoned him having read the insert. I knew that Bill and Wilf had survived the war but of Max I had heard no news. Communication, though irregular, continues with Wilf and Bill.
My 21st birthday arrived March 5th and some scattered quotes as noted:
“Began as usual; school and cinema in the morning – Cam finally arrived back, same old Cam – got my bank book and am worth 25 pounds, 17 shillings and seven pence (which in today’s money might be around $1100 or $1200, perhaps a $100 in 1943 and both of which are guesses to be sure) – borrowed a pound from Scotty – can’t cash a cheque – quit school at 4 and had tea – sent 1 shillings for the camera (from home?) – Dave and I celebrated birthday and them to Cam’s hotel – feeling pretty good – Dave and I sang and walked all the way home – went to fish and chip shop and then to bed” and wrote a letter home describing this day – tried a cigarette and nearly choked on it.”
Actually a nice day with friends and about a week away from my next posting. There is no doubt that Bournemouth is a well-remembered posting with many Canadians some of whom we may not have trained with but knew back in Winnipeg. The citizens were wonderful and the entertainment possibilities for wartime were absolutely great. Of course we were anxious to move on and the waiting irked most of us but one learned to take things as they come, a day at a time. Even so this was easier for the older types compared to the 19 and 20 year olds not long out of high school.
Finally the posting came for Ansty not far from Coventry (see map) arriving March 12th. This was Elementary Flying Training School in open cockpit Tiger Moths. My roommate this time was “Butch” and his last name escapes me for now even thought I can picture his face today. A small place but quite adequate and indeed cosy with the usual snooker tables and tennis courts. No word from John at all but expected soon. Meanwhile Cam came over for a visit from his new station probably an Advance Flying Unit which would be my next posting after the month or so here in Ansty. That would be when the next serious flying training will begin and then on “ops” hopefully.
Flying at the beginning was a disaster. The air staff was not helpful wither as indicated by the opening talk from the Chief Flying Officer. For then at Ansty as instructors was no doubt one of the worst postings they would choose. This attitude was somewhat similar to EFTS instructors in Regina but much worse in England and affected us more than a little bit. There is little doubt that these airmen were the forgotten pilots although some of it eventually get to operations after a long stint of instructing. Even so, getting back to soling the Moth and actually flying was wonderful.
The most difficult task was to map reading which in Canada with roads as perimeters of sections one mile square, it was much easier. Then there was always the possibility of location oneself by flying over a town elevator to read the name of the town. In England the landscape was a “mish-mash” of roads going in all directions (except a few like the Roman built road Watling St. – a straight line from the air for miles and miles). Shape of lakes was quite helpful though as one gained more experience in map reading. The obvious happened which was to get lost early in my hours of flying. So I just landed at the first aerodrome I could find, taxied, parked and proceeded to the officer’s mess. Many aircrew from Turkey were there so I had to find someone who could speak English. That accomplished, I discovered I was in Wolverhampton. Someone volunteered to show the way back to Ansty so I did formation with him as he led the way to home base. The ribbing from my so-called friends came all in fun of course.
Noted in the diary is the day off and a visit to Coventry which was at the time the hardest hit city by bombs. The sights were indeed devastating, since in those days there was no television to show the public what actually happened. Description on the radio is not as effective as is the picture and actually being there is something else again. One must not forget also that buildings razed to the ground is one thing. The thousands who were injured or killed is something else.
Incidentally, after the “Secrets Act” had expired (20 years after war end in 1945?), it became known that Ultra situated in Bletchley Park about 40 miles north of London which allowed Churchill and a few others to know what the Germans were planning such as bomb raids over England. A warning came that Coventry was in for a large number of enemy bombers. Was the decision made to ignore this the correct one? The reason given was intercepting German bombers might very well give away the secret of Ultra which was, as we know now, one of the key factors in winning the war. Yet, what a sacrifice! After the war, in one of my many visits to England, I found myself at Bletchley Park to speak to many of the staff at the College of Education. No one there at the time nor I naturally knew of Ultra; just that it had a secret mission during the war.
A correction – bought two rolls of film in Coventry so “seek and y shall find” does work at times. I met Frank Moffat and Holmes there and all in all was a very fine day. Ansty is remembered also because this was the time when I bought in nearby Leamington,, my good friend, a wind-up gramophone and how wonderful it would be to have it here with me now. Records had to be sought of course, not available easily at least for the ones we wanted such as Bing Crosby, Glenn Miller band especially as well as other big bands such as Benny Goodman, Harry James, Tommy Dorsey and others. What memories this music stirred up in many of us for indeed that gramophone was listened to by all my friends indoors and outdoors. Nostalgia came quickly in thoughts of dancing to the big band music back home in high school days. Admittedly the bands at the Pavilion and other canteen places had such music but who could compare for instance to the Miller band? Naturally, when alone, I would lend my voice to the recordings and feeling the sound was note really too bad – a biased view and why not?
On the 26th of March I heard from John in Bournemouth at last and details may be read in my writing “A Remarkable Friendship Journey” some of which may be moved into this writing. At Ansty, I believe I began to love the game of squash, a great racquet sport, which I continued for a long time in the various stations to which I was posted until the time Kath and I became engaged and spent so much time together. The game, an excellent physical conditioner, led me later to take up quite seriously the game of racquetball in later years at the Masters level representing the province in national competition. My weight had gone d quite a bit from around 125 pounds to close to 135. So something had to be done! For a six footer to gain ten pounds may not mean too much; for a “shrimpy” almost five foot and a half, ten was far too much and it showed mostly in my face.
BACK TO BOURNEMOUTH
The day after April Fool’s Day was the day of arrival to Bournemouth to await the next posting and hopefully to find John. However he was sent to a convalescent hospital in Yatesbury and I planned to visit soon unless posted. The day I was to visit John, however, turned out the day to leave for my new posting to Church Lawford situated near the well-known university city of Rugby. Sad not to see John but so grateful to at last get down to the real reason why so many of us joined up; to fly on operations which was dropping bombs on some city in Germany. This sounds so callous but reality takes over for indeed this was a war and we were in the RCAF to do our bit for our country and the Allies as a whole. So it was off to Advanced Flying Unit (AFU) RAF Station Church Lawford to fly the sturdy Oxford Aircraft.
OVERSEAS PART 2
#18 RAF STATION CHURCH LAWFORD – ADVANCED TRAINING UNIT (AFU)
As one may expect during wartime, a posting meant the parting of many fine friends. A few, not many really, one might see again and chat about those “good old days but too many weeks” at Bournemouth as well as getting back to EFTS flying. Unfortunately, more of these fine friends I did not see again and many did not live to return to Canada.
Scotty from Elm Creek, Frank Moffat and Murray (a Winnipegger from St. John’s Tech) were going to a different AFU and Bill Campbell was already at Church Lawford. Bill Cameron had left Bournemouth earlier but how delightful for me he was posted to Church Lawford near Rugby and in the midst of his training for this was my posting as well. In fact he met us at the train when we arrived so some communication beforehand must have taken place. Davey Shewan and I stayed together but this was to be our last course together. The two of us were fast friends. Reg Bray and Wilf Pascoe also were off to Church Lawford which turned out to be a fine station. Apparently Bill Campbell had been posted the same time as Cam to Church Lawford.
Our attitudes were at a high peak, so very positive if that’s the word for at last we were on the way to getting ready for the reason why we joined up in the first place – operations. This has been written before and so repetitious but it underlines our almost constant thoughts. By the way arrival was April 6th, 1943.
My letters written April 8th includes some of the above but also that David Shewan roomed together and that the food was great. I must have run out of the airmail blue letters which were rationed actually to four a month so I wrote on plain paper. Interesting was my question,
“Isn’t Nell’s birthday coming soon?” (sister – April 19th)
The next one on April 11th mentions Sutherland Mission and that I would have liked to send flowers for the Easter Sunday Service. Then there was Mother’ s Day in early May and apparently and I intended to send flowers to Mom. A quote in my letter to her:
“I shall be remembering my dear mother on that day. You’ve had a difficult time in life but I know in your heart that it is worth it just by bringing up us kids. The future is not black at all. I shall try to make it bright as I can in the years ahead.”
The April 15th letter mentions that this was my 21st letter to home but I did not actually number all of them on the various letters sent home – just kept a record on my own and numbered a few sent away. Apparently Rudy my brother had gone probably to British Columbia so Mom was left with Margaret, Nellie and Andy and the absence of Rudy was a blessing in some ways. Pictures were sent from time to time many of which I have now and some will be in this album. So thinking about the family was ever in my mind even though plenty of activities in England kept me busy especially once AFU began.
The diary as well as letters provide valuable information up to the time I left Church Lawford June 12. Many experiences came back to me during this stay at a rally fine station. Incidentally, the name station is somewhat unusual and I never did find out how that came to be. RCAF and RAF Station and then usually the name of the town or city closest to it. Also, of course, a number for the category training such as #18 AFU, RAF STATION CHURCH LAWFORD. Some experiences:
A change in pay occurred where previously those in the RCAF were paid the same rate as RAF with the difference deferred for three months. So one received a larger amount each three months – strange ruling but that was changed. I indicated to mother that I would increase the money sent home by ten dollars. The usual amount I had in my bank account was around 100 dollars which was more than adequate. Mind you, I bought a gramophone, a bike and other available articles as well as paying for movies, dances, mess bills and general recreation.
My little accident bumping into the tall of another aircraft did not result in too much damage but my name went on the shield called, The Order of the Prangers. A prang was an accident caused by the pilot. Really a great idea; humorous but with a message. I did learn my lesson as was indicated by the Chief Flying Instructor when he chatted with me about this.
Connie was mentioned a couple of times form Leicester. We met at a dance and enjoyed each others company so very much. It turned out though that she was married to a chap from the Navy who was away at sea. If remembered correctly was, “Fine but keep it at the companionship level for goodness sake!” Well, that happened and the few times we were together while I was at Church Lawford turned out just that way.
Friend pilot Resenstein crashed and was killed and this sobered us, his friends, greatly. “Rosy” was his nickname. He would not be the only one who in raining would be killed accidentally rather than killed in action the last being on operations. A Flight Lieutenant McGugan was another friend also at Church Lawford and in looking up my list of casualties in the wonderful book “They Shall Grow Not Old”, I found his name and he was killed in action. The “Last Post” played by the bugler at funeral and Remembrance Days is so haunting, yet beautiful reminding all veterans of so many good friends not to be seen again.
Letters written and received are mentioned often and the one from Dr. Shaver had a last sentence in it and I quote:
“I need not tell you that I pray for you boys every day – that you will be kept through temptation and cheered when lonely, and given direction and courage to face whatever comes. Never forget Jesus said, “I am with you even to the end of this world”.
What a great influence “Doc”, our nickname for Dr. Shaver, was upon our lives! A small world too when I read that I met a Squadron Leader Frayne, Chaplain, and he knew Dr. Shaver quite well. A few letters came also from his sons Bill and Jack. Naturally, their mother was mentioned and I always thought of her as one who was so serene.
The word “lonely” brings to mind that there were many periods of loneliness for me and for others as well. This was personal and dealt with in many ways. One may chat with a busy about it which I did on occasion. For me the best solution was to have my own quiet time in riding the bike and thinking about home, or a walk and reflecting about the old days back home and especially how the family was and how wonderful it will be to get home again. Listening to familiar big band music on the gramophone was also quite consoling ironic in a sense since one would think this would have made me more homesick which it didn’t.
Admittedly the off-station activities helped; the short leaves of 48 hours of the occasional one week leave, letters from home and hearing about friends in the service, receiving letters from friends both in Canada and England, even Africa when Bernie Maluta was there, getting a parcel from a St. John’s High School group as well as one from a ladies group at Sutherland mission, dances, movies, some sport, and meeting new friends of both sexes.
Very special was my continuing communication with John and he with me. Looking back, absence from one another meant feeling even closer to each other than ever before perhaps with the lurking thought that one or both of us might not get through this “stupid” was as I wrote in one of my letters. This last was not dwelt upon at all but was there at the back of our minds brought to the surface for me when the “grapevine” communication informed u at a friend had been killed such as Jack Lemmerick, Frank, Davey and so many others.
Flying was great and the Oxford was a fine aircraft as were the instructors. My performance evaluation was very good as indicated in the logbook and one’s attitude is so important in doing the best he can in an activity in this case flying an aircraft. Many hours were spent on day/night instrument flying whereby a hood is placed around the student to simulate night flying for indeed this was done in the day time. The instructor sitting on the right side had a clear view. Come to think about it, we also were given tinted glasses for “sodium” lying again to simulate flying at night and concentrating on our instruments. Perhaps these were for take-offs and landing only. The training was in preparation for s to become bomber pilots for the strategy was to send large numbers of bombers over Germany at night by the British including Canadians and in daylight by the United States Fortresses. I enjoyed instrument flying and later night flying very much especially at night when the skies were clear and the stars above provided a beautiful sight combined with the glow of the instruments in front and the hum of the two engines.
Not being posted at the end of the course with the rest of my flight meant a week’s leave (as well as the hope that maybe there was a special assignment for me on operations – what a naive hope!) In the story, A Remarkable Friendship Journey, I write in details about my visit at last to see John at Yatesbury where he had been patient for acute rheumatism for about 11 weeks. This was a joyous occasion in the two or three days spent there. He was to be posted soon as it turned out, to Blackpool and then to Scotland on twin-engine Beufighters which meant he was slated to fly in the Burma area (not knowing this at the time).
Arrival back at Church Lawford brought the news that the “special assignment” was to rejoin many of my flight at Flying Instructors School (FIS) located in Upavon, Wiltshire perhaps 50 miles north of Bournemouth, to train as an instructor. Disappointment it is true and this did affect my attitude but this was tempered somewhat b seeing my friends and finding out quickly that Upavon, situated in beautiful surroundings, was an excellent station. And lo and behold, there was a nine hole golf course with its perimeters where I played my first game of golf.
OVERSEAS PART 3
#7 FLYING INSTRUCTORS SCHOOL (FIS) RAF STATION UPAVON
For the first time a number of my letters were labeled as censored. Indeed one whole sentence had been scratched out but I could not in reading it determines what had been written.
Arrival on June 12th in mid-summer at lovely RAF STATION #7 FIS was not too hard to take and best of all to be greeted by Wilf Pascoe, Reg Bray and a few others who had been in the Church Lawford Flight. Lucky me though, for I had a week’s leave due to the postponement of the posting. Even so, as written in one of my letters:
“Great place but there is no place like home be it big or small, rich or poor!”
Good news was that John was coming to visit me. Since the diary and letters, once skimmed over, resulted in many pieces of experiences, it seems best to recall these pieces separately but not in any order of time sequence. We would be in training as instructors for almost three and a half months up to September 19th.
As usual many letters were written and at one time in early July I received 13 of them. That must have been a record. Many parcels also arrived one numbered seven and these were always welcome by all of us for we friends shared one with the other. One even came from my history teacher in St. John’s High School, Mr. Gruz, and a very welcome surprise. Items were usually those that were impossible or difficult to get in England but basically it was non-perishable food.
John arrived and looking well enjoying his posting at Blackpool having gone there from convalescence in Yatesbury. Three great days including a flight in the Oxford took place and we spent a little time in London meeting accidentally with Point Douglas boyhood friend Joe Maday as well as Aaron and older brother Wolinsky from high school days. Either at this time or later Joe flew the single engine Typhoon I think, chasing after the buzz bombs headed for London with their deadly bomb loads. He survived the war and lived out his days in Vancouver or Victoria passed on a few years ago.
Remembering that more of us were youngsters, pranks took place from time to time. Usually one of three was involved namely Wilf or Reg or yours truly. Indeed the three of us were together often. One prank that backfired was when I was certain that Wilf was having a bath in a small room with no ceiling. So off I go to fill up a pail of lovely cold water and then helped with a small ladder three the water over the wall. What a yelp and gleeful laughs from those in on the prank! We disappeared naturally but it was not long before I found out that Wilf was not in the tub but instead an RAF person. Rather red-faced, I apologized and after a few grumblings he accepted my apology. It strikes me that just maybe Wilf and Reg planned this ahead of time knowing that English chap would be in the tub!
Promotion came to Reg and to me from Pilot Officer to Flying Officer and the whole sum of an extra 75 cents a day with some back pay was the increase. Doesn’t sound like much today but in those days just over five dollars a week was most acceptable. Another year and we could look forward to becoming Flight Lieutenants.
Today I realize that skin problems due to allergies are genetic so it is no surprise to read in the letters and diary about my itches from time to time, more of them hives. The flying suits with the parachute especially in summer (with of course no air conditioning in the aircraft – joke) meant perspiration and that did not help.
Mentioning joke brought to mind that this writing is for the most part a rather straightforward account with only a few references to humour. Actually, there was much laughter and enjoyment for close friendships developed as one would expect. Remembered too was that most of us were in our very early twenties so being too serious was not our usual countenance.
The family at home was fine with mother receiving some kind of promotion in her tasks; no explanation. Marg and Nellie had been to camp and enjoyed this very much probably a first time. There was some thought to buying a house and I supported them in this but it did not take place for some reason. The dog Rex had passed away and everyone missed him. Those letters meant so very much to me naturally and my mother was happy I am certain to receive news from me on a pretty regular basis.
The first time I had a little too much to drink was really blackmail by someone in the mess. I believe it was a “Games Day” and incidentally in the two or three of the events I was able to win and received some kind of cash reward. A dance was held in the evening but before that a few of us congregated in the officers mess. I did not wish to imbibe but someone suggested a peppermint with a little gin in it. “Mike, you won’t taste the gin and it is just like drinking a soft drink.” So I was persuaded and indeed so it was. No taste of the gin but a great peppermint flavour. No harm in having a couple more and we then left for the dance. It was not too long at the dance when it hit me; those innocent drinks. Off I went outside and sat down on the grass away from the dance building. Was I sick at the stomach? And how! Next day was a rough one and from that day on I hated even the smell of peppermint!
A Scotsman by the name of “Andy” Anderson will be remembered always. He became our foursome really and the one who introduced both Reg and me and perhaps Wilf to the game of golf. I enjoyed the game very much but was frustrated because my skills in games were in other sports. Hitting that silly little ball with a club looked easy enough but not so as I soon found out. Back home golf was a game for those families who had enough money to play, which left us out. Losing golf balls was always a problem, no doubt belonging to Andy.
The months sped by and it was time for our ground school examinations for which I did not prepare at all. Perhaps a few of us were having such a fine time at Upavon, that lectures were not on any list of priorities. Not only that, but in my chat to Wilf Pascoe on the phone the other night, he related the story that Reg, Wilf, and I planned to fail our ground school which meant failing the instructor’s course. We would then be sent on operations. Wilf maintains that we were brought up before the Wing Commander who knowing our previous ground school records, knew what our game was. He arranged for us to write the tests over again. I do not remember this as is true of many experiences. So no preparation but in the actual writing of the tests we did the best we could with probably just enough to pass.
It is clear in the diary that I was very disappointed in the flying test and was given notice verbally to improve upon my “patter” which is talking and flying at the same time. Just why this was a problem I have no idea other than nervousness. My record as a pilot was above average at AFU but the patter bothers me and it affected the flying as well. So a C” category was given while most of others had a “B”. A few months later at Shawbury I was recategorized to “B”.
Posting as instructors this time was to RAF STATION SHAWBURY #11 AFU, located near the lovely city of Shrewbury in the County of Shropshire (quite a mouthful), which meant a week’s leave. I visited John in Blackpool but spent a couple or so days in London meeting Cam who was just about ready to go on his first operation. “How lucky can I guy be!” was my thought little realizing that on one of these operations he would be killed in action? In reading that statement it sounds so matter of fact but when the grapevine reached me possibly from a family letter this time. I was shocked and so sad. We had spent much time together enjoying great moments. Still, life went on for 21 year old, as was the case for everyone else in the war.
John and I had a most wonderful time in Blackpool which a tourist city in peacetime located on the coast of the Irish Sea I believe. We met up with school chum Durward Smith whose dad was at one time the Chief of Police in Winnipeg. Tall and friendly, with an infectious smile, he was a joy to meet and we had a great evening together. In fact, this was the second time I had just a little too much of beer or whatever and good old Durward, all six foot plus of him, helped the “little five foot five guy” get settled in his bed; so I was told next morning!
August 25th was the day I arrived at peacetime Station at Shawbury. Peace time because some Stations had been in place prior to the war and the Commanding Officers were usually peacetime Group Captains with expectations of rules such as existed during peacetime. The wartime buildings were those built during the war and/or utilizing existing buildings and converting as required.
100 pages of text
Recruitment and Training in Canada
Overseas Parts 1-3
Overseas Parts 4-5
Overseas Parts 6-7
Overseas 8 and Post War
Spack Family History
Looking Back At The Spacks
Contact Daughter Cathy at:
As You Were . . .
Hillman WWII Tributes
RCN HMCS PRINCE ROBERT
Ex-Air Gunners Association
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