LIFE AS AN INSTRUCTOR BEGINS
Interesting to note that the logbook did not give a clear indication that on January 31st, 1944 the rumor heard a month or so before this time, the whole station #11 AFU would be moving north, came to reality. Moat of us, so comfortable in peacetime Shawbury quarters, feared the worst since it was into wartime-arranged housing that we would move. Let’s go back to the beginning. When we arrived August 25th at RAF Station, Shawbury, near Shrewsbury, in the County of Shropshire (shortened form Salops for some reason or other). Mailing address, Shawbury, Shrewbury, Shropshire, is quite a mouthful. Try saying that three or four times hurriedly.
Actually, my fingers paused for quite some time deciding upon the best approach for the Shawbury story; especially after reading through the diary and letters and taking copious short notes which have provided for me a flavour of our experiences. By “our” is meant close friends from Upavon posted to Shawbury, Reg Bray and Wilf Pascoe. The three of us were joined by Lee Cardinal, Bill Morton, Max Norris, the “always so helpful” Salvation Army contact Gordie Duff, Al Frey, McNally, Scotty, the Catholic Irish padre O’Rouke and Protestant Minister Scott, the Englishman “Woody” including of course John with whom I kept in touch so often and he with me. Woody taught me the game badminton which I enjoyed greatly.
A creative approach is to pose as an outsider looking at the relationships and events amongst these airmen, our gang, and all instructors except for John although he was in the Air Force posted in another station. Perhaps an angel naturally invisible but commenting on us as the days and weeks unfold. Why not? What little effort it takes to obliterate if the story is not suitable the judge being yours truly. Bias in inevitable:
THE ANGEL TELLS IT ALL OR MOST OF IT!
“My goodness! That little guy Mike surely receives many letters and parcels. And that cupboard in Reg and Mike’s room is pretty full most of the time and especially when Christmas came along. I do not see Mike however, spending time in writing letters sometime five or six in one sitting. Great to see that this gang of guys, really boys most of them but perhaps preferably young adults, share what they have even with their wonderful batworm, Lucy. What a gem she is looking after Reg and Mike as if she was their mother. The guy, for instance, try to hide their socks with holes in them from her. However, she knows every nook and cranny of that room and a very nice room it is. So the mending begins and the now “unholy” socks are back ready to be used after being washed.
I see a new radio in the room (no television of course at the time) and what a pleasure it seems to be with nostalgic big band music, comedians and some Canadian news. Let’s see now. What are they listening to? Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Bob Hope, Charlie McCarthy, Burns and Allen, Canadian News and the big bands, Glen Miller, Benny Goodman, Bob Crosby, Tommy Dorsey as well as English bands such as Joe Loss, Geraldo, Ted Heath, Sylvester and the great all-girls band Ivy Benson. This last band, Ivy Benson deserves a separate notation:
From the publication the “Brittania”, the Benson band was focused. Ivy Benson was born in Leeds and had an early start in music specializing in the piano, on radio and then earning a scholarship at a Polytechnical School. She devoted more time to the saxophone and joined a band at the age of 18 called Rhythm in Girls. In 1944 she arranged her own band, all female, with the signature tune “Lady Be Good” which was so excellent that the band was hired for 22 weeks at the prestigious London he. During the war the band toured continental Europe and the Middle East. Later recording took place and popularity crew. Most interesting is that at age 78 she is still with a band playing at Clacton but not with her band which broke up in 1971. A remarkable story but it was not my privilege to attend any of the band’s performances.
The windup gramophone gets its turn often too as does Mike’s bicycle. Mike rides that bike regularly lovely city Shrewbury which is about 7 or 8 miles away and where one may view the statue of famous Darwin, the “father” of the evolution theory. A great way to exercise besides which Mike looks like he has gained some weight since he had joined the services having seen a picture of him at that time.
These Canadian guys are no different than other young ones from many countries. Movies and dances in Shrewbury and the Station, meeting girls, some shopping, having tea in one of the many tea places, and strolling in the park near the small lake with themselves or at times with a local girl, provide essential activities after many hours of responsible flying teaching others who arrived in England some months earlier from places as far away as New Zealand, Australia, Canada and there were quite a few from Britain as well.
Instructors at Shawbury, mostly Canadians, went through the same route as their trainees but instead of being posted to where they wished to go, on operations where the real action was taking place, they were trained as instructors. So they make the best of it and hold onto hopes that in a few months they would be posted eventually to RAF Squadrons attached to the RAF.
Mike writes his family often and he numbers some of the letters – almost 50 in the first year overseas – as well as to many friends such as Bernie Maluta, to best friend John, Paul Kowal, Billie Rosnyk, the much loved Shavers from Sutherland Mission, All Peoples United Church, and a couple of Sunday School teachers he had, and there are others. The look on his face indicates so clearly that he is often quite homesick longing to be home with his family. He is the eldest of his two sisters and two brothers and mother is left all alone in raising the family. She is separated from her alcoholic husband. In looking over his shoulder and reading some of his letters received, I feel like consoling him but he’ll work things our on his own. In a discussion with Reg, he mentioned his family and expressed great faith in his mother for she had that will to make the best of things.
As an aside, there is merit in having these serious moments for indeed this provides a balance in living. Life cannot be a rose garden always! The guys as a whole are a carefree bunch and Mike is no exception. He has his many moods but he has many friends. Snooker is almost an addition and he plays a reasonable fine game for small bets, ping pong (table tennis) recreationally and then a little later many games of squash to keep in shape.
Even though carefree after hours each of them is always cautious when it comes to flying. Sitting on the right side of the cockpit while the student on the left is flying often under a hood to simulate night flying, meant some pressure especially since this was day flying and often five hours or so of flying took place with 4 or 5 different students some very able and others a problem. Night flying which took place at least six weeks in late fall, was often washed out since this was the rainy and foggy timer of year. Fog in the midlands of England can be pretty thick so a “clamp” was on which is slang word for “no flying”. Mike indicated in his letter that on one occasion flying was called off for 14 or 15 days. The guys played cards instead often poker. Night flying on the whole was less exhausting.
A list appeared one day on the table about familiar words in the RAF and a few well known in the RCAF so helpful to me naturally:The book, Boys, Bombs and Brussels Sprouts by J. Douglas Harvey, McLelland and Stewart. Canadian Publishers, Toronto, 1982, lists many words not understood by us at first but soon were included in our own conversation. In addition to the above:
“gen” – the real information, gospel truth “run-up” – approach to attack on a target “sardine tin” – torpedo bomber “saturated” – absolutely wet “scram” – get out in a hurry “serviceable” – aircraft is ready to fly “ship” – aircraft “shoot a line” – to exaggerate, “shoot the bull” “skirt’ – a girl (as well as a “bird” or “popsie” or “fluff”) “prang” – to have an aircraft accident “wizard” – great, marvelous such as a wizard landing “went for a burton” – killed in action or accident “base” – the RAF Station referred to often as the Station “hit the hay” – off to bed “clamp” – fog or rain so no flying “washed out” – failed in a course and posted elsewhere or rained out “bob” – money coin, shilling, worth around 25 cents at the time, 20 of them were a pound worth about $4.50 but these days only around fluctuating $2.21 (most coins were heavy and tended to wear out one’s pocket)At first this was indeed a second language for us but it did not take long to incorporate more of these words into our vocabulary some more than others. Some phrases come to mind also such as someone developing a “twitch” which indeed happened to some; a jerky arm, the eye fluttering, jaws locked after speaking a few words, etc. this was a stress behaviour and often of as a badge of honor the person having gone through some difficult aircrew experiences. Bash - a party Sausages – bangers Candies – Sweets Movies – flicks and theatre is the cinema Fiasco – proper “balls up” Englis – Limeys Aeroplanes – kites, crates Good Show – good work Radio – wireless Gas – Petrol Trunk of Car – boot No Problem on a Trip - a piece of cake Bang on – right on the target Killed in accident or in action – went for a burton Estimated Time of Arrival – ETA H Hour – time over target Street Car – tram or trolley Gas Flares along the Runway – FIDO
FIDO is short for Fog Investigation Dispersal Information. Some 15 aerodromes had this situated not too far from the coast. Lengths of perforated pipes were laid along each side of the runway and attached so that gas would be fed then lit. The flames rose three to four feet through the holes and the heat dispersed the fog sufficiently to allow tired pilots to land an aircraft in fog. Beam approach was useful at times but after a lengthy trip of five to seven hours, the pilot was not in the best shape to follow the beam approach procedure.
Back to Shawbury, the first posting after being accredited as an instructor and the angel continues:
The “boys” have a fine friend in Gordie Duff who is with the Salvation Army. Mike is the contact organizer at Shawbury and Gordie would phone him as to events. Group Captain Divers, Commanding Officers, is a traditional peacetime officer “rules” type but he appreciates greatly Mike’s efforts in arranging hockey and basketball games in Birmingham as well as some events on campus such as the fine concerts, basketball and softball games. Gordie brings items sometimes such as woolen socks and some food. What a driver that Gordie is in that van with our boys inside having finished their games at Birmingham (a very large city about an hours drive from Shawbury). No motorways in those days but just the narrow winding road with the reflecting white lights in the center shining so brightly at night. Worried I was to see that van traveling near 70 miles an hour winding its way back to Shawbury. Australian Flight Commander Jordan with whom Mike had a few tiffs came along on one or two trips. Eventually the two of them got along fine. Mike does tend to get stubborn at times. I read part of a page in his diary and written was:
“Jordan is not too bad really – it’s me – must just make the best of the “bull” in this place. After three few tiffs with him, I am deciding to play the game and stick with the station and flight rules and regulations.”
An all-Canadian dance is arranged by Gordie to be held in Shrewsbury and of course locals were welcome. Indeed the hospitality of people is marvelous. Mike paid more attention in his months at Shawbury to a girl named Joan and even visited in her home meeting the parents. This is a first for him being in an English home except for the large palatial one in Romsey on the first leave from Bournemouth. Joan was engaged but the relationship was basically platonic.
His roommate, Reg Bray from Alexander in Manitoba, is a cheery soul and gets along so well with Mike. When he laughs, it seems everyone joins in. A popular guy he is. The boys go their separate ways at times by pairing with others from time to time dependent upon the dates one has for leaves (free from duty and able to leave for a certain length of time). A fine spirit is evident and the pranks that I heard took place at Upavon went on in many ways. Deep down each of them knows that operations are great but the fact is that some do get killed inaction or by an accident. Still, youth tends to avoid dwelling on such a possibility; live one day at a time.
Leaves in London are joyous occasions usually for a week perhaps two or three in the months at Shawbury. John and Mike have a great time there meeting with old friends from previous training places as well as school friends from home. The dances at Hammersmith and Covent Gardens are popular and like so other airmen, John and Mike meet someone with whom to dance more than once and take the girls home. On one occasion when the girls lived not too far apart from each other, they decided after seeing the girls home, to meet at a certain crossing which they did. It was so late however, no buses were running and no cab could be found. Someone pointed out a direction to go when asked and so Mike and John walked the many miles hoping to get to their rooms. They sang the old songs, joked and laughed. Great evening! Nice to see such a friendship. Laugh if you like but written in one of his letters when John was visiting Mike at Shawbury:
“John and I are not having a wild time. It’s always like that really. Our friends no doubt think that it’s too bad we can’t get married to each other.”
So it was in high school I understand. The story later to be written by Mike titled A REMARKABLE FRIENDSHIP JOURNEY includes some of what I am observing while Mike was in Shawbury. Mentioning high school brings to mind Mike’s response to receiving the news that his high school girlfriend, named Hazel, (mentioned previously) was engaged to someone named Howie. This worried him and I think it was the feeling that he had made a mistake in breaking off their relationship before he joined the Air Force. A Hollywood movie version of this would be that he would desert and hitch a ride back to Winnipeg and confront the situation. The real world was in Shawbury at the time and he finally came to grips with this as one would expect even though, sensitive as he is, it did take some time. Being so busy with flying, friends, organizing, and especially with John not too far away. Eased the situation nicely. And then there were all those other very friendly girls the gang met in many places. Boys will be boys!
The Canadian weekly news included a list of the Canadians who were missing or killed in action, a distinction between having the evidence of an aircraft being shot down, no parachutes, and finally bursting into flames on the ground, or no one actually seeing what happened and the plane never returned to base. Then of course there were those killed through an unfortunate accident on or near base while on operations and also during training. The boys read these lists and reactions varied but when someone known was missing or killed, it was a very sad occasion indeed.
Such it was for Mike to read that Cam (Bill Cameron) and Jack Lemmerick both from Winnipeg were gone. Then came news that Frank Moffat and previous roommate Davey Shewan had “gone for a burton”. I expect they realize that more news of this kind will be heard or read in the future. When this happened too often, emotions may harden resulting in a stronger belief in fate. Whatever will happen will happen so there is no need to be “all-fired” worried about it. For some, empathy is stretched to imagine the parents receiving that dreaded letter giving them such sad news of their son or sometimes a daughter. “Missing” left some who had been declared missing, even killed inaction, and returning after the war having been a prisoner of war or in some who eventually made a returning after the war having been a prisoner of war or in some who eventually made a remarkable escape back to England with the help of the allied underworld intelligence persons.
Flying was mostly straightforward, a routine, and each pilot had logged approximately 640 hours of flying by the time they left for Calveley January 31st. Even so, there was always a risk and accidents were bound to happen with so many aircraft and students in a training program. There were a few killed by accident but fortunately not one of Mike’s gang at Shawbury. Mike’s diary mentions that he would be writing a “farewell” letter as he called it in the event that he would not return, killed in action. Unfortunately, he did not keep this which would have been a fine memento to have but hopefully not having to be read by the family during the war.
Mike enjoyed night flying best and indeed in training, instructing and later in Beam Approach in Cranage, instrument flying under the brightly lit stars which did appear now and then, made him feel much more at ease, sort of at peace with himself; even without the stars especially during the winter months when more often it was overcast with cloud. There was that beautiful scene of approach to landing with the flare path coming into view lit brightly. The descent, and then the lights coming almost level with the wing tips meaning one was close to the runway. Speed had been throttled back for landing and son the wheels touched, rudder adjusted, and the slow down to taxi speed. There must have been hundreds of these approaches and landings, always a thrill and especially to land in “one piece” as they say; no accident.
Day flying was not altogether boring but at times it was for these lads as instructors but they were certainly aware of what is happening inside and outside the aircraft. Testing an aircraft was nearly always a joy allowing one to head for the designated low flying of course since an error in judgment could mean a quick ticket to you know where. Also, visibility was reduced vastly since there was no sky in the background; only the rolling hills and the valleys. One just stayed level with those hills up and down about 15 feet off the ground, left and right, even mindful of any steep hill up ahead. Exciting this was for the flyers and for Mike also since I stole a ride once with both Mike and Reg though of course each did not know this. Imagine! An angel flying and not needing to use his/her wings!
Then there were the pre-arranged dog fights and in Mike’s story, “My Friendship with Reg”, a dog fight is included. I heard both of them discussing this after they were back in the room and what a time they did have. Mike praised Reg on his ability to stay on his tall and how difficult it was to shake him. These dog fights were held at higher levels and one had to keep an eye out for other aircraft. It was fantasyland of course each pretending he is flying a single engine fighter chasing a German aircraft with the sole purpose of shooting it down. Certainly the fantasy included cannon and ammunition armament. Reg and Mike found out quickly what skill was involved but knew that the sturdy Oxford could not compare to the maneuverability of a Spitfire or a Hurricane both of which were prominent in the successful Battle of Britain.
In addition to low flying, there were many occasions even with students to take advantage of the billowing beautiful clouds with twisting routes between them. You should see them would zoom into a gap and into another always attempting to stay out of a cloud, which appear to be solid. Occasionally, instead of turning left or right into a gap, one would climb the cloud up and up until the aircraft almost stalled due to the speed falling off. If that happened then it seemed easy to convert to a stall turn but this meant going straight down through cloud for a while to pick up speed and then level off. Some danger in that to be sure!
I sat in with Mike one day on a solo flight and cloud flying for me was the greatest. I wish he could have seen the joy in my face and excitement I felt! No wonder these guys chose flying! And there were some women also who became very credible pilots ferrying aircraft from one place to another. One time, when Mike was parked at right angles to the runway getting ready for takeoff, a Mosquito aircraft pulled up alongside and was given clearance to take-off. Who should be the pilot but a women who looked down from her higher level Mosquito aircraft at Mike in his Oxford! Mike’s heart ached in looking at the beautiful Mosquito longing to fly it especially on operations.
November 20th, 1043: (interesting also since this is my wife Kath’s birthday, 19 at the time but I had not met her as yet) Reading the diary over his shoulder:
“Shawbury – Leeds: (brackets are Mike’s further explanations)
My anniversary – two years since I left Winnipeg to go to the Air Force Manning Pool in Edmonton – tomorrow is Mom’s birthday……. Began my best flight so far – got lost – radio no good – base of cloud low and dark – with student Turner – flew 4 to 5 hundred feet from ground – north and south we went – almost hit the balloons (over Sheffield as it turned out and some intuition told me to gain some height also why unfortunately no aerodromes were spotted) ….saw them (balloons) once I climbed above the clouds (quite a sight since the balloons seemed to stick right out from the clouds – petrol getting low) – ended up near Leeds (in Yorkshire) closer to a village Castleford – precautionary landing into a small farmer’s field worked out well (luckily the first try) – we were ok and followed all the call, and got Leeds – had dinner in our scruffy clothes – we made quite a sight – took the #40 train to Shrewsbury – the Army personnel (came and took over from the citizen guard) has our flying helmets – hope they send them back – a lucky day because we were really in the “deep end” (in trouble).
Mike’s explanation to Reg included that the approach over the hedge at the lowest speed possible (precautionary landing) meant a quick stop since the length of the field was short; like dragging the aircraft just over the edge and then throttles off and the Oxford plunks down on the ground. Also, some residents saw this and flocked around the aircraft. Once out, Turner and Mike heard this strange dialect. One word mentioned was “leets” such as the boys asking, “Where are the leets” and it sunk in finally that this meant lights. Indeed in Yorkshire one would think he or she is in another country as far as understanding what is being said is concerned. Quite a dialect! The farmer was very hospitable and the phone was used to report what happened. Army personnel arrived later after they left. The aircraft was tied down of course with roped in accordance with procedures. Back at Shawbury the Chief Flying Officer merely chatted about what happened having read the written report. So that was according to Mike, “the best flight he has had to date”. My thinking is it could easily have turned out to be the worst.
Family – wise, Mike heard about his maternal grandmother passing away. He loved her so much the diary reads, cutting wood for her, chuckling when she talked back to the radio, watching her put on cold potatoes on her head and wrapping them around in a bandanna to cool her forehead and minimize the usual headaches she had – an old Ukrainian remedy. He mentioned the wonderful show he saw in Birmingham, “This is the Army, Mr. Jones” and the famous writer of many popular songs Irving Berlin was there in person and even sang the title song (I have this video in BETA not VHS). Brother Andy wanted to quit school and eventually decided to do so even though Mike suggested otherwise. Homesickness still appears in some of his writing such as “so little of family life here” and “Hullo to you all! I wish I were with you.” Another bit is, “anxious about my future.” He and John in one visit kid about getting home old and weary perhaps balding and meeting our parents at the railway station in Winnipeg.
Rumor had it that an invasion was on the way sometime in mid summer. The gang had a feeling that this crossing the English Channel, the Overlord” invasion, would be successful. Most of them did not think that they would ever get on operation but then getting home was certainly the priority alive and reasonably well.
Christmas came and the gang had a fine time on Christmas Eve at a pub. On Christmas Day it was soccer in the morning, the officers then serving the noon meal with all the trimmings. A fine day indeed and wondering too how the family was celebrating remembering Shawbury time was six hours later than the Winnipeg time.
January says moved along swiftly and soon the rumor for the great move north was known to be true. I could tell easily that most of Mike’s friends if not all of them as well as Mike, were sad to leave Shawbury. Still, in the service one expects changes and so it came to be. As the aircraft one by one flew away, I said to myself, “Goodbye to all of you and I shall miss you. It’s so long for now but we shall meet again sooner or later if not here on this earth in that “other place”.
OVERSEAS PART 5 RAF STATION CALVELEY/CRANAGE
NEAR NANTWICH, CHESHIRE
CONTINUING AS INSTRUCTORS – STILL #11 AFU
I pause in my writing, now that the angel has done her/his bit foe the Shawbury story. How to approach the next six months at Calveley to be followed by four months of Bean Approach instructing at Cranage located some 13 miles north of Nantwich? The diary was read until the last entry June 6 (other book or books lost) and read also were the letters for the rest of this year 1944. Notes were jotted down very briefly some 12 pages of them. This proved to be an excellent familiarization exercise and since I had read these previously, many experiences were almost life-like if that’s the word. By that I mean it was as if I was living my life over again. Some may say that this is a rather pointless exercise but for me it was and is rewarding.
In this period of time, both happy and sad events occurred. Happiness because Kath and I met, courted, and became engaged. Such beautiful memories! Sadness came also as will be shown as the story unfolds. In stoking up the fires of memory comes the reality of one’s age and the whole question of mortality. This was pushed to the background, as it were, for indeed there is deep-felt happiness and love in our home with enough moments day by day to enjoy and to relish. One day at a time they say and so true this is! Yet memories lurk and come to mind at certain times.
Obviously, as instructors in Calveley gaining more experiences week by week and month by month, we settled into a routine not unlike the one in Shawbury. It seems best then to skim the notes and pick out those blocks of incidents that are the more meaningful.
NISSEN HUTS CHEAP BUT COLD!
Calveley may have been the first time to experience the Nissen metal accommodations prior to Reg and I moving into the hut across the highway from the aerodrome. From Douglas Harvey’s book mentioned previously some information was interesting. These accommodations for soldiers and airmen named after a Lord Nissen, the designer, were cheap to build and utilized in World War I as well. Hundreds of thousands were erected in Britain and were generally loathed by the occupants.
On a concrete pad, corrugated iron sheets were bolted in a continuous arch from one side to the other. End walls were made of wood and placed there was the door and two tiny windows. This allowed for six beds on each side along the length and in the middle aisle would be the tiny stove with pipe attached leading through the ceiling to the outside. This last was not effective and smoke was usually the result of a lit fire. The available wet coal lumps brought in from the outside caused the smoke and rationed it was also. Dope on the coals did not help much so getting heat out of this fire was a challenge. A key problem was soon evident and that is the inside of the hut became more damp than the outside due to condensation on large metal surface. It is true that I felt more cold in the damp winter in England than when it is twenty-five below in Brandon. Thank goodness Reg and I were moved not to palatial quarters but at least where we could generate some heat.
THE FIRST TWO MONTHS FEBRUARY AND MARCH
As an aside, in flying north from Shawbury to Calveley, I had quite a scare when a four engine Liberator cut in front of me. Perhaps this was done as a lark but it was not funny for my passengers and me in the Oxford. Indeed this brings to mind when twice in cloud I just missed hitting one large plane and another smaller one on another occasion. I can image now that bigger plane just missing us! Also, on operations at night and the searchlights on us, a plane just zipped from the front of us and over our heads. This happens so quickly that one has no time to manoeuver; a quickening of the pulse and perhaps a comment like "WOW!" Then comes the sobering thought how luck plays a great part in whether one lives or dies.
Calveley, though recently built, became a cozy place and more suited to we Canadians not used to peace time rules and regulations. Even so, the more experienced officers as many of us were becoming assumed more responsibilities which meant attention to rules. In my case there was still some organizing of softball teams and games (first having to find a suitable area and make a softball field out of it - also Gordie Duff, our Salvation Army friend, did not accompany us so we were on on our own for recreation), but added to this were the duties of deputy flight commander and later as flight commander for a few months. The flight rooms were large and mention is made of Reg and I, no doubt a few others, doing some gardening around the flights for flowers or just to make the outsidesurroundings more pleasant. Nicknames were posted on the wall and mine was "Sharkey" which pointed to my interest in card games of chance.
The officers mess was excellent with the usual snooker table, shove ha'penny (which we have at home and should be put to some use), bar, dining room and kitchen area. Our billets where Reg and I roomed were really older huts with no running water which was brought in and heated up on the box stove. Coal was the main source of heat and believe me that stove was red hot at times what with the damp cold weather in mid-winter in Cheshire and ail the midlands for that matter. It wasn't too long before Reg and I invested in a plug-in heater and it was fine except that the fuses blew out often.
What a difference to Shawbury but there were other advantages to Calveley that made up for this inconvenience. As usual, a batwoman was assigned to a few of us and this was a great help. Reg and I may have been the preferred ones perhaps since every morning upon waking up, a hot cup of cocoa would be provided for us. Most welcome in that morning temperature with the stove not lit as yet! And always, what a challenge it was to get Reg out of bed! A fond memory is his washing dishes for often we made our own meals in our "home". I kept telling him to use the dish cloth and he would chuckle to himself. He seemed to enjoy my lecturing to him as I did on many occasions. Our good friends, the gramophone with 53 records at the time and the radio kept us informed and the music was always enjoyable. Also by this time we became used to British humour such as delivered by Tommy Handley and Tony Hancock this last one I enjoyed so much.
A number of us had been together for some time now and friendships deepened especially between Reg and me. There was "Toughy" Barr and his war bride Kay, Max Norris who passed away last year in Ottawa, Bill Morion with whom I communicate now, Trudell from Winnipeg, great chap, Englishman, "Woody", Scotty, Bryant, and Reg of course. Expected of
course were postings or whatever and such it was to be in the next few months. Leaves came at different times for us but even so a spirit of comradeship prevailed making life so much more pleasant. Food parcels were shared and once in a while enjoying the precious eggs that Reg and I would get by cycling to some farm house asking to purchase a few.
Basically these were much the same but it appears there were more occasions of homesickness especially in the later months at Calveley when Kath and I were betrothed and planning for a future. In visiting John in Scotland for instance, I was alone during the day since John had flying duties. A quote from an April letter:
"Thought of home so much it brought tears to my eyes."
The war was dragging on and many of us had been instructing such a long time wanting so much to be posted to operations. Then too, there was more thinking about the future and settling down with the desire to be of more help to mother and the kids. Father was gone and I must have had some genuine hope for him since I did write a letter to him. One letter states:
"I wrote Dad a letter last night. I owed him one for a long time now. Dr. Shaver said I did the right thing and that some day I can step in when he needs me. I hope so."
As an aside, there is written in one of the Vignettes, my experience in trying to help him when I was visiting in Vancouver. The "Looking back at the Spacks" writing has information on this. Another letter in reply to mother's was the suggestion by her that the family should Join him in Vancouver. I reacted very strongly against this.
Pictures of the family were sent and surprisingly one of mother for indeed she abhorred being in front of a camera. Pictures did not arrive often so it was a special treat for me to see how much my brother Andy and sisters had grown up. I mentioned to Nellie how pretty she is for in 1944 she was 14 years of age. I requested food parcels and other items such as a watch for Kath for her birthday, a watch she has to this day and what a time we had with sending it back for a new part not available in Cheshire. Silk stockings for Kath, a bathing suit for me, and other items were frequent requests.
I had sent a $50 bond previously and then a $200 one. The next was to be a $100 bond and altogether then this was a nice bit of money considering market value comparisons from then to now. Repeated many times in my letters was to emphasize to mother that she should use the monthly allowance sent to her for family's needs even all of it if necessary. I must have sounded like a broken record repeating this so often.
VISITS WITH JOHN AND BERNIE
As usual great visits these were plus a few on my own to London where one met quite a few old friends and occasionally some from the old home town of Winnipeg, even the north end. This was always a highlight but naturally these contacts in London or Edinburgh were short relationships with seldom a follow-up. Bernie, eventually my best man at our wedding since John was in India on our wedding date, was a ground crew airman in Yorkshire after a spell in North Africa. Canadian Bomber Command aerodromes were scattered all over this county of Yorkshire and were an important force indeed in the mass bombings that took place in the last couple of years of the war. On the way to Edinburgh to visit John, I dropped in to see Bernie (Maluta) and we had a fine time but at first not recognising each other. A planned visit by him to Calveley did not work out due to a delayed letter but we corresponded from time to time.
John was based at an O.T.U. near East Fortune on twin-engine Beaufighters located not too far from Edinburgh, a city which we enjoyed immensely. One night we slept in the lobby of a hotel. We had not booked thinking there would be no problem but as it turned out it was the Annual Festival and all the accommodations were booked up. Back to base we could have gone but youth decided otherwise. The festival was a Joyous occasion with intergenerational mix so great to be a part of. John visited me in Calveley before he left in I believe, a new Beaufighter with his navigator to fly to India. What an experience that must have been. He met Kath on his visit and I was happy he was able to do so. It was sad to say "bye" to him for one never knew whether or not it was the last time we would see each other. And if we did it would be a long time of waiting. By then we had discussed plans to be teachers and to go to United College to begin the four year program .
THE JOY OF FLYING
Always a thrill particularly , as explained earlier, when one went solo to test an aircraft in the air. There were occasions also when two or three would go up and do some formation flying in a "V" formation. Tucking the wing in close to the next aircraft was a skill to be sure, an extra challenge. Leading was easier but one had to be steady on course and make gentle turns. You might call this a form of dancing anticipating quickly as follower what the leader is doing next.
AN UNUSUAL STALL TURN
Stall turns were described previously but one experience stands out in my mind titled, "Panic". A student was with me this time and I believe I was demonstrating. We must have been at a safe height of around 3000 feet so a little speed, nose down, and then a gradual pull back wings level. The throttles could be pulled back so power from the propellers were minimized. So far so good. Yet somehow, even though I had done this many times, at the highest point when the aircraft could climb no further and the rudder was kicked one way or the other, we did not swing around the axis but fell backwards, a jerky loop you might say.
Down we went fortunately not in a spin and I must admit to some panic finding myself in an unusual situation. Perhaps the student felt this was the usual manoeveur but there was no time chatting with him. Two thousand feet were reached in a hurry and according to procedures I tried to pull out. No response. More feet lost to one thousand with the ground rushing up at us rapidly. Suddenly I realized that in my panic, I was pulling the half wheel too hard and for whatever reason there was no response. So by pushing the wheel forward settling into a dive with a gentle pull back of the wheel and we slowly came level with the ground perhaps four hundred feet below us. I remember little of what conversation took place between the student and me. Hopefully he felt this was an exhibition of expert piloting by yours truly! However I knew better; a panic demonstration!
What a favorite place for us was this designated area on the map and we became familiar with the boundaries from the air in no time. Low flying was an instructional technique taught to students. Within the boundaries was Beeston Castle on a hill and it was an excellent marker for us (see picture). Kath and I had visited this area and did so again after the war. The Oxford was sturdy and stubby to some extent but surprisingly sensitive in the controls. A great ploy when alone and testing an aircraft, was to fly low heading directly for Beaston and then in the last possible moment pull up sharply just over the top of the castle. A bit dangerous it is true but the routine of instructing called for some different and more exciting kind of flying from time to time.
HULLO AND LOVE FROM THE AIR
Not too long after I met Kath and since she lived in Nantwich some 4 or 5 miles from the aerodrome, it became almost a ritual that I would fly over her house at 8 the Crescent and rev my engines. This meant of course pushing the throttles forward and back and the sound was quite distinctive. Early in our courtship when at Calveley, this meant "hullo with love" to Kath and the family. No doubt the neighbors wondered at first what this was all about but soon found out. Later in our courtship I felt the revving of the engines was my way of expressing our deepening love for each other but that was between the two of us. This was against regulations but no one made a complaint.
Caiveley was well situated with lovely Nantwich just a few miles away and further on the larger city of Crewe which was a railway centre from which one could catch a train to any major centre in England and Scotland. Northeast from Crewe perhaps 40 or 50 miles was the major city of Manchester but we did not frequent that place too often though it had its advantages. West from Calveley about 15 miles was the ancient city of Chester and what a lovely city that is. After the war we marvelled at Its fine shopping stores and the general layout. More of the time in the earlier months in Calveley, Nantwich was our usual destination especially to the very old Crown Hotel which seemed to be built on a slant. The St. Mary's Church Parish Hall was not far away and dances took place this being the place when I first laid eyes on Kath on March 6, 1944. The occasion was a birthday party mine being on March 5 and Reg's on March 10. So we were a merry crew by the time we arrived at the dance. Hence no surprise that Kath took no notice of my attempts to catch her eye.
SAD, SAD DAYS!
Soon after that birthday party on March 6, about a week, we had word that our fine Englishman friend Woody and two students had not returned from a night flight. Search parties were sent out in different areas and the plane was found finally having crashed at Buxton, near Macclesfield in Cheshire at the foot of the Pennines (large hills). This shook us up so much and then came the funeral at Chester, the last post and regular routine. There was added sadness for the few of us who had been invited by Woody around March 1st to go to Manchester and meet his wife prior to the birthday party. We did so and had a wonderful time with a home-cooked meal and some dancing in the living room.
After the war a couple of years ago, I was reading the section in the Royal Air Force publication, not RCAF, in which former airmen or relatives asked for information about their loved ones and friends. Lo and behold Woody's name came up as having been at Calveley and the Oxford aircraft had crashed near a pub named "Cat and the Fiddle" in Buxton perhaps some fifty miles east of our Station. Did anyone have any information on this? One student with him was Canadian and this sent me to look up in the "They Shall Grow Not Old " book for that Canadian name, Flying Officer Liggett. Approximately 18000 airwomen and airmen who had died in World War II are listed with circumstances and other information included. I sent this along to the person requesting information and he replied stating he would see if he could locate Charles Wood's wife. We never knew Woody's first name was Charles. Everyone called him Woody. To date neither his wife nor a relative has been located.
My diary's last entry is June 6, 1944 but fortunately the letters are on hand. Interesting to note is that no mention of Reg was made in any letter until two months after the tragedy occurred. One reference is interesting in the letter written August 5, the first after the accident which occurred July 26th and I quote:
"You know. Mother, whether we like It or not , a fellow over here must get all the pleasures he can - the good kind of pleasures I mean. Tomorrow he may be no more!"
There is little doubt that losing Reg as a result of his fatal accident affected me greatly. I did not include this in a letter to mother until September 22nd when I wrote:
"There is something, mother, that I've kept from you for two months; that is about Reg. The reason why my letters lately have sounded as if I were tired and the reason too why Calveley, my old station, was getting on my nerves, was that Reg was killed July 26 -- crashed. You imagine how it affected me. He was so close a friend. If it wasn't for the fact that there was a place for me to go to and a person with whom I could share my sorrow (Kath and family), I don't know how long it would have taken me to get over it. But I did get over it. Such occurrences happen often nowadays..... If you care to write Reg's mother, the address is Mrs. Bray, Alexander, Manitoba ( about 16 miles west of Brandon."
Today we are in close touch with brothers Mert and especially Harry. I wrote "My Friendship with Reg" not only for my own benefit but also for the brothers, the nephews and nieces as well as a sister.
My roommate of approximately eight months at Shawbury and at Calveley, an excellent pilot, such a dear close friend, was testing an aircraft and after the tests went to the low flying area as most of us did on for a change of pace in flying. Visibility is not the best at the low height and the Oxford is a dull grey color not easy to spot especially at ground level. His aircraft and another collided. Reg was killed while the pilot of the other aircraft, apparently quite damaged, fortunately was able to fly back. This happened at Huxley in Cheshire not too far from Beeston Castle. The news was devastating to say the least to his fine friends and especially to me. I had to identify a letter he had written found in his pocket and the edges were burned. Indeed it was his handwriting. I went through his belongings no doubt with tears in my eyes. Later I wrote his mother and she wrote back sending some parcels as well. His father had passed away many years ago. Mrs. Bray raised a large family on her own.
SIGNALS TRAINING AND CRANAGE
Some definite plan was in the works for instructors since from time to time we were sent separately on two courses, one for two days and one for a week. Both had to to do with radio signals and the like and they were a pleasant change. As we found out later, this was familiarization in preparation for instructing B.A.T. which is Beam Approach Training (Standard Beam Approach, S.B.A.). Cranage was an excellent posting for me since the aerodrome was located 14 miles north of Nantwich, a comfortable cycling distance away unless it was raining which happened often enough. There were no concrete runways there but instead a heavy wire mesh which worked out very well indeed with nice soft landings. First familiarization flight took place August 31, 1944.
PREFERRED INSTRUMENT FLYING
Excellent also because night Instrument flying was a great enjoyment for me and the ability to concentrate fully on Instruments was a great asset in instrument flying. The student had a hood over the window on his side during day flying similar to AFU training although I may be in error since now I remember that I as a pilot in training wore goggles AT AFU and it was called sodium. Vision then was close to what experienced in night flying. For instance, in both cases, landing was done by the position of the aircraft to the ground level lights. Basically, beam approach was a signals procedure which allowed a pilot to reach the base of the runway without resorting to any visual help. This was a forerunner to what we have today in commercial flying landing by instrument which now is quite sophisticated. The training was especially useful since instructors were slated to become bomber pilots or with a Pathfinder Squadron which used an elaborate Oboe procedure.
THE ECSTASY AND THE AGONY
One example, a rather lengthy description, of how effective beam approach landing could be was when my student and I took off one early morning with a dark cloud base perhaps around 300 feet or so. It was sunrise time and when we broke through the cloud into daylight the most beautiful sight awaited us. Indeed even today I can visualize it and certainly I feel now that it was additionally a spiritual experience. The sunrise colored the clouds with all shades of red, pink, mauve, purple, and shades of these, as far as the eyes could see. Indeed it was breathtaking; an experience of God in place having created the heavens and the earth.
The last part of the session was to return to base and all went well until we went into cloud which now had thickened to a greater altitude. Radio contact with the aerodrome informed us that the aerodrome was closed in completely with fog and rain for miles around. There was no need of a hood in cloud of course and the instruments and signals were crucial. So I took over and started with the necessary procedure. Usually one broke out of the cloud with the runway in front and the visual takes over.
Such was not to be this time which I had realized once hearing from aerodrome control. At about 100 feet on the approach I thought it best to overshoot and climb to make certain the procedure was properly in place. The altimeter reading (height above ground for our aerodrome vital for an instrument landing and varies from one area to another) was adjusted properly so I had confidence that the 100 feet on the aircraft altimeter was reasonably correct.
Up we went having passed over the signal which told us we were above the foot of the runway ( a distinctive beeping signal different from the head of the runway) and up to the circuit height of 1000 feet. Then anti-clockwise, left, at a specified turn and speed to head downwind for specified seconds prior to the left turn to begin the let down. Merging into a steady signal instead of dit da or da dit (Morse Code for letter A and B respectively) indicates a turn left, until a steady signal was heard which meant staying on that steady signal letting down at a specified feet per second. The word " specified" is mentioned often and rightfully so for an error here meant the difference between success or failure and possibly in this scenario a serious accident.
This was my first and only time to be in a situation such as this so by no means was this pilot quietly confident everything would turn out all right. No panic mind you but certainly pressure relying on many hours of flying experience indeed just over a 1000 hours. A strange feeling it was to glance at the altimeter and look up to see if the runway came into view. The reading was 200, then 150, then 100, and still no runway visually; fingers crossed to pray the altimeter read correctly. Then 50 and no more glances, eyes up, because surely that runway is right there in front of us. Suddenly the distinctive intermittent sound was heard meaning we were over the foot of the runway. What a welcome sound but where is the runway?
It happened so quickly, seeing the runway just a few feet below us so a slight pull on the wheel to level off, throttles off slowly, and a wheel landing keeping the aircraft from swerving (two kinds of landings namely three point holding the aircraft up just above the runway until it stalls and drops on the two front wheels and the tail wheel, wheel back in the tummy. The second was a gentle pull back on the wheel a few feet off the runway and once the front wheels touch the runway, wheel forward until the aircraft slows down and the rear end drops on the tail wheel - but not too far forward or the propellers would touch the runway). Needless to write is that we had to be located after landing and a truck came to guide us to the parking area. What a flight and what a test of beam approach for landing! The ecstasy of the sunrise and the agony of getting down on the ground in one piece! Could one repeat this time after time? I wonder for indeed so much is involved and much of It some good old fashioned luck! Still. I felt confident in my Standard Beam Approach abilities and an above average rating for this at the end of my stay was a welcome reward.
COURTSHIP AND MORE PURPOSE IN LIFE
"Long Ago and Far Away" writing describes more fully varied experiences at this time concerning Kath's and my relationship beginning around April when at Calveley and continuing on to the end of the year when my duties at Cranage were pretty well completed and waiting to be posting.
I recall the highlights so well: our picnics at Bickerton Hill to and from by bicycle, a few dances and one at New Years in the Officer's mess when both of us with others danced in our bare feet on top of a large table, Reg telling me after I had met Kath and he had met her as well, that she was the girl I would marry when at the time marriage was certainly not a priority, the sad, so sad time when Reg's accident took place and how wonderful Kath and her Mom and Dad were in supporting me in my grief.
Also, Kath meeting best friend John and how they took to each other so easily, my constant writing to my mother informing her how wonderful Kath was and not to worry so much about our plans to be married and yes, there were electric lights in England, Kath's worrying how she would be accepted by my mother especially after reading a letter from my mother about her concerns, mother's acceptance finally by letter of our engagement, my cycling the 14 or so miles every second day rain or shine from Cranage to Nantwich to be with Kath and her Mom and Dad for she was the only child, my own room at their home which became a home for me, the fireplace there when often I would look Into the flames and consider the future back home and feeling a bit homesick for my family, the movies Kath and I saw and meeting relatives who were kind to me, a visit with Kath to Manchester to visit her mother's sister Auntie Ethel.
And continuing: our engagement and purchasing an engagement ring for Kath, the Insistence by Kath that after the war going to university for the three or four years would be an excellent direction for me to take, our plan to be married in England at an appropriate leave time, my wondering about Japan and deciding that now it would not be sensible to volunteer once the European conflict was over assuming by now that the Allies were on the way to victory, the signet ring Kath bought for me with my initials on it and at this point in time not knowing where it is, and so it went. A different and indeed a wonderful time full of war-time experiences which had its particular influence on each of us.
My last flight at Cranage took place December 27, 1944. Students had gone for some inexplicable reason and I was not to fly again until January 17,1945. My posting came through as mentioned in the January 7th letter but the RAF Station was not known. Known of course is that this was the beginning of my opportunity for operations. My two families would not be too happy about this no doubt but I was ready for a change and especially for operations having waited and trained, and instructed, such a long time beginning November 20, 1941, just for that reason. Arrival at #l6 Operational Training Unit, Upper Heyford, located further south near the beautiful Cotswold area, took place January 9.
Finally, a few words about the previously mentioned women pilots who ferried aircraft of all kinds to many countries. They belonged to ATA, Air Transport Auxiliary, and much skill and endurance were required to handle this task. Indeed women played a very Important part in the war and indicated clearly that many responsibilities usually assumed by men could be handled by women quite effectively and often more effectively. The Land Army women are an example but there are many more.
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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