Baird, Gavin Gibson

Letter
Date:
November 12, 1929
To:
Angereau
From:
Gavin Gibson Baird
November 12, 1929

Dear Angereau,

It took me about six months to get my application for the Flying Corps approved. At the expiration of that time, or about May, 1917, I was advised from Ottawa that I should have a medical examination on and present myself before a Captain Daniels, who had been sent by the Flying Corps to Winnipeg to interview all prospective aviators. I passed all the required physical examinations and also interviewed Captain Daniels, with the result that about the middle of May, 1917, I went to Toronto.

I was sworn in at Toronto in the customary way by taking the Oath of Allegiance, sworn on the Bible, and by accepting a piece of silver- I just forget what the amount was, but in the time honoured fashion I suppose it was the equivalent of a shilling. I was told to report at Burwash Hall, Toronto, which is the residency of one of the Universities there. I was outfitted with a uniform and started in to take the ground course in military aeronautics. This lasted for about six weeks, and included the rigging of machines and engines, wireless telegraphy, military history, and other courses of a similar nature. I passed an examination at the termination of that time and was sent to Mohawk Camp near Deseronto, a few miles from Belleville. There I had my first trip in an aeroplanes, and after taking about forty minutes ‘dual', I went off solo. To one who has not gone through this experience it is pretty hard to understand just how a fellow feels when he is told to take a machine up all by himself. Getting off the ground is comparatively easy, but getting back on it again is the difficult part. I proved no exception to the general rule, and after being up about twenty minutes I came down and tried to land. ‘Tried' is the right word to use. Just about the time that my wheels were to touch the grounds my eye caught another machine that was taking off, and in my anxiety to make sure that I was not going to touch him I lost sight of the ground entirely, with the result that I landed with too much speed and at too much angle. My tires burst and the steel rims cut into the ground and slowed me up so much that I went right over on my back. I was strapped into the machine with the usual safety belt and was suspended there head downwards. The gasoline in the tank ran out all over me, but it was only a moment before I loosened the belt and crawled out. My machine was not very badly damaged although it required, as I remember it, a new rudder and a few other minor repairs. The officer who was teaching me to fly was a Lieutenant Coates, and his people were the manufacturers of ‘Coates thread' in the Old Country. It was an everyday occurrence to him, of course, and he didn't say anything to hurt my feelings but simply said that we would get another machine and go up right away. We did and I got along so well in landing that he said he could not understand how I had come to turn over on my first solo. Of course, I knew that it was owing to the fact of watching the other machine. After a couple of landings I went solo again, and from that day till the day I stopped flying, I never broke even a wire on my machine in landing, notwithstanding the fact that I have landed in all kinds of weather, and under all kinds of conditions, even landing at night on fields that I knew nothing about, owing to engine trouble or some such cause.

After passing the usual tests at Mohawk, I was sent to Borden, where the training was a little more advanced. There we had to take ‘contact patrol', which is done with the assistance of a wireless set, and in actual warfare was used to direct the firing of batteries of large calibre. In spotting the places where the shells were landing, which were fired from a small tin hut, by means of electric wires etc., the tin hut being the target; you had to imagine that the hut was the centre of your watch where the two hands meet, and that it was surrounded by imaginary circles at 10 yards, 25 yards, 50 yards and so on, each circle being lettered ‘A', ‘B', ‘C'. etc., and the direction from the target being designated by the hours on you watch, so that if a shell landed to the right of your target and approximately 50 yards away you would possibly advise you battery that it landed in circle ‘D' at 3 o'clock. We also had to do photography, taking photographs of different bridges, railway crossings, etc., in that part of the country, and also reading ‘Panneau', which is really the dot and dash system of communicating from the ground with the pilot in the air. This is done with a large board which is not visible from the air until the operator pulls a cord when it turns white. Consequently if he gave two short pulls that would be the equivalent of two dots, or the letter ‘i'. You had to pass a test on reading Panneau from the air at about 3000 feet and come down and hand in your list of words to the wireless operator, and if you had it correct you were passed. It was at Borden that I had my first experience with a machine gun. We used both the Vickers and the Lewis. The supply of bullets is conveyed in the Vickers gun by a long belt, and in the Lewis gun by a circular drum. In the air, the Vickers fabric belt was replaced by aluminum clips and as your gun was fired these small clips were thrown out of the side and down to the ground. The Lewis gun had both single and double drums-a single drum holding about 50 shells and the double drum twice that number. We were trained in taking both guns apart and were tested as the speed in which we could re-assemble both guns. The ‘lock' on the Vickers gun is the secret of the whole mechanism, and when the gun is operating at top speed, which was bout 700 shots per minute, this little lock moved back and forth in the gun and as it came back it pulled the exploded shell out of the breach and a live shell out of the belt. When it went forward again the live shell was slipped in the breach and the exploded shell was thrown out. The mechanism on the Lewis gun was entirely different, it being operated by the exploded gases of the previous shell, which were trapped near the muzzle of the gun and shot backwards through a small hole, and the pressure from these gases worked the mechanism of the gun. Both guns were very satisfactory, and were used exclusively by the British and Canadian Armies in France.

I passed all the tests that were required, and early in September, 1917, was sent to Toronto where I got my commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps. After I got my commission I was give two weeks leave of absence. Before my leave was up I was notified one evening that I was on a draft to sail for the Old Country in two days. The time that was set came altogether too soon, and one bright morning in September I left Toronto for Montreal where we were embarked on the Canadian Pacific Steamship Metagama.

Gavin
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