When the war started in 1939 I was taking a wireless course in Vancouver and this had a great deal to do with the rest of my life.
May 1940 I went into Vancouver to the RCAF recruiting office. I indicated that I was taking a wireless course and wished to enlist as a wireless operator. I was asked if I needed my glasses and when given an affirmative answer I was told "We will never need you".
September 16 I read in the newspaper that they had dropped the glasses restriction for those enlisting as wireless operator. On the 18 Sept I again went to the recruiting office in the afternoon. I mentioned that I had operating speed in Morse code. I was given a medical, signed papers and told to report back on the 19th for swearing in. I was given a travel warrant to RCAF Manning Pool at Brandon, Manitoba. I was in the RCAF. Service No. R74***.
(I kept a daily diary and recorded my movements. I got this idea from my Uncle Bert who was all through the First World War. Captain A.H.J Andrews, M.C. & Bar, #14502)
I arrived at #2 Manning Pool in Brandon 21 September and found it to be the Brandon Exhibition Building. We were assigned a double bunk in the area where hogs and sheep had been kept but no animal memories remained. It was quite full. We were issued complete uniform kit, etc. We were given boxes to send our civilian clothes home. I had alteration done on my greatcoat by a civilian but the uniform was altered by service tailors. We had the usual parades for roll call, drill, PT, dental inspection and inoculations. Over two weeks we had six inoculations.
Shortly after arriving during roll call, all those who had enlisted as wireless operators we called to fall out. We were then formed into a separate squadron. We then were grouped together in one location in the barracks. (Our classification was "wireless operator, ground" or "WOG's" apart from "wireless air gunners" or "WAGs".)
On a later parade were taken to a school and were given a Morse code speed test. Those that could do 15 words per minute would go to #2 Wireless School in Calgary for a short course and those who couldn't would go to #1 Wireless School in Montreal and get full training. Next parade those who made the 15 wpm test were called out and having a name beginning with A, I was the first one called out for the short course.
Two weeks after arriving at Brandon those had passed we were confined to barracks. We packed our kit and down to the station, by truck, and caught a train for Calgary. There were two coaches of us. My first movement as a draft, but not too bad as we had regular coaches and a porter too. We arrived in Calgary on Friday and proceeded to the old technical school which was now #2 Wireless School.
We started classes on Monday. Our class designation was "WOG-2V" - Wireless Operator, Ground, second entry of same and our class V. We were the last entry of Ground Wireless Operators. The school was then used exclusively for training WAGs - Wireless Air Gunners.
We lived in "H" huts, double bunks with lots of space, gas heaters. Quite a portion of our time in Calgary was spent in quarantine. Someone got scarlet fever and we were isolated. The other half of the "H" hut was emptied and left for our use - dining and recreation. We were allowed out when all the rest were in class. We were eventually permitted to attend classes, going to class after the other and leaving before them. We finished our course, all graduating as Leading Aircraftsman (LAC), Group "B" and were told that we were on overseas posting. We were given one day of leave but those from the West coast argued that wasn't time to get home. We were allowed to miss the Friday graduating exercise and leave early for Vancouver. This meant one day on the train coming home, one day at home and one day traveling back to Calgary getting there on Sunday leaving on Monday for overseas. (This was only day home until my return in 1945.)
Monday 25 November 1940 we were issued web equipment and checked out of #2 Wireless school. Proceeding to the CPR station where we were put in two Colonist cars, vintage early 1900- early settlers and World War 1 soldiers had used them. No mattress to sleep on, wicker seats that did stretch a bit to form four bumps. It was better sleeping in the upper berth which at least was almost flat. The two coaches held all the boys from the West coast and those from Calgary. We picked up cars and airmen all the way to Winnipeg. There we were made up into a second section to a regular train.
The 26th was my 21st birthday. Not much of a celebration.
I should mention here that at Brandon Manning Pool, when the WOG's were segregated, I met up with four chaps and we became quite close. They were Norm McMillan and Ted May, from Calgary, George Lefebvre and Harold Morris, both from the East. We were able to stay as a group, even at our first posting in England.
The Colonist cars were still our home, but we were more of a troop train now. The meals were served in a regular CPR diner, so the food was still good. As we had picked up airmen who lived East of Calgary the cars were now filling up. Time was spent playing cards, reading or just talking.
We arrived in Montreal on 28 November about 9:30 am. Norm and I had figured it out that we would be walking from the CPR station to the CN station, so we thought that we would wangle a ride if we did a little work. We managed to get on a blanket detail and got a ride. More Colonist cars on the CN. Here we met up with George and Harold who had left before us. We managed to get a section in the coach.
The CN diner was a poor show and the first food worse. It was converted baggage car. There were army cooks. We sat a counter, on stools.
We arrived at Truro, Nova Scotia on the 29th at 1 PM. We had a route march around the town for some exercise, the first we had had since leaving Calgary on the 25th. We arrived at Halifax at 4 PM and the train was shunted right down to pier 22, along side a ship. We were paraded and placed in alphabetical order, which segregated me from the group. We marched aboard ship, the RMS Samaria. I managed to swap cabins with a chap and got next to Norm, Ted, George and Harold who were all in one cabin. I was in cabin 83, "C" deck.
The Samaria as yet had not been converted to a troop ship. This was her last trip before conversion. We could see piles of mail being loaded. The deck load consisted of twin engine Hudson aircraft, with engines and wings removed. We were low in the water and it was felt that we must be carrying some ammunition and aircraft engines.
There were about two hundred in our draft, consisting most WOG's from #2 Wireless, and some aircrew. There were civilians, men and women on board and some survivors from a ship that had been torpedoed.
We were four to a cabin, with sheets, deck stewards and dining room stewards. Ring for a steward and you could have beer and sandwiches at 10 PM. We had 3 meals, plus soup at 10:30 and tea in the afternoon. Ice cream and chicken for meals. This all changed when she was converted to a troopship, from chaps that I met later who had traveled on her. She was dependable ship. (I heard several rumors about her being sunk which were untrue.) We had supper on board. We had almost complete freedom aboard. I was able to miss all the work details.
On the morning of Saturday the 30th we saw the pilot dropped. We steamed out of Halifax harbor all alone, although there were numerous ships anchored around, awaiting convoy. We anticipated that we would rendezvous somewhere with a convoy at sea. The seas started getting rough as soon as we hit open water.
The YMCA had concerts on board. We also had a form of horse racing on which we could bet.
During the trip we placed our watches ahead forty minutes on two nights, next change was 60 minutes and the final one was forty minutes. We had changed our watches a total of three hours after leaving Halifax.
Our voyage took us fairly well north as the sun made only a small arc in the south. Seas were really heavy. A rope prevented us from going out to the rails. We could go outside but could not smoke or show any light. We spotted another ship the day before we reached Liverpool harbor. We made the entire trip on our own. About this time we were issued civilian gas masks.
Saturday 7 December we were saw our first plane and watch was kept on us until we landed. Arrived in the entrance to Liverpool on the 8th and were held off shore and landed on Monday 9th December.
We docked about 10.00 AM. On leaving the ship we were put on buses headed for a reception depot at Wilmslo, arriving about 4 PM. We were all given an inspection (FFI - Free From Infection). (This was routinely done on most movements while in England). After a meal we were given passes to go into town. Our first night being in England, and being in a stranger place, didn't know our way around so we used a flashlight and soon found out that was a no no. We managed to get around nevertheless. We went to a dance at a Legion hall.
Next day our draft was called out on parade, for postings. There were postings for 2, 3, 4 and one 5 and others of larger numbers. As we were 5 (Norm MacMillan, Ted May, George Lebvre, Harold Morris and myself) we asked for and received that posting.
Up to this point we had not had any badges on our tunics so we proceeded to correct this. We were all Leading Aircraftsmen (LAC) and Wireless Operators. We called the "rank" LAC badges - Props- and the trade of WOG - Sparks- . So we sewed on our Props and Sparks badges and our Canada badges.
We left Wimslo at 8:30 AM on 11 December for RAF Station Duxford. We transferred trains at Cambridge and arrived at Duxford at 3:30 PM. We checked in to the station and were assigned to barrack block 9D. Checking included the usual FFI. Duxford was a permanent air station about 12 miles south of Cambridge, home to fighter squadrons.
While checking in, they had to decide what to do with 5 RCAF airmen. We were on Headquarters strength so they had to find where to put the 5 of us. Norm and Ted were assigned to Station HQ transmitters. George and I were assigned to Direction Finding (DF) towers while Harold was assigned to duties at HQ.
Direction Finding was a method where fighter aircraft were kept track of when in the air. There were two towers, "Fixer" and "Homer". The Fixer was used to pinpoint the location of a/c so that traffic controllers could direct them towards enemy a/c. The Homer was used to bring them home from patrol.
The Fixer tower was just that, a tower. Enclosed in the top was a loop antenna, which was hooked up to radio equipment down stairs. You had a wheel which swung the loop and in so doing the signal coming in varied in strength as you swung the wheel. The wheel had compass readings on it. When your signal was weakest, your compass reading gave you the direction of the plane from your location. You had a means to test whether you were receiving a true reading our one of 180 degrees out of phase.
During the day, each flight (three a/c) gave a 14 second tone for us to zero in on. The reading we got was passed on to plotters in the flight control room and the director was able to know exactly where his a/c were. That meant when there were 4 flights up at the same time you had to be on your toes. During night operations, voice fixes were used instead of the tone. We were then able to hear what the pilots were saying.
For the controllers to get a fix on the location of the a/c he had to receive readings from three locations so there were three towers set in triangular form, sixty miles apart. In due time I was assigned to a forward station at Barton Bendish and George went to the other station.
The tower crew had a corporal in charge with a number of airmen, all LAC's or AC1's. The corporal was a Canadian in the RAF. There was another Canadian, Larry Ashley. Although both of them were Canadians, I was the one called "CANADA" by the WAAF's that we passed our readings to. This was the only station that I was called "CANADA", all the rest of my service career; I was called "ANDY" naturally because my last name was "Andrews".
Duxford was about 12 miles south of Cambridge. There was a train connection, but a bicycle was the most convenient mode of travel. You could go in or out when you wished. There were times when camp transport was available. I traveled by bike in day or night with no problems. One usually got a bike and sold it when you left, and got another one at the new station.
I note that on 13 December I was paid 2 Pounds, 1 Shilling which at the rate of exchange of $2.20 to the Pound I got about $4.50. It doesn't seem like much, but in all the time that I was overseas, I always had money in my money belt. We usually got paid every two weeks.
With "CANADA" badges on Greatcoat and uniform it created an opener to many conversations and opportunities while out amongst the people.
I did my first shift on duty on December 14 and it was from 5.00 PM to 8.00 AM next day and back at 12.30 to 5 PM. We had our own mess hall near the towers for our use only, so long shifts were no problem. On the 16th I was informed that I was being detached to one of the forward stations, but there were delays, it was not until 29th that I was finally moved.
I applied for leave and got a four day pass. I had a friend who lived at Fetchum, south of London. I caught a train at Whittlesford at 4 PM and arrived in London by 6.15 PM. Just as I got out of the train, the Air-raid sirens went off. The first time in London and there had to be a raid. I took the Underground for Waterloo station, on the south side of the Thames. They closed the tube under the river during an air-raid so finally took a bus to the station. Got a train to Leatherhead and a bus to Fetchum. While finding my way around, the anti-aircraft guns were firing and shrapnel was falling all around me. I spent Christmas with my friend and on Boxing Day a Cousin, Lt. Gerry Andrews of the RCE's, picked me up and took me to his headquarters. I had lunch with him in the Officers' Mess. Quite something for an LAC in the RCAF to dine in an Officers' Mess in the Canadian Army. I caught a train at 3 PM and going through London was back at Cambridge at 8.00 PM and caught a bus back to camp.
On 29 December I left Duxford for the forward Fixer station Barton Bendish in Norfolk. I was billeted with the village butcher in Fincham, near the Fixer station, across from RAF station Marham. There were three of us at the billet; I was the only Canadian (RCAF) and two others in the RAF, one of which was a New Zealander - Bob Sherwood.
One of the chaps working at the tower was an Irish civilian. Paddy loved Classical music and as a result he called me "Sebastian", after Bach - Johann Sebastian Bach.
So New Years Day 1941 saw me in England, not knowing how long I would be there, or in fact, where I would be going from there.
I received cable from home saying that my brother Gordon had joined the Air Force and left home on 8 January.
15 January I received pay, 2 pounds, from Duxford.
On the 17th, finished work at noon and left Fincham with Bob Sherwood at 2.00 PM. We were headed for London - referred to sometimes as "Smoke". With 8 different lifts, we arrived in London at 7 PM. Bob introduced me to his girl friend Edna Burgess. Edna, her mother Emily and father Artie were to be a big part of my life while in England. Their home at 29 Bedford road, Lower Edmonton, London N9 turned out to be my home away from home and will be mentioned many times. (Bob was soon posted overseas very soon after this trip and I never saw him again.) On the 20th Bob & I left London at 8 AM and were back at Fincham by 2.20 PM after 9 lifts. I was 20 minutes late for work.
My first mail from home arrived 25 January, 3 letters from my mother. I also received another 2 Pounds.
On the 29th I was informed that I was being recalled to Duxford. Next day left at 2 PM and arrived back at camp 5 PM. I also received a parcel from home.
We had been issued civilian respirators on the boat and on 6 February received a service respirator. Together with a steel helmet you had them with you at all times.
On the 7th, I received 2 Pounds, 1 Shilling and two weeks later I received 8 Pounds with no explanation.
I got some leave on 27 February, received 1 Pound ration money and ration stamps. (We were issued travel warrants when on leave.) Train to Liverpool station in London, caught the Underground and a bus and was at the Burgess home by 4 PM.
Back at camp 6 March where waiting for me were letters and a parcel from home. Also cigarettes costing the folks $3.00 for 1000 smokes. (I started smoking after I joined the Air Force.) Cigarettes were usually shared around. Pay was now up to 3 Pounds.
On 28 April I applied for re-muster from Wireless Operator, Ground to Wireless Operator, Mechanic (WOM).
On 3 May we put our clocks ahead one hour. This then put us on double saving time which gave the factory workers more daylight time to work.
On 11 May there were incendiaries on the airfield. I was on duty in the DF tower and we knew a raid was on. We saw fires on the south side of the field, in a bunch of trees. I believe the navigator thought he was on the north side of the field because if he had dropped them on the north side they would have hit administrative buildings, barracks and mess hall.
The first of the five of us who went to Duxford, George Lebvre, was posted to #1 Signal School at Cranwell on a WOM conversion course. (I can't recall seeing George again but I heard that he had lost a leg when in a convoy in France, after the invasion.)
In June I was moved out of the DF station to Sawston village where Signals and Operations were housed in an old mansion. We lived in wooden huts behind a community hall where we washed, etc.
In July another one of the five of us Ted May was posted to Cranwell on a WOM course.
17 July I was again on leave. Drew 2 Pounds, 4 shillings plus 1 pound ration money. I first went to the Beaver Club. As the name implies it was for Canadian service men. A place to meet, get a meal, have a haircut, etc.
On this leave I visited Edinburgh with two friends and was back at camp on the 24th.
On 9 August I was asked to be best man for Trent Galbraith, a Canadian in the RAF who was marrying Betty Witting. He had made arrangements for a Canadian friend to be his best man but he couldn't get leave so I was asked to fill in.
I attended another wedding in the village. One of the WAAF's (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) in our Signals section was marrying a Pilot who had been part of the Battle of Britain. A newspaper from London was covering this wedding and the photo that appeared on the front page a London showed the bride and groom and other members of the party and I happened to be standing right behind the bride and groom. I have a copy of that photo.
Clocks were put back one hour 10 August. On this day the Commanding Officer of RAF Duxford did and inspection of our hut. He stopped to speak to me because of my CANADA flashes. He asked me how things were and I kind of hedged a little and said things could be better. He pumped me for more information and I told him that the army cooks at the mess were a disgrace. Their aprons were filthy and the food could be better prepared. The officer in charge of the Sawston unit was with the C.O. He was also the officer who handed out ration cards for when on leave. I was going on leave on the 14th so had to go and see him for rations. He tore a strip off me because I complained to the C.O. I said that C.O. had insisted that I give my true feelings which I did. I got my ration card though. (A note to this dressing down - the Warrant Officer in our section later had words with him and told him in no uncertain terms that he was not to try and discipline one of his men.)
The leave on 14 August was to meet two chaps from my home town, Jim McPhee in the RAF and Tommy Bennett in the RCAF. It was the last time that I saw Tommy. He was an Observer and on returning from a raid their damaged aircraft crashed on their home field and all were lost. In due time I was able to find that he was buried at Shepshed were an aunt lived. I had a chance to visit Tommy's grave.
22 August I was posted to #1 Signal School, at Cranwell, for a conversion course to Wireless Operator, Mechanic (WOM). Cranwell is south of Lincoln and northeast of Nottingham. I left camp at 7 AM caught a train at Whittlesford, changed at Cambridge, through Ely, Peterborough and Grantham arriving at Sleaford at 2 PM.
We started classes 2 September. Some classmates - Old friend Harold Morris, new ones - Jack Duller and Dave Critchton. Shortly after starting classes we went through a mock invasion. Wore our tin helmets and of course our gas masks. We were given instructions on "Mills" bombs, an anti-personnel bomb. Next day we were called out 6 AM and spent two hours in trenches. There were gas and air-raid warnings and we wore our gas masks for 3/4 hour. We were back in classes in the afternoon.
Dave Critchton was married to Ana on the 10th of October and was the third wedding that I attended.
Pay was now 2 Pounds, 16 Shillings.
On a weekend pass some of my classmates and I went to Nottingham where, at a dance, I met Dorothy Noutch, a Chief Petty Officer in the WRENS (Navy). She also had "Sparks" on her sleeve so we had something in common. I will be mentioning her later.
Norm McMillan arrived 18 October for the WOM course, so I was again united with one of the original group at Duxford.
We finished our course 25 November and all of the class came off as being AC1 WOMs. It seems that it didn't make difference if you had good marks or not.
13 November 1941, King George VI, the Queen and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret visited Cranwell. It seems that only the "Colonials" were to be inspected. It had been raining steadily so were inspected in the gym.
On the 27th, got the word that I was posted to West Drayton. West Drayton was #1 Signals Depot for the RAF. It was a series of workshops and barracks, but no airfield. We were on the fringe of the town. W.D. was a short distance from Uxbridge which was on London's west fringe. (There was a small rail line connecting W.D. with Uxbridge, with the train shuttling back and forth, one way pushing and the other pulling.)
Those posted to W.D. with me were chaps I met at Cranwell, all RCAF - Dave Critchton, Jack Cline and Jack Duller. Ted May was already there.
I got some leave on 2 December, getting the usual pay of 2 Pounds, 16 Shillings. I had leave to spend with the Burgess family. (I could leave camp, catch a train at W.D. at 3 PM to Paddington Station in London, catch the Inner Circle of the Underground at St. Pancreas, transfer to another tube and get off at Manor House, catch a bus to lower Edmonton and be at 29 Bedford Road at 5.15 PM. I did this many times while at West Drayton.) My leave ended on 9 December.
On Sunday 7 December 1941, Japan declared war on the U.S.A. and now we had a war that engulfed the entire world, and changed the thrust of the war effort, first finish the job in Europe and then Japan.
On 23 December, I got a cable from Dad that informed me that brother Gordon had died. There were no details. I imagined it was a flying accident. I was able to get chit to go the Burgess family. They were very comforting. On the 26th I had to go back to camp, and being Boxing Day, there wasn't much moving. I took the Underground to the end of the line at Hounslow West, and hitch-hiked back to camp. I was late getting back to camp, but under the circumstances it was overlooked.
Our work at the workshop was very dull. We really didn't have anything to do, but always had to look busy. I filed a lot of brass to look as though I was doing something worthwhile.
I quote what I put on the last page of my 1941 diary -"So ends another year in England. The year was bearable, but ended sadly with Gordon's death. I made some effort to get home to Mother, but still nothing accomplished, but haven't finished trying. My part towards the war effort is practically nil. Three months at Cranwell and a month here picking up paper and general duties. Wonder what 1942 will bring? Peace? Home?"
It was 15 January when I first got the details of Gordon's accident. It was a flying accident.
More leave starting 13 February, received 4 Pounds, 6 Shillings. Leave spent again with the Burgess family.
On this leave I went to RCAF Headquarters in London. I had heard that the RCAF had made shadow promotions to certain RCAF personnel in England so went down to see about it. I will mention more of this at a later time. I met a cousin Ernie Hipwell, in the army, at the Beaver Club. He spent 3 days with me at the Burgess's.
On 6 March I received, from Air Ministry, a letter that I had sent to Tommy Bennett. I also received back the last letter that I had written to Brother Gordon. Gordon's returned letter was not a surprise as I now knew all the details. In due time I was able to get more information about Tommy. On 12 April I got a letter from the O.C. RAF Driffied and he gave me the name of Tommy's Aunt in Shepshed. I visited her and saw Tommy's grave.
Life went on at camp. I put in for a commission as Air traffic Controller. Had an interview but was not successful. I also put in for a posting home but it was denied as I was assured that all was well at home.
I was studying to get my "Props" back to get away from the AC1 category.
22 June saw a group of us on Commando training. We worked on Lewis guns and rifles. Had gas mask drills. We were put through a 'gas' chamber. Was tear gas no doubt but the gas mask was good so no bad effects. On the firing range got to fire a machine gun and a rifle.
I have mentioned "Shadow Promotions". 17 July I got word of my promotion to Corporal, effective 18 August 1941. I immediately drew Corporal stripes from stores and had them sewn on my uniform. 23 July I received 28 Pounds back pay. I opened a Post Office Savings Account. The RAF wouldn't let me show Corporal tapes at work until I passed the LAC board. 3 September I sat a board and passed. Now I was a Corporal as far as the RAF was concerned. My pay now as 4 Pounds.
24 October I was posted to 424 Squadron RCAF at Topcliffe, near Thirsk, Yorkshire. At last now I am going to an operational squadron. 424 Squadron was a part of 6 Group. York was a city close to most of the RCAF bomber squadrons. I received 4 Pounds, 4 Shillings plus 4 pounds more the next day. Before leaving West Drayton on the 30th, I received another 5 Pounds.
I left W.D. at 10 AM and went to spend the night with the Burgess family, my last visit for a while. Left King's Crossing station at 10 AM, changed trains at York for Thirsk arriving at 3:30PM which was the nearest rail station closest to Topcliffe. Transport was waiting to take us to camp.
Topcliffe was a permanent camp with barrack blocks, mess hall, station Headquarters and of course Officers and Sergeants Messes and living quarters. There were several hangars in one of which was our Signals Section workshop.
It turned out that 424 squadron was a new squadron being added to 6 Group. We were to have Wellington aircraft. The Wellington, which was always referred to as a "Wimpy" was a twin engine medium bomber. The skeleton frame was of geodetic design covered with a fabric. This type of framework was to prove very durable and many a/c came home all shot up but still able to fly.
When all the wireless personnel arrived it consisted of an RAF flight-sergeant, one RCAF Sergeant, about 16 RCAF Corporals and one RAF LAC. Most of us had come over on the same draft and of course had all been Shadow Corporals for some time. How the one RAF LAC got to the squadron is a mystery. He was Fred Gladsby and will be mentioned later on.
As 424 squadron was just being formed that meant that they were assembling personnel and a/c. We got new a/c from the factory and had to make modifications to meet squadron standards. It took several weeks to get them ready for operational flights. We serviced all radio equipment plus the intercom.
On 22 November I had my first flip in a Wimpy. All the Wireless Mechanics had headsets so that we could test the radio equipment. This also gave us an advantage when it came to getting rides, as we could hook into the intercom (i/c). My first trip was for about twenty minutes. Usually we were able to stand in the astrodome which was a plastic bubble on the upper back of the a/c. We got to know pilots that we could ride with.
The a/c were dispersed all around the flying field as a defensive measure should there be a raid on the camp. We had a truck (called a lorry in England) for our use to service the various a/c.
As the a/c became ready for operations, more air tests were made by the pilots. They also had to have full crew flights so that they could become a team. There would be daylight flights but then later in their familiarization flights, more of them would be night flights.
I must add here that the air crew always took their parachutes on these trips, but when the ground crew got a trip, it was without a parachute.
In late November an a/c crashed near our field. 408 Squadron had preceded us at Topcliffe, but had been re-assigned to the south coast to do sea patrols. One had come back, for some reason, and when it left to return we saw smoke a short distance south of the airfield. It had crashed. Next day there were eight caskets in our hangar awaiting burial services.
17 December there was an air raid on the drome. None of our a/c were damaged but we heard that two enemy a/c had been brought down. I received 5 Pounds 16 Shillings prior to going down to London. I had Christmas with the Burgess family. I noted that my cousin Ernie Hipwell came in for a short visit on the 26th.
Here is the notation that I put at the end of my 1942 diary - and so another year ends, #3, with not a great deal of change. I'm on a squadron but no nearer to going home. The war should end this year, but it isn't in the bag yet.
(I should have noted earlier that our squadron was now operational and had taken part in many raids on Germany.)
I should mention about our eating procedures. Each one of us had our own knife, fork and spoon and rather a large mug which held about a pint. From your work place, you would go to your bed space, pick up your mess tools and head for the mess hall. Everyone up to Corporals ate here. At Topcliffe, in particular, we rushed to pick up fork, etc. and head for the mess hall and try to get at the head of the line. You picked up a plate and headed down the line to have meat, potatoes and vegetables and dessert, filled the mug with tea from a large urn and found a place to eat. We ate in a hurry, cleaned off our plate in a trough and also our tools. Then we rushed back to our billet and usually tried to have a snooze before going back to work. We usually had an hour for lunch.
When I was at Topcliffe, we were in permanent barracks. On the massive doors at the entrance were brass knockers. I didn't normally take things but I did remove one of the knockers which is now on my front door. I can imagine that in peacetime some "erk" (Aircraftsman Class 2) had to be sure that it was always polished and shiny.
At Topcliffe, our room was mostly Wireless personnel assigned to the squadron. However we had at least one other person in our room. It was "Porky" Dumart. Actually he was Woody Dumart, one of the "Kraut" line of the Boston Bruins hockey team. He was assigned to the Sports Officer, but I am not sure what he did. I am mentioning Woody Dumart because 22 June 1992, I read where he and his fellow "Kraut" line mates had just been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
23 January 1943 I was sent to RAF Driffield for a two week course on SBA - Standard beam Approach- one of the radio systems that we were responsible for. One of the highlights was the flying training on Anson a/c.
Up to this point, outside of some camp defense courses, I had no weapon but 9 February I was issued a rifle, some got small machine guns. We didn't get any ammunition at any time, so never got to fire them.
For some reason I got 9 Pounds, twice the normal pay.
On 26 February I spent the evening waiting for a/c to return from a raid on St. Nazaire's submarine base. They reported any wireless problems on de-briefing.
Early in April we learned that we were going to be leaving Topcliffe. I was on an advance party to RCAF Leeming. We spent a couple of days moving equipment when we got word that the squadron might be going overseas and all equipment had to be sent back to Topcliffe.
25 April we moved from Leeming to RCAF Dishforth. Here we found that there were three squadrons going to Africa. All new Wimpies were flying in and we had to make them desert ready. The three squadrons all had ground crew there to do the work. Our shift was 4 PM to midnight. The only problem was that we had a lot of fog and the kites couldn't get in readily. We spent a lot of time sitting around playing cards.
28 April all the ground crew were paraded to draw tropical kit. We were called out by name, alphabetical of course. When my name was skipped I questioned why and was told to report to the Orderly Room where they gave me the explanation. I was told that I wasn't going overseas with the squadron but was going to be part of a nucleus of ground crew who were to form a new squadron.
16 May, after finishing our work on the kites going overseas, I was sent to RCAF Dalton and the next day to RCAF Skipton-on-Swaile were a new squadron, #432, was being formed. As we had operational a/c to work on and all the ground crew were experienced, as all came from operational squadrons, we were sending a/c on op's within 30 days. I understand that was a record for getting a new squadron operational.
Skipton was the first dispersed station that I had been on. That meant the Mess Hall was a distance from the Nisson Huts were we slept, Ablutions were somewhere else and the workshops and airfield were somewhere else. That meant that you had a lot of distance to cover each day, so everybody had a bicycle.
16 June was the first long flight that I went on - 2 hours 20 minutes. The crew were air testing the a/c, out over the "Wash'" for firing of the guns and over land for other training. By the time we got back I wasn't feeling too good, but soon got my ground legs again.
While my pay was now up to 4 Pounds 10 Shillings, on 9 July I received 12 Pounds 10 Shillings. Could have been some bearing on the fact that "Green" orders 28 May indicated that I was now a Shadow Sergeant, effective 1 January 1943. Succeeding pay days saw pay 6 Pounds 4 Shillings.
The C.O, of 432 squadron was Wing Commander Kirby. He was an airman's C.O. He was interested in our work and had the respect of all of us. He did operational flights, and on one on 30 July, he didn't return. The squadron was very sorry to lose him. His wife had been living with him in civvy billets. We had gotten to like her too. He was the only C.O. that I felt I knew.
22 August I had quite an experience. I got a flip with my pilot friend Bill. He wanted to do an air-test on his a/c and I was able to hitch a ride with him. There were only the two of us. I asked if I might ride the rear turret on-take off. The kite was a Wimpy. He told me not to rotate the turret during take-off. When we got to the take-off point, he stopped briefly. Then he gunned the motors. The tail immediately lifted off the ground about 6 feet and we had hardly started rolling. When he reached take-off speed the tail dropped down and off we went. Once airborne I was able to rotate the turret all I wanted. After a while I moved up to the seat beside Bill. He asked me to keep my eyes open for power lines as we were flying low. He said this practice might get him back home some day after a raid. He would fly close to the ground and lift up over the wires. I could see a farmer shaking his fist at us for scaring his animals. Then Bill dropped down into one of the gullies that the Yorkshire Moors are famous for. Now I could look up to ground on either side of us. He had to weave in and around the many curves. As I said it was quite an experience, but not once was I frightened, I had that much faith in his flying ability.
14 September saw the squadron moved the RCAF Eastmoor. I was part of the advance party to set up workshop and find billets. Eastmoor was another dispersed airfield.
We were still using Wimpies but were supposed to convert to Halifax a/c. 1 October I was detailed to go to RCAF Linton (Eastmoor and one other station were satellites of Linton) to work on Lancaster a/c. On 27 October I went to Linton with my pilot friend Bill to bring back his Lancaster and I flew with him and his crew. Prior to our conversion we were still doing ops. I had to take my turn at Interrogation when the kites came back. I never recorded our losses but on almost every trip, one or more a/c did not return. Sometimes they were badly damaged and managed to land at a field further south.
One time when I was out on the field, servicing a kite, I watched the a/c doing circuits and bumps. They would come in to land and take off again without stopping. This was practice for new pilots. This kite was coming in and for some unknown reason it was too high to land, but it dropped maybe 100 feet and rolled to a stop. Everyone thought that the a/c would be ruined, especially the hydraulics. The a/c was inspected and it was found to be still in perfect condition.
We had our first snow 14 November.
7 December I was posted to 9432 Echelon on the same camp. I cannot recall just what the move entailed, but we still worked on the 432 squadron a/c.
23 December my notes read "Work, work, work - The longest and hardest day I have ever done." Our squadron must have been doing a lot of ops.
Christmas Day 1943 was the loneliest day that I recall. The camp was fogged in, so no ops. The officers, as usual, served the airmen Christmas dinner and it was a good meal, but there was nothing else for us to do. My fourth Christmas in England.
I was always receiving letters and parcels from the family and friends. Cigarettes came often in 300's or 1000's from the folks and other groups.
And so another year comes to a close. The air war effort has reached enormous proportions, with a thousand a/c in night raids. The U.S. now is a big factor in the air. Our a/c did night raids and the U.S. did theirs in daylight. We knew that our bombs were doing a lot of damage, but our concern was to finish the war as quickly as possible.
January 1944 saw the squadron in many operations, keeping all the ground crews very busy servicing the a/c so that they would be serviceable and ready for when a call came for an op. I was involved with many of the interrogations that followed each return from a raid.
In early February we were given a "Backers-up" course. This was to give us some familiarity with firearms. We went to a firing range and I got to shoot my rifle. We also had Sten and mounted Browning machine gun exposure. This course was taken while we still did our share of work on the aircraft.
21 March I was promoted to Sergeant. The Flight Sergeant was Tommy Tomlin and now I was second senior NCO in the Signals Unit. I slept in the same Nisson hut with the rest of the boys, because we were still at Eastmoor, a dispersed camp. I did get to eat in the Sergeant's mess.
I mentioned earlier that we had an RAF LAC in our unit. His name was Fred Glasby. !4 April I went with Fred to Nottingham and on the 15th I was Best Man at his wedding. We only had 48 hour passes, but I used my rank and called back to camp and got him an extension so that his honeymoon could be a little longer.
Just before going to Nottingham, all of the RCAF were issued the CVSM - Canadian Volunteer Service Medal. The ribbon also had a silver maple leaf superimposed on it. I was a bit embarrassed with all the compliments that I received about it, because all of the RCAF in England had one. But to all the friends there, a ribbon meant that you had done something to warrant a ribbon.
On 23 May, the Squadron had a picture taken. It has all the Officers, Air and Ground crew, and all the NCO's and Airmen in it. In front of the picture is a bomb trolley with a sea mine on it. It seems that was all there was in the bomb dump at that time.
I had mentioned that we had Lancaster a/c. The a/c mentioned above is a Halifax. We had come to Eastmoor with Wimpys and soon converted to Halifax's and then very shortly to Lancaster, but soon reverted to Halifax's again.
My diary for 5 June reads - confined to camp. The next day was D-day and we worked around the clock. The Flight-Sergeant took the 8 AM to 8 PM shift and I had the 8 PM to 8AM shift. We had the crew split up into two sections so that we were ready for anything. By now there were no raids by enemy bombers, only V1 and later V2 rockets, which didn't come up to Yorkshire. When we had to work at night, with a cloud cover of any proportion, they turned on the camp searchlights trained on the cloud and we had sufficient light to do our work. I didn't know what our part of the invasion was, but our a/c were on the go constantly. Losses were very few. 21 June our squadron went on daylight operations with no losses.
Maximum number of a/c went out on each raid. Any a/c that came back early had to have a good reason. One night one of our a/c came back early because the tail gunner's intercom would not work. I had the intercom cable check and was indeed intermittent. We had a new Signals Officer who had only recently come from Canada. He was trying to avoid his section from being the reason for an a/c returning before it dropped its load. He came to me and was insistent that there was nothing wrong. I then personally checked the cable and confirmed that it was indeed faulty. The Signals Officer was quite put out to think that I would oppose him. I was warned of being posted 22 June. I didn't want to leave so I went to the Engineering Officer, Flt/Lt Danny Boone, a real nice guy. (The Engineering Officer is the "Big" man on a squadron. He is responsible for all the a/c.) He went to bat for me but when he got to the C.O., my transfer had already been approved. It proved to be a blessing in disguise.
Next day I received a posting to Linton-on-Ouse, RCAF station Linton, nearer to York. Linton was a permanent station with two squadrons - 408 and 425. So really I had been moved up the ladder to a better situation.
My pay was now 5 pounds.
I now got to have a room in Sergeant Quarters. Two of us to a room. My roommate, real nice guy, Gordon Grant.
With two squadrons we had lots of staff. There were two Flt/Sgts, two Sgts and lots of Corporals. There was lots of work.
11 August King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Elizabeth visited Linton. I have a picture of them. I was standing right behind the chap who took the photo. He was from the London "The Daily Sketch".
26 October I received 10 Pounds pay. On the 21st I received 20 Pounds, 18 shillings, back pay.
I was now loaded with money and headed into my fifth Christmas in England. Last Christmas I promised myself that the fifth Christmas would be well enjoyed. That I did.
24 December I received word that my replacement, so that I could go home, would be Jack Guthrie, who had been one of the instructors when I was at #2 Wireless School in Calgary.
Christmas day all the Senior NCO's were entertained in the Officer's Mess, helped serve dinner in the Airmen's Mess, party in the Sgt's mess and a dance at the "Y". At least I wasn't bored this Christmas.
Year end notation - so ends another year, the fifth New Year's Eve that I have seen in this country. But things are looking up, I have someone to take over my job in the section and a posting is due any day. Soon, maybe, I will be home. (I have wondered if I would have been replaced as soon if I had still been at Eastmoor.)
Received word 2 January 1945 that I was to leave for the Repatriation Centre at Warrington 10 January. This was the last day that I attended air crew interrogations. My work was through. I had to clear camp by getting clearances from various sections, something that was done when posted from any station. I wrote many letters to various people.
Left Linton at 9 AM, left York by train at 10 AM and was at Warrington by 2:30 PM. Warrington was a short distance east of Liverpool. Here we were processed for repatriation. On the 17th I received my last pay in England - 5 Pounds, 15 Shillings, 5 Pence in RAF credits.
At Warrington I found many of the chaps who had been a part of the original draft in 1940.Most of us were Sergeants. There could have been 125 of the original 200. Some of the ones not with us had possibly been re-mustered to aircrew, joined Officer rank like my friend Norm MacMillan and others who had been wounded and returned early like my friend George Lefebvre.
18 January we were moved by bus to Liverpool where we boarded the S.S. Mauritania. We remained at the dock for a week. We sailed on 25 January and docked in New York and left the ship for Lachine, Quebec by train. We were all issued new uniforms head to toe and sent on repatriation leave. My discharge took place at Jericho Beach, Vancouver 19 March 1945.
A civilian again after 54 months in uniform.
I didn't spend all my time on camp. I did see quite a bit of the country: I visited in London many times as I was near it for a time and visited at the home of Artie, Emily and Edna Burgess in Lower Edmonton, London. (My home away from home).And the following - Coalville near Leicester, Edinburgh via Newcastle, Lincoln, Nottingham, Shepshed via Loughboro, Kirrie Muir via Edinburgh and Dundee (Glamis Castle , home of the Queen Mother), York, Belfast via Harrowgate/Leeds/Heysham, Dublin, Halifax via Bradford and Swansea, Wales.
I then spent 35 years with Canada Customs.