1941 News And Views Of No. 31 SFTS

On January 1, 1941, eleven pilots of No. 1 Course were commissioned as Pilot Officers and posted to No. 13 Overseas Training School, Patricia Bay, B.C. A week later, twenty were promoted to Sergeant and posted to Trenton.

The airmen from the U.K. had problems to deal with that we in Canada didn’t consider. In a column in ‘The Pioneer’, Chaplain Gerald W. F. Gregson dealt with this aspect of their daily lives: “It may be that to some of us reading this there may come news which will mean desolating sorrow. Please God it will not be so, but are you ready for that telegram if it should come?… Will you be willing to receive it by faith as the will of God?”

A tragic example was the case of one airman who had, within two weeks of arriving in Canada, received word that his mother and father were killed and his sister seriously injured in an air raid. This was a terrible burden to bear so far from home and alone.

Former LAC Stan Allott suggested making a rink to help them pass away their free time. They built up walls of snow and filled the centre with water and played “hard and enjoyable” hockey games among themselves. The C/O approved as he said: “It was badly needed as the tendency was for the men to spend too many of their free evenings in Kingston.” Skating was considered by some to be the most popular of activities since their arrival. Few of the airmen had skated previously, but most were willing to learn and the result was usually hilarious. Stan said he amused the others by putting the skates on his hands and in his column “News and Views,” airman Geoff Ray wrote:

“There is some talk of charging entertainment tax at the skating rink in town, not for servicemen but for civilians only. It would appear that the civilian skaters are obtaining more amusement from watching the antics of embryonic R.A.F. skaters than from their own enjoyment of the gentle art of floating over the ice.”

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On January 7, 1941, the C/O was informed by the U. K. Mission that the remainder of the Harvards which were lent to No. 31 to start training had to be allotted away. This left the Junior/Intermediate school term almost entirely without aircraft. The C/O decided to let the junior term “bear the brunt of the shortage and delay one term.” Then on January 18, he was informed that forty pupils, plus ten from the R.C.A.F., would arrive for No. 4 Course about the 24th but, he noted in his dairy, he could see no chance of them having any machines to use. With the shortage of aircraft, the courses were running two to three weeks behind schedule. At times, half of the Fairey Battles were unserviceable. The C/O noted that he had received information from a Flight Sergeant at Command that all the spare parts they had been crying for were already in this country. “Unfortunately,” he wrote in his diary, “they have not found their way to the stations using Battles.”

An unlikely source for the badly-needed replacement parts was the Penitentiary. The C/O noted in his diary that adaptors for bomb racks and ring sights could be constructed for “a ridiculously low cost.” The entry continues: “Amongst their clientele they have some excellent tradesmen. Propose to use them in place of our missing workshops.”

On January 11, 1941, the Commanding Officer noted in his diary: “The standard of driving of the M.T. drivers that we brought from the U. K. leaves a lot to be desired. Ice conditions may be unusual for them but there is also a lot of lack of care. Propose to make them pay for some of the cost of damage incurred in future.”

One driver with a particularly bad record was given the nickname of ‘Crasher’. An ex-R.A.F. recalled one of his mishaps: “Crasher was driving a fire truck through Bath one night on his way to Sandhurst when he struck the corner of a house as he made a quick turn. It knocked out a support post and, as a result, the upper floor sagged about six feet. Crasher had a way of doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.”

Another story which illustrates this relates to one of the duties performed by the ground crew. During night training, a change in wind direction meant that pilots who were returning to land had to stay in the air while the ground crew moved the flare path to another runway. In the days before radio-equipped planes, the pupils had to indicate with their signal lamps that they were getting short of fuel and the ground crew then had to scramble.

“The runway lights only worked the first six months we were here and at night we had to put out gooseneck flares which were like paraffin lamps with a wick and kerosene. The truck used to go along the runway and you would light these things one at a time and put them down along the runway. This one night, the man on the back decided it would speed things up a bit if he lit the Goose-neck flare on the back of the truck before he put it down on the runway. So he lit a flare and this flare lit another flare and so on and before long the whole truck was alight and ‘Crasher’, instead of leaving it out in the open where it would go out or be extinguished, drove it back and put it in the transport yard and caused a bit of a panic.”

On 25 January 1941, fourth echelon arrived with fourteen officers and 234 other ranks, putting the station strength on January 31 at a total of 1,148. The group were commanded by S/Ldr G.V.Fryer. The C/O noted that like all other echelons, except the first, they had arrived in a bad snow storm.

Arrivals included the following: Sqdn/Ldrs C.W. Cackett, S. B. Croydon, F/Lieuts J. A. Tinne*, S. H. Kernaghan, C. E. Stuart, A. J. Metcalfe, R. T. Hunn, F/O’s A. Blyth*, H. Waylen, P/O’s T. W. Collins, *W. S. Matthews, F. W. Dewell, and F. E. Holland. (F/O Blyth died in Toronto hospital; F.Lt. Tinne would be involved in a dreadful crash but survive, and P/O W. S. Matthews would become the commanding officer at the Gananoque Airport when it opened in 1942.)

Among the group were five instructors from No. 7 Peterborough and forty pupils for the fourth course. They included four untrained aircrew from No.13 E.F.T.S., Whitewalthen and one from No. 24 E.F.T.S., Luton. Also with this group were thirty-six naval ratings – nineteen of whom were from New Zealand. The instructors were: Sgts: E. E. Hopkins, G. J. Bailey, C. A. Daly, H. R. Wadley and Wm. F. Moffatt (killed later in a crash). The airmen were: D. K. G. Faulk, *D. E. Prior, *J. F. Stein, J. A. Sandy, and *J. M. Reardon (killed on April 13). The F.A.A. pupils were: G. M. Aggleton, E. H. Archer, J. Bennet, G. Black,*L. F. Brown, P. G. Burke, S. J. Carpenter, D. A. Davis, D. G. Elliott, R. W. Elliott, D. K. Evans, J. S. Fay,*A. McD. Garland, E. B. Garrard, E. W. Girdlestone, J. D. M. Harris, *N. S. Hutchings, H. T. Hawken, D. C. Hill, F. L. Holthouse, W. C. Hooson, A. J. Hugill, E. J. Hunt, *G. D. Hunter, W. R.F. Jennings, J. D. Landles, V. N. Longman, J. Lawson, B. A. Maccan, *G. R. Marriott, F. A. J. Pennington, K. P. Proctor, R. W. Spackman, *J. Waller, D. H. Wiren, E. N. Wren. (* See In Memoriam for details.)

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