Story written by Mark White who is contributing once more on this blog
My father George “Whitey” White was a Leading Aircraftsman, Airframe Mechanic, with RCAF 403 Squadron during the Second World War.
I’ve shared some of the pictures, stories and notes that I have about his “Crews” experiences during the war on this website. I’m fortunate to have some notes, a journal, some pictures and a few objects that I share freely with the readers here.
Many of the pictures have no caption and I have no idea who many of the men are.
This is a picture of Robbie.
The date and the location are unknown.
He is posing in this picture holding the case for my dad’s Kodak camera.
Robbie is second from the left.
After the D Day landing, the men in my dad’s crew stayed pretty much together for the duration of the war. They always referred to their Crew as “Number One Crew”. They were the top ground crew that kept the Spitfires of their squadron operational during the European Campaign. They were “Number One Crew” because they could consistently change out Merlin engines in Spitfires, under field conditions, faster than the other RCAF ground crews in 127 Wing.
They maintained and repaired the aircraft in terrible field conditions. Much of the time they worked outside. They lived in tents during all months of the year. They had few amenities, and they often worked and lived under the threat of enemy staffing, bombing and shelling attacks.
They were a very resilient and self-reliant bunch of young men, with a close camaraderie with each other. They worked well as a team. The “Brass” had often tried to break them up and deploy the men to other crews, but in the end, they were left alone because they worked so well together. My dad had a little dog called Teddy. Teddy helped keep the Number One Crew sane during the war. The Crew successfully smuggled Teddy back to England at the end of the war.
Some of the Crew with a German 3 Wheeled truck.
Robbie is second from the left.
Some of the Crew working on the Auster. Ted Klapecki is on the front right and Robbie is front left. My dad’s camera case in the foreground on the workbench.
They often developed their own repair techniques and they often built and fashioned their own tools from scavenged and abandoned German tools and parts. They liked and admired German tools. When food conditions were bad, they sometimes avoided going to the “Mess” altogether and resorted to scavenging food that they prepared for their own meals. They scavenged green apples in the countryside and bartered cigarettes with locals for eggs to supplement their rations. One fellow, Cliff, had a girlfriend in the Red Cross and she sent the boys some much welcomed hot chocolate during miserable winter conditions at Base 82 Grave, Netherlands during the winter of 1944. Once or twice they even tried out abandoned German rations. They found them quite tasty compared to their official British rations of canned Bully Beef, hardtack and a spoonful of jam.
Robbie is always prominent in my dad’s pictures. Many pictures show him working very hard. They must have been good friends. Robbie is behind the wheel of the captured BMW Roadster.
Robbie at work on a Spitfire
Robbie is on the far left – A captured German FW 190 Aircraft
They built their own stoves and fireplaces for warmth and cooking. They usually had some form of unofficial transportation. They usually had bicycles or motorcycles. Being mechanics, they would often scavenge derelict British Army motorcycles, repair them and use them for trips into the countryside and into towns and villages. They liked to collect and fire off discarded German Mausers, Walthers and Lugers. They kept notes and journals, they wrote letters and they took photographs. The “Brass” was always trying to confiscate their cameras.
Their tents constantly leaked because of shrapnel holes from nearby exploding enemy munitions. They sometimes slept outdoors under Spitfire engine cowlings as their tents offered no protection from shrapnel and bullets. Some of the men slept with two “tin hats”, one covering the face and the other covering the crotch.
Robbie and the rest of the Crew were friends with Buzz Beurling when 403 Squadron was based in England.
Lecoq, Beurling, and Hodgson (collection Pierre Lecoq via Peter Lecoq)
Buzz would rather hang out with the Erks and work on his own Spitfire than hang out with the “Brass”. They listened to the pilots on the “Tannoy” as the Spitfires did sweeps into enemy territory on the continent and they waited patiently for the aircraft to return.
Unlike most visitors to Bergen – Belsen, Robbie went right into the camp. He went behind the fence. He had a camera and shot a roll of 20 pictures. He gave the film to my dad. He probably used my dad’s camera. I still have that camera.
Flight Officer Donald K. Anderson, also of the 127 Wing, arrived at Bergen-Belsen at the end of April or early May 1945. He completed numerous sketches of Bergen-Belsen and its inmates. Anderson ultimately completed only one water colour of the camp, which is held by the Canadian War Museum.
This picture depicts members of 127 Wing handing out a truckload of relief supplies at the camp fence.
How do I know this is Robbie?
Only because he has his name painted on his air force issue leather Jerkin. The Crew decorated their Jerkins with aircraft paint. I still have my dad’s decorated Jerkin and it’s a beauty.
Thanks to this website, I also know Robbie wrote a beautiful poem honoring their Crew member and friend, Bob Medforth, who was killed on January 1, 1945 when German aircraft attacked their base in Evere Belgium.
Robbie wrote this poem for Joyce, Bob Medforth’s widow. Bob Medforth’s niece found this poem in her mother’s things, and then posted it on this website.
Here’s the poem that Robbie wrote for Joyce Medforth:
There are men who fly the trackless skies
Who rove the seven seas.
They win all fame and glory
While floating through the breeze
There’s men that hold the front lines fast
And for their country dying,
There’s unsung lads not far behind
Who keep the aircraft flying.
We too have come to fight for home
For Victory – Freedom – Peace
We do not look for glories, fame
But work that wars may cease.
Yes, Joyce, he gave his life for you
For me, his family, friends
For people in this darkened world
In every walk and trend.
He gave his all and asked for naught
A hero to us all
“Where’s Robert, where is Goose and George”
Of death he had no fear.
He thought not of himself but us
“Look after them”, he said
“I’m O.K. look after them”
And now our Bob is dead.
Dead? ah no – they never die,
He’s left this world tis true,
But there in heaven he reigns with god
Where skies are always blue.
An unsung hero here on earth
His rightful place he holds up there
He’s ranked up with the best of them
As in our hearts down here.
John Le May placed his collection and CD of his experiences during the Second World War on this website in February 2014.
John Le May said that, “One of our members was a regular contributor to the “Wing Tips” newsletter “The Poet’s Corner”, and on the January 1st attack by the Luftwaffe, he wrote the following poem.”
That man that wrote the poem was Robbie, a member of the “Number One Crew” and his name is Don Robb.
Now thanks to John Le May, I now know that my dad’s war buddy’s name is Don Robb.
Memories of a ‘Not So Happy’ New Year’s Day
Who of us will ever forget
That memorable New Year’s Day
The ominous hum as bullets spun
And pierced the hidings where we lay?
It all began so strangely
As round our drone they came
Across the sky we watched them fly
Then heard the shells & bullets rain.
‘Twas poor old Melsbroek got it first
Then altitude they quickly gained.
Around they spun for they weren’t done,
No longer was their target feigned.
Across they came the first attack
In hordes, in droves, they strafed;
Our minds were rant while theirs hell bent
“to kill, to kill” they laughed
They laughed, they laughed, I know they did
For sitting ducks we were.
Some sixty they fell on their prey
And shot us up for fair.
They climbed & dove with chattering guns
We lay there stiff with fear
There in our lairs we said our prayers
On the first day of this year
Five spits of ours roared from the deck
And strove to drive them off
Shot down six Huns with blaring guns
Through odds extremely rough
One spit while scarcely off the deck
Before his wheels were up,
He got his Hun-but in the fun
Was shot down by a Nazi pup
The minutes dragged like hours,
And there were sure twenty five
The bullets spat while I lay flat
Well frightened, unhurt, alive.
Old lady luck had been with me
I’d thought my life was over,
A grimy mess, I must confess
As I gazed out through the door.
Yet some lady luck had not been
Bullets found them hiding there.
The fiendish hun had got our Bob
We lost a pal both fair and square.
The New Year came in with a bang
As you can plainly see,
And you can bet we’ll ne’er forget
That gruesome day, that Nazi spree.
Don Robb, maintenance 127 wing
Don Robb is one of the Boys in this picture.
Thank you John Le May for solving the mystery.