RCAF 403 Squadron – February 1942

Original photo

Cawsey original



Colorised version done by Doug Banks 

colorised version 403 Squadron February 1942

J.N. Cawsey did not survive the war.



In memory of
Pilot Officer
John Nicholson Cawsey
February 12, 1942

Military Service:

Service Number: J/6959
Force: Air Force
Unit: Royal Canadian Air Force
Division: 403 Sqdn.

Additional Information:

Son of John and Ella Cawsey of Calgary Alberta. Brother of Lorne, Allan, Audrey and Peggy.


403 Squadron ORB for February 1942

Sunday, 1 February, 1942

Overcast, snowing heavily most for the morning, clearing in the afternoon. Quite a heavy fall of snow. All personnel, pilots and airmen, had a fair amount of exercise clearing runways of snow. It was nice to see the clean white snow making a blanket on the good mother earth, more than one was a bit homesick. Due to the weather conditions, S/L Campbell and the pilots returned from Hunsdon by motor transport, and the a/c remained at Hunsdon. P/O Magwood went to Stapleford on a course.

Monday, 2 February, 1942

Weather overcast intermittent snow and drizzle, fair in the afternoon. More snow to be cleared so all personnel cheerfully marched forth with shovel and broom and did a very nice piece of work. In the afternoon, S/L Campbell did some circuits and landings to test the runways after snow clearing. Sgts O’Neil, Munn, Ryckman, Somers, Connell and P/O Dick did some training on the link.

Tuesday, 3 February, 1942

Weather snowing again and the Squadron is clearing the runways. Weather closed in later on. Due to the weather, one section was held to readiness while the remainder of the Squadron were put on 30 minutes notice. The Squadron was released off the Station at 1400 hours. All the pilots took advantage of this, going to Epping for shopping, to the cinema, or to enjoy a meal outside of the Mess. Four Sgt Pilots departed for Hunsdon to bring back the a/c that remained there from night flying. All a/c were grounded for aileron droop, two pilots to do the taxing of the a/c to the hangar.

Wednesday, 4 February, 1942

Weather was bad and operations were cancelled. The aircraft were tested for aileron modification. Four aircraft returned from Hunsdon. This was an excellent piece of work. F/L Foster, RCAF Public Relations Branch, visited the Squadron together with F/O Hunter, getting the ‘gen’ on the Squadrons pilots.

Thursday, 5 February, 1942

Weather still bad with snow. At 0900 hours a weather and aircraft test were carried out; flying was washed out but ‘B’ Flight was held at 30 minutes notice.

Friday, 6 February, 1942

Weather persistent, still bad although it cleared up somewhat in the late afternoon. At 0950 hours, Red Section scrambled to Clacton-on-Sea. Runways were slippery and Sgt Ryckman crashed while taxing for take-off. RAF Orchestra gave a most enjoyable concert in Drury Lane, which was very well received by all ranks. Pay parade was held at 1105 hours.

Saturday, 7 February, 1942

Weather, low cloud base today but still able to carry out training flying. Four a/c were tested for aileron modification. Red, Yellow and Blue Sections did some formation and cine-gun practice. P/O Hurst did aerobatics, Sgt McDonald did some pinpointing. Training was finished at 1710 hours. ‘B’ Watch, RTO’s WAAF, North Weald have taken over 403 Squadron to mother. Should be no ‘opening of escapade’ in socks now. One officer and eight airmen went to Stapleford for Military Training Course lasting 7 days.

Sunday, 8 February, 1942

Weather cloudy with some fair intervals becoming more stable in the afternoon. Vis 3 to 6 miles. Formation flying was carried out by the Squadron during the morning. At 1345 hours, Blue and Green Sections went on convoy patrol east of Bradwell bay, these were relieved by other sections at 1800 hours. The different types of camouflage on Destroyers was noticed. It was agreed amongst the pilots that those with pinkish grey camouflage were more readily distinguished. P/O Zoochkan struck a parked motorcycle while taxing down the perimeter doing damage to both the motorcycle and starboard wing. Owing to the ridges of hard snow on the edge of the runways and the roughness caused by the snow, the damage to the aircraft was not observed until after landing from operations. P/O Cawsey misjudged the landing, running short and the port wheel engaged the barbwire used for station Defence, resulting in the tire of wheel to be torn and no further damage. The Squadron was released at 1831 hours. Good day’s work.

Monday, 9 February, 1942

Weather fog-bound with slight drizzle. The Squadron was released from readiness. The pilots went to the Link Trainer. After lunch, the pilots enjoyed a half-hour of PT and ,at 1530 hours, were released from the Station. The pilots crew room at dispersal has been considerably cleaned and made more comfortable. Woollen comforts were distributed to NCOs and Airmen from the Red Cross Society. These were much needed and are greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, 10 February, 1942

Weather, mainly cloudy with much fog at first. Visibility improving slowly, from 1,000 to 4,000 yards. At 1100 hours, two sections TOB on convoy patrol, SE of Orfordness at 17 plus. The aircraft were recalled due to weather. They found thick haze to 1,500 feet over the convoy and ran into rain on the way back, landing at 1210 hours. Convoy was sighted and nothing to report on e/a. Sgt Somers reported seeing what he thought was sea rescue work being carried out by 3 or more MTBs in the vicinity of the convoy. The Chilean Ambassador and staff visited the Station and the Squadron, making some observations of the crew room and dispersal generally. His remarks were conveyed through an interpreter. A surprise visit was paid to the Squadron by AVM Leckie, F/L Hamilton, and W/C McGregor of the RCAF Headquarters. AVM Leckie interviewed the pilots in the manner of a friendly chat, with the view of gaining data and suggestions that would be valuable to training pilots for war activity. A splendid type of gentleman whose easy manner quickly put the pilots at ease won their confidence. At 1100 hours, Red and Blue Sections got airborne on convoy patrols 8 miles SE of Orfordness and, at 1215 hours, were recalled and landed. Formation flying was carried out during the afternoon until 1705 hours. The Squadron certainly had their share of celebrities today. It is hoped that they were as favourably impressed with us as we were with them.

Wednesday, 11 February, 1942

Weather, bright and clear at first in the morning with a slight ground haze. Vis 3 to 6 miles. At 0945 hours, with S/L Campbell as leader, the Squadron took off to practice operational and formation flying. They were recalled at 1030 hours to stand by for an offensive escort job. The sweep was cancelled at 1240 hours. At 1300 hours, one Flight was brought to readiness and one Flight at 15 minutes readiness. At 1350 hours, one Flight went on convoy patrol off Shoeburyness and were relieved at 1440 hours when the aircraft were ordered to patrol another convoy 15 miles off Clacton-on-Sea at 1530 hours. This patrol continued to 1800 hours and the Squadron was released at 1840 hours. A good afternoon’s operations.

Thursday, 12 February, 1942

Weather fair to fine, becoming cloudy with fog. The Squadron was at readiness at 0737 hours. At 0900 hours, two a/c (Red Section), F/S McDonald and P/O Cawsey, were scrambled to investigate e/a, report number 27, coming into Clacton-on-Sea. A/C given 2 vectors onto raider that was a single e/a plotted at 3,000 feet. Our Section was at 8,000 feet. Controller vectored them 120 degrees from Clacton-on-Sea. Red Section reported visibility bad and was instructed to use their own discretion. At 0930 hours R/T failed. F/S McDonald reports that he and P/O Cawsey dived into cloud then he suddenly felt his aircraft shudder and he lost control. The instruments in his a/c went haywire and the a/c went to pieces, tumbling over and over toward the sea. F/S McDonald bailed out, landing in the sea close to a naval craft which picked him up four minutes after entering the water at approximately 0943 hours. F/S McDonald was taken to Ashmore Naval Hospital, Brightlingsae. He was suffering from shock but was otherwise uninjured. P/O Cawsey, after entering the cloud, was not seen or heard from again. The skipper of the Naval craft HMD Reids reported that he saw F/S McDonald break cloud in his parachute and what appeared to be an a/c dive into the sea a mile distant. He did not see any further a/c or parachute break cloud. P/O Cawsey was a very likeable lad, conscientious, punctual in his appointments, but inclined to be over confident. At 1100 hours, the Squadron was brought to readiness and was briefed for a Wing show with targets being the battleships SCHARNHORST and GNEISENAU in convoy going through the Straits of Dover. The Wing took off at 1140 hours with S/L Milne leading. Our Squadron was under the leadership of S/L Campbell, (Red Blue and Yellow Sections) with W/C Eyre as Red 4. The Wing was to join with the Debden Wing overhead and then proceed to the coast. The Wing was over Manston, at 1442 hours, disappearing into cloud in a climb to 7,000 feet on the way to the target, with another broken layer at 2,000 feet. As they approached the target, S/L Campbell, who was at 2,500 feet, saw a burst of smoke between himself and Gravelines on the French Coast. As he turned right, two Hudsons appeared on the same level flying in the same direction. S/L Campbell kept on the port side as he was waiting for the Squadron to break through cloud. Suddenly, 3 ME 109Es made a head-on quarter attack at the Hudsons. S/L Campbell tired to head them off, giving full deflection of shot which had the effect of sheering one away, the other two dived to sea level and were lost in the cloud. The Hudsons did not appear to be damaged. S/L Campbell turned and saw to the East a large blaze on the water with what appeared to be a ship with port and starboard sides ablaze. More ME 109es appeared from the East at cloud base; he gave chase, mixing in with a lot of Spitfires. By this time, he had lost the Squadron and, whilst trying to rejoin them, flew over the ships noting that the blaze was now out. At 1503 hours, he saw what he thought were two Flak ships throwing up flak bursting at 2,000 feet near the cloud base. Two of our Squadron, with three other Spits joined S/L Campbell and they headed West. The ME 109s kept breaking cloud base but when the Squadron turned on them, they took cover. At 1518 hours, approximately eight Wimpys appeared from the East. S/L Campbell escorted them to 15 miles off Dover and then returned to base. The Wimpys were still flying on a Southerly direction. Our Yellow Section engaged e/a at 2,000 feet. Sgt Ryckman positioned his a/c on the tail of a ME 109F and gave it a two-second burst at 275 yards with cannon and machine gun. The e/a was seen to pour black smoke and took evasive action. The e/a straightened out long enough for Ryckman to get in another 3-second burst and strikes were seen on the wings and the fuselage. Heavy black smoke and flames shot from the engine and the e/a went into a dive at 2,000 feet, disappearing into cloud. A second e/a appeared but was lost in the cloud. Sgt Ryckman with Sgt Crist (Yellow 3) engaged a third e/a and both fired a 3-second burst at 300 yards from astern and a second burst of 1 second from dead astern. The e/a disappeared into the cloud but before doing so, strikes were seen on the wings and the fuselage. Sgt Ryckman returned to base, having run out of ammunition. The dive of the first e/a was enveloped in smoke and flames and was witnessed by Sgt Crist and P/O Parr. Sgts Crawford and Somers saw a ME 109E dive toward them out of the cloud, both turned to their right and fired a 3-second burst of cannon and machine gun. No strikes were seen. Both a/c then rejoined their sections. Sgt Crawford engaged a second ME 109 on his right front angle of 45 degrees, firing a 3-second burst of cannon and machine gun fire, then he rejoined his section. All a/c returned to base by 1715 hours, after having quite a party with one e/a destroyed and another damaged. Those in the sortie were: S/L Campbell, P/O Magwood, Sgts Schmitz (Red 1,2 and 3), F/L Walker, F/S Crawford, F/S Somers (Blue 1, 2 and 3) F/S Ryckman, P/O Parr, F/S Crist (Yellow 1,2 and 3) and W/C Eyre (Red 4).

Friday, 13 February, 1942

Weather fair to fine with part sunshine, clearing in the morning. Cloud 6/10ths to 9/10ths. At 0900 hours, two sections went on formation flying. These were recalled as the Squadron was put on readiness at 0946 hours. The sections LAB at 0955 hours and 1010 hours. F/S Somers, with F/S Belcher, as a passenger TOB for Brize Norton at 0945 hours in the Miles-Magister, the objective being to ferry two Spitfires to North Weald. Three sections, Red, Blue, and Yellow were airborne at 1050 hours to patrol and escort seven destroyers approximately 150 miles on course 085 from North Weald. Our aircraft located the convoy which was going NE off the French Coast. When the destroyers sighted our a/c they altered course to the SW. Patrol lasted 1 hour and 10 minutes, with the Squadron LAB at 1230 hours. At 1245 hours, Red Section was scrambled to Southwold to intercept an e/a but were recalled to base, landing at 1255 hours, the e/a having disappeared. At 1310 hours, three Sections, Red, Blue and Yellow, TOB to continue their escort for the destroyers which they picked up just off the English Coast, with four at Barrow Deep and the three other destroyers just off Felixstowe heading SW and one other destroyer in about the same position heading NNE. This escort of three sections was relieved and landed at base at 1430 hours. Red and Yellow Sections TOB at 1515 hours to continue the escort patrol of the destroyers, LAB at 1700 hours. Nothing to report. Some local flying and cine-gun was practised in the late afternoon. All of the pilots returned to base from Brize Norton and Martlesham, bringing over three a/c that had been weather bound in Martlesham and two others from Brize Norton. The Squadron was released from operations after a good days work with everyone happy, at 1842 hours.

Saturday, 14 February, 1942

Weather partly cloudy with 3/10ths to 6/10ths cloud. Vis 2 to 5 miles generally. The Squadron took advantage of excellent weather and training flying was carried out in the morning for height (25,000 feet) chasing, dogfights and GCI co-operation. Sgt O’Neill did a cross-country flight. F/S Crawford and Sgt Olmsted with P/O Hurst did aerobatics. P/O Aitken did a cannon test. How smoothly everything goes as long as the pilots can fly.

Sunday, 15 February, 1942

Weather cloudy in the morning, becoming fair in the late afternoon. Cloud 7/10ths to 10/10ths with vis 1 to 3 miles. At 0810 hours, 2 Sections TOB on convoy patrol 10 miles east of Martlesham. Escort was continuous, with the Sections being relieved every hour and a half. Last patrol LAB 1405 hours. S/L Campbell, F/L Wood, F/S Campbell and Sgt Beurling went to Southend to participate in Air-to-Air competition of 11 group – result was fair. P/O Gillespie promoted to Acting F/L and posted to 72 Squadron as a Flight Commander. Splendid work, fine fellow, a loss to our Squadron and a gain for No. 72, and our best wishes go with him. Excellent show at Drury Lane tonight. Tommy Trinder was in the cast. It was probably the first time for most of the Canadians on this Squadron to see Trinder, England’s foremost comedian, in person. Comments were amusing.

Monday, 16 February, 1942

Weather much the same as yesterday. Practice flying carried out during the day from 0935 hours to 1750 hours. During the afternoon, the Squadron scrambled to 20,000 feet. F/S McDonald returned today, from his harrowing experience. A bit thinner perhaps and a little jittery, he looks tired but otherwise OK. Sgt Crawford was posted to No. 55 OTU. F/O Lodge inspected the new billets at Sites 1&7 Thornwood. The personnel have moved in. These quarters are agreeably better than the ones just vacated. I’m sure that a great deal of comfort is to be received here. The meals are on quite a high standard, in fact, the roast beef was much better than I have seen in the Officer’s Mess. Personnel seemed quite happy and had no complaints. The drawback is the time lost in traversing backward and forward for meals.

Tuesday, 17 February, 1942

Weather hazy, clearing later with 10/10ths low cloud. Practice flying was done consisting of cine-gun and cloud flying. Five Sections were put on readiness at 1115 hours. At 1215 hours, Blue and green Sections TOB for convoy patrol off Barrow Deep. These were relieved at one-hour intervals until it was cancelled at 1513 hours. Three sections were called to readiness at 1554 hours and Red Section was scrambled to patrol off Clacton-on-Sea, LAB at 1750 hours. F/L Wood, with his section who were on their way out to relieve the convoy patrols SE of Clacton-on-Sea at 1405 hours, saw a DO 217 below the cloud base which was 800 too 1,000 feet. He instructed the section to proceed on patrol while he turned to give chase. The DO 217 was seen to jettison bombs in the sea, climb and was lost in the cloud. It did not reappear. No damage by the bombs was seen. Another anti-gas exercise, with personnel taking more interest in these doings which commenced at 0900 hours in the morning.

Wednesday, 18 February, 1942

Weather cloudy with 8/10ths to 10/10ths cloud and vis 1,000 to 2,000 yards. Training flying was carried out by the Squadron during the day. F/L Walker did cannon testing. At 1005 hours, Red and Yellow Sections scrambled. Yellow Section was recalled at 1015 hours, Red returned at 1120. Nothing sighted and nothing to report. Convoy patrol commenced at 1045 hours for a convoy 15 miles ESE off Shoeburyness. The sections relieved one another until 1355 hours. F/L Walker, P/O Hurst, F/S Schmitz went to Hunsdon at 1735 hours for dusk flying. The Squadron was released at 1845 hours.

Thursday, 19 February, 1942

Weather cloudy, occasional slight snow shower, with 8/10ths to 10/10ths cloud 1,000 to 2,000 and a base of 500 to 1,000 feet. Vis 3 to 6 miles. The Squadron was put on 15 minutes readiness at 0740 hours. A Gas Defence exercise went on from 0900 to 1015 hours with a/c acting as bombers. Nice work. The pilots returned from Hunsdon. Practice flying and cine-gun were carried out in the afternoon. 403 Squadron stood in for 222 on readiness during the lunch hour. S/L Campbell left at 1550 hours to pay a visit to Biggin Hill, returning at 1710 hours. The Squadron was released at 1851 hours. A letter of thanks was received from the Chilean Ambassador.

Friday, 20 February, 1942

Weather remains the same day to day; cold and hazy, vis fair. Practice flying consisting of cine-gun and formation flying was carried out. At 1300 hours, the Squadron was put on readiness. Nothing exciting happened today with the exception that soap is to be rationed as of today. Horrors. The Games Rooms on Site 1&7, equipped by the Salvation Army Branch of Auxiliary Services, opened for the airmen’s pleasure at 1700 hours. Although confined by space, these rooms have been decorated, and furnished with writing tables, games, reading material and radios. These rooms should be an asset to the sites. 11 Group signalled at 1700 hours that F/L Wood was awarded the DFC. Congratulations ‘Timber’ (from Ottawa way out west). We are very pleased about this as F/L Wood has been with the Squadron since its formation. This brings the number of DFCs awarded to personnel while serving with this Squadron to three. Who Next!

Saturday, 21 February, 1942

Weather today was cold with snow flurries and 8/10ths to 10/10ths cloud, vis 1,000 to 4,000 yards. One section was put at readiness from 0719 hours. The pilots went to the link trainer. The Wing was released in the afternoon for organized sport. Some of the pilots went to town. P/O Hurst and P/O Aitken went on seven days leave. The Officers of 403 Squadron attended a dance given by the Suffolk Regiment at Hill Hall. Jolly good show. There was a dance on station at Drury Lane for the NCOs and Airmen. Photographs of 403 Squadron appeared in Canada Weekly, February 21 edition. The COs inspected the new billets.

Sunday, 22 February, 1942

Weather, light snow with 8/10ths to 10/10ths cloud at 2,000 to 3,000 feet. Vis 1 to 4 miles and less in snow. Weather tests reported that it was unfit for flying. Little or no activity today. The Squadron was brought to readiness at 1515 hours as enemy aircraft were reported but the Squadron was moved back to 30 minutes readiness almost immediately. Another very fine ENSA show was enjoyed this evening by most of the personnel.

Monday, 23 February, 1942

Weather mainly cloudy clearing slowly. Practice flying, formation and cine-gun were carried out. ‘B’ Flight was on readiness at 1300 hours and ‘A’ Flight at 15 minutes. F/S Rainville went on a flight to Martlesham and returned. The Squadron was released at 1913 hours. S/L Campbell went on seven days leave, a well-earned rest. F/L Wood assumed command of the Squadron.

Tuesday, 24 February, 1942

Weather, mainly cloudy with some light snow. Cloud was 8/10ths based at 2,000 to 4,000 feet with vis 2 to 5 miles. The Squadron was at readiness at 0658 hours. At 0854 hours, two sections went on convoy patrol off Shoeburyness. Relief sections were sent out during the morning, landing at 1330 hours. P/O Hurst made a crash landing, the aircraft was damaged but he was unhurt. Practice flying was carried out during the afternoon – formation and cine-gun. The Squadron was brought to readiness at 1500 hours for 45 minutes. P/O Aitken, P/O Magwood, F/S Rainville and Sgt Beurling TOB at 1640 hours for Hunsdon to do night flying. F/L Wood and P/O Dick went over by motor car.

Wednesday, 25 February, 1942

Weather still cloudy, becoming fair with occasional light snow. Cloud was 8/10ths to 10/10ths at 2,000 to 4,000 feet and vis was 2 to 6 miles. The pilots returned from Hunsdon after making an excellent showing at night flying. 14 hours, 45 minutes were piled up. This is tops. One Flight was brought to readiness at 0837 hours, the remainder practised formation flying, cine-gun, amp reading and pin-pointing. Two sections went on convoy patrol but were recalled. The Squadron was released from operations at 1525 hours. All of the pilots went to the lecture room at Station Intelligence for a talk by AVM Leigh-Mallory on ‘Review of War and our Possibilities in the Spring of 1942’ and some gen talk on a new type of engine for Spitfires and collapsible tanks. Very instructive and interesting talk ending on the watchword ‘Physical Fitness for Pilots’.

Thursday, 26 February, 1942

Weather cloudy with light snow. 8/10ths to 10/10ths cloud base at 1,500 feet. Vis 1 to 2 miles. No activity today. One section was at readiness at 1300 hours to 1919 hours. F/L Wood went on a familiarization flight. Tonight the Officers and NCOs bade farewell, good luck, and God’s keeping to two of our gamiest and smallest pilots, F/Ss Crist and Ryckman on their posting overseas (East). A keen pair doing excellent teamwork.

Friday, 27 February, 1942

Weather cloudy becoming fair in the afternoon, closing late afternoon. One section was at readiness at 15 minutes and ‘A’ Flight at 30 minutes, available from 0920 hours to release at 1330 hours. Eight a/c went at different periods on familiarization flights to Needham Market. F/L Wood and Sgt Olmsted did a sector reconnaissance. Flying was discontinued at 1655 hours. F/S Campbell, with AC1 Baldwin went to Hornchurch where they remained overnight due to weather closing in. S/L Belton and Frayne (RCAF Padres) visited 403 Squadron. S/L Belton is our visiting Padre and has promised to look after the interests of the personnel, providing comforts, amusements and to their spiritual welfare. They were favourably impressed with the set-up here and spent the afternoon chatting with pilots, officers and airmen. Sgts Connell and O’Neill posted overseas. Good luck.

Saturday, 28 February, 1942

Weather cloudy to fair with smoke haze and low cloud, 10/10ths at 500 to 1,500 feet. Vis 1 to 3 miles. Two a/c were at readiness at 0647 hours. The Squadron went on readiness at 0800 hours to 1304 hours and was released at 30 minutes availability. The trippers, F/S Campbell and AC1 Baldwin, returned from Hornchurch. During the afternoon 7 ATC visited the Squadron and were taken up for flips. The Squadron is still waiting for ‘fun and games’ with the Army. Gift cigarettes were distributed to all personnel this afternoon. These were most necessary for the majority of the airmen.