About Erks

What Paul Richey thought about erks? 

Excerpt from his book written in 1941

fighters came across in big formations: sometimes three squadrons of 109s would do a sweep as far as Metz and Nancy. The 110s had made their first appearance at the end of March, in close squadron formation and very high, only engaging when pressed into it by our Hurricanes. It was obvious that the Germans were practising offensive tactics, and it looked as though the bust-up might come soon.

This thought caused us to pay even more attention to our aircraft. Every pilot takes a pride in his own aeroplane, but the knowledge that he may be in action at any moment is naturally an additional incentive. There was now a marked increase of interest in the individual Hurricanes, and long hours were spent by ground crews and pilots in flight testing, altering rigging, adjusting control wires to the preferred tautness, tuning the engine, harmonizing the sights, checking the guns and testing them in the air, and generally getting everything on the top line.

For the benefit of the layman I should mention that the crew of a lighter does not consist solely of the pilot, although he is the only member who flies: the other two members, who are aircraftsmen, are just as vital; they are the fitter and the rigger. The fitter looks after the engine, the rigger the airframe. The pilot depends on these two men for his life. Normally the fitter and rigger take a personal pride in their pilot and would do anything for him. They are inextricably involved in his victories and defeats. Consequently there is a wonderful spirit of teamwork and comradeship between the pilots, who are mostly officers, and the men not only the fitters and riggers, but all the men in the various technical sections right down to the aircraft hands. My own fitter and rigger were two fine chaps, and much later, back in England, I paid a visit to my old squadron specially to thank them for the invaluable work they had done for me during the French campaign.

More on Paul Richey

The pilots of 1 Squadron

The pilots of 1 Squadron

Most of 1 Squadron’s well trained and experienced pilots are seen here shortly before the outbreak of the blitzkrieg on 10 May 1940. The commanding officer, Squadron Leader PH ‘Bull’ Halahan, is in the centre, wearing a sheepskin flying jacket.

On the far left is Pilot Officer Billy Drake. Although one of the only two pilots in this photo not to receive a DFC in June 1940 (having been shot down and wounded on 13 May), he was to end the war as the most successful of all this group of outstanding fighter pilots. He had by then been promoted to Wing Commander, and had claimed some 28 aircraft shot down (three of which were shared and two unconfirmed), plus 15 more destroyed on the ground. He had also been awarded a DSO, DFC and Bar, and a US DFC. He remained in the RAF postwar, becoming a Group Captain.

Next to him is Flying Officer LR Clisby, an aggressive Australian pilot who was the squadron’s first top-scorer, having already claimed at least ten aircraft shot down, and possibly more, by the time he was brought down and killed on 14 May. Behind his left shoulder is his friend, Flying Officer LR Lorimer, who was shot down and killed during the same engagement.

Flight Lieutenant P Prosser Hanks was one of the unit’s two flight commanders. He had claimed seven victories when sent home to become an instructor later in May. He ended the war as a Wing Commander, credited with 13 enemy aircraft shot down. Between him and Halahan is Pilot Officer PWO ‘Boy’ Mould (see below).

Behind ‘Bull’ Halahan’s left shoulder is Jean-François Demozay. A civilian pilot before the war, he had been loaned to the squadron as French interpreter. He fled to England when France fell, and became a fighter pilot, joining 1 Squadron in this role late in 1940. He ended the war as a Wing Commander, credited with 18 victories, but was then killed in an aircraft accident on 19 December 1945.

The senior flight commander, Flight Lieutenant PR ‘Johnnie’ Walker, is next. He claimed eight successes in combat during spring 1940, and ended the war as a Group Captain. Standing in front of Walker and the next two pilots is Flight Lieutenant DM Brown, the squadron medical officer. Behind his left shoulder is Flying Officer JI Kilmartin (see below).

Almost hidden behind Brown and Kilmartin is Flying Officer PHM Richey, later author of Fighter Pilot, one of the classic books of the war. Before he was wounded on 19 May, Paul Richey had claimed ten victories. He later returned to operations in 1941, and also ended the war as a Wing Commander.

Another, almost hidden behind his colleagues, is New Zealander Flying Officer WH Stratton (see below), and the last in the line is Flying Officer CD ‘Pussy’ Palmer, born in the USA of British parentage. He later became a Squadron Leader, but was shot down and killed over the English Channel on 27 October 1942.

Missing from this group are three other notable officers and three leading NCO pilots. The third representative of the Commonwealth was Flying Officer MH ‘Hilly’ Brown from Canada, who was on leave when the photograph was taken. He had claimed some 17 victories when the squadron left France in June, having overtaken Clisby as the top-scorer for the unit in 1940. Becoming Commanding Officer soon after the return to England, he also flew during the Battle of Britain. He became a Wing Commander in 1941, but was shot down and killed over Sicily on 12 November 1941.

Flying Officer GPH Matthews joined the squadron in August 1939. He claimed five victories during May-June 1940, ending the war as a Squadron Leader, with 11 victories credited to him.

Pilot Officer PV Boot had arrived only in March 1940 as a reinforcement, having just retrained as a fighter pilot. The 1 Squadron ethos and example obviously enveloped him rapidly, for by 5 June he had claimed five aircraft shot down. He later took part in the Battle of Britain before becoming an instructor, and was awarded a DFC.

The squadron’s outstanding NCO pilot was Flight Sergeant FJ Soper, who claimed 13 victories over France during 1940. He was later commissioned and by 1941 had been given command of his own squadron. He failed to return from a sortie to intercept an intruding German bomber off the Suffolk coast on 5 October 1941.

Flight Sergeant AV ‘Darky’ Clowes had claimed seven successes by 18 June 1940. He too was commissioned later in the year, subsequently becoming a Squadron Commander. A third notable NCO was Flight Sergeant FG Berry, who shot down the bomber that had just bombed the troopshipLancastrian in St Nazaire harbour on 17 June 1940. He was killed shortly afterwards, on 1 September, during the Battle of Britain.

Paul Richey

The Power of the Internet – More than a Framed Print

Something I posted on this blog in 2014…

It was  about  a man called Robbie.

Mark White  wrote  it. 

***

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.

George White left

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.

Robbie - Copy

The date and the location are unknown.                                                              

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Robbie

He is posing in this picture holding the case for my dad’s Kodak camera.

 Robbie - Copy (11)

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. 

 Robbie - Copy (10)

 Some of  the Crew with a German 3 Wheeled truck.

Robbie is second from the left.                     

Robbie - Copy (9)

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 - Copy (8)

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.

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Robbie at work on a Spitfire

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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. 

our tent

Robbie and the rest of the Crew were friends with Buzz Beurling when 403 Squadron was based in England.

Peter Lecoq George Beurling Hodgson

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. 

Bergen Belsen

***

 How do I know this is Robbie? 

Robbie - Copy (4)

Robbie - Copy (3)

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:

A Man

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.
Robbie

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. 

Don Robb 1 jan 45

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

 Robbie - Copy (2)

Don Robb is one of the Boys in this picture.

Thank you John Le May for solving the mystery.

 

Mark White

February 2014

Don Anderson – The Power of the Internet

This is post No. 660.

The Internet  is a powerful tool when you want to reach out to people.

This is what I found on the Internet after Dean Stevens sent me a picture his wife took of his Don Anderson’s lithograph.

 

“RCAF The War Years WWII Air Forces Reunion
Commemorating 40th Anniversary
Battle of Britain”

A set of 12 full colour reproductions from the original paintings.
The artist is Don Anderson who was an official war artist with the RCAF.

1. Alouette 425 Squadron

Capture12

2. Supermarine Spitfire Mk XVI 416 Squadron

Capture6

3. RCAF Group 6 Halifax surveying Hamburg, VE day plus 2

Capture10

4. A tail gunner doing maintenance on bomber’s rear guns

Capture4

5. 403 Squadron returns to Evère airfield Jan. 1, 1945

Capture3

6. Rear gunner Halifax Mk 1

Capture5

7. Canadian airman taking off under fire 416 squadron, Evere, Belgium.

Capture11

8. Lancaster Mk X 431 squadron, Croft,Yorkshire

Capture9

9. B 90 Petit Brogel, Belgium

Capture8

10. Beaufighters 404 Squadron taking off for Norway, Banff, Scotland.

Capture2

11. Night Intruder, de Havilland Mosquito

Capture7

12. After the Rain, “Tusker” Squadron, Ceylon

Capture1

This blog was created in September 2011 when I met a young man whose grandfather was a Spitfire pilot.

 Walter Neil Dove is in the middle on this picture.

Wally Dove and his two erks

Most people likely had never heard of him. Most people most likely never heard the word “erks”. The two men are what pilots affectionately called erks… airframe mechanics, fitters,…

Dean had a lithograph and wanted to know more.

2016-06-11 07.46.58

George White was an erk.

George White 2

His son Mark found my blog and contributed with a series of articles about his father and fellow erks. Everything is here for Dean to read if he wants to know how those erks were heroes in their own way.

Lest We Forget.

Another Captured German Prize – Junkers Ju 86 R-1 – Redux

Comment just in…

The camouflage of the hangar looks like it was taken in Fassberg.
Rheinmetall and Blohm & Voss were at the End of 1944 in Fassberg for tests of the Bv 246 gliding bomb with the Fw 190A.

Original post below

Another guest post from Mark

Here is another photograph from my father George White’s collection. It was likely taken in Schleswig Germany.

It is a Junkers Ju 86 R-1 high altitude reconnaissance aircraft. The code lettering DD+GE 5161 Rheinmetall (AirMin 82).

The wing of a second Ju 86 can be seen on the right side of the picture. This aircraft may be T5+PM 5132, a Ju 86 R-1 that was flown from Fassberg to Schleswig on August 8, 1945.

This aircraft was rather unique. It was powered by Jumo 207 diesel engines, had a pressurized cockpit and was capable of flying up to 50,000 feet.

These 2 stroke diesel engines had 6 cylinders, 12 pistons and 2 crankshafts and no combustion chambers. Combustion is achieved between the domes of 12 horizontally opposed pistons.

This is indeed a very interesting configuration for an aircraft engine.

Mark White February 2012-5

 

Cheers

Mark White – February 2014

Dr. Albert (Al) JOHNSTON – Redux

A great research and article from Mark

Dr. Albert (Al) JOHNSTON

Al Johnson

JOHNSTON, Dr. Albert (Al) Charles West MD.CM., FRCS

December 7, 1923 – July 28, 2013

With great sadness, we announce that Al passed away peacefully at age 89 on July 28, 2013 in Port Moody, B.C. He is survived by his loving wife of 61 years Peggy (nee Mouat), his children Kathleen, James (Barbara), William (Diane) and Thomas (Deanne), his grandchildren Alexander, Robert, James and Daniel, and his brother Jack and sister Maureen Bailey, and predeceased by his brothers Herbert, Walter and Victor.

Born in Armstrong, B.C., Al grew up in Nanaimo, B.C. where he attended elementary school thru grade 13.

He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942 and served as a Leading Aircraftman for the RCAF 403 Wolf Squadron in England, Holland, Belgium and Germany thru 1946.

He returned to Canada and graduated from University of British Columbia, B.Sc (Zoology) with honors in 1949, McGill University medical school in 1953, and from Ophthalmology training at Wayne State University and Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit in 1958.

Al and Peggy opened medical practices in Vancouver in 1959 in an office they shared together until their retirement in 1989. During his years of practice, Al was associated with UBC/VGH Department of Ophthalmology as Clinical Professor devoting time to clinical teaching, developing the Neuro Ophthalmology program at UBC and to serving as an examiner for the Royal College of Physicians.

Al loved the outdoors and he and Peggy actively spent time on Saltspring Island, on their boat in B.C. and travelling in other parts of the world. Following retirement, Al and Peggy moved to Saltspring where they built their retirement home and they greatly enjoyed retirement with their extended family.

Thanks go out to his doctors and the staff at Eagle Ridge Manor in Port Moody, B.C. where he spent the final stage of life and special thanks go to Dr. Tony Wilson, Dr. Saul Isserow and to Dr. Christine Todorovic.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, August 24, 2013 at 1:30 p.m. at St. Mark’s Church, 961 North End Road, Saltspring Island, B.C. and a gathering of friends to celebrate Al’s life will also be held in Vancouver from 1:00pm to 4:00pm on Sunday, September 15, 2013 at Royal Vancouver Yacht Club at 3811 Point Grey Road, Vancouver, B.C.

In lieu of flowers, donations to the Walter George Johnston research fund (UBC faculty of medicine) #P128, or the Saltspring Island Foundation named fund would be welcome.

Published in The Times Colonist from August 17 to August 18, 2013

Dr. Albert Johnston was a very talented and remarkable human being.

The ERK wearing the glasses is very prominent in a lot of my dad’s war pictures.  

George White

I’m no expert, but I think Dr. Albert Johnston may be in some of these pictures. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if you readers could identify more of these airmen.

 George White 1

George White 3 George White 2-1 George White 2

Mark White – October 2013

What do you think?

George White 3-1

George White 2-2

George White 1-1

George White 2-1-1

 

The Story of a 127 Wing 43 Year-Old Spitfire Pilot – Redux

Editor’s notes

Mark White added this on his  story…

More on the 43 year-old  Spitfire  pilot  here.

 

George White, Mark White’s father, kept a journal during WWII. Mark is now sharing a new article he just wrote using this journal for our new honorary member.

1

Pierre,

I think John Le May will like this one – lots of details.

When you do your own research on Robert Stanley Weir you will find some interesting stuff. I’ll keep you in suspense and let you do your own homework!

Cheers

Mark

***

The Story of a 127 Wing 43 Year-Old Spitfire Pilot by Mark White

RCAF 403 Squadron

I wanted to share the story about the surprise visit of Winston Churchill to 403 Squadron on July 22 1944 with John Le May.

It’s a really good story, but I got sidetracked with another great story. I will share the Churchill story later.

While going through my father’s notes, pictures and the journal, I came across the story about a 43 year old Spitfire pilot attached to 127 Wing. The maximum age for Spitfire pilots in operations was apparently 28, but Squadron Leader Pilot, Ronald Stanley Weir was 43 years old. It is not a happy story. He was killed while landing a Spitfire on 403 Squadron’s landing strip at Crepon Normandy on August 6 1944.

Mark White

Introduction – Setting the Stage for the Story

127 Wing (Airfield) consisted of 403 Wolf Squadron, 416 Lynx Squadron, 421 Red Indian Squadron and 443 Hornet Squadron. D-Day was June 6, 1944.

wpid-wp-1422870069465.jpeg

403 Squadron landed on Juno Beach on June 18, 1944. 127 Wing was at Base 2 Crepon, France from June until August 27, 1944. 403 Squadron operated out of an open grass field along a hedge. Maintenance was an area in an apple orchard close to an abandoned German fort consisting of earth banks with old German WW I field guns set up to cover sections of the beach.

Setting Up Camp

No. 1 Crew – Setting Up Camp – Crepon, France

Since landing in Normandy, 403 Squadron was involved in air to air battles and ground attack missions. These men witnessed some of the greatest military battles in history. The war was all around them, and the front was only a few miles away.

 

Squadron Leader Pilot – Ronald Stanley WeirFrom the Book – “They Shall Not Grow Old”

Weir, Ronald Stanley SL(P) C1651 from Westmount, Quebec. Killed Aug. 6 44 age 43. #416 City of Ottawa Squadron (Ad Soltum Paratus). SL. Weir was flying Spitfire aircraft # MJ 741 and overshot the landing strip a Crepon, France. He turned the aircraft to port but it went into a spin and he was killed in the crash. Squadron Leader Pilot Weir is buried in the Canadian War Cemetery at Beny-sur-Mer, France.

Weir

S/L(P) –Squadron Leader/Pilot
Ronald Stanley Weir

Although Weir was killed on August 6, 1944, the story will begin on August 5. It will cover the activities of 403 Squadron’s ground crew until August 20, 1944.

The details about the war, and the details about the No.1 Crew’s activities during this period are just too numerous and too rich to exclude from the story about Ronald Stanley Weir.

Here’s the story (As Written by Hand):

August 5

Working late again. Don came back again and brought me a good 8 mm German Mauser rifle. This looks like a good one to try and get back home. Our Spitfires are a big attraction for the Army. We got another visit from the Legion Canteen – afternoon tea this time.

Spits in readiness

403 Spits in Readiness

August 6

Not a busy day, small inspections and other minor problems. Went out to see if I could find Don in the evening and had a little trouble getting to Reis, finally got a hectic ride on a motor cycle. Found that Dons 12 Field had just gone back to the front again. When I got back to camp I heard that Flt. Lieut. Weir, Test Pilot for Maintenance, had just been killed in a crash.

He was an interesting story. He had a big job with the RCAF in Canada – in charge of purchasing fuel supplies for the RCAF. When a ruling came in allowing Ground Crew Officers that could pass medical requirements to take Aircrew Training, he got his Wings and went through O.T.U. as a fighter pilot and got posted to our Airfield.

But he was over 40 years old, and fighter pilots had to be under 28 years old. So here he was in a Squadron and was unable to fly on operations, so he promoted himself as Test Pilot for Maintenance so he could check out the repaired aircraft before they were returned to their Squadrons.

He always made sure the test aircraft always had fully loaded guns with the hope that some German aircraft would come by.

When a Spitfire Squadron lands, it’s like ducks, they come falling out of the sky and make basically three point landings that don’t take up much runway length. The American pilots on the other hand, were trained in Texas, with long runways and use a less steep approach. We nearly always had a crashed American plane visitor that over ran our landing strips.

Well, Weir was coming in to land when a squad of Spits, short on fuel came rushing in. He was already committed but aborted his landing so he wouldn’t get in their way. He didn’t have flying speed and hit the ground hard enough to kill himself. We were all sad to see him gone, he had taken quite a few of the gang up for flights in the Auster that replaced the Tiger Moth that Beurling wore out.

 The Auster

About 8:30 PM American B 26 Marauder – 2 engined bomber – came screaming in on one engine and lined up to crash land (wheels up), on our netting. He was immediately waved off with red flares – he staggered on towards the beach and crashed in a gulley. Whitey and I ran about half a mile after him to see what help was needed.

By the time we got there, there was a tremendous fire. They had crashed into a fuel dump belonging to a Polish Tank Outfit. The Poles were going crazy trying to save as much gas as possible, forming lines, handing hot Jerry cans from the fire from one to another. We climbed into a shell hole on the side hill (likely made by naval gunfire) to watch developments as the center part of the fire burned out. The aircraft bomb load was exposed right in the fire. A small 1500 wt. British fire truck drove in. The crew, was dressed in asbestos suits, jumped out and started spraying foam on the bombs. We took off – no explosions occurred and the fire gradually died out or was put out.

How those Poles handled these hot cans without getting severely burned is amazing. It showed how determined the Poles were to get back at the Germans who had devastated their county.

If that aircraft had exploded on our netting ??.  The crew must have perished in the crash unless some had bailed out beforehand. They must have been in a real panic.

August 7

Another engine change, we now hold the unofficial record for the fastest engine change in the field. All the engine bolts have a small hole through the head. When it was tightened down, locking wire was attached to keep from coming loose. Slow awkward system but it works. Anyways, we beat the RAF record times we had on hand.

engine change

Engine Change

We had a funeral today at Bény-sur-Mer, the Canadian Cemetery, for Flt. Lieut. Weir. He had a real coffin. I was a pallbearer.

When I got back I took my German rifle and fired a few rounds. It works fine and is very accurate.

Americans are on the move and making good news. They have captured Lorient and St. Nazaire. Canadian 2nd Army holding the Panzers. Canada has its own official Army now, their Air Force backing consists of the International Fighter Squadrons. The Canadian Squadrons are with the 2nd Army.

August 8

Finishing up another engine change today, not much else coming in. Nice weather during daylight but damp and foggy at night. Jerry hasn’t bothered at night lately. Guess he doesn’t like the full moon with night fighters around. Spits are not used at night.

August 9

Work picking up again, means our aircraft are getting more action. Bob Askig Cpl. has now joined us. He’s a likeable sort and he fits in well.

August 10

DN-Q – another dandy mess. Tail end well shot up, pilot was lucky to get it home. Rumours that leaves are coming up, and say No. 1 Crew is in the lineup. Expect it’s the rumour mill at work again. Some guys are still hopeful that the old Burma rumour mill comes to pass.

August 11

Finishing up DN-Q – was a very tough job for field conditions. Pilot was really happy to get it back. On night guard. Jerry air raid, a couple of bombs dropped, terrific Ac-Ac fire. Lots of flares dropped, mostly over the beach areas. Army is in another major attack, Canadian casualties mounting up.

August 12

Day off. Writing letters and trying a little sun tanning.  Americans starting to make advances through a lot of relatively open country. The pincher operation seems to be working. Germans really catching it. Word is the Germans have come out in force travelling in daylight trying to escape before the door closes. This is what we have been waiting for. Our aircraft are ready to really hit them hard now.

maintenance

403 Maintenance

August 13

Went to M.O. with grindings in my eye. He had to freeze the eyeball to get them out. Our aircraft running wild, dropping their designated bombs and strafing and blocking roads. Germans are in a real retreat – not a withdrawal.

Another tough stern job on old friend KH-S, lucky to have made it back. Flights going crazy, aircraft coming and going, needing fuel and ammo, it must be hard to keep track of the score.

preparing for action

Preparing for Action 

August 14

I got called up to get a crashed Spit off our netting, his undercarriage had collapsed on landing, everyone in vicinity seemed overly excited. The crane truck came in, the crash crew got the trailer ready. I pulled the engine cover off and hooked up the crane cable, and signalled the operator to lift slowly. As the aircraft lifted and the wreckage underneath became exposed, there was a 500 pound bomb starting to dangle. I stopped the lift immediately and told the operator to hold it there. Evidently the pilot couldn’t shake the bomb loose, there was a hitch in the dropping mechanism. So he tried to bring it back, make a less than perfect landing. He must have been in a real panic landing with a fused bomb when the undercarriage failed and he skidded in on the bomb.

I got one of the crash crew to run for MacIntosh, our Cracker Jack armourer. He had joined the army when he was 16 years old and was shipped to Britain with some of the first Canadian Army overseas. His mother had complained, he was discharged and was sent home with an excellent Army training. He then joined the RCAF as an Armourer.

We were certainly free of spectators, the word had spread fast. Mac pulled the correct bomb panels and in a couple of minutes the bomb was diffused, the crane operator wiped the sweat out of his eyes, I waved the crash crew in. We lifted the plane clear of the bomb, they pushed in the trailer and I took off back to work.

No one from Headquarters or Airfield Control ever mentioned it to me, they had been in contact with the pilot and knew the plane was landing. I bet they were all hiding in their slit trenches. If that bomb had gone off, our netting loss would have really spoiled our fun and saved a lot of German lives.

August 15

Jerry aircraft are getting a little more active at night again, they don’t seem to be much help for their army, we certainly expected them to put up a much better show then they have. Perhaps the Russian Front has used up more German aircraft than was realized. Ground crew won’t complain.

We took a truck into Caen to a factory to see what useful we could scrounge but the Army said NO WAY. Dust is really getting heavy again with good weather. Aircraft are going all out.

August 16

Pat sent me some magazines in the mail. Wrote another 7 letters – all short ones. Some travelling show called the Tarmacs came in today. Something blew up near the mess, made a lot of noise. Some German long range shelling nearby. We could feel the ground shake.

August 17

Wonderful weather. Aircraft still returning with empty guns. Germans in a trap. Our aircraft ceased flying at noon – too many aircraft over target areas.

August 18

Fairly busy day. 127 now has the record for the number of sorties flown in one day. 403 has lost 8 aircraft in the last two days – we got 68 trucks today. This was the greatest day in Airforce history – German 7th Army literally destroyed. Started work at 4:00 AM and worked till 8:30 PM to keep our aircraft flying.

Our C.O.  Hamilton actually congratulated us – normally we rarely see him.

August 19

Heavy rain, not doing much today. Quite a few new aircraft in, doing acceptance checks on them. These are brand new aircraft. We now hear a rest system has been devised – this isn’t a rumour this time. Camp has been set up near Bayeau – mainly for sleep.

August 20

Easy day made another tool box or trunk from ex German ammo box. Whitey left today for a 5 day rest period, he sure earned it. American tanks reported close to Paris.

***

Gazette newspaper clipping for Squadron Leader Weir

Gazette newspaper clipping for Squadron Leader Weir (source here)

CVWM page on Squadron Learder Weir

The Story of a 127 Wing 43 Year-Old Spitfire Pilot

Editor’s notes

George White, Mark White’s father, kept a journal during WWII. Mark is now sharing a new article he just wrote using this journal for our new honorary member.

1

Pierre,

I think John Le May will like this one – lots of details.

When you do your own research on Robert Stanley Weir you will find some interesting stuff. I’ll keep you in suspense and let you do your own homework!

Cheers

Mark

***

The Story of a 127 Wing 43 Year-Old Spitfire Pilot by Mark White

RCAF 403 Squadron

I wanted to share the story about the surprise visit of Winston Churchill to 403 Squadron on July 22 1944 with John Le May.

It’s a really good story, but I got sidetracked with another great story. I will share the Churchill story later.

While going through my father’s notes, pictures and the journal, I came across the story about a 43 year old Spitfire pilot attached to 127 Wing. The maximum age for Spitfire pilots in operations was apparently 28, but Squadron Leader Pilot, Ronald Stanley Weir was 43 years old. It is not a happy story. He was killed while landing a Spitfire on 403 Squadron’s landing strip at Crepon Normandy on August 6 1944.

Mark White

Introduction – Setting the Stage for the Story

127 Wing (Airfield) consisted of 403 Wolf Squadron, 416 Lynx Squadron, 421 Red Indian Squadron and 443 Hornet Squadron. D-Day was June 6, 1944.

wpid-wp-1422870069465.jpeg

403 Squadron landed on Juno Beach on June 18, 1944. 127 Wing was at Base 2 Crepon, France from June until August 27, 1944. 403 Squadron operated out of an open grass field along a hedge. Maintenance was an area in an apple orchard close to an abandoned German fort consisting of earth banks with old German WW I field guns set up to cover sections of the beach.

Setting Up Camp

No. 1 Crew – Setting Up Camp – Crepon, France

Since landing in Normandy, 403 Squadron was involved in air to air battles and ground attack missions. These men witnessed some of the greatest military battles in history. The war was all around them, and the front was only a few miles away.

 

Squadron Leader Pilot – Ronald Stanley WeirFrom the Book – “They Shall Not Grow Old”

Weir, Ronald Stanley SL(P) C1651 from Westmount, Quebec. Killed Aug. 6 44 age 43. #416 City of Ottawa Squadron (Ad Soltum Paratus). SL. Weir was flying Spitfire aircraft # MJ 741 and overshot the landing strip a Crepon, France. He turned the aircraft to port but it went into a spin and he was killed in the crash. Squadron Leader Pilot Weir is buried in the Canadian War Cemetery at Beny-sur-Mer, France.

Weir

S/L(P) –Squadron Leader/Pilot
Ronald Stanley Weir

Although Weir was killed on August 6, 1944, the story will begin on August 5. It will cover the activities of 403 Squadron’s ground crew until August 20, 1944.

The details about the war, and the details about the No.1 Crew’s activities during this period are just too numerous and too rich to exclude from the story about Ronald Stanley Weir.

Here’s the story (As Written by Hand):

August 5

Working late again. Don came back again and brought me a good 8 mm German Mauser rifle. This looks like a good one to try and get back home. Our Spitfires are a big attraction for the Army. We got another visit from the Legion Canteen – afternoon tea this time.

Spits in readiness

403 Spits in Readiness

August 6

Not a busy day, small inspections and other minor problems. Went out to see if I could find Don in the evening and had a little trouble getting to Reis, finally got a hectic ride on a motor cycle. Found that Dons 12 Field had just gone back to the front again. When I got back to camp I heard that Flt. Lieut. Weir, Test Pilot for Maintenance, had just been killed in a crash.

He was an interesting story. He had a big job with the RCAF in Canada – in charge of purchasing fuel supplies for the RCAF. When a ruling came in allowing Ground Crew Officers that could pass medical requirements to take Aircrew Training, he got his Wings and went through O.T.U. as a fighter pilot and got posted to our Airfield.

But he was over 40 years old, and fighter pilots had to be under 28 years old. So here he was in a Squadron and was unable to fly on operations, so he promoted himself as Test Pilot for Maintenance so he could check out the repaired aircraft before they were returned to their Squadrons.

He always made sure the test aircraft always had fully loaded guns with the hope that some German aircraft would come by.

When a Spitfire Squadron lands, it’s like ducks, they come falling out of the sky and make basically three point landings that don’t take up much runway length. The American pilots on the other hand, were trained in Texas, with long runways and use a less steep approach. We nearly always had a crashed American plane visitor that over ran our landing strips.

Well, Weir was coming in to land when a squad of Spits, short on fuel came rushing in. He was already committed but aborted his landing so he wouldn’t get in their way. He didn’t have flying speed and hit the ground hard enough to kill himself. We were all sad to see him gone, he had taken quite a few of the gang up for flights in the Auster that replaced the Tiger Moth that Beurling wore out.

 The Auster

About 8:30 PM American B 26 Marauder – 2 engined bomber – came screaming in on one engine and lined up to crash land (wheels up), on our netting. He was immediately waved off with red flares – he staggered on towards the beach and crashed in a gulley. Whitey and I ran about half a mile after him to see what help was needed.

By the time we got there, there was a tremendous fire. They had crashed into a fuel dump belonging to a Polish Tank Outfit. The Poles were going crazy trying to save as much gas as possible, forming lines, handing hot Jerry cans from the fire from one to another. We climbed into a shell hole on the side hill (likely made by naval gunfire) to watch developments as the center part of the fire burned out. The aircraft bomb load was exposed right in the fire. A small 1500 wt. British fire truck drove in. The crew, was dressed in asbestos suits, jumped out and started spraying foam on the bombs. We took off – no explosions occurred and the fire gradually died out or was put out.

How those Poles handled these hot cans without getting severely burned is amazing. It showed how determined the Poles were to get back at the Germans who had devastated their county.

If that aircraft had exploded on our netting ??.  The crew must have perished in the crash unless some had bailed out beforehand. They must have been in a real panic.

August 7

Another engine change, we now hold the unofficial record for the fastest engine change in the field. All the engine bolts have a small hole through the head. When it was tightened down, locking wire was attached to keep from coming loose. Slow awkward system but it works. Anyways, we beat the RAF record times we had on hand.

engine change

Engine Change

We had a funeral today at Bény-sur-Mer, the Canadian Cemetery, for Flt. Lieut. Weir. He had a real coffin. I was a pallbearer.

When I got back I took my German rifle and fired a few rounds. It works fine and is very accurate.

Americans are on the move and making good news. They have captured Lorient and St. Nazaire. Canadian 2nd Army holding the Panzers. Canada has its own official Army now, their Air Force backing consists of the International Fighter Squadrons. The Canadian Squadrons are with the 2nd Army.

August 8

Finishing up another engine change today, not much else coming in. Nice weather during daylight but damp and foggy at night. Jerry hasn’t bothered at night lately. Guess he doesn’t like the full moon with night fighters around. Spits are not used at night.

August 9

Work picking up again, means our aircraft are getting more action. Bob Askig Cpl. has now joined us. He’s a likeable sort and he fits in well.

August 10

DN-Q – another dandy mess. Tail end well shot up, pilot was lucky to get it home. Rumours that leaves are coming up, and say No. 1 Crew is in the lineup. Expect it’s the rumour mill at work again. Some guys are still hopeful that the old Burma rumour mill comes to pass.

August 11

Finishing up DN-Q – was a very tough job for field conditions. Pilot was really happy to get it back. On night guard. Jerry air raid, a couple of bombs dropped, terrific Ac-Ac fire. Lots of flares dropped, mostly over the beach areas. Army is in another major attack, Canadian casualties mounting up.

August 12

Day off. Writing letters and trying a little sun tanning.  Americans starting to make advances through a lot of relatively open country. The pincher operation seems to be working. Germans really catching it. Word is the Germans have come out in force travelling in daylight trying to escape before the door closes. This is what we have been waiting for. Our aircraft are ready to really hit them hard now.

maintenance

403 Maintenance

August 13

Went to M.O. with grindings in my eye. He had to freeze the eyeball to get them out. Our aircraft running wild, dropping their designated bombs and strafing and blocking roads. Germans are in a real retreat – not a withdrawal.

Another tough stern job on old friend KH-S, lucky to have made it back. Flights going crazy, aircraft coming and going, needing fuel and ammo, it must be hard to keep track of the score.

preparing for action

Preparing for Action 

August 14

I got called up to get a crashed Spit off our netting, his undercarriage had collapsed on landing, everyone in vicinity seemed overly excited. The crane truck came in, the crash crew got the trailer ready. I pulled the engine cover off and hooked up the crane cable, and signalled the operator to lift slowly. As the aircraft lifted and the wreckage underneath became exposed, there was a 500 pound bomb starting to dangle. I stopped the lift immediately and told the operator to hold it there. Evidently the pilot couldn’t shake the bomb loose, there was a hitch in the dropping mechanism. So he tried to bring it back, make a less than perfect landing. He must have been in a real panic landing with a fused bomb when the undercarriage failed and he skidded in on the bomb.

I got one of the crash crew to run for MacIntosh, our Cracker Jack armourer. He had joined the army when he was 16 years old and was shipped to Britain with some of the first Canadian Army overseas. His mother had complained, he was discharged and was sent home with an excellent Army training. He then joined the RCAF as an Armourer.

We were certainly free of spectators, the word had spread fast. Mac pulled the correct bomb panels and in a couple of minutes the bomb was diffused, the crane operator wiped the sweat out of his eyes, I waved the crash crew in. We lifted the plane clear of the bomb, they pushed in the trailer and I took off back to work.

No one from Headquarters or Airfield Control ever mentioned it to me, they had been in contact with the pilot and knew the plane was landing. I bet they were all hiding in their slit trenches. If that bomb had gone off, our netting loss would have really spoiled our fun and saved a lot of German lives.

August 15

Jerry aircraft are getting a little more active at night again, they don’t seem to be much help for their army, we certainly expected them to put up a much better show then they have. Perhaps the Russian Front has used up more German aircraft than was realized. Ground crew won’t complain.

We took a truck into Caen to a factory to see what useful we could scrounge but the Army said NO WAY. Dust is really getting heavy again with good weather. Aircraft are going all out.

August 16

Pat sent me some magazines in the mail. Wrote another 7 letters – all short ones. Some travelling show called the Tarmacs came in today. Something blew up near the mess, made a lot of noise. Some German long range shelling nearby. We could feel the ground shake.

August 17

Wonderful weather. Aircraft still returning with empty guns. Germans in a trap. Our aircraft ceased flying at noon – too many aircraft over target areas.

August 18

Fairly busy day. 127 now has the record for the number of sorties flown in one day. 403 has lost 8 aircraft in the last two days – we got 68 trucks today. This was the greatest day in Airforce history – German 7th Army literally destroyed. Started work at 4:00 AM and worked till 8:30 PM to keep our aircraft flying.

Our C.O.  Hamilton actually congratulated us – normally we rarely see him.

August 19

Heavy rain, not doing much today. Quite a few new aircraft in, doing acceptance checks on them. These are brand new aircraft. We now hear a rest system has been devised – this isn’t a rumour this time. Camp has been set up near Bayeau – mainly for sleep.

August 20

Easy day made another tool box or trunk from ex German ammo box. Whitey left today for a 5 day rest period, he sure earned it. American tanks reported close to Paris.

***

Gazette newspaper clipping for Squadron Leader Weir

Gazette newspaper clipping for Squadron Leader Weir (source here)

CVWM page on Squadron Learder Weir