George Aitken (1921-2012)

This tribute was written in 2012.

I was paying homage to another No. 403 Squadron pilot. George Aitken was with 403 during the Dieppe Raid in 1942. I had gotten his obituary from Dean Black.

 

AITKEN, George Dennis

With heavy hearts, the family of George D. Aitken, AFC, announce his passing on January 11, 2012 at the age of 91.

Survived by his best friend and loving wife of 62 years, Daphne; his three daughters: Deborah Sprenger (Wolfgang), Heather Rawsthorne (Mike) and Dorothy Lowrie; his sister-in-law, Marjorie Aitken and many nieces and nephews.

George was predeceased by his parents, a brother and a number of life-long friends and family members. A Spitfire pilot during WWII and an Air Force Cross recipient, George spent his retirement years working as an historian, documenting facts pertaining to his experiences during the war. It was his belief that if we do not learn from history, we will be forced to relive it one day.


More on George Aitken…

Pilot Dedicates Golden Years to History of RCAF

BY EDMONTON JOURNAL NOVEMBER 1, 2005

 

The bullet from the Nazi fighter tore through the canopy of George Aitken’s Spitfire, missing him by inches. “My engine and wing were riddled with fire,” he says. “Pieces of my aircraft broke off and I began to lose height.”

The bullet from the Nazi fighter tore through the canopy of George Aitken’s Spitfire, missing him by inches.”My engine and wing were riddled with fire,” he says. “Pieces of my aircraft broke off and I began to lose height.” Aitken was flying over Nazi-occupied France with his Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) squadron on June 2, 1942, when it was attacked by a much superior number of German fighters. “I had gone to the aid of a pal who was being attacked when I suddenly found myself being fired on by two enemy fighters,” says Aitken. “My friend went down and the Nazis backed off their attack on me, probably because they were low on fuel.”I could see the white cliffs of Dover and safety ahead. But I fell to about 1,000 feet in altitude from 6,000 feet and I realized I wasn’t going to make it.”The attack on Aitken’s squadron set a record for losses by a single RCAF offensive patrol. One pilot was killed and five became prisoners of war after ditching their damaged Spitfires.”I dived out and my parachute opened immediately,” says Aitken. “I landed feet-first in the Channel, climbed into my dinghy and a motor torpedo boat picked me about 20 minutes later.”

 

Aitken, 85, who flies an RCAF flag at his home, has turned historian and is now collecting details about the RCAF during the Second World War. “My friend Wayne Ralph, who has written a book on wartime experiences of Canadian pilots, says our war is as distant to the present generation as the Battle of Agincourt,” says Aitken. “But even if we are forgotten, we will be discovered again. I want historical writers to have reliable facts.”

Edmonton-born Aitken tried to get a job in a bank on graduating from school. But he was told he would be wanted by the Forces. He applied to become a pilot and joined the RCAF in December 1940. He trained in Canada and southern England before joining the 416 Spitfire squadron at a new airfield at Peterhead in northeast Scotland in August 1941.

“The threat of a Nazi invasion was still very much on the minds of authorities,” says Aitken, 19 at the time. “Airmen were trained in the intricacies of bayonet fighting while officers practised with Tommy guns.” Despite constant patrolling, few contacts with the enemy were reported. Just as well, perhaps. “Our Spitfires had been flown during the Battle of Britain by the likes of Polish, French, South African and Australian pilots,” says Aitken. “The planes were a bit greasy. The Spitfire was one of the fastest and most effective single-seat fighters of its day.”

On August 19, 1942, Aitken, flying out of southern England, did two missions over the ill-fated raid on Dieppe. The Dieppe attack was planned as “a reconnaissance in force” to test the defences of Hitler’s continental fortress and the capability of the Allies to launch large-scale amphibious assaults. “The raid was a disaster,” says Aitken. “It lasted only nine hours, but among nearly 5,000 Canadian soldiers involved, more than 900 were killed and 1,874 taken prisoner.” The Allies lost 106 aircraft and 81 airmen, the RCAF losing 13 machines and 10 men. “Two of our 403 squadron pilots collided on the way out and are buried at Dieppe,” says Aitken. “Another of our pilots was also lost that day. “We flew back over ships lost there and the equipment caught on the rocky shorelines. The Nazis had picked it off easily.”

Aitken’s squadron later accompanied American Flying Fortress bombers on raids over France and Germany. “An extra tank was put on our Spitfires to give us an extra 20 minutes in the air,” says the former pilot. “We’d return to base, refuel and then go back to meet the bombers as they returned.” Aitken was one of many pilots who stayed with the bombers too long. It made him a rare member of both the Goldfish Club (for landing in “the drink”) and the Caterpillar Club for “hitting the silk” (ground).

“When I knew my gas was going to run out, I made for Littlestone aerodrome, near Dover,” says Aitken. “But not only wasn’t it operational, it had steel barriers on the runway to prevent landings. “Dikes had also been built on the edge of the runway for the same reason.” But he had to land. After switching off all fuel tanks and jettisoning his spare, he flew over one dike, used his wing elevators to clear another and hopped over a third. “The fourth dike was zooming towards me, I had lost numerous pieces from under the fuselage and the prop was no longer in one piece,” says Aitken. “I came to a stop with the engine teetering over the last dike.” A sergeant appeared and Aitken asked him if other Spitfires had landed there. “Not the way you did,” the officer replied with a wry smile.”

Aitken says philosophically that war should be forgotten. But pilots he flew with gave their lives to overthrow a tyranny that could have swept the world. “We should not forget them,” he says.

© (c) CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc.

 
 
BB22.jpg
Collection Robert Brookes
George Aitken
Collection Robert Brookes
2007_1115Image0018
Model of George Aitken’s Spitfire Mk IXc built by Pat Murphy

The fog of war – 25 December 1944: “Sandy” Borland (416) Shot Down by T-Bolt

Editor’s  note

This was posted  in 2011. It  was  the first  time  that I  had heard  about  such a story  before.

I am sure you browsed though Greg’s first scanned pages of his grandfather’s logbook.

“Sandy” Borland (416) Shot Down by T-Bolt

If you did then you will not be surprised to read this obituary.

In memory of Flying Officer

ALEXANDER GEORGE  BORLAND
who died on December 25, 1944

Military Service:

Service Number: J/25780

Age: 21

Force: Air Force

Unit: Royal Canadian Air Force

Division: 416 Sqdn.

Additional Information:

Son of John and Jessie Borland, of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

There were very few information about the death of this pilot…

Until Greg sent me this…

 

I was shocked when I read this entry in the logbook.

“Sandy” Borland (416) Shot Down by T-Bolt

This is a T-Bolt…

This is what I found on Google Books about the incident…

This is Flying Officer Alexander George Borland…

He was just 21..

Sandy” Borland (416) Shot Down by T-Bolt…on Christmay Day…!

Air Force Casualties

Ottawa, Jan. 9, 1945 – The Department of National Defense for Air today issued Casualty List No. 1086 of the Royal Canadian Air Force, showing next of kin of those named from Ontario include:
Missing After Air Operations (Believed Killed)

BORLAND, Alexander George, FO. J. L. Borland (father), Guelph

_________________________________________________

Air Force Casualties

Ottawa, Aug. 14, 1945 — The Department of National Defense for Air today issued casually lists Nos. 1,254 and 1,255 of the Royal Canadian Air Force, showing next-of-kin of those named from Ontario include:
Previously Missing Believed Killed, now Officially Presumed Dead

BORLAND, Alexander George, FO. J. L. Borland (father), Guelph

Click here

If you happen to stumble on this blog… Redux

Editor’s notes

Written in 2011 when I just started to write about a RCAF Squadron I knew nothing about before I met Greg Bell. This redux post is for you John. This is post number 530.

***

If you happen to stumble on this blog, then you are missing a lot…

A lot…

A lot about the history of RCAF No. 403  Squadron from December 1944 through May 1945.

This is my 44th article since September.

This mission all started with a few pictures of unknown pilots from a photo album of an little known Canadian Spitfire pilot with the RCAF.

Walter Neil Dove most probably never talked that much about the war.

His grandson had his photo allbum and his logbook.

Just one pilot was well known to me in this group picture taken in March 1945.

Johnnie Johnson.

I knew who he was.

He was the RAF top ace with 38 enemy aircraft destroyed. 

The caption from this picture scanned last week is most interesting.

Greg’s grandfather wrote it… in 1945!

That’s History!

Greg and I are on a special mission to share that part of History.

Greg is scanning and I am writing.

Greg is scanning like hell and I am writing likewise.

Nothing compare though to the hell some pilots went through during WW II…

Like Sandy Borland shot down by T-Bolt.

Sandy Borland

Sandy Borland incident

Here are some more pictures Greg scanned last week.

I said to him these would jump start our blog about his grandfather’s  photo album and logbook and increase its visibility…

 

 

***

I wish I could build this model kit for you John.

JE-J

Gil Gillis Pense, Saskatchewan Redux

Note

I wrote this in November 2013. I think the time is right to post it now since Cathy, Gil’s daughter, wrote me that her father’s logbook is nowhere to be found.

This is one of the first posts I wrote on this blog.

It was about Gil Gillis.

Gil Gillis
Walter Neil Dove collection

This is the caption with this picture found in Greg’s grandfather’s photo album…

Gil Gillis Pense, Sask

Now this is what I could find from the 403 ORBs about Gil Gillis.

Sunday, March 25, 1945

Another heavy day of flying, and not much slack time amongst the Squadron.  Five operational trips, all patrols completed.  Uneventful.  F/O F.B. Gillis force landed amongst the paratroopers and gliders across the Rhine, and was seen to land safely.  Word came through that he was safe, and would be returning to the unit.

Tuesday, March 27, 1945

A very dull and foggy day, no flying carried out in the Squadron.  The day was spent in dispersal checking maps and following the movements of the ground troops across the Rhine.  F/O F.B. Gillis returned to the Squadron, none the worse for his experience of the 25th.

Friday, May 11, 1945

No operational flying to-day, but a lot of practice formation flying was done in the area.  A beautiful warm summer day and the swimming pool is now in use.  A grand place to spend a hot sunny day.  F/L L. Foster, F/L J.C. McLeod, F/L R. Morris, F/L R.A. Morrison, F/L F.B. Gillis, F/L J.W. Gilmartin, F/O R.C. Shannon, F/O Leslie have all been slated for repatriation with the decrease of the Squadron which will soon come into effect.  P/O G.K. Lindsay has been recommended to be taken off the Squadron  for non-Operational flying.

Monday, May 28, 1945

The weather still unsettled, but warming up considerably.  Posting advice for F/L F.B. Gillis has been received for repatriation to Canada.  He will be leaving May 31st.  More practice flying, but not enough to keep the fellows fully occupied.  The Squadron is hoping for a move into more civilised parts soon, anywhere away from the desolation of the airfield.

All the above information comes from Airforce.ca Website.

Footnote

He did have a story about getting shot down and stealing a car from the Germans and driving it back to where he was stationed. He had most of the German uniform he stole from the chauffeur that was with the car. The ring, cigarette case, sword, etc. and at one time talked about a German Luger (?) gun.

 March 1945 casualties

March 1945 excerpt

403PetitBrogleMarch1945_0002 identification

Gil Gillis with captured Fw 190 – Redux

As a sequel to Hart Finley’story, something I wrote in 2011 when I knew little about 403 Squadron.

Original post

Gil Gillis was probably one of Greg’s grandfather’s best friend…

We see him in many pictures in the photo album.

 

Walter Neil Dove collection

Gil is from Pense, Saskatchewan in Canada.

One of these days, someone will google his name on the Internet and find this blog…

Come back for more pictures from Greg’s collection.

End of the original post

That was back then. Since 2011 I wrote more articles about Gil.

Click here.

Ballantyne, Finley, Buckham, Browne, Goldberg Redux

Post 405

Dean sent me this picture he had sent back in March 2012.

I always post what you share with me even if you share if twice.

Original post

More 403 pilots with this picture sent by Dean Black.

 

Collection Dean Black

James Hamilton “Jimmy” Ballantyne, Hart Finley, Robert Andrew “Bobby” Buckham, F/O J.D. Browne, Florham Park, New Jersey, F/L David Goldberg, Hamilton, Ont.

For more on Jimmy Ballantyne, click here.

For more on Hart Finley, click here.

For more on Bobby Buckham, click here.

For more on J. D. Browne, click here

For more on David Goldberg, click here

Hart Finley

Collection Dean Black

Pilot Officer (Retired) Stephen Butte, DFC, P.Eng., hcol Redux

Post written in 2011!

I wrote this post one month after meeting Greg Bell who had so much to share about his grandfather Walter Neil Dove.

Next post will be post no. 400. Read what I wrote back in 2011 about the pilot with his eyes closed on this picture.

Dad sitting first left

Collection Georges Nadon via André Nadon

Stephen Butte is most probably in Greg’s photo album which belonged to his grandfather.

I have not seen Pilot Officer Butte yet in the pictures Greg sent me.

I found this one on the Internet.

Pilot Officer (Retired) Stephen Butte, DFC, P.Eng., hcol

An Honourable Journey
Steve Butte, DFC, BSc, PEng
by Dean Black

A legendary life has come to an end. Steve Butte passed away on Remembrance Day, 2010, near Perth, Australia. The name might not be familiar, but Steve is a Canadian veteran worth knowing.

The year 1944 ended relatively quietly for Pilot Officer Butte. Like many fighter pilots, Steve preferred being alert while at the controls. A Spitfire was hard enough to handle sober; a fuzzy head at altitude was the same as a foot in the grave. Anticipating an early morning launch, Butte steered clear of any big New Year’s Eve celebrations, choosing instead to down a couple of glasses of kummel before getting some shut-eye. Of course, he had no inkling of what was in store for him the following day.

Steve Butte had joined the ranks of 403 (Wolf) Sqn at Tangmere in southern England on Saturday, June 10th 1944. He and another pilot, Ron Forsyth, reported to the squadron in good spirits. They were joined by Ken “Red” Harvey who joked he was going to enjoy working in 403, because all the squadron’s Spitfires sported his initials (KH)!

Steve Butte was born in Waugh, Alta in November 1923. He graduated from high school in Michel, BC, in 1941 and then tried to join the RCAF. “The recruiting officer told me to come back after I turned 18,” he recalled. “When the time was right, I signed up and then underwent initial training in Belleville, Ont, elementary flying training at St Eugene, Ont and service flying at Camp Borden, Ont.” With initial training behind him he sailed for England in March of 1943 to undergo operational and gunnery training.
On June 16th, 10 days after D-Day, 403 Sqn deployed to airfield B2 in Bazenville, Normandy. His first assignment saw him flying as No. 2 to F/L Andy MacKenzie. Andy quickly befriended Steve and years later would often claim he felt as “safe as a church” with Steve on his wing.
Things were quiet for some time. To keep busy, Steve Butte recalls conducting something for which Spitfires were not ideally equipped – armed reconnaissance. “The aircraft were susceptible to damage to the air cleaner while low-flying,” he said. One day in July 1944 while on patrol, Steve’s flight discovered what appeared to be German fuel bowsers – big tanker trucks – hiding in the woods. “I think I’ve spotted something big down there,” he called to his wingmen soon after catching a reflection. He ordered the others to follow him down. The flight circled around and, like Steve, dove in at the bushes where Steve had been directing his cannon fire. Together, the Spitfires wiped out a number of the huge bowsers – leaving a towering plume of smoke and flame blasting to great heights as the Spitfires dashed away at tree-top level.

Back in the bar his fellow pilots mused about how Panzer tanks near Caen had probably been waiting for that fuel because they couldn’t travel during the day due to the danger of air attack.

Steve Butte recalls that towards the end of the war he was somewhat alarmed the day he encountered a number of German Me-262 jet fighters – one of Hitler’s new secret weapons. But he also remembered how they could be terrifying to those on the ground. “They would fly at 30,000 feet so no one knew they were up there,” he explained. “All of a sudden one would hear a “poof” meaning that you had about seven seconds to find cover because the 262 had just dropped an anti-personnel mine which would scatter up to 69 softball-sized bomblets at 1,000 feet which, upon hitting the ground would explode.” One day the squadron padre was sitting in the latrine when he heard the “poof.” The padre considered his options, but only for a millisecond. He quickly jumped into the pit and lived to tell his unsavoury story.

One cloudy day, Butte was up on a reconnaissance flight over Aachen, Germany and encountered three Me-262s. His flight of 403 Sqn Spitfires was being led by the commanding officer, S/L Jim Collier. They were underneath the 262s that were in a right-hand turn. Steve and Jim engaged the enemy aircraft. Afterwards, Collier claimed the kill, explaining that the enemy pilot had bailed out and the aircraft crashed. However, Steve’s gun-camera clearly showed that he was still firing at the 262 before and while the pilot was trying to exit the aircraft. As many as four more kills were shared this way, because it was so difficult to prove who should receive full credit.

On the New Year’s morning of 1945 mentioned earlier, Steve Butte’s wing commander, W/C James Edgar “Johnnie” Johnson was having breakfast with G/C William “Iron Bill” MacBrien when approximately 40 enemy aircraft attacked their airfield at Evere, Belgium. Steve and his wingman had been scheduled for a patrol and weather-check. Minutes earlier, fellow flyers Dick Reeves and “Mac” Reeves (no relation) had launched for a similar patrol. That section reported the runway usable, so Steve Butte and Keith Lindsay started their aircraft. Just as they got airborne a few minutes before 9:00 am, the enemy force attacked. Steve tried to shake-loose his auxiliary fuel tank” to no avail. It was just as well since he later recalled being directly over the entranceway to the Officers’ Mess. Johnson and MacBrien were standing at the entranceway to see what all the commotion was about.

Before he could raise his landing gear, Butte had managed to shoot one of the attackers down. He continued to spray the formation of enemy aircraft, while he raised his landing gear, downing two more before running out of ammunition. Jim Collier recognized Steve for his courage by writing a recommendation for a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) on Jan 20th. By Jan 29th word had come back confirming the award.

It was a painting of the action that New Year’s morning 1945 that brought the memory back to Steve Butte. That day, war-artist Don Anderson, was enjoying the post-New Year’s Eve celebration walking down Sabina Street near Evere. “The Americans are flying funny today,” Anderson quipped. Then he realized they weren’t Americans at all. The black Maltese crosses painted on the aircraft convinced him that something was not right. He hurried back to the airfield, only minutes away, but by then the action was all but over. He estimates about 40 enemy fighters had attacked. He witnessed a section of Spitfires returning to the airfield, and began to sketch the scene. The pilots, he assumed, had seen the smoke from the attack, and were returning to join the donnybrook. The lead aircraft turned out to be flown by Steve Butte. “Steve,” Don Anderson recounted, “downed two of the enemy and some of the wreckage littered the very street I had been walking down moments earlier.”

On March 10th 1945 Steve Butte’s tour of operations ended. Upon repatriation to Canada he applied to the University of BC, to take up civil engineering, graduating in 1952. He married the former Marie Smith from Truro, NS. Lieutenant Smith had served as a Canadian Army nursing sister at Bramshot Military Hospital in London. After the war she worked in Vancouver and was personally chosen by Dr Ross Robertson, a pioneer in pediatrics who helped develop successful medical procedures for “blue babies.” Sadly, Marie passed away in 1974.

Steve Butte’s first engineering assignment was to the Kemano Powerhouse Project in British Columbia. Alcan, the aluminum corporate giant, was building a huge smelter for which they needed power, and the Nichako-Kitimat Project was initiated, of which Kemano was a part. The end result was the availability of two million, two hundred and forty-thousand horsepower of hydro-electricity for the production of aluminum.

Steve Butte worked for nine-years in the power phase of this project before transferring to the smelter phase. During the process he contributed to the building of a city for 14,000 people in Kitimat. He built an 80-kilometer transmission line using some of the largest conductors in the world. Thereafter he was employed with Alcan as a field engineer for nine years. He was the resident civil engineer on the Mica Dam project from 1961 to 1966. In the same capacity, he also worked on the Aishihik Project in the Yukon. This project called for another dam and underground powerhouse.

Steve Butte finally retired from engineering in 1974, the year his wife died. Relishing the backwoods lifestyle, he kept himself busy by mining for gold in the Hixon area of BC and raising donkeys and llamas. His tiny log cabin, 12-km east of Hixon, was protected by stray dogs which friends from the village would leave him, to help fend off the bears.

In 2000 Steve decided to settle with his daughter Marlene, in Bedford, NS. The work he had done with the local Legion in branches near Revelstoke and Dawson Creek back in BC encouraged him to reacquaint himself with similar groups in Halifax. He soon became affiliated with the Air Crew Association on the East Coast where he learned of the upcoming 60th anniversary celebrations scheduled for July 2001 at 403 (Helicopter) Operational Training Sqn, CFB Gagetown, NB.

As the incumbent commanding officer of 403 Sqn, I was “over the moon” when I learned that two Spitfire veterans had chosen to join us for the celebrations – Steve Butte and Aurel “Amigo” Roy. Steve showed tremendous interest in the squadron and both he and Aurel were well-received by squadron personnel. We realized that a tremendous opportunity had presented itself; our honorary colonel, James Stewart, DFC was ready to step down after having served three years in that capacity. This left the door open for us to seek someone who had served with 403 Sqn during the war. Art Eggleton, minister of national defence, and Col Marcel Duval, the commander of 1 Wing, approved our nomination and Steve was invested during a very respectable ceremony in April 2002 followed by a formal mess dinner held at the Lord Beaverbrook Hotel in nearby Fredericton. Capping off the night, squadron personnel were invited to meet Steve Butte while he autographed print reproductions of Don Anderson’s wartime watercolour depicting the scene at Evere minutes after the 1945 Operation Bodenplatte raid when Steve earned his DFC. Steve was not aware the painting existed, but had no difficulty recognizing that he could be the only possible pilot flying the lead Spitfire depicted in the painting.

In May 2002, Air Command granted me permission to travel to the Spitfire Museum at RAF Manston near Ramsgate, England along with our new honorary colonel. Local authorities had been planning a tree-planting ceremony honouring 403 Sqn personnel who had perished during the war. Honorary Colonel Steve Butte’s presence was the icing on the cake. The museum’s curator invited Steve to climb into their 403 Sqn Spitfire – KH-Z – TB752 where he spent almost an hour in the cockpit, leading me to fear we might not ever get him out. It was the first time in over 55 years he had been inside one of the iconic fighters.

On our last night before leaving England Steve asked if I could take him to Trafalgar Square in London. It became clear to me shortly after our arrival that he was reaching back to a time that for him carried great personal meaning. His wartime service, while brief, defined him in his earliest days. He had lost his father when he was only five-years-old, then his wife. Between these tragedies Steve’s service in the RCAF, culminating in his receipt of a DFC, underscored the courageous man he had obviously become. It is difficult for those of us who have not been through similar circumstances to understand how profound the impact of wartime service was on men and women of that generation.

Steve Butte and I wandered around Trafalgar Square for a while before he admitted he wanted to take a piece of it home. I managed to kick loose a small corner of the sidewalk, and it quickly disappeared into his pocket. I have often wondered if that small piece of concrete might have been worth more to him than any of the gold he might have found near Hixon, BC.

Before I relinquished command of 403 Sqn, I asked Steve if he would consider a posthumous honour for his former wing commander, Johnnie Johnson. I explained to Steve that Johnnie had been wing commander (flying) to the squadron in the days leading up to the Dieppe Raid of 1942. So impressed with Johnson were the Canadians that their commanding officer, S/L Syd Ford marched unannounced into Johnson’s office one day and tossed a couple of “Canada” flashes onto his desk. “The boys want you to wear these,” Ford explained. Johnson was visibly moved by the unusual vote of confidence. Despite the fact he was an RAF officer, he would not take the flashes down for the next two years. This story was enough for Steve to agree to my request seeking a posthumous appointment of Air Vice-Marshal James Edgar “Johnnie” Johnson, CB, CBE, DSO, DFC as honorary group captain of 403 Sqn. Steve presented the idea to Paul Burden, DFC, James Stewart, DFC, and retired Col Ralph Annis, CD – his predecessors – and they supported the idea. During the formal ceremony the squadron’s boardroom at CFB Gagetown was also named after Johnnie Johnson. Final approval for these honours came from Johnson’s two sons, Chris and Michael, who responded to our letter which had been written on the anniversary of their father’s 2001 passing.

When I reflect on these events I realize I have been blessed with a rare privilege. Meeting a veteran is itself a unique opportunity; winning their trust such that they share their stories is something special indeed. But I have struggled to understand the message underpinning Steve’s life. I finally understood what that message was, when Steve explained that not all fighter pilots were the same. Without exception, he explained, one could not help but be proud of those who mounted their aircraft each and every sortie. However, when the time came, a very small number would find some way to avoid a fight. Steve emphasized this point by saying, in this respect Johnnie Johnson was the greatest of leaders. Like Andy MacKenzie and others, Johnson would “get into it” without hesitation. Steve Butte learned from these mentors; he jumped in with both feet each and every time. It was this element of courage that defined some, placing them head-and-shoulders above the few who could not for whatever reason muster the strength. Perhaps the words of Mark K. Wells, author of Courage and Air Warfare, said it best: “…the correct blend of practical leadership characteristics demonstrated what was universally known as ‘guts.’ At the operational and tactical level of air combat, courage – and tenacity – often outweighed pure intellectual abilities”.

I now realize that “guts” defined Steve Butte; this was especially the case on the morning of Jan 1st 1945. His only regret was not being more judicious with his ammunition. “I think I just pressed the triggers and never let go,” he admitted. The main point is he didn’t run; he fired and kicked the hell out of his rudder to take out as many enemy aircraft as possible.

After the war the enormity of Steve Butte’s engineering projects speaks to a special kind of courage and tenacity. He literally moved earth and sky bringing power to British Columbia, fulfilling his wide-ranging duties with the same kind of determination that brought him great credit during the war. He truly is a remarkable Canadian, well worth getting to know.

At his most generous request I traveled to Perth, Australia, in early December 2009, to meet up with Steve once again. We spent a week together, before I had to return to Canada. His daughter revealed to me that Steve was not well, and wanted to reach out to those who, according to Steve “made a difference in his life”. Steve left behind a wonderful woman – Rona. To Steve, we extend thanks from today’s air force for setting a great example for all Canadians.

Click here for more information about this pilot.

If the link should become broken…

THE EXPERIENCES AND OBSERVATIONS OF
A CANADIAN SPITFIRE PILOT IN WORLD WAR II

By Mr. Stephen Butte, DFC, B.A. Sc., P.Eng, and Honorary Colonel of 403 (Helicopter) Operational Training Squadron CFB Gagetown

This is a transcript of an address given by Mr. Stephen Butte, DFC, B.A. Sc., P.Eng as a guest speaker at a Remembrance Day ceremony and dinner held at Halifax Royal Canadian Legion Scotia Branch 25 by the Nova Scotia Aircrew Association on November 6, 2001.

Stephen Butte in RCAF Uniform

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since the end of World War II, I have had little contact with previous wartime acquaintances and have always worked as a Civil Engineer on construction. Summertime was always the busy season and not the time to attend reunions and to make visits back to Europe, hence I literally disappeared from the reminiscing scene. My work took me to isolated areas of BC and the Yukon, usually starting from a wilderness setting to a completed project and/or industry, and when completed it was time to move on to another wilderness setting in pivotal resident engineering positions.

Some of my projects were: Alcan`s Nechako Kitimat and Kemano Hydro Electric Development: BC Hydro`s Mica Dam and associated works: [Mica Dam is the eleventh highest earthfill dam in the world]: Aishihik power development in Yukon: Denison Mines [Quintette] Northeast Coal development at Tumbler Ridge: BC Hydro’s Site C investigations on the Peace River for further hydro-electric development, and studies relating to development of possible power projects on the McGregor, Stikine, Atlin, Taya and Taku rivers in North West British Columbia and Yukon .

I moved to Nova Scotia in July of 2000, and had my first involvement in ex air force activities when I joined the Nova Scotia Air Crew Association and met the members who were primarily ex bomber crews, some of whom had been prisoners of war under the German regime. They graciously accepted me as a member although I was a bit of a rarity in these parts, a surviving Spitfire pilot; and my story unfolds as follows:

Nova Scotia Air Crew Association

Some of the Nova Scotia Air Crew Association, consisting of Pilots, Navigators, Air Gunners, some of whom were Prisoners of War in WWII.

Aircrews in the RCAF evolved from extensive training under the British Commonwealth air-training plan that took place in Canada. In 1942 the academic pre-requisite to becoming a navigator or pilot was a University entrance certificate. I acquired this in May 1941 but had to wait until November when I reached the age of 18 to be eligible for enlistment. In January 1942, I enlisted in Calgary and then started the training plan program of manning pool, initial training school, elementary and service flying schools, which ended with the awarding of wings in March 1943. A fast trip to the United Kingdom via the Queen Elizabeth (I) from the Cunard Terminal in Halifax was made in 1943 along with about 18,000 other members of the forces. At Advanced Flying Unit in the United Kingdom, Miles Masters were flown as the transition aircraft between Harvards and Spitfires, which were the aircraft flown at Operational Training Unit, also in the UK.

Cunard White Star Liner Queen Elizabeth (1)<br /><br /><br /><br />
on War Service March 1943

Spitfires are a single engine aircraft with no provision for dual instruction in the air. They were considerably more powerful than any aircraft heretofore flown by any of the students and novice pilots were usually miles from base before they got the undercarriage raised.

Spitfire

The undercarriages of early Spits did not have motorized hydraulic systems and had to be pumped up using a hand lever. This resulted in a comical performance when the aircraft responded to simultaneous motions of the left arm on the control column and the right arm on the undercarriage lever, giving a departing aircraft a porpoising flight path.

At the time of my induction, we were waiting for D-Day to happen and we spent almost a whole year traversing the United Kingdom getting further training ad nauseam in bombing, gunnery and aerial combat. Finally in June 1944, I was assigned to 403 Squadron, City of Calgary, at Tangmere, and when our airfield B2 at Crepon on the beachhead after D-Day was readied, we moved there and proceeded to support our ground forces by attacking anything that the enemy was attempting to move to the front to support the defending German forces.

We had substantial mastery of the air and the Germans complained that we attacked trucks, tanks, motorcycles, even personnel and they said that trying to smuggle anything to their lines was like trying to sneak a sunrise past a rooster. During the early stages of the invasion, the navy stood offshore and lobbed shells at the enemy lines and over the top of our airfields, so we accessed our airfields by flying low across the east end of the beachhead where numerous swamps had fewer anti-aircraft guns and no navy shells. The Luftwaffe appeared only infrequently but when they did, they arrived in large numbers and half a dozen Spits often had to deal with thirty or forty Messerschmitt 109`s and/or Focke Wulf 190`s. Even at these odds, some of our pilots managed to accrue handy scores against them.

Steve Butte and Andy Mackenzie, Trenton, Ontario, 2002

One such pilot was Andy Mackenzie with whom I formed a fighting team. Andy was our Number One and it was his job to shoot down the enemy aircraft when encountered, and it was my job as Number Two, the wingman, to ensure that nobody sneaked up behind us and shot us down. As a team we shot down over four enemy aircraft, but unlike hockey where they give assists, in combat only the guy that does the shooting gets the plaudits, and the Number Two is just an also ran. In one encounter with enemy fighters, I informed Andy that we were being attacked from the rear and he should discontinue his attack on an aircraft. Instead of heeding my warning, he continued to blast away at the aircraft and while delivering a couple of extra bursts at his quarry, a German aircraft that was on my tail was doing the same to me.

Andy did not get his quarry but cannon and machine gun bullets struck my aircraft, destroying my flap and brake systems, and a section of my left wing was blown off when the ammunition in my 20 mm cannon magazine exploded. From the pursuing German fighter, I received a hit in the tail section of my aircraft and a high explosive cannon shell exploded behind the armour plating at my back, and shrapnel fragments penetrated my leather helmet and caused a little bleeding. The ammunition in fighter aircraft was usually loaded into flexible belts with one armour piercing shell followed by a high explosive shell and so on along the belt, or any other sequence, depending on the intended targets if they could be anticipated before flight. Armour piercing shells produce holes, whereas high explosive shells produce shrapnel and fires if there is anything combustible around. Fortunately for me, the hit I received was from an explosive shell and not an armour piercing one, which could have penetrated the armour plating, located behind the pilot’s seat in a Spitfire. Throughout all of this action, the trusty Rolls Royce Merlin engine purred on, and I landed at my base without flaps or brakes.

Andy completed his tour shortly thereafter and I became my own Number One. Andy Mackenzie has the dubious honour of having been shot down twice, once by friendly American flak on the beachhead, and once by a friendly American aircraft over Korea where he spent two years as a prisoner of war. Andy is often seen on TV at the Remembrance Day services on Parliament Hill and other auspicious occasions. Look for him this time. He usually wears a wedge headwear and is accompanied by a silver haired lady who I presume is his wife.

Our daily routine of armed reconnaissances continued when weather permitted. These were armed intrusions into enemy territory to attack anything and everything that might have had military value to the enemy, including tanks, trains, trucks, roads, bridges, even dispatch riders on motorcycles, and other personnel. Before the Allied invasion on 6th June 1944, pressure was applied by the Russians for the Allies to harass the Germans on the western front to remove some of the pressure that the Germans were applying to them on the eastern front. The Allies obliged by sending armed fighter patrols to France, Belgium, and Holland as far as the ranges of these aircraft could be extended, and since these intrusions, then known as rodeos, ramrods, rhubarbs and circuses originated in England, two water crossings were involved in a successful mission.

Even a minor engine problem or a hit from enemy fire often prevented a safe return to base, and many of our experienced pilots were lost in these raids. The cost therefore was very high and in the final analysis, these raids were of questionable value, except to appease the Russians. When we were established in France after D-Day, the two flights over water were eliminated, but our jobs remained the same. We sometimes carried bombs and I recall one such mission, which lasted a total time of ten minutes. Our bombs were dropped onto a patch of forest where Tiger tanks were sheltered and our target was identified by our artillery using coloured smoke. This operation was performed in collaboration with Typhoon aircraft, which were armed with rockets as well as cannons.

Highlights of our operations occurred in 1944 at Grave, Holland near Nijmegen, when the Messerschmitt 262 jets arrived on the scene. From an altitude of about 20,000 feet, they dropped canisters of fragmentation bombs which were programmed to explode at about 1,000 feet above ground level, emitting a loud “poof”, and at the same time some 69 baseball sized bombs were thrown in all directions which in seven seconds struck the ground, and spewed fragments of hot metal against aircraft, facilities and personnel.

One of the most satisfying of our armed reconnaissances was one that I triggered by detecting a large fuel convoy disguised by camouflage in a patch of forest. The convoy was substantially destroyed by our Squadron (403) and must have been missed sorely by Rommel and his Panzers further up the line at Caen, where a stalemate in the fighting against the British and Canadians had developed. The Battle of the Falaise Gap resulted in the substantial destruction of Rommel`s armour in Normandy. Rommel himself was wounded by a flight of marauding Spits while driving in his staff car on July 17th . While still recovering from his wounds, he was implicated in the bomb plot against Hitler and was coerced by Hitler to poison himself instead of facing a trial. I flew on the 16th and 18th, but not on the 17th.

Messerschmitt 262 Jet Fighter

A humourous anecdote worth telling was the day the interdenominational padre was sitting on the throne of an outhouse privy and one of the “poofs” occurred. With only seven seconds to make a big decision, he chose to go down the hole rather than face his destruction by the anti-personnel bombs.

The ground crews, personnel who maintained, refuelled and re-armed the aircraft, dug trenches near the aircraft so they could duck into them when the “poofs” occurred. Our losses from these bombs and from aircraft taxiing into trenches were becoming excessive so we were relocated to Brussels Evere in mid October 1944. [There were several airfields at Brussels and the one at Evere was discussed in detail in books regarding the German attack on Allied Airfields and also the history of their famous fighter group JG 26]. Another reason we had to leave the airstrip at Grave, Holland [a grass covered field] because heavy rains flooded it and it was not possible to differentiate between a pool of water on the surface and a trench three or four feet deep, and aircraft often taxied into the latter.

Mudhole at Grave, Holland, Sept. 1944

On Christmas Day 1944 during the German’s Ardennes Offensive – the famous Battle of the Bulge, we intercepted three of the enemy Messerschmitt Me 262 jet bombers from KG 51 on their way to bomb our airfields and destroyed one. This was another ‘also ran’ performance on my part, and although the film from my Cine Camera record showed strikes against the aircraft and the Luftwaffe pilot Hans Meyer bailing out, others took credit for the kill. [Cine Cameras recorded the action whenever our guns were fired. Hans Meyer died next day from wounds incurred in this event].

During the autumn of 1944, the Germans, in great secrecy, mustered every available fighter aircraft in an attempt to inflict heavy losses upon the Allies by attacking many of the Airfields in Holland, Belgium and France. The attack was planned for New Year’s Day, 1945, when the Allied Pilots were supposedly hung-over from their New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Code named Operation Bodenplatte (the German word for Base Plate); the New Year’s Day attack achieved almost complete surprise at most of the 23 Allied airfields they attacked, and with total surprise at our airfield at Evere. Both sides lost many aircraft and while the Allies replaced their losses swiftly, the Germans could not replace theirs, and especially the experienced pilots lost.

At about 9:20 AM on New Year’s morning 1945, at the ripe old age of 21 years, plus two months, minus six days, I was taking off on a dawn patrol into a total “overcast of aluminum” comprised of hordes of enemy Me 109’s and FW 190’s. Since we were 20 minutes from enemy territory, disbelief in what was before me was erased when I saw the unmistakable black crosses on the wings and fuselages and swastikas on the tails of the aircraft ahead of me, and I saw my cannon strikes on some of them. There was no time to reflect or try to keep score against such tremendous odds. Avoiding collisions and dodging debris from some of my victims kept me fully occupied. I do not know how many of them I might have winged when I fired into this large mass of planes — estimated about 60 aircraft over a small aerodrome going in all directions with guns blazing — and I still wonder how many might have succumbed on the long way back to their bases.

According to the enemy versions of the attack, the attacking pilots had not seen me and my Number Two taking-off. They were concentrating on trying to destroy other Spits that were taxiing to the runway for take off, or those that were parked in neat rows at the various squadron dispersals. We were negligent in not anticipating an attack of this sort and magnitude, and the aircraft on the ground suffered severe losses. In the melee, my extra fuel tank refused to jettison and it probably impeded the performance of my aircraft, but on the plus side it’s refusal to jettison probably saved the lives of our Group Captain, “Iron Bill” MacBrien, and our Wing Commander, Johnny Johnson, who were just leaving the Officer’s Mess after breakfast. The mess was on the flight path of my aircraft and by not being hit by my fuel tank, they were able to record events as they transpired. Our Squadron Leader, Jim Collier, also observed the action from the ground and he reported that I had started shooting before my undercarriage had been retracted, usually the first operation after take-off.

I ran out of ammunition after I shot down three of them, but was then attacked by two Focke Wulf 190 Doras — long nosed versions of the 190`s – with inline as opposed to radial engines — who were bound and determined to get themselves a Spitfire that day. But by some fancy footwork on my part, I was able to evade them. At one stage, I was within 20 or 30 feet of one of the 190’s and contemplated breaking off his tail with my wing but decided against it when I remembered that a second aircraft was back there somewhere. More fancy footwork on my part, and when the two of them were ahead of me, I made my escape. The attack was all over in 10 minutes, but present day historians are still actively researching the records and memories of the still surviving German pilots who were there. Like us, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, etc have taken their toll, and there are not many left after almost 60 years. Other members of the 403 squadron, returning from patrol, got into the fringes of the battle, and three of us got 6 of the attackers.

Messerschmitt Bf 109 Fw 190-D

For my performance on New Year’s Day, 1945, I was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and my citation is recorded in the Air Ministry Archives in London, and may also be seen on the Internet under RCAF Personnel, Honours and Awards, 1939 to 1949. My citation reads as follows:

One morning early in January 1945, Flying Officer Butte was detailed to fly the leading aircraft of a section on a sortie over the battle zone. Just as the formation became airborne a large force of enemy fighters attacked the airfield. Flying Officer Butte immediately engaged one of the enemy aircraft shooting it down. A second and yet a third attacker fell to his guns before his ammunition was expended. He was himself then attacked by two fighters but outmanoeuvred them. In this engagement against a vastly superior number of enemy aircraft Flying Officer Butte displayed great skill, bravery and tenacity.”

Investiture by Governor General Massey,<br /><br /><br /><br />
Vancouver, Canada 1946
Distinguished Flying Cross
Distinguished Flying Cross
Courtesy of Veterans Affairs Canada.

Brussels Evere was a marshalling point from which German aircrews that were shot down or otherwise captured were kept in custody pending being transported to other locations in the western world to serve their incarceration. During my times off while serving at this base, I used to visit with these personnel and shared goodies with them (cigarettes, chocolates or whatever I had), and most of them asked the same questions: “Why are we fighting you people? We should be fighting together against the Russians!”

Brogel, Holland in March 1945 Stephen Butte at Petit Brogel, Holland, March<br /><br /><br /><br />
1945

Spitfire pilots have their moments of glory to be sure, but much credit for winning the war must be handed to the crews of bomber command who endured hours of anguish en route to and from German cities such as Hamburg, Berlin, Regensberg [home of the Messerschmitts], Schweinfurt [ball bearings], Peenemunde [home of the rockets, missiles and wonder weapons], Ploesti [oil fields], Vemork near Oslo [heavy water for nuclear research], and many others, and delayed if not halted the research on and development of numerous ‘wonder’ weapons.

Historians tell us that as late as March 1945, [remember that V-E Day was May 8,1945], Germany had so many potentially destructive weapons being manufactured or planned, we now realize the value of the work the bombers did. The operational concepts of some of these new weapons were validated at least two years earlier. Among these weapons was a long-range Junkers Ju 390 bomber that actually penetrated to within twenty miles of New York City in 1943. The capability of delivering lethal ordnance, [military weapons], to distant targets against which there were no known cures or antidotes was clearly demonstrated. In the case of the V-2 and later multi-stage rockets, they travelled in excess of the speed of sound, reached 60 miles above the earth in their flight and gave no advance warning of their arrival. Towards the end of January 1945, Russian forces over-ran some worked out coal mines in Silesia and discovered secret factories where Tabun nerve gas and its derivatives Soman and Sarin, [the gas that was used in the Tokyo subway a few years ago], were being prepared and stockpiles of 100,000 bombs and one million artillery shells loaded with these gases were found. The Allies were appalled by this discovery, since there was no cure or antidote if exposed to these gases. One can conjecture about the ultimate disposition of these weapons, even to this day. The toxin Ricin, whose notoriety almost 60 years after the war is a threat to the world without vaccines or antidotes, is a derivative of these substances. Development of these weapons was one of the best kept secrets of the war.

Many of the furloughs enjoyed by the Allied Forces in the United Kingdom were spent in London, where most of the available amenities could be found, subject to rationing. I recall standing at Piccadilly Circus numerous times and observing American Bombers returning from their daylight raids, [Americans bombed during daytime, British bombed during night time] many of whom were barely above the rooftops. Many were struggling on fewer than four engines to remain airborne and were missing parts of wings, tails and had otherwise perforated fuselages. Unseen to observers was the carnage that must have existed within these aircraft from the wounded, dead and dying. Many of these aircraft must have been oozing with blood. The boys rarely talk about such things but they occurred also when Bomber Harris’s RAF and RCAF crews returned from their night raids to their bases scattered mostly in the rural midlands of the United Kingdom.

It was customary in the UK to listen to BBC radio each morning to be told that last night our Mosquito aircraft bombed Berlin and all of the aircraft returned safely. [Mosquitoes were very fast and usually were able to elude pursuing enemy fighters]. Towards the end of the war, none of the Mossies were returning, having become victims of the faster Messerschmitt 262 jets each armed with R4M rockets, four 30mm cannons and the EZ 42 automatic gyroscopic gunsights. Also a new aircraft type, the Heinkel He 219 night fighter, took a heavy toll of Mossies before its use was discontinued for obscure reasons. Hitler’s intervention against the development of the Messerschmitt Me 262 as a superb fighter helped the Allies` cause immeasurably. In September, 1944, when Germany had only about forty 262’s operational and when six of them destroyed fifteen American four engined bombers in 15 minutes, Generals Spaatz and Eisenhower reported that such losses could become unbearable in the near future. For each heavy Allied bomber aircraft lost there were 10 crew in American B17 Flying Fortresses and B 24 Liberators, and 7 in Lancasters and Halifaxes respectively. On March 31st, 1944, headlines four inches high announced that 95 of our aircraft were missing after a raid on Nuremberg the night before. The actual figure was about 120 lost when aircraft damaged beyond repair are included.

It was necessary to destroy the German war effort in 1945 against the protestations of the bleeding hearts of the day that contended that Dresden and other German cities should not have been firebombed when Germany was supposedly down and out. What happened on the 11th of September this year could have happened 56 years ago. The Germans had the capability to do it and during the last year of the war were probably desperate enough to try it. One can only ponder the consequences of a September 11th type of attack or worse during World War II against America, Britain and other countries whose soldiers were engaged in the fighting in Europe, while their countries, homes, and families were being devastated by deadly weapons of mass destruction which could have been delivered by aircraft, submarine or missile.

The Germans were masters at concealment, and by dispersing and moving their armament production facilities into abandoned mines, forest factories and new underground facilities, they were able in September 1944 to achieve their maximum fighter plane production of the war when 1800 units were built. Shortage of fuel and heavy operational losses of aircrew prevented the building of any significant reserves. Indeed, they were so short of fuel that they utilized cattle to tow some of their jet aircraft from the dispersal area to the take-off point to save fuel that would have been consumed in taxiing. Since the underground works were not vulnerable to bombing, it was necessary to destroy the cities where the workers lived to curtail production.

Why did we do what we did during the war? This is the question often asked by those who were not there. The emaciated faces and bodies of those at Belsen, Auschwitz and Buchenwald and the experiences of those at various prisoner of war camps or stalags tell the whole story.

Another group that deserves much credit for their contribution to the war effort was the merchant navy who were mauled by the subs and practically ignored by King and country for their efforts.

And for the ladies, tonight’s the night. Give that Bomber boy an extra special hug; he deserves it. And for the rest of us who made it back and as the twilight of our own years approaches, let us give our fallen comrades the remembrance they deserve.

A post war serial on television used the lines:

“There are 12 million stories in the Naked City”.

This has been one of them.

Thank you.

Stephen Butte's Business Card

Tommy Todd Redux

I have posted a few articles about Tommy Todd on this blog.

This was the first one. He was just a name and a picture in Walter Neil Dove’s photo album and a story that I had found on the Internet.

For those who never read it I am posting it again.

Tommy Todd

Walter Neil Dove collection

Start

Who is Tommy Todd?

Standing on the wing of a Me-109
Walter Neil Dove collection

If you want to know more about this pilot…

Click here. 

It’s great reading.

On August 20th 1943, Canadians flying Spitfires arrived here from Lashenden as their runway needed repairing. Lashenden was not used again until 1944 when P51 Mustangs flew from there.

The two Canadian Squadrons were 403 and 421, led by Wing Commander Johnnie Johnson CB CBE DSO DFC DL. He finished the war as the RAF ace destroying 38 German planes. He was the only Englishman in the Canadian Wing, and he led both squadrons. He has visited us since the war and shown us the logbook he used when flying from here.

Every man, both pilots and crew, was under canvas. Briefings always took place in a large wireless-type vehicle parked under an oak tree opposite Weeks Farm. After briefings the pilots were taken aboard a utility van to their Spitfires which were at dispersal points around the airfield. Johnnie Johnson would always walk with his black Labrador across a field and over two ditches to his plane, which had the initials ” JEJ” on both sides. These are frequently seen on airplane kits to be found in model shops. I always looked out for these letters when the planes returned from operations in France. From here they flew sorties carrying small bombs to drop over France. They strafed landing barges, trains, airplanes and anything that moved. The Spitfires also escorted bombers. Many other planes had to land here due to fuel shortages etc.. On one day 13 Flying Fortresses had to land because of fuel shortage or damage. We saw most types of planes landing here with some problem or purpose!

Soon after the Spitfires arrived one of the Canadian pilots, Flying Officer Thomas Todd visited Kingsden – my home, to ask my mother if she would accommodate his wife while he was stationed at the airfield. He had married a 19-year-old Welsh air controller called Val in Swansea. The answer must have been “yes” because they both moved in with us and remained until October 1943. Toddy flew a Spitfire that had the squadron letters AUT on the fuselage (another one I always checked for on their return). One particular morning Toddy had overslept and was woken by his batman calling him from under the bedroom window. Having no time to dress or eat breakfast, with only five minutes to spare until he was due at briefing, he pulled his uniform on over his pyjamas, and went off to cause havoc over France – if only the enemy had realised!

They would fly up to three missions a day, weather permitting. Toddy flew as wingman to Johnnie Johnson and his successor; this meant he had to protect the tail of the Wing Commander’s plane, with a great risk of being shot down. This must have helped Johnnie Johnson to become the Ace! There were very few accidents or losses while the Spitfires were here. Johnnie Johnson left here on September 9th for a course in preparation for D-Day. His place was taken by Wing Commander Hugh Constant-Godefroy until October 14th 1943, when with much regret the squadron left for a permanent base for winter at Kenley. Val returned to Wales to await the birth of their baby, and later sailed to Canada to stay with Toddy‘s family. During his stay with us I had taken photographs of Toddy and Val, and my mother had taken one of me with them. We each treasured these photos for 47 years until we met again. In 1990 they came over from Canada to visit Val’s family in Wales, while over in the U.K, they came to visit us and take part in the service held in September at the memorial in Bedlam Lane for Battle of Britain Sunday. There they were joined by the next generation of pilots of the same wing. The young pilots had flown over from Germany for the ceremony (and did so for a few years afterwards). We shall never forget the sight of these youngsters cornering Toddy at Elvey Farm, where we had gone for tea. They were so interested in his Spitfire flying experiences. We have remained close to Val and Toddy and have visited them three times at their home to the north of Toronto. Toddy was shot down 6 weeks before the end of the war and was taken prisoner. He should not have been flying that day, but had offered to take the place of a young pilot who was exhausted. He records his dreadful experiences in the hands of the retreating German soldiers and the Hitler Youth for his grandsons. They can be read in the blue covered book.

Another pilot who joined the Canadians while they were here was a bit of a loner, a rebel. Johnnie Johnson had been asked to take him into the squadron and try to straighten him out. He couldn’t, but tolerated him as he was an excellent pilot. Unfortunately he would not fly as part of a team. If he saw the enemy he would fly off and deal with them himself, usually successfully, and often outnumbered by them! I remember so well how he would go off in a Tiger Moth Bi-plane trainer during the evening. He would go up very high, and then he would put the nose down and let the plane float down in a dive. This was called “the falling leaf’. He would recover just before reaching the treetops and go up again. He was asked – perhaps told – to stop this activity or face a courts martial. He did it again but the Canadian Commissioner let him off, as he was such a good pilot! His name was George Beurling known as “Screwball” Beurling or “Buzz” Beurling.

As far as I remember there was no enemy activity over here during the summer of 1943 in daylight, there may have been some after dark. No bombs were dropped on airfields around here. During that time the young airmen took part in ” Evasion Exercises” which they called “ringo” operations. The object was for the pilots of 126 Wing at Staplehurst to try and find a way into the Headcorn (127) Wing airfield and vice versa. The following extract from the diary of D.R. Matheson shows it was a welcome break from the busy operational flights they had made that summer.

“…Commanding Officer Ian Ormeston and I had been dumped out of the back of a truck in the general area. From there we pinched a bike and found our way to the vicinity of Headcorn Airfield. We crept up through the barbed wire and eventually got into the airfield. You may know that we were all living in tents at that time. Ormeston and I crept into the tent of Group Captain William McBrien, the 127 Airfield commander. We stole some of his clothes, then we stole his Station Commander’s car. We were considering the theft of his personal Spitfire but found it to be too closely guarded. We drove his car out of the main gate, getting the appropriate salutes from the service police on guard and returned in triumph to Staplehurst. Later that day a whole assortment of other pilots arrived back. One flew into the airfield in a Tiger Moth, while another arrived in a new Spitfire 12 stolen from another airfield.. ……”
He later adds that this seemingly “nonsense” training was put to good use two months later when he found himself an evader in France!

Prior to all this on October 17th 1940, in this area, a Hurricane crashed after being shot down from above the clouds by a German ME109. We heard the cannon fire and knew that it was a German plane firing, as the RAF did not have cannons. The Hurricane whistled like a bomb through the clouds and exploded on hitting the ground. A local airman home on leave, possibly Bob Turk, Dick Weeks’ cousin collected the pilot’s scattered remains.
He was Sergeant Pilot Atkinson -just 19 years old. His identity tag was later found in the crater. The Rolls Royce engine remained 12 feet down until it was dug up in 1975. Later in 1940 two very large bombs were dropped within this area, one made two craters, the other made three, the latter measured 90 yards around the perimeter and the earth was piled up around it.

On October 12th 1940 a ME109 tried to hit Headcorn station but the bomb missed, exploding close to “Chantry” the home of Frank Foreman’s family in Oak Lane. Frank’s mother, his 22-year-old sister Mary, his Aunt, Blanch Munn and the gardener, Walter Tassel were killed. Lawrence Woodcock had been delivering bread there and was fortunate enough to crawl, badly shaken, safely out from the rubble.

Occasionally in daylight during the winter of 1942/43 ME109s used to nip over here with one bomb each to attack Ashford station and strafe the streets. During that winter, Tom Milgate, Bergan Harper and I attended Ashford Tech for farming classes every Friday. The Germans seemed to know we would be there on Fridays. One particular day we were on our way back to the tech after visiting Hansons, the famous fish and chip shop, when there was a great deal of noise as we reached the High Street. A German fighter was strafing Bank Street, it was too late to take cover but we survived!!

A Flying Fortress with engine trouble was the first American plane to land on our field on February 15th 1944. One of the crew remained on guard and I went over to view it. The guard showed me all over the inside, a wonderful experience for a plane mad lad of 15 and a half.

On April 12th 1944 the American 362 Fighter Group consisting of Squadrons 377, 378, and 379 flew in with 87 Thunderbolt fighters. 84 were painted green, 3 were unpainted. About 2000 personnel accompanied them, all living under canvas. I believe the senior officers lived in the commandeered houses along Bedlam Lane. The Americans arrived very well organised, but the one thing they had not planned, was where to empty their latrines (loos). Murray Mitchel at Burnt House Farm had mostly poultry and some market garden produce, tomatoes and cucumbers. The cucumbers were grown on ridges with gullies between each row. It was in these gullies that the latrines were emptied, and in the same gullies the local women stood to cut the cucumbers, poor souls!

Where the Brookgate Caravan Park is now situated in Bedlam Lane there stood four dwellings, known as Brookgate Cottages. Due to the danger of being situated at the end of the runway they were demolished in 1943. Ironically on June 13th 1944 a Thunderbolt piloted by Lt. Curtis was taking off west to east when his plane caught fire. He kept it on the ground, running off the end of the runway where he came to a halt in the road between the two sharp corners a few yards from where the cottages had stood! Lt Curtis climbed out only seconds before the fuel and the bomb the plane was carrying exploded, leaving a large crater in the road.

The Americans flew two or three missions a day weather permitting The fighters acted as escorts to bombers with whom they would rendezvous over the channel. Because of the distance to the targets, they would carry extra fuel tanks holding 100 gallons under each wing which could then be jettisoned, allowing them to leave the bombers and hasten home, faster and lighter. In the mean time another group of Thunderbolts would take off with extra tanks to meet the bombers and escort them home. These Thunderbolts were also able to carry one tank under the fuselage and two 5001b bombs under the wings. The belly tanks used here were brought over from America in plywood packing cases to protect them while in transit. They would dive bomb the marshalling yards, trains, bridges, tunnels, and barges on the rivers Rhine and Moselle, airfields tanks and lorries on the road, besides aircraft in the air.

Alan Palmer 2004

End

This blog about RCAF 403 Squadron will never end soon if people keep writing comments.

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They would fly up to three missions a day, weather permitting. Toddy flew as wingman to Johnnie Johnson and his successor; this meant he had to protect the tail of the Wing Commander’s plane, with a great risk of being shot down. This must have helped Johnnie Johnson to become the Ace!

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Walter Neil Dove collection via Greg Bell

Tommy Todd Revisited Redux: the Sequel

Post 321

This post is for you Andrew.

This has happen so many times since 2011 that I have stopped pinching myself.

Andrew Todd contacted me!

Andrew whose grandfather was Tommy Todd left more comments…

I don’t know how you found me but I am sure glad you did! I feel like I know you somehow but can’t figure out the connection.

If you start reading this blog from the start, I know you will start pinching yourself then stop pinching.

Andrew had written a comment on this blog in December 2011, but he had never contacted me again…

Tom Todd is my grandfather.  These pictures are new to me.  I am at work and have to keep it together but feel overwhelmed with emotion so I will have to look at this later in private.  Thanks for posting this.

Walter Neil Dove collection via Greg Bell

Many people contacted me since 2011 and they shared memories and pictures.

I posted everything!

This is why this is Post No. 321.

Captain Foster’s son wrote me, Van Sainsbury’s son wrote me, someone who knew Gil Gillis wrote me. Peter Lecoq’s son wrote me…

Dean Black, who is a retired air force Lieutenant-Colonel with 30 years’ service in the Canadian Forces, wrote me and share tons of information,

George White’s son wrote me and he wrote articles about his father… 

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Tony Cannell was the first person to reach me on this blog…

He knew Tommy Todd as well as his wife Val and he shared a story.

Walter Neil Dove collection via Greg Bell

I knew Tom Todd very well and despite the fact he was older (I missed the war by two years) he was my best friend.

I took him flying occasionally in light planes in the early sixties. He loved that and would sometimes recall some of his wartime experiences while we tootled around the skies west of Ottawa, or later around Maple Airport north of Toronto.

One incident he recounted was of flying a rhubarb, busting trains etc. He and his friend Izzy Isbister were warned to stay away from the Rhone Valley because of the intense flak in the area. Unfortunately, in their haste to get away after intense activity and getting low on fuel, they mistook the Rhone for another river and flew through some heavy flak. Leaving the coast, Tom could see cannon shells hitting the sea just behind Izzy just ahead. Taking evasive action, they were lucky to get out of that little mess with, no doubt, a great sigh of relief !

Other little incidents were just as interesting too !

Tom was a very quiet,  unassuming and wonderful friend.

Tony Cannell

I wrote this on Tommy Todd.

Click here to read my article. 

Someone else had written a story about Tommy Todd. I just copied it because I did not want to lose that precious story found also in Walter Neil Dove’s precious logbook.

F/L Todd Shot Down by Flak North of Emmerich

Walter Neil Dove collection via Greg Bell

Toddy was shot down 6 weeks before the end of the war and was taken prisoner. He should not have been flying that day, but had offered to take the place of a young pilot who was exhausted.

I had told Greg I was going to write about Tommy Todd once again so he revisited his grandpa’s photo album and Greg found this…

Walter Neil Dove collection via Greg Bell

Walter Neil Dove collection via Greg Bell

To be continued…?

There is no end in sight about what we can discover about RCAF 403 Squadron especially since Andrew is going to contact Karl.