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Lost In The RAF: Air Force, Part 55

Wing Commander John Fauquier at the controls in 1942. [PHOTO: CANADIAN FORCES JOINT IMAGERY CENTRE—PL10408]

Wing Commander John Fauquier at the controls in 1942.

It is often mentioned that 60 per cent of all Royal Canadian Air Force personnel overseas during the Second World War served in Royal Air Force units. This “fact” requires some explanation and qualification. It would probably be more accurate to say that, at one time or another, 60 per cent of RCAF personnel abroad served some part of their careers in RAF units.

If you took a snapshot of the RCAF personnel overseas in 1941, you might find that 60 per cent or more were in RAF units; that situation would not prevail in 1944, given sustained efforts at Canadianization of RCAF units. Be that as it may, there can be little doubt the Lost Legion of RCAF personnel who were in British rather than Canadian units was substantial.

The presence of RCAF personnel in RAF squadrons was debated at the time and later, and one question that came up was whether units composed of several nationalities enjoyed higher or lesser morale than more homogenous ones. Many testified that in remote theatres such as North Africa, the mixing of Britons, Canadians, Australians and South Africans contributed to the esprit de corps. Of course, much of that depended on personalities. A few RAF officers carried their class-conscious prejudices with them, and more than a few hyper-sensitive Canadians resented the patronizing term, “colonials.”

A potential cause for friction was the different rate of pay between RCAF and RAF personnel. Members of the RCAF were encouraged to buy Victory Bonds, ostensibly to help the war effort and save for a postwar world—but bond sales also narrowed the net pay differential between Canadians and their British counterparts.

Even so, occasional ill-feelings simmered. Douglas Mourton, an RAF trainee attending No. 22 Operational Training Unit (OTU) in 1941-42, remembered RCAF personnel as notorious gamblers, blessed beyond their just deserts. “We looked upon them with some envy; their pay was almost double ours, they received many parcels from home containing food and hundreds of cigarettes and other delectable items,” he wrote in a memoir titled Lucky Doug: Memoirs of the RAF, 1937-1946.

Squadron Leader Irving “Hap” Kennedy poses with his proud mother and father. [PHOTO: CANADIAN FORCES JOINT IMAGERY CENTRE—PL28533]

Squadron Leader Irving “Hap” Kennedy poses with his proud mother and father.

At an advanced stage of training, the students would be absent many hours on cross-country exercises, and Mourton and his RAF comrades took advantage of the situation. “We would go along to their billets and take a carton of their cigarettes. It seemed to be justified by the fact that we had practically none, while they were Canadians who were well provided for. In addition to receiving the same meagre cigarette ration as ourselves, they got hundreds sent by their parents and friends in Canada.”

When a Canadian OTU crew was killed, either in a training accident or occasional “shallow penetration” raid over Europe, Mourton and company would head to the post office to intercept any mail that may not have reached the unfortunate Canadians. “We went to the Post Office and told the official we were collecting the parcels on behalf of the intended recipient. After all, somebody would eventually get them. We would then cycle back to the farm and excitedly open the parcels, which contained tinned meat, chocolate and other items that were very hard to come by, in fact were non-existent in England at that time.”

Meanwhile, the battle experiences of Lost Legion RCAF aircrew in RAF units were generally similar to those of Canadians in RCAF squadrons. Typhoon pilots in Nos. 438, 439 and 440 squadrons were engaged in much the same tactical air support as their colleagues in such RAF units as No. 181 Squadron or No. 245 Sqdn.; the main difference would have been that in 1944-45 the RCAF “Tiffies” operated exclusively as fighter-bombers while most RAF Typhoon units employed air-to-ground rockets.

Wing Commander Robert C. Fumerton. [PHOTO: CANADIAN FORCES JOINT IMAGERY CENTRE—PL28865]

Wing Commander Robert C. Fumerton.

Similarities and differences also extended to experiences in Bomber Command. Both Nos. 35 and 405 squadrons were Pathfinder outfits, and Canadians in each would have more in common with one another and with other Pathfinder crews—regardless of nationality—than with aircrew flying in more orthodox bomber squadrons.

Many personnel were posted to British units and then to a Canadian one. In some cases they went the other way. John Fauquier commanded No. 405 (RCAF) Sqdn. and later led No. 617 (RAF) Sqdn. Jesse E. Cox of Kingston, Ont., was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for a 1942 tour with No. 77 Sqdn. (RAF) and a Bar to the DFC following a 1944-45 tour with No. 420 Sqdn. (RCAF). Robert J. White of Perth, Ont., having completed a tour with No. 78 Sqdn., RAF—and being awarded a Distinguished Flying Medal—spent eight months instructing at an OTU before being posted to No. 427 Sqdn. (RCAF), with which he was killed on March 30, 1944.

Among fighter pilots, Squadron Leader Irving “Hap” Kennedy scored the majority of his 13 victories with RAF squadrons in the Mediterranean theatre, but his last two were with No. 401 Sqdn. over Normandy. Squadron Leader H.W. “Wally” McLeod—the top-scoring RCAF fighter pilot—destroyed 13 enemy aircraft while with RAF units in Malta in 1942 and eight with No. 443 Sqdn. in 1944. Wing Commander Robert C. Fumerton scored the first and last of his 14 victories with No. 406 Sqdn. His other 12 victories were in the Mediterranean with No. 89 Sqdn.

Sergeant Thomas Aldridge. [PHOTO: HUGH A. HALLIDAY]

Sergeant Thomas Aldridge.

For an appreciation of the Lost Legion presence one might take a look at No. 158 Sqdn. as an example. The unit grew out of No. 104 Sqdn. in February 1942, and not surprisingly, the first Canadians posted to the new unit were former members of its parent. In all, 380 members of the RCAF served with No. 158 Sqdn., from Sergeant Thomas Aldridge, an air gunner, to Pilot Officer William Alexander Younie, an air bomber. Both men were killed in action.

Not all of them were Canadian—they included several other nationalities, including Americans and Argentinians who enlisted in the RCAF. The overall statistics are impressive. Fully 99 of the 380 were killed while serving with the squadron. Fourteen others died later with other units. Forty-four were taken prisoner—plus one who was captured while with a subsequent squadron. Eight others evaded capture after being shot down, including one who had flown with No. 158, but evaded capture while serving with another squadron. A total of 69 RCAF members were formally recognized for their work with No. 158 Squadron, from Mentions in Dispatches to DFCs.

Most RCAF casualties in No. 158 were sustained in isolated instances, but in some cases Canadians made up the bulk of those aboard an unfortunate aircraft. On Feb. 24, 1942, Wellington Z8536 was taking off when an engine caught fire. The crew jettisoned their bombs but the aircraft was caught in the explosions and crashed. Four of the six crew members killed were RCAF. Five of the crew of Halifax LK839, which crashed in Britain while returning from operations on Aug. 17, 1944, were members of the RCAF. So were six of the eight men killed in Halifax HX356, which crashed Nov. 8, 1944. Five more were lost when Halifax PN380 disappeared on a training flight, Feb. 23, 1945.

Similar figures can be cited for No. 75 Sqdn. Nominally a RAF unit, it was designated as a Royal New Zealand Air Force squadron early in the war. It began with Wellington bombers, graduated to four-engine Stirlings, and ended up flying Lancasters.

An identity card for Sgt. Robert Ernest Tod. [PHOTO: HUGH A. HALLIDAY]

An identity card for Sgt. Robert Ernest Tod.

Despite strenuous efforts to post RNZAF personnel to the unit, “necessities of the service” led many a non-Kiwi to No. 75 Squadron, including at least 148 members of the RCAF. Of these, 58 were killed in action or in flying accidents and 11 were taken prisoner. Eight others were decorated.

While it might be deemed invidious to single out any specific aircrew for special attention, the case of Robert Ernest Tod stands out for the most tragic of reasons. He was born in St. Vital, Man., on Feb. 19, 1920, worked as a miner before the war, and enlisted in the RCAF on Jan. 30, 1941. On June 23, 1941, he went to No. 1 Wireless School, Montreal, where most of his training was in classrooms and cubicles learning the intricacies of radios and Morse code.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Tod was posted to No. 4 Bombing and Gunnery School, from which he graduated on Jan. 6, 1942, now wearing sergeant’s stripes. He was posted overseas, where he trained for British flying conditions and operational methods. This included a spell at No. 14 OTU before posting to No. 115 Sqdn. Almost immediately he was switched to No. 75 Sqdn., which he joined on Nov. 6, 1942. He commenced his tour on Wellington bombers, but the unit converted to Stirlings.

Squadron Leader Wally McLeod and two other pilots salute sailors as they pull away from HMS Rodney in 1944. The airmen visited the ship during some free time from operations in Normandy. [PHOTO: CANADIAN FORCES JOINT IMAGERY CENTRE—PL30668]

Squadron Leader Wally McLeod and two other pilots salute sailors as they pull away from HMS Rodney in 1944. The airmen visited the ship during some free time from operations in Normandy.

On the night of April 10-11, 1943, his aircraft was struck by flak; the pilot ditched in the North Sea. In the words of the citation to his DFM, “Sergeant Tod worked coolly at his apparatus, maintaining wireless contact with base. His excellent work enabled the aircraft to be continuously plotted from the ground and plans for rescue to be made. The entire crew of the aircraft were picked up within 15 minutes of coming down on the sea. This airman displayed great coolness and unswerving devotion to duty throughout.”

Tod lived long enough to know he had been decorated; on the night of June 22-23, 1943, his aircraft was shot down by a night-fighter, crashing in the Zuider Zee in the Netherlands. The full crew was killed, including Sgt. Robert Ernest Tod and another gunner, Sgt. Richard Douglas Tod. The two men were twins. They had enlisted together, and their training and postings had been in lock-step with one another. The only period of separation was a two-month stretch between Dec. 14, 1942, and Feb. 12, 1943, when Richard was recovering from injuries sustained in a fall in the London subway. Both had been involved in the April 1943 ditching, and as members of the Lost Legion they shared a common fate.

One can only marvel at the minds that allowed them to fly in the same aircraft.

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