Where the idea of the poppy came from…
John McCrae was a physician and amateur poet from Guelph, Ontario. Following the outbreak of WWI, McCrae enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force at the age of 41. He had the option of joining the medical corps based on his training and his age, but volunteered instead to join a fighting unit as gunner and medical officer. McCrae had previously served in the Boer War, this would be his second tour of duty in the Canadian military.
McCrae fought in one of the most horrendous battles of WWI, the second battle of Ypres, in the Flanders region of Belgium. Imperial Germany launched one of the first chemical attacks in history, attacking the Canadian position with chlorine gas on April 22, 1915. The Canadian line was broken but quickly reformed, in near-constant fighting that lasted for over two weeks.
Dr. McCrae later wrote to his mother, describing the nightmare. “For seventeen…
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Clarence Simonsen has been a precious contributor to the mission I started in 2009 to preserve the past… Every time I get a chance to share and add more information I do.
Today I have an update for you to read at the end of this original story about a flying turtle posted in 2014.
This is in fact three stories in one. Group Captain Dunlap was an outstanding RCAF Officer, who served [exchange duty] with the RAF in 1935, and for this reason understood the British and thinking of the pre-war RAF. He was one officer who was not afraid to express his true point of view and give a blunt reply to everything. He was in fact – “a man’s man” and did everything he could to serve and take care of the members under his command. When he arrived in North Africa and was informed [by RAF Command] the best landing strips had been taken by the RAF, he was determined his Canadians would not take second best or fly at night from the mountainous regions the British had picked for him. By the use of the barter system and some booze, he persuaded a Major in the American Engineers to build two dirt strips next to the RAF units, then informed the RAF Command to supply his three RCAF squadrons. This saved Canadian lives, [including French-Canadians] and showed the British the type of Canadian officer who was in total command of his RCAF squadrons.
The creation of No 420 and 425 Wellington desert nose art began at these two dirt landing strips, thanks to LAC Skip Rutledge. In a crazy twist of fate, the official war artist [Paul Goranson] also recorded the same Wellington nose art as painted by Rutledge. This would make an impressive educational display if we only had a nose art museum. Other paintings by Goranson capturing the air war in the desert are in storage in the War Museum but will they ever be shown? This is a simple case [but very rare] where unofficial nose art and official war art can be combined to educate.
The power of nose art can be clearly seen in the little slow Wellington bomber, which set a record in No. 425 with 46 consecutive operations. This was all due to the fact the French Canadian ground crew took extra care of their “Slow but Sure” bomber. My replica turtle painting has never been published before.
Over to you Pierre.
All my best in the New Year.
Here is another gem post from Clarence Simonsen. This time it’s about RCAF Squadrons in Tunisia in 1943.
A French Canadian Turtle with Wings
On 22 June 1942, an organization order was issued authorizing the formation of Canada’s fifth RCAF Heavy Bomber squadron in England. No. 425 squadron came into existence three days later at R.A.F. Station Dishforth, Yorkshire, England, a unit in No. 4 Group of Bomber command. What made this squadron unique in the wartime RCAF history is the fact it was formed as a French Canadian unit and its ranks filled by French Canadian air and ground crews. They picked the motto “Je te plumerai” [I shall pluck you] and the nickname Alouette, the official badge showing a sky lard bird in the hovering position.
Centuries before, their French ancestors the Gauls, used this same lark bird image as the official tribe emblem and engraved it on their battle helmets in time of war. No. 425 began training in the Vickers Wellington B. Mk. III bombers in August 1942, with eight crews flying the first operation to Aachen, Germany, on 5 October 1942. On 1 January 1943, the French Canadian squadron joined eight other squadrons to become No. 6 [RCAF] Group of RAF Bomber Command. By April 1943, the Alouette Wellington aircraft had successfully bombed Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Mannheim, Bochum, Hamburg , Cologne , Essen  and a third trip to Duisburg, Germany, on 26 April 43.
On 3 April 1943, the British Air Ministry asked the Canadian Government to approve the use of three experienced Wellington RCAF squadrons for the invasion of Sicily, named Operation “Husky.” On 10 April, No. 420, 424 and 425 Squadrons were selected to become part of No. 205 [RAF] Group, 331 Wing, flying new Wellington Mk. X bombers which were tropicalized for use in the heat, sand, and frequent dust storms of Tunisia. No. 331 Wing was officially formed on 7 May 1943, under command of Group Captain Clarence Larry Dunlap, a pre-war RCAF officer.
Group Captain Clarence Rupert Larry Dunlap 1943
Upon arrival in the theatre of operations [21 June 43] G/C Dunlap was informed it would be impossible for the Canadians to operate out of the planes of Tunisia, as this space had been claimed by three squadrons of the RAF under No. 331 Wing.
No. 70 RAF Squadron had taken over Kairouan/Temmar on 25 May 43, No. 40 RAF Squadron had moved 10 miles north to occupy Kairouan/El Alem, on 28 May 43, while No. 37 RAF Squadron was located south at Kairouan/Allami on 30 May 1943.
No. 331 Wing RAF in West Kairouan May 1943
The new Canadian RCAF commander of No. 331 Wing was not impressed when the British informed him he would be operating further south-west in the mountainous region between Algeria and Tunisia. Thanks to some lost poker cash and a few bottles of Scotch whiskey, two new RCAF dirt airfields were constructed in four days by a Major in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. G/C Dunlap then informed RAF Mediterranean Air Command Headquarters the RCAF would be located in the Tunisian plains and the RAF should find the means to supply his Canadian squadrons with fuel, ammunition and food. The British reluctantly agreed, and the Canadians prepared for air war in North African.
The Canadians of No. 424 Squadron moved into Kairouan/Pavillier, while members of No. 420 and 425 Squadrons took over the new landing strip at Kairouan/Zina on 23 June 1943. The two new dirt landing air strips were only ten miles apart and thirty miles from the Mediterranean coast city of Sousse, much safer for the Canadians returning from night time operations.
By 25 June 1943, No. 425 Squadron was declared operational and flew their first operation on 26/27 June 43, when they joined No. 420 Squadron attacked the airstrip at the town of Sciacca, then continued with raids on other ports in Sardinia and Sicilian airfields.
photo Floyd Rutledge
LAC Floyd “Skip” Rutledge joined the RCAF on 17 October 1940, and after training as an air engine mechanic was posted to No. 3 SFTS at Calgary, Alberta, for practical experience in his trade. In April 1942, he was posted to his first active squadron No. 420 [Snowy Owl] at Waddington, Linc. , England. Here he painted his very first RCAF nose art on a Handley-Page Hampton Mk. I bomber, which featured a native Indian in full head dress.
Skip arrived at Kairouan/Zina air strip on 23 June 1943, and began working on the new Wellington Mk. X aircraft in the extreme 120 F desert outdoor conditions. During his tour in North Africa he painted at least five Wellington aircraft with RCAF nose art. [Possibly including Wellington bombers in No. 425 Squadron, he could not recall?]
This impressive stork with the tail of a Wellington bomber was painted for No. 420 [Snowy Owl] Squadron at Kairouan/Zina, air strip in August 1943. [photo Floyd Rutledge] The 2003 scale replica was painted by Simonsen and today hangs in the Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alberta. This original stork sketch done by Skip in North Africa 1943, was also donated to Nanton in 2010 by Simonsen.
In August 1943, official war artist Paul Goranson painted this Wellington nose art of No. 420 Squadron bomber “Scarlet Harlot” which he titled “Bombing Up a Blockbuster.” This was sketched at Kairouan/Zina featuring pinup girl painted by nose artist “Skip” Rutledge. This painting is today in the War Museum collection or photo PL47565.
This is the original Wellington nose art by Skip Rutledge, photographed by him in August 1943, North Africa, Kairouan/Zina.
The three RCAF Squadrons based at Landing strip Kairouan/Pavillier [No. 424] and Kairouan/Zina [No. 420 and 425] would produce impressive Canadian Wellington nose art paintings.
S/L Joe McCarthy, DFC, No. 424 Squadron, Kairouan/Pavillier, 28 September 1943. [PL18385]
F/Sgt. Art Jackson [Vancouver, B.C.] F/Sgt. B.H. Tremblay, [Montreal] and F/Sgt. Joe Ross, [River Bend, Quebec] admire their No. 425 Wellington Mk. X bomber “Chat-an-ooga-choo-choo” nose art. 31 August 1943. [PL18303]
From the very first operation flown on 26/27 June 43, one “Alouette” Wellington Mk. X bomber code “X” for X-Ray, HE978, immediately acquired a reputation for being very slow, most often the last bomber to land at base, but always coming home. Night after night this Wellington KW-X flew different crews to Mediterranean targets, always returning very last, but never acting temperamental like some bombers in the squadron. The air and ground crews began to feel a kind of condescending confidence in this slow aircraft, with the ground crew slowly getting over their feelings of inferiority. Soon they were lavishing extra hours of repair work and attention to the engines of their slow bomber.
Wellington ground crew –
Cpl. Andre Lupien from Lac a la Tortue, Quebec.
LAC Yvon Monette from Montreal, Quebec.
LAC Eric Merry from Vancouver, B.C.
LAC C. Schierer from Ponoka, Alberta.
After each operation the ground crew painted a small orange bomb for night operations, and as the bombs mounted, they spoke with subdued pride of ‘their’ aircraft. When the Wellington was shot up the same ground crew worked all the next day to have her ready for the next night operation. When the Sicilian campaign ended their bomber had not missed one single operation, a 425 Alouette record of 32 consecutive trips to Sicily, which they proudly boosted about. Pilot Officer Armitage from Miniota, Manitoba, was the bomb aimer on many operations flown in the Wellington bomber, and he dreamed up the idea of giving her a nose art name “Slow But Sure” taken from Aesop’s fable of “The Hare and the Tortoise.” Next came the nose art image created by P/O Armitage, who was assisted by all the ground crew in painting the new art on the left nose area. The nose art became a winged turtle holding one large bomb in her claws.
With the capture of Sicily, it was intended that No. 331 Wing would be disbanded and return to Britain by the end of July 1943. This date was moved back to 15 September 1943, and the Wing would now take part in the invasion of Italy.
Wellington “Slow But Sure” was now flying day time operations bombing the Foggia Italian airfields, railway yards in Naples, and rail and road junctions of Salerno. These targets were now painted with white bombs on her nose, and she was no longer looking new, with her life span now measured in hours. The big surprise was the fact her bomber performances kept improving and in her last four operations, she was in the first group of bombers to return to base. On 15 September 43, the little “Turtle with wings” made her 46th consecutive operation to bomb Italy, but on return her bearings were worn out. She was taken off operations and ordered to a salvage unit. While looking at their bomber, the ground crew decided she should be given a D.F.C. for all those record making operations. Between the last row of bombs a DFC ribbon was painted with her nose art.
[Photo PL18351] records the top left [ground crew LAC C. Schierer] four aircrew and bottom ground crew – L to R LAC E. Merry, Cpl. A. Lupien and LAC Y. Monette. These were the very proud ground crew who painted the impressive record of 46 operations [32 night and 14 day] plus the little “Turtle with Wings” nose art.
On 30 September 1943, the three RCAF Squadrons of No. 331 Wing pull up tents and move to Landing Ground #33 at Hani East, Tunisia.
This RCAF “Moving Day” was captured in another official water color by war artist Paul Goranson, 30 Sept. 1943. Today this painting remains in storage in the War Museum collection in Ottawa. [photo image PL47563]
No. 425 Wellington B. Mk. X, “Blues in the Night.” Left to Right – P/O J.E. Leigh, F/Sgt. R.S. MacKay, Ferdinand le Dressay and P/O C. L. Spooner, 31 August 1943, [PL183303]
The nose art images on the Wellington bombers of No. 425 Squadron continued their fight until early October 1943, when the Germans retreated further north in Italy and the front line was stabilized. On 27 October 43, the members of RCAF No. 331 Wing boarded their troop ships and returned to home bases of Dalton, Dishforth and Skipton in England. Their trusty Wellington Mk. X bombers with Canadian nose art was left behind for the RAF units and forgotten.
The little “French Canadian Turtle with Wings” was slow but sure, and to the men who flew in her and came home, she was no Aesop’s’ fable, but a large part of No. 425 [Alouette] Squadron history in North Africa.
This little story of the Flying Turtle begins in the spring of 1943 at the Wellington squadron in Yorkshire England. While on one of my leaves from the squadron the rest of my crew volunteered me to go to North Africa as a replacement crew for one the 3 squadrons that were already there for the Africa Campaign, Since the wheels were already in motion I could not back out. This meant that I had to change my plans to get married (that is another story) since they wanted me to get ready to go right away after embarkation leave.
My crew and I arrived at a base in southern England and were equipped with tropical gear and khaki uniforms and a brand new Wellington aircraft, so new in fact that we had to put a number of flying hours on it in order to iron out the bugs. Our route was from the southern tip of England across the bay of Biscayne, which was patrolled by German long range aircraft, around Spain and make landfall at Port Lyauti in Morocco, North Africa. After refueling and equipping the engines with sand filters we took off for Algeria which was to be our main base.
From our main base we were taken by truck to our squadron which was on an old lake bed in the desert with sand runways. All the “buildings” were tents of various sizes and the latrines were holes in the ground with a fence around them. Not a very inspiring site having left the comforts of England a couple of days ago. We even had to pitch our own tent which held four and was to be our home for an indefinite period. Water was a scarce commodity which had to be trucked in from a town about 10 miles away, Needless to say showers were few and far between until were able to rig up a pump to a well built by the Germans (the previous owners).
The next day I was “introduced to my aircraft,” a beat up dusty Wellington that had seen better days in contrast to the shiny new one I brought down (no doubt a senior officer had that). We “air tested” our new X for Xray and confirmed it was not in very good shape. A check of the records showed that it had suffered some damage on a previous operation and was very slow compared to other aircraft, however it did fly and the engines sounded good.
After a few raids over Italy it was confirmed that it was slow with a bomb load but seemed ok after we dropped our bombs and we could keep up with the rest of the squadron. I then suggested that we should take off a little earlier than everybody else in order to get there at the same time, The CO granted my request. My bomb aimer suggested we should name the aircraft the Turtle. We all agreed and had an “artist” on the squadron design and paint a picture of a turtle with wings carrying a bomb and the inscription “Slow but sure.” A picture of a bomb was added for each operation the aircraft made. The whole operation was such a success that after about 46 trips we decided that the “old lady” deserved the DFC so it was painted on her nose along with the bombs. It was pointed out later that the stripes on the DFC were angled the wrong way but I don’t think the old lady would mind.
The Flying Turtle was retired when her engines were “time expired” and due for an engine change. After the war I heard a group of children commenting on a comic book about war exploits and about a flying turtle. Sure enough it was about my aircraft. A war correspondent that was covering the North Africa campaign heard the story and submitted it. Along with a couple of pictures.
Hope this is what you want. If not I will try again. Good luck on your project.
Ex F/L H. Elliott CD
Pilot Officer (in 1943) Hewitt Elliott’s crew
Armitage L. K. J/21471 P/O Bomb Aimer
Cairns K. Sgt. Navigator
McPhadden S. S. Sgt. Wireless Air Gunner
Ouellette D. Sgt. Rear Gunner
The soldier sleeps – in distant foreign lands,
Beneath the ice or shifting desert sands.
An airman in the sun-split clouds.
The sailor in his watery shroud.
Their sacrifice, in time is lost,
With scant appreciation of the cost
Lest we forget.
A comment left earlier in April…
My Great Uncle Alfred (George) Berkeley is listed in the names of the lost. George was killed while at his station at the Y gun he was 19. The first torpedo hit. George was new to the ship, so there are no pictures of him on board. I have uploaded a picture of George on the Virtual Canadian War Memorial. The HMCS Athabaskan was sunk while engaging German Ebling class torpedo boats that had attacked and killed over 1000 CDN/US and British service men, while on maneuvers called operation TIGER practicing for D-DAY off the coast of England. I had also met many survivors here in BC in the late 80 and early 90’s. they all had very different memories and trauma. I also have a personal letter from Len Burrow the author of the Unlucky Lady. What a great generation.
LEST WE FORGET
Link to the Canadian Virtual War Memorial
I wrote this earlier in April. I had asked his relative to look for great-uncle George on these two photos shared by Herman Sulkers’ son.
I know it’s not easy to find one of the greatest generation.