Where’s the original Halifax “A”, serial NA337?

Another story written by Clarence Simonsen about nose art.

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Where’s the original Halifax “A”, serial NA337?

During WWII Jeff Jeffery DFC, flew the Handley-Page Halifax across the English Channel thirty-two times between July and Christmas Eve of 1944. Most of his operations were completed in his Halifax B. called “EDDIE’S NIGHTMARE”, serial number MZ603. The nose art featured a red Gremlin riding a bomb while firing a machine gun.

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Original photograph

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Replica nose art completed for Jeff Jeffery in 1996, C.A. Simonsen

The Halifax Aircraft Association was formed by Jeff Jeffery DFC, and a group of fellow RCAF veterans in 1994, partly in response to the very controversial 1992 CBC series – “The Valour and the Horror.”  The Canadian producers had tricked a few RCAF veterans into giving interviews and then turned their own words around and called them murders. These same RCAF veterans carried both physical and metal scars from their air war experiences, and now another Canadian generation had insulted and betrayed them. The anger and frustration ran very deep among all of these WWII veterans with an average age of 75 years and they realized Canadian education was required.  Jeff Jeffery – “We felt that having a plane to exhibit to future generations would tell our story better than anything else we could say or write.”

Canadian Airlines pilot Karl Kjarsgaard was involved with Yorkshire Air Museum and the rebuild of a Handley Page Halifax “B”, using the composite of three original bombers. Beginning in 1980, during pilot layovers in England, Karl would scrounge all over Europe looking for Halifax parts. In 1994, Karl met with two Norwegians in Oslo who had a lead on WWII Halifax aircraft parts. During this meeting he was offered the salvage rights for one complete RAF Halifax “A” Mk. VII, serial number NA337. This was not the same version flown by the RCAF in WWII, but with the addition of the mid upper turret and a H2S blister under the belly it could become a Halifax “B” bomber. The WWII Halifax transport aircraft had been shot down on 23 April 1945 and was now resting 225 meters below the surface of Lake Mjosa, 115 kilometres north of Oslo, Norway. Karl at once notified Jeff Jeffery DFC, President of the Halifax Aircraft Association and the plans to raise NA337 from her icy depths grave of the past 49 years began. Karl became Vice-President and Project Manager of the recovery, with the actual high-tech operation beginning in August 1995. On 15 August 1995, the tail section was pulled to the surface followed by the remaining fuselage and wings of the aircraft on 3 September. The transportation to Canada, and ten year restoration has been published around the world many times, however there is a hidden history which I will now describe.

The driving force behind the salvage of this Halifax was Karl Kjarsgaard, who first received a grant from Veterans Affairs for $100,000 and was able to hire the salvage company in June 1995. This saved time and got the ball rolling, plus Karl negotiated with many Norwegian officials, including the salvage company who needed $320,000, while the Halifax Association had only raised $250,000 to this point. Karl convinced them to begin the salvage operation in August before the remaining funds could be raised. When the dismantled Halifax arrived at Trenton, which took four trips by C-130 Hercules, the project restoration could begin. The object was to have every part of the aircraft restored to working order, which included reconstructing a good portion of the bomber. Karl Kjarsgaard attended the Imperial War Museum in London and copied the 700 pages of manufacture’s Halifax blueprints, at his cost of $20 per page.

For a number of years, I had been repainting replica WWII nose art on original wartime aircraft skin, which proved to be very hard to find. As a member of the then named “Nanton Lancaster Museum” I had been given some original skins from the WWII Lancaster, Avro Anson, and Bolingbroke aircraft in their scrap yard. In a meeting with Karl, I asked what they were doing with the old Halifax skins during the restoration at Trenton. They were all being sold for scrap. I ask if he could get me some, then I would paint replica Halifax nose art and they could be returned and used to educate the history of RCAF nose art in WWII. The very best and most RCAF nose art was painted on the Halifax bomber during WWII. 

This began a new chapter unknown to most people, but approved by Jeff Jeffery and the H.A.A. eight directors who had all flown the Halifax in WWII. Karl would select good Halifax aircraft panels and place them on a flight to Calgary. I would paint replica WWII nose art and return them to Karl, which was paid in full [return cost] by Karl.

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Pilot Karl in Calgary 1997 with early nose art replica.
All nose art was based on original WW II Halifax RCAF images.

 

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Beginning in 1996, I completed a total of thirteen WWII RCAF Halifax nose art images , all painted on original NA337 skins salvaged by Karl from the scrap bin in Trenton, Ontario. This is a sample of five original nose art panels painted and returned to Trenton for educational display.

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My thirteen replica nose art paintings were selected from my research and featured the most famous images painted on the Halifax B. aircraft during WWII. This image was painted by “Canada’s “greatest nose artist, Mat Ferguson from Calgary, Alberta. This was Halifax serial LV951 shot down 13 August 1994, over Braunschweig, Germany. This was the last panel delivered to Trenton in 1999.

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One original RCAF WWII nose artist LAC Albert “Muff” Mills,
also completed three nose art panels which were delivered to Trenton in 1999.

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LAC Muff Mills in 1943.

Alberta Edward “Muff” Mills was a well known RCAF nose artist who served with No. 428 and 408 squadrons in England during WWII. He created a wartime RCAF comic strip which was centered around a British character name “Cecil.

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The comic strip pocked fun at the British climate, the food, the language, the meaning of British terms, and most of all the members of the R.A.F. Muff created a large range of British characters who joined Cecil in his daily miss-adventures, and the strip became a huge hit with the Canadians in U.K.

 The character “Cecil” would also be painted on the nose of two RCAF bomber aircraft by Muff in 1943. In the postwar days Muff became an art director in Toronto where he resided until 1985. In 1989, I made contact with him at his retirement home in Cambridge, Ontario, and we became friends. In 1993, I ask him what it was like to paint nose art in England, and the reply came in this painting. That was “Muff”, always full of surprises, jokes, and fun to the very end.

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In 1993 this surprise painting arrived from “Muff.”

In the spring of 1996, Muff informed me his wife and two friends would be coming to Alberta in July, to see the Nanton museum and share a few beers with me. When I told him about the replica nose project which Karl and I were involved with, Muff ask if I would mail him a skin panel from Halifax NA337.

 In the evening of 24 July 1996, Muff, wife, and a close RCAF friend Ernie and his wife Mary arrived at my home. On the Halifax skin I had sent to him, he had recreated the WWII nose art of his comic strip character “C for Cecil” which would be presented to Nanton museum the following day.    

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C for Cecil

Muff at my home in Airdrie, Alberta, 25 July 1996.

On his return home to Cambridge, Muff became involved in repainting his forgotten WWII Halifax nose art. Karl Kjarsgaard shipped the original Halifax skins from Trenton to Cambridge, Ontario, and Muff was overjoyed to be back painting his WWII nose art. Muff worked from his WWII original sketches he had completed in England 1943-44, and now recreated his long lost Halifax nose art. After completing three nose art panels he drove to Trenton to present his art and see the Halifax restoration in person.

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This painting was completed by Muff for my 2001 nose art book and later I donated it to Bomber Command Museum of Canada at Nanton, Alberta.

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Left is the original sketch done by Muff in England 1943,
and his new nose art completed for H.A.A. Trenton 1999.
 

The total paintings completed for the Halifax Aircraft Association in 1999, reached 16 nose art replicas, [13 Simonsen and 3 Muff Mills] then the leadership began to crack at Trenton. This part of the story needs to be told correctly by Karl Kjarsgaard, however Karl shared enough info. With me, which made it very clear, a fight for leadership developed over the use of money and policy. Karl became involved in the crash site of Halifax LW682 in the summer of 1997 and that had gone against the wishes of the President and Directors. This caused a division among the members and like a family feud some took sides while others remained silent. Next came the decision on what the Halifax aircraft would be restored [a Halifax “A” or “B “] this also caused minor problems. In short Karl was shown the open door and told not to come back. He felt just like a man who comes home to find his wife in bed having sex with his best friend. He packed his bags and left.

Forgotten by the infighting was the fact Karl was also the main force behind the nose art project, and no one replaced him.  It died that day, and I have no idea where the 16 paintings are, or if they will ever be used. While Karl was hurt deeply, he said very little, however Muff Mills was also hurt and vented much more disappointment his art and history would never be displayed. As Muff said “the directors were all pilots and I’m, just an “Erk.”

We have all heard the saying – “When one door closes, another door opens” and that is exactly what occurred. Karl still had veteran friends in Trenton and he continued to drive from Ottawa, pick original Halifax panels from the garbage bin and fly them to Calgary, where I picked them up.  Just like Karl, I started over again, repainting some of the same images of RCAF nose art I had originally painted for H.A.A. in Trenton.

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Today the Nanton Lancaster Museum has become the “Bomber Command Museum of Canada” and they process the largest original skin from Halifax A. Mk. VII, serial NA337, thanks to Karl Kjarsgaard. He also saved one half upper wing section of panels from NA337, in its original condition. This replica nose [and tail] art collection of RCAF Halifax history totals 57, each one painted on original skin from NA337. Due to this historical link with original bomber skin, the collection is appraised at $87,000, again thanks to Karl.

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I still find it impossible to believe the very RCAF veterans who flew the Halifax in WWII could not see the huge advantage to saving and using “their” nose art to educate future generations. This is a no-brainer in U.K. and United States. 

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When used properly, one original panel from Halifax “A” NA337 can educate the future generations of Canadians, preserved WWII RCAF history and become a memorial for the young men killed in the Halifax bomber.

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Photo from Karl Kjarsgaard 1995, Jeff Jeffery with rear escape hatch from Halifax NA337. 

The rear escape hatch from Halifax NA337 was the first section of the bomber to be found and recovered from the Lake in Norway in 1995.

During the course of the entire war 1,849 RCAF members survived to exit their wounded bomber over enemy territory. I believe it is a fair guess to estimate at least 300 used the rear escape hatch.

In 2002, this hatch was cleaned, restored, and partly repainted as a memorial to the 9919 RCAF aircrew that were killed in Bomber Command during WWII. It is estimated that over 40,000 Canadian aircrew served in Bomber Command and 8,240 [or 20%] of these RCAF aircrew were killed on active operations. 

For every 100 airmen who joined the RCAF Bomber Command during 1942-43, 38 would be killed on operations, 8 would become a POW, 3 would be wounded, 7 would be killed in training, and 3 would be injured in training accidents. From the original 100, only 41 would survive to return home and most were affected by the physical and mental scars of what they had seen and done during the air wars.

During the peak periods of March 1943 to March 44, mostly the Battle of Berlin, the fatality rate in Bomber Command jumped to 60 killed out of 100 airmen who enlisted. During combat operations 51 would be killed and another 9 killed in non-operational training flights.

Hidden in this massive causality list is a line that states – “Missing presumed dead.” Over 20,000 Bomber Command airmen have no known graves and this includes 3,072 Canadians.

Many aircrews attempted to reach their escape hatch, but the forces prevented their escape from their twisting, diving, out of control aircraft. I felt this was a fitting memorial to the 9,919 RCAF aircrews killed while serving in Bomber Command of WW II. Their sacrifice in the air wars, gave us all the secure lives we enjoy and take for granted each and every day.

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Conclusion

The salvage, restoration, and display of the world’s most technically correct Handley-Page Halifax “A”, Mk. VII, was truly a magnificent achievement. However, this RAF version was a glider tug and paratroop aircraft and not the Halifax B. [Bomber] that most members of the RCAF flew and died in during WWII.  The veterans decided close was good enough, and that was ‘their’ right, so be it.

To see a correct vintage Halifax “B”, Mk. III, associated with most Canadians during WWII, you must travel to the Yorkshire Air Museum and tour LV907, “Friday the 13th. Reconstructed from the fuselage of Halifax Mk. II, HR792 and the wings from Hastings, TG536, it is a true representative of what Canadians and other members of the RCAF [Americans, Dutch, and French] are associated with.

To see the nose art that flew on the RCAF Halifax in WWII, you must go to the War Museum in Ottawa. They hold the second largest collection of original aircraft nose art and the largest collection of original RCAF Halifax nose art in the world.

Neither the National Air Force Museum of Canada at Trenton, Ontario, [with Halifax NA337] or the War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario, [with original Halifax nose art] tell the true history of WWII RCAF nose art or honor the men who painted the aircraft during WWII.

To learn that you must go to the website of the Bomber Command Museum of Canada at Nanton, Alberta, and view their nose art replica collection.

Albert [Muff] Mills passed away on Wed. 7 March 2007. In 1999, Muff had completed three nose art panels for display in Trenton, beside the Halifax A aircraft. He was working on his fourth painting titled “Erk” when the Halifax Aircraft Association began their infighting. This was never delivered to Trenton, and remained in his private collection.

In November 2010, Muff’s daughter, Mrs. Jan McEwin donated her father’s complete art work, depicting the life in the RCAF during WWII, to the Air Force Museum. This collection also contained one nose art titled “Erk” which he never delivered to Trenton. Will the history and paintings of this wonderful “Erk” ever be told and shown to Canadians? I hope so.

Today in Canada, we do not have one museum dedicated to the history of RCAF WWII nose art or to properly honor the artists who painted aircraft during the terrible conflict.

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Muff Mills [1923-2007]

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9 thoughts on “Where’s the original Halifax “A”, serial NA337?

  1. Only those who are utterly ignorant would dare to call RCAF veterans murderers. The same holds true for the veterans of all the Allied air forces. They weren’t bombing “defenseless” civilians. The Allied air forces were bombing citizens of aggressive countries, citizens who powered their countries war machines and who fully expected to enjoy the fruits of their countries’ conquests.

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