Before I get to the purpose for creating this e-book and CD, I would like to give you a brief outline of my career as an Administrative Clerk/Accountant/Typist/Bugler at funerals etc. From the date of my joining the RCAF on my 18th birthday, on August 25th 1941, until my discharge and back to civvies on March 16, 1946. One week at Valcartier, then two months at the Manning Depot in Quebec City, in the bugle and drum band parading up and down the main drag to show how smart we looked in our brand new government issued uniforms. Then came November and that meant a posting to a Kittyhawk Fighter Squadron in Dartmouth on the East Coast, under the command of Squadron Leader Hartland De M. Molson, who had just returned from fighting in the Battle of Britain as a fighter pilot with the No. 1 Fighter Squadron.
Shortly after my arrival, I was paraded in front of the CO and was offered a promotion to become an air gunner, which I immediately declined. Then came an offer that I could not refuse, to work in the Orderly Room as a typist under the Chief himself. This lasted until August 1942 when I had to decide once again on a choice of posting. Pat Bay, about 3000 miles away from Ottawa or Overseas. I chose the latter which would probably give me a chance to travel all over the British Isles. So, England it was.
I crossed over in October 1942, and arrived at Gorrick in Scotland, parked right next to the Queen Mary, then traveled by train next day right through to Bournemouth. A couple of weeks there and I was eventually posted to the 401 Squadron at Kenley, Surrey. We moved a few times during the next 18 months until the 2nd TAF was formed and the 127 Wing was part of it. We spent a week or so at Salisbury Plains to waterproof the vehicles and wait for D-Day.
On the night of the 5th of June 1944, the sky was filled with a thousand bombers heading for France, and then we realized that the invasion of France was imminent. In fact, when the sun rose a few hours later, it was indeed confirmed by our Commanding Officer and the BBC that the invasion had started. D DAY had arrived. We finally moved out of that muddy hole about a week later and got aboard a large TLC which brought us to the other side of the channel and JUNO beach. There was no mistake about where we were, right in the middle of air attacks by the Luftwaffe which kept us pinned under our trucks loaded with jerry cans filled with gas)
So, we finally left the beach and traveled a few miles inland to our destination, a landing strip which was named B2 (Brazeville) or Crepon, just a couple of miles from Bayeux and a couple of miles from the front lines. This was to be our home for the next 5 or 6 weeks or until there was a breakthrough at the front, whichever came first. Who can forget the contrast between the daylight hours and the constant rumbling noise coming from the front, and the flares dropped by Jerry during the night over our airfield. Who could also forget the CO’s Great Dane roaming around the camp all night long and accompanying anyone who had to use the facilities, a two-seater with canvas around it. On a more serious side, one of the chores I will never forget was loading the casualties arriving from the front on DC3’s. This was a daily ritual for a couple of hours after supper. It was heartbreaking to say the least.
As soon as the Allies broke through and captured airfields, we moved. Paris, Brussels, then Holland to an airfield called Grave (Near Ravenstein} not far from the Nimegen Bridge. The name GRAVE was very appropriate, it almost became the resting place for more than a few civilians and also wounded some of our own members, thanks to the regular 4″oclock visit by Jerry’s secret weapon, a Jet Fighter called the Me 262. Surprise, Surprise…nothing could reach them, by the time the order was given to the RAF Regiment to fire their Bofors, the jet was already 50 miles away. This situation forced us to leave in a hurry and move back to Brussels where we spent the winter of 1944/1945, incidentally the coldest winter on record. How cold was it you ask, I guess you know the answer involving the brass monkey.
During my stay at Evere (a few miles out of Brussels) I had the privilege of working for W/C Johnny Johnson as a clerk in the Intelligence Section, typing the daily reports on the pilot’s previous day’s activities. I had the pleasure of having breakfast with the “Air Commodore” when he attended the Fighter Pilot’s Association annual reunion here in Ottawa some 25 years ago. He invited my wife and I to his room at the Chateau Laurier. Some members had received special invitations to take part and meet with former pilots and attend certain functions as a barbecue at Andy Mackenzie’s residence, that was quite a night to remember.
This CD is dedicated to all airmen , ground crews and air crews who served under the 2nd Tactical Air Force , particularly with the 127 Spitfire Wing. Regrettably, many have died while serving in Europe and many more are no longer with us in this year of 2010, 66 years after D DAY. The photos on the CD are mostly memories of my four and half years in the RCAF, (3 years and 2 months overseas) Many veterans of Normandy will no doubt remember the visit of Winston Churchill a couple of weeks after D Day and some members of the 127 Wing will also remember the unexpected visit of General Eisenhower and Field Marshall Montgomery at our airfield in Germany a couple of weeks before the end of hostilities. The General took time out before his meeting to sign autographs and also walked all the way to the other end of the airfield to meet with American POW’s just released from Stalag 11B and personally taking notes while talking to the GI’s. Some of them had been wounded in battle and had not received any treatment. Our own Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King also showed up in Normandy to visit the troops.
There were some good times to talk about The 2 weeks at Goering’s Strand Hotel (his personal cottage) on Steinhuder Meer, and who can forget Paris, Brussels, London, Bournemouth, Edinborough, New York City, etc. Other good spots that most servicemen in London will never forget….Covent Gardens , the Opera House turned Dance Hall for the benefit of the troops, the corner pubs , and more importantly the Sally Ann, (Salvation Army) where one could go in at any time and find a warm meal and a place to sleep while on leave. Another name comes to mind, Irving Berlin, that diminutive but giant composer of so many patriotic songs like the one we saw that night at the London Palladium “This is the Army Mr. Jones”. While on embarkation leave in 1942 a couple of airmen were invited to lunch at the Waldorf Astoria with Xavier Cugat (I have his autograph somewhere on the menu which was about 18 inches high by 12 inches wide. I only brought back the bottom half with his autograph.
Non-stop music during the working hours was heard on all the military bases with artists like Vera Lynn, George Formby, American Orchestras, Glenn Miller, Guy Lombardo, and many other well known singers of the era. It certainly was a morale booster. We cannot forget listening to Lord Ha Ha from somewhere on the other side of the channel with his nightly broadcasts reading the list of newly-captured aircrews. There were also many sad reminders of the devastation caused by the daily attacks by the German air force on London and other large cities. The courage demonstrated by the British people during those long war years was an inspiration to all of us.
However, the best moment had arrived, boarding the Queen Elizabeth 1 (along 15,000 others) for the return to Canada, via New York City, Lachine, then my arrival at the Union Station in Ottawa on the night of December the 9th, 1945 with my family waiting for me. The rest is history.
John (JB) Le May