Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum Canada 150 Project


Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum
Canada 150 Vignette –  080 of 150
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan

A World War II Memory - Sam & Glen Merrifield Part 5​​
  
Sam and Glen Merrifield continue to give us their recollections of work
and social life at the Pocklington Air Base in Yorkshire, England.
 Part 5 - During the summer of 1941 I remember being sent on a crash party to a field atop a cliff on the English Channel near Plymouth. One of our aircraft had made it home to England with maybe a hundred feet to spare and belly landed. It was well shot up and we had to go and retrieve our command set crystals and other gear before it was sent to the repair depot. We were a party of two, the AEM being an RAF lad who had at one time lived in Plymouth. We went down by train and then took a bus through the city. It was a sight to see the center of the city where little remained but a pile of rubble. From the upper deck of a city bus you could see over the rubble as far as two or three roads either side. After our work at the aircraft we had the evening to spend and went to a Pub. My mate was very despondent at seeing his city in such a shape and proceeded to get drunk. I did not drink and for each of his beers I had what the British call a mineral water. To this day I do not know what it feels like to be drunk but I do know what it feels like to be full. The night ended up with no bed available so we searched out a police station and spent the night on the benches in their poolroom before catching the train home next day.

During our time in Pocklington we spent most of our time away from the airdrome in the City of York, about twenty miles west of our drome. The DeGray Ballroom was a favorite but sometimes we went to the Co-op Ballroom. Mostly we sampled the fare at the Willow Cafe and spam & chips kept our hunger at bay as this was all that was regularly available. The Rialto cinema and the White Swan Pub were also places we gathered to meet and greet friends.

During the heat of the summer of 1941 someone, I forgot who, decided it would be a good idea to get our heads shaved, like we did when we were kids. Sam chickened out but Tom, Hutch, Roxy and I had it done. It did not take us long to realize our mistake when we learned that it portrayed the serving of a sentence in a Military Glass House or Prison to the British public. The part of the public that worried us - the gals in the dance halls and many never believed it was just a prank.

At this period, after cross country or operational flights IFFs were removed and kept in our section stores under armed guard. One night when Sam was doing the pickup in our van, which had a high workshop as a box, he ran into and damaged a Wellington mainplane. Against orders, one of the aircrew had left an a/c on the perimeter road during the fog. Sam did not have a chance as all vehicle headlights were partially blacked out and visibility was very limited. Our van's box was knocked off square but we got it back to normal nearly and it stayed like that until the end of the war. Needless to say there was an investigation and both Sam and the crew were questioned. While we awaited the outcome and the blame laying a stroke of good fortune appeared. During a practice session of circuits and bumps another Wellington pancaked and the Starboard mainplane was not damaged. A quick swap was made and all breathed easier.

Shortly after the repaired aircraft was lost on a training flight with Armstrong, one of our Wireless Mechanics aboard. All on the aircraft were lost so we thereafter questioned the wisdom of a major structural change in an airdrome.

During the fall of 1941 we had a half dozen RCAF types from 400, 401 & 402 Squadrons come to get some experience and training on Bomber equipment. These lads had been in reserve prewar but had no time on equipment other than command sets for R/T (radio telephone), which at that time were the TR9F, or fighter equivalent. Our kites had much more, including long range wireless sets, the T54 & RSS. As a result of this extra manpower, Tom, Hutch, Roxy, Sam and I were able to get away on leave together and went to Aberdeen for a leave that included New Years and Tom met his future wife Margaret at the New Year’s Eve dance.

Fall periods were often foggy and when flying was not possible, our work load was light. Our Cherie called the shots and days off were common as parades and other military dressings were unknown on operational stations. The mail started to come more regularly and parcels were getting past the submarines and were a treasured delight.
Often we pooled our supplies and had section parties which were much enhanced by Roxy Lawson and his four string tenor guitar leading the sing song. Sam bought a violin and after a few practice sessions was prevailed upon to get rid of it.

Our first newspaper "hound" attacked us in February 1942 and the write-up headed ‘’Manitoba men'' etc. tells it better than I could. (Transcribed to the right.)
  

Manitoba Men Help ``Keep `Em Flying’’ In Overseas Force
BY The Canadian Press
A ROYAL AIR FORCE STATION SOMEWHERE IN ENGLAND

Feb. 13 (1942) - ground crews are the forgotten men of the air force. The men ``behind the lines’’ in Britain’s air war, they play a silent supporting role in keeping the big bombers in the air. Their work never brings them into the headlines but they are ``tops’’ with the men who fly the machines and there is a kind of mutual admiration among them.
     A bomber is as good as the ground crew. Fliers can’t feel safe in the air unless they have confidence in the men who service their machines on the ground. (unreadable)… when in the company of officers of the Royal Canadian Air Force Wellington aircraft when stationed here. It is imperative to have very good ground crews—and we have.
     Ground crew with the squadron come from all parts of Canada. They come from all walks of life to join the air force and come to Britain.
     A group warming themselves around a stove in a base dispersal hut represented each of the three Maritime provinces, Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. Their only complaint was that bad weather was keeping their planes on the ground and there wasn’t enough work to do.

All Westerners
     The group included L/AC. Pat Collings, Lethbridge, Alta., who has a brother Allen in the Canadian army; L/AC. Jim Coulson, Edmonton; AC George Shearer, Saskatoon.
Inside one of the big hangars on the rambling aerodrome, wireless electrical mechanics were at work on defective radio sets. L/AC. Norman Lawson, 22 year-old Winnipegger who would like to be posted to Russia, and Cpl. Tom Cranston, 20 of Midland, Ont., were repairing one set.
     At another work bench were L/AC. Sam Merrifield and L/AC.  Glen Merrifield of Wellesley, Sask., who have been together since they joined up in March, 1940, and Cpl. Herbert Woodhead of Winnipeg, who proclaimed that ``we Westerners control the station here.’’
     The station ``twins’’ are L/AC. Donald (Squeak) Harden and L/AC. Michael (Kayo) Shopka of Brandon, Man. They knew each other in Brandon before the war, joined up together in November, 1939 and came to Britain with an army co-operation squadron. They were at a Canadian fighter station before they came to this bomber squadron.

Wellington Dispersal by Michael Turner
Cranston Fine Arts

The snapshot (left) is a print of a painting by Michael Turner in 1976. It depicts very accurately what would have been found at Pocklington during the winter of 1942 with two exceptions. The squadron letters "LN" need to be changed to "LQ" to be correct for 405 squadron. The engines pictured here are the radial PEGASUS not inline MERLINS that powered our Vickers Wellingtons. The light snow, being removed by shovel, is shown. The NAAFI wagon with the boys lined up for a cup of hot tea and a bun shows in the upper left hand corner. A tractor and the bomb cart train are shown backing under the belly of aircraft "X" in the distance. The tractor pulling a fuel tank trailer is positioned in front of the starboard mainplane of the aircraft. The mechanic is on the mainplane waiting to take the hose and fill the wing tank. A wireless mechanic or electrician is standing on the pilots seat, his 

​head out the escape hatch, shouting down to his helper on the bicycle probably asking him to get repair parts from the workshop in the hangar. The two aero engine mechanics (RCAF) or fitters (RAF) are probably cleaning spark plugs and chasing the ever elusive 'mag-drop' which robs aircraft engines of their power. They are wearing their leather 'jerkins' which were much needed in the cold damp Yorkshire winters. One of the fellows at the NAAFI wagon has his Wellingtons folded over, as was the custom, to make them easier to get on and off and to reduce the rubbing on your legs. In the upper right hand corner we see the crew shack, a Nissen hut, which usually served three dispersal pads for three aircraft which remained outdoors except for major repair.  

Sam Merrifield narrative.