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A World War II Memory - Sam & Glen Merrifield Part 8

During my time at Ascomb Grange, August 7 to be exact, the squadron moved to Topcliffe. This was a permanent base and it was nice to be back in the brick buildings  and central heating with our ablutions in the same building we occupied. Sam had moved my kit and I got there August 13. Laying on my bed when I arrived was a letter from the UK RCAF YMCA rep, Ernie McEwen, asking me to represent the RCAF against the Army at a Field Day in Aldershot on August 15. There were a couple of problems, first I had just spent five weeks in hospital so could hardly be said to be in condition. Secondly would my ability to compete convince the M.O. (Medical Officer) that I didn't need sick leave which was usually given for people who got shot. I 
405 Squadron Operatioons Room - source:
hurried over to see the M.O. and he ok'd my attending but cut my leave from two weeks to one week to start at a later date.
I put the week with a weeks leave I had coming and so spent my 21st birthday at Torquay visiting, with Norm Hulse, a pair of lovely London gals who were on a holiday The band at the Pier Dancehall played 'Happy Birthday' and this was followed by the whole hall singing 'I've got the key of the door'. Sam's account of the Field Day follows...

As a sequel to and a result of the Track and Field meet at Pocklington, Ernie McEwen compared our achievements against those set at a Canadian Forces Track and Field Championship in 
405 Squadron Handley Page Halifax Bomber
1941 and felt we should participate as members of an RCAF team. 

Out of 277 athletes competing in events, there were 13 from the RCAF of which 3 were from 405 squadron, my brother Glen, Bill Patchell and myself. We had by this time moved to Topcliffe and Ernie drove us to Aldershot in his station wagon and S/Ldr Stan Griffin, the squadron administration officer came along for moral support or because he had an unused forty eight hour pass, I am not sure which.

Before the competitions got going, we watched the army contestants warming up and saw we were badly outclassed. We realized why once we heard them telling each other  about the fine time and good food they had been having whilst training at Brighton over the prior two months. We, during that same period had been doing our bit to keep the war going. Each event had three men from the 1st Division, three from the 2nd Division and so forth with a mere smattering of RCAF participants. My brother, Glen, did however, take third place in the Hop, Step and Jump and as we arrived back in camp we were met by the squadron dentist, an army captain, who left no doubt as to where his sympathies lay because on being told that we had won one point in answer to his query, his reply was "What for ... GOOD CONDUCT???.

My memory of Field Day which was held under the patronage of Lt General AGL McNaughton and Air Marshal Harold Edwards, was the parade past these and many other Brass Hats. The pipe bands which led the parade were from every Division in the Canadian Army and numbered well over 100 drummers and pipers. Each Army Division marched a team of some 40 Athletes all in matching outfits and at the very rear we 13 RCAF types in the odd outfits we had found for ourselves in our own kitbags. I understand Edwards was upset and can imagine why. Starting the next summer the RCAF had organized Field Days and we were scheduled to take on the Army again at White City in June 1944. That was to be our generations Olympics but a larger gathering named 'D' Day caused it all to be forgotten. We did however get to an RAF station do and Sam's account follows:

Our sports officer at that time was an English chap who never let us forget that he held his position because of his prowess as a runner. He decided that we should enter a team in a one mile, four man relay race being run at a nearby RAF station. A lad called  Don Newcombe ran the first 220 yards and handed the baton to my brother Glen a couple of paces ahead of the pack and Glen gained a little more during his 220 yard stint. I managed to gain a few paces more during the 440 yards that I ran and when our expert took the baton he had a clear lead. Needless to say, when he crossed the finish line 880 yards later the dust from the front runners had already settled; all of which went to confirm a then prevailing belief that you don't necessarily get a commission for what  you can do.

Page 300 of BOMBER COMMAND WAR DIARIES states... From March to August 1942, 109 Halifaxes were lost from 1770 sorties, a casualty rate of 6.2 percent. Morale in the Halifax units - 10,35, 76, 78,102,158 and 405 squadrons - fell and the whole Halifax force had to be rested from operations for nearly a month. It was against this background that the Pathfinder Force commenced its operations. On 17th August 1942, the same day that Pathfinders assembled at their new airfields, twelve B-17 Fortresses of the Eighth Airforce carried out the first American heavy bomber raid.

405 flew 34 bombing raids with 4 Group in this period for a total of 396 sorties and lost  26 aircraft - 6.6%, Further light is thrown on this situation on page 130 of THE DAMBUSTERS by Paul Brickhill. Speaking of Cheshire he says "He had been flying a certain type of heavy bomber at a time when losses of that type were inexplicably heavy. They had acquired too much extra equipment... taking off a lot more; front turret... Our later Halifaxes did not have front turrets so we can read between the lines.