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British Commonwealth Air Training Plan
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Sailing Lake Manitoba in a Mark 5​
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 With signs of war on the horizon in Great Britain in the 1930s, the country was deeply immersed in preparation for what was inevitably coming from across the channel in Germany. The preparation included the creation of a number of organizations designed to help citizens prepare to repel and defeat the enemy. One such organization was the Air League of the British Empire, a home for air cadets aspiring to one day take their place in the skies as pilots in the Royal Air Force. The writer of this oral history is Maxwell E. Hageman who joined the Air League at 13 years of age as the first step towards accomplishing his dream.

From here, his career path took him to Britain’s ATC (Air Training Corps), a stint with the Fleet Air Arm and completion of his RAF basic training, He finally, at age 18 in April 1943, won acceptance in the RAF to train for flight crew.

Qualifying for training as a navigator, Max found himself in the middle of North America as he says, at Central Navigation School in Rivers,  Manitoba, where he won his wings. This is his accounting of a small portion of his story from Rivers outlining the an event that could have extinguished his dream… and his life.

Sailing Lake Manitoba in a Mark 5

The long night of IS/16th June 1944

I went to the hangar around 2200 hours -the time scheduled for the briefing of the night flight to meet the Staff Pilot and the Staff Wireless Operator - as well as the two 'Second Navigators' - the standard crew of five for a navigational training flight. It was the routine for trainees to fly with a different crew every time - one had to study a large board in the briefing hangar listing the make-up of the crew for each flight.
 

  
P/O Bill Bates was a young Canadian Pilot - who I believe was extremely annoyed that, after his own training and graduation, he had been posted to be a Station Pilot at No 1 CNS (Central Navigation School in Rivers Manitoba). He had been hoping for a posting to Europe where he could fulfil his ambition to fly combat missions against the Axis Forces.
 
The Staff Wireless Operator was - as most of those at Rivers, not 'Aircrew'- ie he did not have the half brevet - he was 'Ground Staff- given extra pay for flying duty. Also a Canadian, his name was Carl Wek - and, like Bill, he hailed from the area around the nearby city of Winnipeg.
 
The two 'Second Navigators' I soon found out were trainee 'Air Bombers' – newly arrived at Rivers - and this was their very first night flight. One, 'Paddy Kennedy was in the RAF - though he hailed from the neutral country of Southern Ireland (many folk from S. Ireland served in the British Forces as volunteers). The other was in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) - Jack McClaren - he was probably the eldest of the five - and had remustered from the Australian Army - and, indeed, he had been in the siege of Torbruk in North Africa when Rommel's German Anny had had initial success against the British Army in N.Africa in 1941.
 
Because it was vital that I had a good flight - and got good marks -I was sad that I had two real 'Rookies' as second Navigators - and resolved that I had do my 'Own Thing' - I could not expect much help from them on their first night flight!​

The briefing was special - Navigators were warned by the duty Meteorologist that fierce bad weather was expected to pass across our flight line before we got back to base. We had to adjust our pre-flight plans to allow for the stronger winds expected towards the end of the flight. Rivers, being in the middle of the large land mass of North America, weather there was easier to forecast accurately than in the unsettled patterns to be found in the 'Maritime Climate' of the UK - we hastily re-cast our flight plans with confidence that what we were now told was certain to happen.
 
Meanwhile, Engineering Officers had something special to say to the Pilots. Now, I, like all my Navigator colleagues, was busily redrafting our flight plans - the words for the Pilots were none of our business - though I had a clue of what it was all about. I got to hear that some engine problems were being experienced - by the newer Canadian-built  Ansons being flown at a slower cruising speed than that designed for them - this, so that we Navigators could prepare one flight plan for whatever aircraft 
 ​we may be flying in - in fact, we were due to fly in one of the new aircraft that night..
 
We went out to our plane - and took off for the triangular trip at around 2300 - the first leg was about 200 miles to a point east of Winnipeg, up between Lakes Winnipeg and Manitoba, then west back to base, returning there around 0200 hours.
 
At this point, I might mention the strange, typically British, way of making life as hard as possible for trainees. Unlike modem passenger aircraft of these days – there was absolutely no sound insulation - the unhindered engine noise drowned even thought - let alone anyone trying to communicate by word of mouth! The Pilot and Wireless Operator were in touch by radio intercom - not so the trainees - they had to shout any messages - or scribble scruffy notes!
 
As I have said, I did not expect much in the way of valuable infonnation from the two Second Navigators - so I did not care too much if I could not hear anything they may have tried to tell me. The flight went well for me - we made our turning points accurately and at the times I had forecast, nevertheless, I was mindful of the need to ensure that my log was packed with recorded information. This was necessary because at de-briefing one would be criticised if there was as much as two minutes without an entry!
 
Our turning point to put the aircraft on the last leg - that back to base - was just midway between Lakes Winnipeg and Manitoba but I was happy. I looked forward to the flight continuing that way, though I knew the time was approaching when the heavier wind forces forecast would begin to affect us.
 
Lake Manitoba is about 100 miles long and about 25 miles wide at its widest - we were crossing at the top end where it is narrower. At a point roughly halfway across the Lake one of the Bomb Aimers came up to me and shouted, somewhat agitatedly,'Pilot wants a new course - to the nearest airport! ' . Thinking that the flight was being foreshortened due to the adverse effect of the stronger wind, I quickly calculated a new course straight down the middle of the Lake to Portage le Prairie - which was on the centre of the coastline at the south end of the Lake. The Bomb Aimer passed the new course to the Pilot by word of mouth.
 
Almost immediately THE SECOND ENGINE FAILED! Now one might ask how it was that I'd not noticed the change in engine note from two engines to one - the true reason for the need of a new course? My only defence was that I was so desperately anxious to have a good flight - and get good marks - that my total concentration meant my ears/brain were not attuned to pick up such an obvious change! The silence was eerie - just wind noise rushing past the aircraft as we lost height in a controlled descent. I knew exactly where we were and began to think of what lay ahead. Bill shouted orders for us to bail out. The routine was that Carl, sitting at the rear of the aircraft would go to the door at the rear and jump first, then the two Bomb Aimers, then me, fourth in line. Bill would have to hold the aircraft steady- and hope he could make it to the rear of the aircraft and make his exit before the plane got out of control.
 
Panic Stations!

In fact there was no panic as such - though I guess all of our hearts were pumping pretty furiously – no one showed any other reaction than cool determination to do the right thing. Carl opened the door - or jettisoned it, I am not sure which - and then stood there - unwilling to jump! I found myself yelling 'Push him out' mindful that we were only at about 5000 feet- quickly reducing to zero!. Engineless, the only way was down - the thought ran through my mind that a ditching carried out by a fairly inexperienced Pilot was not something I cared to contemplate! Ditching a landplane is not something a Pilot can practice - they are given advice what to do in such a situation - but the first time is in extremis!
Stupid enough to think the only way to survive was to bail out- I did not consider parachuting into very stonny, wind-swept water, miles from any habitation, without any flotation gear, in the total darkness meant certain death by drowning! Had I been the first one to jump- I would have done so! Carl's hesitation saved all of our lives! Bill opened the bomb doors in the wings and dropped a flare - this showed that we were now too low for parachuting safely - so he shouted to us to take up 'ditching positions' . For Carl and I this meant returning to our seats, strapping ourselves in, and, leaning forward, heads on our work-tables - nestling between our anns. The two others did not have such a good spot- but they had to get into a position where they could strap themselves in - to reduce injury upon sudden deceleration/impact.
 
I well remember thinking in those last moments that we were not going to survive – I was only nineteen - what a way to go, I thought - and not even, heroically, at the hands of an enemy Pilot - machine guns firing - from an enemy plane!
 
In actual fact, Bill made a perfect landing! There was not the expected jolt – just water rushing in through the open bomb doors and into the fuselage - we were up to our waists in a trice (in a moment, very quickly)! Undoing our belts, we made our way to the door at the rear of the aircraft - in an orderly fashion - no panic at all - I guess we were all highly relieved that the ditching was so painless after all!
 
Now, the plane's fuel tanks, at the late stage of the intended flight, were only about one third full - and further, the newer Anson made of plywood, meant that it floated! Most ditched planes sink - certainly, one of the older Ansons would not have floated for any time at all!
 
There was a ship-like motion as the plane was tossed around by the strong swell – as we climbed on and sat astride the fuselage - just ahead of the tail fin - all in a row and wondering what next! Bill and I went back into the aircraft to look for anything buoyant enough for us to hold on to if the plane should sink. He thought our parachute packs would float - but when we tested one - it just sank straightaway leaving a few bubbles! In the middle of the huge land mass of North America our planes did not have any flotation devices aboard - no dinghys - we did not even have 'Mae Wests' – RAF slang word for bulky life jackets which all ainnen wore on every flight back in Europe.As if our situation was not bad enough - the landing lights in the wings, now under the water, gave off an eerie green light - and the landing klaxon horns kept moaning as water short-circuited their electrics - until the batteries gave out!
 
The Long Wait - with Diminishing Hope!


Carl told us he had got a 'May Day' radio message out - so we thought help would soon be to hand. In total darkness, we could hear other planes on the same exercise passing overhead. Bill used the Verey Pistol he had found on our trip back into the aircraft - sending up a flare every time a plane passed over - though there was never any response. Down to the very last cartridge - Bill had a quick consultation with all of us - should we risk using this last one next time a plane passed over? We agreed that we should - and so when another engine note was heard Bill fired that last round.
[We had found out by this time that there were two of the five us who could not swim
  Carl and Paddy. Though being about 8 miles from the nearest shore the ability to swim was unlikely to enable anyone to reach land - should our hulk of a plane sink!].
 
Barely had that last flare ascended - when there was a responding one from the plane. Thinking we had been spotted we took comfort, again, that help would soon ensue. [We did know that the plane's operator had sent a radio message - suggesting we must have landed on an island - not believing our plane was floating on the water!]
 
When daylight came - a series of Ansons buzzed low over us - later on, they started dropping the inflated inner tubes from plane wheels - these 'tubes invariably landed a distance away - and the high wind meant they sped across the water even further off!  Eventually, one tube landed in a position which I thought I may be able to swim to and intercept. Never a strong swimmer - I figured that I could plug away doing my breast-stroke, and get the tube. I jumped in - and immediately got a mouthful of nasty oils and other fluids from the engines! Anyway, I battled through the awesome waves - and got to the inner tube - which had a thin rope tied in two places to make a loop. I put my arm through the loop and set off back to the plane.
 
A couple of the other chaps were standing on the tailplane to haul me out of the water, putting my arms up for them to take hold - I put my arm on the wrong side of the rope loop! The ' tube, thus released, sped away across the water faster than I could recover it! Now thoroughly drenched - in that strong wind I began to suffer in consequence.
 
Later, one of the Ansons dropped a dinghy - uninflated- but a valuable source of hope. It was then that the Australian, Jack, dived into the water, began swimming strongly using the crawl - I wondered how it was I'd struggled away with my slow, inadequate breast stroke - yet here was someone who would have done justice in an Olympic heat!
 
He recovered the dinghy- and it was up to us to get it inflated, SAP (soon as possible)! However, we found that the dinghy was not in the best condition - for years it been held up by instructors in one of the various flying schools - used to demonstrate how a turn of the handle on the C02 bottle would unleash a puff of the gas into it. Due to thousands of ' puffs' meant that the bottle was now empty! Then we found a hand pump stowed with the pack - it was like a small concertina - made of rings of rubberised canvas glued together. I said 'My mother makes these - doing piece-work at home in UK we'll be OK now'. But the pump was perished - one squeeze - and it burst!
 
Rescue at last!


We had been in this perilous situation for about nine hours by now - and our hopes were beginning to become a little thin - no rescue scheme seemed to work! We were taking turns to blow up the dinghy by mouth - unsurprisingly, the two non-swimmers were the ones most prominent in this endeavour! I still have a vivid picture in my mind of Paddy Kennedy's cheeks puffed out to full stretch - the look in his eyes told – much better than any words - how he regarded this lifeline! However, we had discovered that the dinghy was only a three-man version - and further, it was perished and leaky, too!
 
It was then that a different engine note was heard above- and out of the grey gloom a twin-engined flying boat appeared - a Catalina! Hopes soared - this really was something which could not possibly fail! After a couple of circuits around our position – the 'boat disappeared back into the grey gloom - we were utterly devastated!
 
After a while, yet another different engine note was heard - this time it was a very quiet 'put-put-put' - not at all a powerful sound - and then a tiny twin-float, single engined seaplane appeared - and landed about 50 yards away from us! [Later on I was to find that it was a Junkers 34W - an earlier and smaller relation to the notorious Junkers 52 - the plane Germans used for dropping paratroops!].
 

This was the real stuff - and could not possibly fail! A man - an engineer – emerged from the two-man cockpit and climbed down on to one of the pontoons - he shouted to us that they could not come to us - we had to get to them! Because of the high wind and heavy wave pattern the seaplane had to stay pointing upwind with its engine running to avoid capsizing. We understood that - and prepared to get into our one dinghy – five men into a dinghy meant for three, not fully inflated - and leaking.
 
There were a couple of hand-paddles in the pack - these were used - together with another four pairs of plain, cupped hands - we all paddled furiously to the seaplane -
I am willing to bet should there ever have been an odd Olympic category for that sort
of craft - we could have won easily - in that desperate mode!
 
Aboard the seaplane - we were all cramped into a metal-lined, box-like cargo hold just behind the cockpit - a barren, hard place - but we were overjoyed to be on our way to safety. It was then that the Pilot turned around and told us, that, in landing, that some of the struts holding the two floats had buckled - and now overloaded, the seaplane could not take-off anyway! It was necessary to taxi to landfall - but the craft had to stay pointing upwind - and land in that direction was 25 miles away! It was slow and very, very bumpy - it took two and half hours and two or three of us were very seasick!
 
We were very weary when land was eventually reached - but being an extremely rocky area - it was necessary for us to jump into the water up to our waists - to make our way the last 30 yards or so to dry land. The seaplane could not come closer lest more damage was done to the floats. It was then that we noticed a man tying up his outboard-engined boat nearby. To our surprise we were met by a RCAF Officer - sporting both a Pilot's brevet – and medical insignia on his unifonn - a Pilot and a Doctor 
 
Dry Land, Alcohol- and Pairs of Pink Socks!

The medico-cum-pilot led us to a group of log-cabins - he took us inside one of them. The family there - I barely noticed - possibly ethnic Canadians -Indians? I did not find out - certainly subsistence farmers, not particularly well-off- judging by a quick glance around their home - though I was startled to see a spankingly modern Aga-type stove - gleaming white in the dark interior!
 
The doctor gave us a quick once-over - tired and weary though we were - none of us had suffered any physical injury. Pulling out a flask from his jacket - he offered us all
a swig of brandy! Both Bill and Carl declined - they were dutifully teetotal - so was I - liquor had never passed my lips before - but I took my very first swig of alcohol as did both Jack and Paddy!

This Junkers, now in the collection of the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, was located in Lac Du Bonnet Manitoba during World War II. It is possible that this is the aircraft that rescued Max’s crew.

https://ingeniumcanada.org/aviation/collection-research/artifact-junkers-w-34f-fi.php

Max Hageman's member ship card for the Lake Mantoba RCAF Swimmers Club.l
Winnipeg Free Press article reporting Max Hageman's crew's  50th Anniversary reunion in Manitoba and recounting the events that night.
The Doctor disappeared - to one of the log-cabins which was the local store – to reappear, a little later, with five pairs of pink woollen socks - we had, of course, long since abandoned our footwear! Then an RCAF open truck came pounding along the dirt track - two RCAF men dismounted - and said they were to drive us back to their base - Portage la Prairie - the airport we'd been making for some twelve hours previously! Taking our leave of the Flying Doctor - his Tiger Moth had landed on the dirt track not far away - and the occupants of the log cabin - we got into the open truck - to see an outboard motored dinghy! Apparently the two RCAF men were Air Traffic Controllers, on duty at Portage - and they felt it was their duty to come out and try and find us on that dark and stormy night. We had, in fact spotted some flares during the night some way south of our position.
 
It was a long and bumpy ride along dirt tracks - I think it took about two and half hours to get to the airport - and its well-appointed RCAF hospital. It was then the true, kind nature of Bill Bates was demonstrated - the only one of us who was a Commissioned Officer - he declined the separate, higher quality accommodation to which he was entitled - 'I have shared the trials and tribulations of my comrades here for many hours - we are not going to be separated now!' So it was that, after a warm shower we were all ushered into lovely warm and comfortable beds in one large ward!
 
We slept around the clock - a good 24 hours - hardly surprising after our denial of comfort and sleep during that long wet ordeal. It was difficult to estimate the times – but I suppose it was around ten hours on that sinking plane, two and a half on the long trip - taxiing to the shore, an hour in the log-cabin and another two and a half on that bumpy ride in the truck.
 
Upon awakening, a nurse came into the ward - she held up two small plastic radios, one on each hand - one pink and one yellow - 'Which one would you like, boys' she asked - as if it mattered after all we'd experienced! We chose·one - and, switched on - it was in the middle of a news broadcast. The first item was in a the mode those of us from the UK  were not familiar (we were more used to the measured tones of BBC's Stuart Hibberd) was 'Flash - five airmen were plucked from Lake Manitoba today' etc., etc. then, a little later - 'Flash- the fifth wartime Derby was held at Newmarket, England, today - it was won by a horse called Ocean Swell' - we rocked with laughter at that strange coincidence.
 

Back to Rivers- and the end of the Course

We thanked and bade farewell to the hospital staff at Portage - and we were flown back to Rivers in an Anson. It was a Saturday afternoon - and no classes. A quick explanation of those hectic days to the one or two of my colleagues who were around - and it was necessary for me to go to the Instrument Section as my special RCAF issue Navigation watch had filled with water and had stopped.
 
I knocked on the door of the Section - in which there was a small sliding hatch. One of the Instrument guys lifted the flap - and I said 'May I have a new watch - I was in the Lake'- with what I thought was a suitably modest smile. 'If you're stupid enough to go swimming with your watch on - it's up to you to get it fixed!' was the cross response! And the hatch was slammed down. I had to knock again and make it clear the reason I was in the Lake - so then I became a hero for a few moments whilst I recounted some of the events of the ditching. I got a replacement watch.J