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Ground Crew - They Toil Without Glory


Broadcast on the BBC’s Short Wave Overseas Service (Reprinted from Wings Over Borden, newsletter of No. 1 SFTS Camp Borden, November 1942).

I would like to talk to you about those four simple words - and all they imply in the Air Force here, in Canada, in the United States of America and everywhere. To us in the Air Force, they perhaps, have a meaning that others do not see. To us, they are symbolic of men who have done much to make the Air Force what it is today.

Without them; we should fail. Without them, the Battle of Britain would have been lost, Without them, (and I say this deliberately) this mighty island might, long since, been battered to its knees.

But thank God we had them, they (no less than the men in the air) helped  send the Luftwaffe back into Germany to lick its wounds... they (no less than the men in the air) made it impossible for flames to roar over this Island as they did over London more than fifteen months ago.

I pay tribute to the men of the ground crews - the riggers; the engine mechanics; the cooks; the radio operators; the armourers; the clerks; the equipment assistants; the transport drivers; the instrument makers; the parachute riggers - all that host of people in Air Force uniform who are among the fifty ground crew trades that we have today.

The air crew- the men who fly, the valiant young men before whose sheer, stark courage I always feel humble, when I see them off on a raid - they are gallant company. I would take away from them no whit of the credit they so rightly deserve. But I would ask you to remember that an air force is a team - a team in which each section Is interdependent on the other. Those gallant young men who run interference for them and make their spectacular gains possible. Few of the ground crew are youngsters. Those who are, you can take my word for it, would be in the air if they could follow their own desire.

Many of the ground crew are long past the age when Air Force service means high adventure, travel, a chance to see new things.

You reach an age, you know, when you like to come home in the evening after you day's work is done; and, depending on your walk of life, take off your shoes and put on slippers, loosen your collar (so to speak\ and spend a quiet evening with your wife and children. Many of those ground crew have reached this age. They held good jobs in peace time. There were many foremen mechanics among them. The majority were already skilled tradesmen.

But they had In them that love of fair play - that hatred of the bully – that characterizes our people wherever you find them. They tossed aside their good jobs. They accepted the lowest rate of pay in the Royal Canadian Air Force. They exchanged the comforts of home life for a life in huts. They bade their wives and children goodbye, and headed out for a future in which everything was uncertain.

But perhaps l’m going too far when I say that everything was uncertain - that (as ground crew) their lot would be "Toil Without Glory."

There are several definitions for the word "toil." But the one that I feel most properly describes it, is the one that says toil "is hard and unremitting work.'' That is true, very true!

I would like to add to that definition. In addition to being hard and unremitting work, the toil of ground crew, in the Air Force, is vital work. It is war work that means the difference between life and death to the men who fly the aircraft.

Let us look at these ground crew for a few minutes and I will try to let you see them as I see them. On one of our stations there's a man called Paddy. Paddy is the sort of man you’d pass in the street and never notice him. Paddy is forty-seven years old and (if you could get him to talk about it) he would tell you of a dirty night; near Amiens; in another war, long years ago. He brought back a souvenir from that war - a jagged one that the surgeons dug out of his shoulder. When this war came along, Paddy enlisted again. He knew he was too old for active service. But he also knew that he was a first-rate cook.

Paddy is up there in the Midlands with one of our Canadian Squadrons. Just about now (and It is just about Two O’clock in the morning here in London) Paddy is likely busy over his pots and pans (on the nights our aircraft are on operations). Paddy knows what it means to keep the fire going all night long. He knows too, just what an important effect bacon and eggs, if he can get them, have on morale when he serves them to tousle-headed crews at all hours of the day and night.

Away to the north of the aerodrome is another. The wind never seems to die down there. In the winter It howls from the north and brings on its frozen breath that hard, stinging sleet that numbs the fingers and chills the marrow. There are fine Canadian boys flying the aircraft from that station. They battle with sleet and hail and wind long before (and long after) they've battled the enemy. But they can only do that because of a group of ground crew men, whose names never strike the headlines.

Where the cruel wind howls and bites like a mad dog, these men work. Though their fingers are blue with cold, though their clothes are stiff with frozen rain, they swarm over the aircraft, cleaning, tightening, adjusting, fitting; with almost loving care.

I would like to tell you about the radio mechanics. You don't hear much about them: more because the job they do is one of the things we don't talk about. They are highly skilled men. They are doing a job that has much to do with the successful defence of this island. But no glamour surrounds them. They are hidden away, many of them, in isolated areas. They do not have the fellowship of the mess. They sleep at odd hours. But they do their job magnificently. They take great pride in it. They know its Importance. They know that, each day, they have done something to help to win the war. In that knowledge they are happy They are well content.

Let me take you to a fighter station during the season when cross-channel sweeps are being made.

On the days when these are at their height, the squadrons take off three or four times. That means heavy work for the ground crews. It means constant and careful checking of engine and airframe. But these men do not complain. If the aircraft they service are In action – it is their fight. If their pilot does a victory roll as he comes in to a landing – it is their victory.

They have a peculiar sense of possession. It is their aircraft - their pilot - their crew – their war – their victory.

Let me tell you of another incident. Recently, one of our bomber squadrons was converted from twin-engine bombers to heavy, four-engined types. The aircrew had made the change in record time - just half the time previously taken by any other squadron.

They completed their conversion, a very few days before the first thousand bomber raid on Cologne. But while the aircrew was completing its job, the ground crew had accomplished an even greater task. Faced with new aircraft where there were hundreds of minor 
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additions and modifications to be made. Fitters. riggers, engine  mechanics, armourers, even clerks, all turned in. They worked night and day. They had as little as four hours' sleep one night. At times there were as many as thirty men working on one aircraft. But, when the Commander-In-Chief gave the order that sent another thousand bombers into the air; THAT squadron was ready. It sent out the largest number of aircraft it had ever done. It dropped four times the weight of bombs that It had ever dropped. Every aircraft functioned perfectly.

You didn't read about those ground crew in the stories that were headlined all over the world because: THEY TOIL WITHOUT GLORY. But the men who flew the giant bombers knew what THEY had done. They did not spare their praise. And I can tell you, the Wing Commander of that squadron knows that he has the finest ground crew now serving the British Isles. They serve with little praise; no medals; no glory. Yet there is bravery where chance it fails.

Take for instance, the bravery of Flight Sergeant Lummis who was working with gasoline in a hangar at Trenton, Ontario. Suddenly, a full can of gasoline burst into flame. Calmly, Flight Sergeant Lummis carried it towards the doors of the hangar. Ahead of him was the expanse of the aerodrome; behind him, a hangar crammed with precious aircraft. The heat was Intense; and Lummls, his hands and face burned, was forced to set down his blazing load. For an instant he looked back - saw that hanger filled with valuable planes. Again he picked it up, the searing hot flames licking over his face and chest, blistering his hands, and carried It hundreds of feet beyond the hangar - to safety. He nearly lost his life, but he saved many priceless aircraft. In time, Flight Sergeant Lummis was awarded the George Medal and remember, decorations are hard to get in Canada.

This is the hour - (as I told you, it is two o'clock in the morning here) at which our bombers may be expected to arrive over the spot; in Germany, which has been designated; target for tonight.

At this very moment, German people may be dashing madly to the shelters as more than one thousand aircraft sound over their heads. Their night may be made hideous with the shriek of descending bombs; the bursting of incendiaries; the explosions of anti-aircraft batteries.

And if (at this very moment) a German war factory is disintegrating under the weight of heavy bombs; if a submarine base Is heaving from its foundations; - give praise to the flying crew certainly. But save a few – or more than a few - of your words of praise for the ground crew the men who make such gigantic raids possible. Save some of your cheers for THEM.

Each time you read in your papers of a bombing attack; or of a vicious fighter battle; or the sinking of a submarine, remember the ground crew. Each time I leave an air station (usually at night) my heart goes out to these men; to whom I now pay tribute.

Let me assure their relatives that their efforts to win this war are as important as any other. They shall not go unrecognized. Let your prayers be for them too, for in so doing, you pray for the safety of them that fly.

The ground crew pursue a noble calling and: - THEY TOIL WITHOUT GLORY