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A World War II Memory - Stan and Glen Merrifield, Part 11

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 In this installment of Brothers Two, Dressed in Blue, Glen and Stan Merrifield along with friend Stoney continue service with 405 Squadron based at the Gransden Lodge aerodrome near Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England. Here the squadron became a member of the elite No. 8 Pathfinder Group in Bomber Command.

On March 1, 1943 we returned to Topcliffe where our stay there was short, twelve days, but during that time we suffered a very heavy loss on our first operation after returning to Bomber Command. I can find no record but my hazy memory tells me we lost 4 out of 11 Halifaxes on that raid. Whether the crews were not as sharp because of the long hours spent on antisubmarine patrols or whether the aircraft had too many hours in the air, or whether luck spurned us, we shall never know. Bomber Command Diary shows we flew 55 sorties with 6 Group and lost 4 aircraft, 7.3%. On March 13, we were moved to Leeming Bar, another peacetime drome and here Hutch and I had a semi private room in a brick building containing ablutions with warm water. Paradise at last. It was here that the squadron picture was taken in front of and atop the Halifax Aircraft. This would cover about 90% of the squadron members, the balance being on leave or on duty elsewhere.

It was from Leeming that I first ventured to Ireland on a leave with Dick Lewington of 407 Squadron. We crossed to Belfast where we rented civilian clothes and crossed the border into neutral EIRE. There we were able to thumb our noses at the swastika flying at the German Embassy. We were able to get all the meat and good 
  
405 Squadron group picture with a Handley-Paige Halifax aircraft.
  
Lancaster KB-7000, `the Ruhr Express] was the first Canadian built Avro Lancaster to participate in the air war over Europe in World War II. Its first two missions were with the 405 Squadron.
food that our money could buy. We stocked up on chocolates and ladies nylon stockings and were successful smugglers on our way back to Ulster on the train. While at Leeming we met Nelson Cobb, a pilot, who had gone to public school with us in the early thirties. Nelson was lost flying on operations after we had left Leeming. Our stay at Leeming was also brief and on April 17, 1943 we moved to Gransden Lodge to become part of the famous #8 Pathfinder Group where we would finish the war.

Our stay at Topcliffe and Leeming was the only time we spent in #6 Group RCAF, a total of 47 days. We were however Canada's oldest and most experienced Bomber Squadron. We had trained many air and ground crews since our formation which allowed Canada to form the many squadrons needed to have its own Group in Bomber Command. John Fauquier, now a Group Captain with Six Group returned as 405 Squadron Commander. Sam takes up the story from his 1980 anecdote.


Gransden Lodge airdrome was in three different counties with the living quarters being incorporated into and at least quadrupling the size of the village. It was a couple of miles from the huts to the technical side and we were all issued bicycles which resulted in gravel rash being the prevalent injury because a drunken bicycle is not the best vehicle to use in coming home from the pub.


At the bottom of a small valley between the huts and the technical site was a mansion inhabited by Queen Maria of Yugoslavia whilst her son King Peter was attending university in nearby Cambridge. The grounds had a guard mounted at all times and when they were not on duty, the members of the guard attended at the local pubs. Except for the rare occasions when the local boys came home on leave, these guards had been the only service people in the area and were accorded the key to the village. Understandably, when our squadron arrived at the newly built airdrome, their noses were somewhat disjointed and within a very few days some good sized donnybrooks resulted.


It is also fair to say at that time, discipline on the squadron left something to be desired with people wearing whatever they damn well pleased. One morning the Tannoy (public address system) blared forth calling all squadron personnel to the maintenance hangar and there to greet us was Johnny Fauquier who had only recently returned to the squadron. Standing behind him was a man with so much brass on his cap that we knew he was right out of London and drew an awful lot of water. Johnny began by telling us how pleased he was to be back among so many familiar faces and thanked us for past services rendered. He then launched into a lecture on cooperating with the members of our allied forces and we quickly realized why the brass was present – King Pete had complained at the top about his mother's guard's treatment. As a parting shot, Johnny looked at the assembled array of sweaters, sweatshirts, tennis shoes and what have you and said "I don't ask you to shine your shoes and buttons but you damned well better wear them".


Now let us have Stoney's version... The years we were issued with bicycles to commute to the drome so as not to tie up a lorrie. But naturally we used the cycles for pleasure trips as well. Who remembers Wally Hunter and the night he fell off his bike returning from Biggleswade (he fell off for reasons I don't think need to be spelt out) and ended up in sick bay during the wee hours of the morning. The M.O. was so cheesed off with the accident and the hour that he put Wally on charge for driving in a blackout under the influence and he was grounded for a week by confinement to camp. I guess we all remember King Peter of Yugoslavia and his exile at Gransden Lodge. He figured Canadians were the most friendly folk in the world. We even got down to first name status with him, and call to him when passing his home. "Hi Pete have a nice game of croquet". Squadron Leader Weiser got over friendly one night returning from ops and crash landed in the field just behind King Peter's home. Johnny Fauquier was our C.O. for a time at Gransden and I guess we all remember the famous muster parade that Fauquier called. Fauquier never calls a muster parade we are on our way, this time to North Africa or who knows where? But what a let down. We were nicely told we are operating with the elite PFF (Pathfinder Force) and should as Canadians just act a little better. In short refrain from being a nuisance to King Peter of Yugoslavia and be nice to the Station Group Captain, give him a salute when you meet him "he likes it that way".


Gransden Lodge was quite a spot, we were handy to; A Land Army Camp, A rest Camp for factory workers, and a Gypsy Camp. The thing was that they were all out of bounds but you always saw such people in the local villages in the area. I remember in the village of Potton seeing a gypsy gal wheeling a big whip on to some male gypsies who were fighting in the street. How she could handle and herd those guys around. Fauquier should have enlisted her as disciplinarian for 405 Squadron.


Remember in our conversion from Halifax to Lancaster Bombers and the night training trips that were done over England and the night Fauquier came in and overshot the runway a little too much and ended up in the soft field at the end of the runway. Man was he angry with himself.


Stoney has brought up about the conversion so it is a good time to put in an 1980 anecdote I wrote about "Handley Page Pride".


When we went to PFF (Pathfinder Force) in April '43 we were the only PFF Squadron flying Halifaxes. Now Don Bennett our AOC (Air Officer Commanding) suggested we would be better with Lancasters but needed the Squadron Commanders agreement. Now John Fauquier was a Halifax Booster and the Handley Page Corporation would do almost anything to keep us flying their aircraft. Every time John started to waver the Handley Page Rep. on our drome had stories of the wonderful marks of Hallys that were worth trying before the final decision was made. So we'd make a squadron change to the newer type. Not much to say but a hell of a lot of work for us to do. We W/T (Wireless Technician) mechanics had to do all the "super secret" mods on our drome, only the "secret" mods were done at the maintenance units after they left the factory. We also had to strip the mods from the aircraft being sent to main force. A changeover was 21 a/c so it was a lot of work. Bennett outfoxed Fauquier by sending a Lancaster to our drome and leaving it sit within John's view. Finally John tried it, he got home an hour
ahead of the others from Berlin. We got one more changeover – this time to Lancasters.
The PFF statistics for Halifaxes are 29 raids, 330 sorties, 12 lost. For Lancasters 288 raids, 2549 sorties, 50 lost. One more 1980 anecdote before we leave the Hallys, this is
entitled "Intercom".


In the Wimpeys (Wellingtons) intercom and T/T failures were common. You could DI (Daily Inspection) a kite and find all in order  and a couple of hours later have several or all intercom stations U/S (unserviceable). (somehow the Americans never took to the much used RAF term). The wiring was very poor quality and the junctions were twisted wire under bolts set in small plastic blocks. The power was supplied by 1 1/2 volt lead acid accumulators in series and a 10 volt dry storage battery. The latter was designed to sit on a shelf in a solid firm home radio. The problem arose when the engines were run up to check the mag drop and the engine at full throttle caused the aircraft to bounce and shake for minutes at a time. Very poor. We did not have gear or materials to do much more than hasty repairs. When we got the Halifaxes they had alternators and breeze cables, very good, and intercom and R/T failures all but disappeared.


Now when John Fauquier came to Command our Squadron for the second time we were on Halifaxes but he remembered the Wellington days. We were his blue eyed boys and he gave us the credit for the wonderful improvement. Lucky wizards not talented wizards.


Now our feeling for the squadron CO was different when John was with us. After all we considered him just a "jumped up" Flight Lieutenant and would do anything for him and we did. Early in the war parts and spares were very scarce but by now we had a good supply through pirating and other unmentionable practices. As a consequence we were able to install a command R/T (radio telephony) set in the trunk of John's car so he could be part of the conversations between the aircraft and the control tower. He gave us 10 pounds and instead of splitting it we established a section fund . We bought parts to build a record player and amplifier and a good stock of records. For the balance of the war any donations we were given for repairing private radios went into this fund.