Report From Britain

H. NAPIER MOORE October 15 1942

Report From Britain

H. NAPIER MOORE October 15 1942

Report From Britain


Editor of Maclean’s


midnight blackness we had driven to the crew room of the station from which the Canadian night-bomber squadrons were working. In groups of two and three the air crews were coming in, dressed for the night’s work. We had chatted with them earlier in the evening after their briefing. Now we knew that their target was Duisburg on the Rhine; that it was to be a big show; that these two squadrons, important as they were, represented but a small percentage of the whole.

They were bright-eyed, alert youngsters, these pilots, observers, wireless operators and gunners. They came from Vancouver, Sudbury, Winnipeg, Woodstock, N.B., Toronto, prairie towns and Quebec. They were on edge to be off, like race horses at the post. The take-off hour was near. I was talking with Sergeant Wireless Operator Ernie Danes of Toronto, about to make his third flight over Germany, and with Sergeant Flight Engineer Eric Mulligan (the Sudbury lad who used to play hockey for the Pembroke Lumbermen) when the call came—“Anybody else want to talk with the padre? Allright. Let’s push off.” We walked out to the edge of the runways, watched the crews climb through the hatches; fumbled for words which would sound as nonchalant as theirs. Then we stumbled to the mobile control station, where stood men of quiet voice, signal lamps in hand.

Out there by grim shades inkier than the night, we could see the giant bombers we had inspected in the afternoon. Four-engined Halifaxes, thirty-one tons of machinery and destruction; smaller, ‘but deadly,’ Wellingtons.Engines sputtered; roared into rhythm. Slowly the first mighty Halifax nosed round on to the runway we couldn’t see. The signal lamp flashed. The engines revved up. The shape moved, picked up speed. A flash of red from the exhausts. The bomber was air-borne.

One after the other they came from their dispersal points. At regularly spaced intervals glowed the dispatching signal. Bomber after bomber sped from in front of us. Then silence. To the sea there was darkness. Climbing high above us, the R.C.A.F. was purring its way to a beginning.

Now came that ordeal of all ground personnel, —the waiting. We editors shared it. We went back to the mess, lay down on couches or reclined in chairs, tried to doze. But sleep doesn’t come when lads to whom you have just given news of

home are winging their way across the Rhine. So we waited.

A thin, pale strip of dawn lay across the earth when we trudged to the watch room, in a tower. The senior flying control officer and his staff had not left it. At the radio transmitter, earphones over dark hair, sat a WAAF. A slip of a girl. But her voice was strong and clear. We stood close to the wall, out of the way, and waited in silence. The clock ticked. Then suddenly the radio loudspeaker clucked. The girl’s back stiffened. A Canadian voice burst upon the room. It said “Hello there. This is A for Apple calling. This is A for Apple calling. May I land? May I land?” The girl replied; gave directions. We listened. Then it came—the faint, welcome sound of engines. We rushed out to the balcony, brushing back the blackout curtains for it was dawn. Circling above us in the greyness was “A for Apple.” He came in. The giant wheels touched concrete. And on the big blackboard on the wall of the watch room, the senior flying control officer chalked figures under the heading, “Time of Return.”

All But D For Donald

WE WENT back to that watch room. Fresh voices were filling it. In turn, two had reported that they were coming back with an engine conked. They came. One reported that he was landing at a distant station. But he got

there. And one by one they circled, set down, taxied to their dispersal points.

The sun came up. There was one blank upon the blackboard, in that column “Time Returned.” There was no news of “D for Donald.” We waited.

Downstairs we moved, to the Intelligence Room. The crews were coming in, huge mugs of tea in their hands. Their eyes were tired. But they laughed; professed to be amazed at us waiting for them all night. They gathered round the intelligence officers seated at rough tables. Quietly asked, incisive questions. Quiet, matterof-fact answers. Yes, they had reached their target. Yes, it had been clear. Yes, they had dropped their bombs. No, the earlier arrivals hadn’t seen much trouble—wish they were all like that.—Yes, those that had gone in a few minutes later had run into a mass of flak. Pretty hot stuff.—It was mucky where we were, though. We got our target all right, we could see the river clearly, and the bridge. A bit sticky, but we got through all right.—We only saw two Jerry night fighters. They whizzed passed us in the opposite direction.—Oh, we had a swell trip.

Would the gentlemen of the press like to ask questions? They would. We wanted to know how Sergeant Flight Engineer Mulligan had got along on his first operational flight. Sergeant Mulligan said he was convinced that at one time he was standing on his head, and he described the flak as being “something.” But he had had a large time. Young Ernie Danes thought that after what he had dodged he was in fair way to catching up with his brother, Pilot Officer Ed. He was happy about the whole thing. Flight Sergeant C. H. Palmer, of Dundalk, appeared to think that coming back on three engines instead of four was a most unexciting performance. After all, the Halifax will fly very well on three engines, won’t it?

It was time these lads were getting some sleep. We went back for news of “D for Donald.” It came. He was limping back on two engines with the aircraft knocked about a bit by flak, but his crew was okay. Had he permission to land? He had. He did.

We felt we could now go and get some breakfast. We hadn’t brought the squadrons any ill luck. Every plane that had gone out was back.

Tonight we shall go to bed. But some of the lads who left Duisburg burning are on their way to another target tonight—much farther away.

Continued on page 50

Continued from page 4

During the past two weeks inhabitants of not a few counties of England have gazed with some astonishment at a behemoth of a bus roaring along highways and narrow roads, sometimes disappearing with startling suddenness up arbored lanes guarded by armed sentries. Generally it is preceded by a motorcycle dispatch rider who, driving on what to him as a Canadian is the wrong side of the road, unassisted by signposts (for there aren’t any), or by town or village names (they have all been obliterated', but carrying a map for use in emergencies by day and in the blackness by night, manages by some seventh, eighth and ninth senses to make correct turns. His name, by the way, is Clifford Humphrey. He went to Danforth Tech, in Toronto; has three brothers in the Canadian Army, two of whom were at Dieppe.

Upon the windshield of the bus there is a sticker bearing a maple leaf and the words, “Bomber Press.” Through its windows may beglimpsed two or three uniforms and twelve men in civilian clothes. To the residents, particularly to those in defense areas, this is all very unusual.

The twelve civilians are Canadian editors and writers. Under the auspices of the Dominion Govern-

ment they were flown across the Atlantic by bomber to see something of the Canadian Army in the field and in training camps; to visit the fighter and bomber squadrons of the R.C.A.F.; to snatch a view of the Royal Canadian Navy. Already they have seen plenty. I know. I am one of them.

To date we have covered more than a thousand miles in that bus, zigzagging the zones occupied by the Canadian forces. We have travelled many more miles by jeep, carrier, by tank and by foot.

I have talked with the wounded just back from Dieppe and with their comrades who got back unhurt; with a young Torontonian who skippered one of the landing craft; with officers high and low. In company with my colleagues I have seen battle exercises embracing all branches of the Army, with live shells whizzing over our heads and live bursts from rifles and machine guns seemingly at our elbows. I have seen Commandos landed from the sea, scaling fifty-foot cliffs. I have roared across the countryside in a new-model tank; guided it by intercommunicating radio; loaded and fired its guns. I have seen something of the colossal administration behind an army. I

hsve spent a day with a Canadian i fighter squadron with a rare score to its credit; shared its ecstasy over Î Canadian corn they have succeeded ¡ in growing in the mess garden. I haveo gingerly treaded a wary way through ( woods planted with cunningly de1 vised booby traps (fortunately ar1 ranged so that, with any luck at all, they wouldn’t send the press to kingdom come). I have crawled on my stomach and sped like a hare.

I have also seen things about which I may neither write nor talk; things which make me feel confident about things to come. All of us have done and witnessed these things.

And, oh yes, we are members of an organization the membership of which is incredibly large. We are Short Snorters. We have flown the Atlantic.

This, then, is the first of what must be several chapters of the narrative oí the journey of the Bomber Press.

We came over in two groups. In company with six other Canadian journalists and five Britishers returning from various war activities in North America, I was posted to the first bomber to leave. The day before departure we were taken to the Ferry Command airport at iJorval, P.Q., instructed in the use of oxygen masks, parachutes, life belts (known, of course, as Mae Wests), and generally as to the mode of life followed aboard á long-distance aircraft. We signed “blood chits” absolving King George and the Canadian Government from all responsibility; were fitted for flying suits, flying boots, helmets, mitts and gloves, and returned to our hotel in Montreal to await call. It came the same night. We were to be ready for departure next morning.

We departed with no more fuss than had we been going somewhere by train. The giant four-engined bomber was ready. Our baggage was put aboard. We crawled up a ladder into the belly of the aircraft. The hatch slammed. Four and a half

hours later we were in Newfoundland. An hour or two later we were airborne again. As the sun, flicking scarlet over masses of cotton-wool clouds, went down behind us, the coast was fading into distance. We were over the Atlantic; speeding to the dawn.

Nine-and-a-Half-Hour Flight

WE SAT on narrow seats in the fuselage, six on a side. The roar of the engines made conversation difficult. We looked at each other. Read. Looked at each other. Ate sandwiches, drank coffee. Dozed. Looked at each other. About four hours of darkness, the sky bristling with stars. Then a paling of the night. Slowly the sun rose. Flying high over incredibly beautiful peaks of pink cloud, far below we saw pinnacles of rock, patches of green. The hand of the altimeter began to drop. A few minutes later the wheels were down, gently touched ground. We stepped out. We were in Britain —nine and a half hours after leaving Newfoundland. Breakfast was waiting.

So far as the Canadian passengers were concerned, they had made their first transatlantic flight—in a bomber. So far as the captain was concerned, it was his forty-ninth. So far as the navigating officer was concerned, his previous trip had been from Canada to Iceland, to Britain to Egypt to the U.S. to Canada—all in eight days. The whole business was no novelty to him either. So far as I was concerned, there was one terrifying moment of anxiety. The driver of the bus which took us from the airport to the railway station had made it a point of honor that he wouldn’t miss the train. We just missed the corner of a house which had wandered into the middle of a village street. We caught the train. It took us longer to get to London than it had taken us to cross the Atlantic.

To be Continued