Squadron 420 “Snowy Owl” (RCAF) of Bomber Command: A Postal history connection

March 14, 2018

As a collector of postal history I search for interesting mailings during World War II. I’m especially interested in both world wars because I have relatives including my father who served.

7c BCATP Airmail-Military-RAFMarsdon-30c rate-1943

Airmail to a Canadian serviceman in England

Recently I obtained an interesting mailing, or cover, as we collectors call them (see scan above). The mail was to a Canadian serving overseas with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) as part of the Allied Bomber Command. What I like to do is research the individual service members to see what history lies behind the mail. The cover was postmarked September 6, 1943 from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

The serviceman and address on the cover read,
P/O Len B. Greenhalgh (the P/O stands for Pilot Officer)
CAN – J-25735Royal Canadian Air Force
Overseas
(the Overseas is stroked out by pen and redirected to “RAF Long Marston”)

The sender and address on the reverse is,
Mr & Mrs Greenhalgh (likely his parents)
Ste 410 Pringle Apts 3
Saskatoon, Sask
Canada

Postage on the envelope consists of four 7c War Issue airmail stamps plus two 1c War Issue King George VI regular issue stamps. Total postage is 30 cents. The airmail rate from Canada to England at this time was 30 cents per 1/2 ounce so it was properly paid. Mailings from this period are frequently damaged as this one is, but still interesting.

Bomber Command sustained heavy casualties during the war so my first thought was did Pilot Officer Greenhalgh survive. There are several sources for finding those who were killed in the service of Canada and the Commonwealth (I’ve listed them at the bottom). A search showed he wasn’t killed.

Next I did a genealogical search using Ancestry and found several hits on Leonard Greenhalgh, an entry in a high school yearbook, a couple of entries in the Voters List database and finally a newspaper article from the Lethbridge Herald of March 13, 1944 titled “RCAF Makes Up Half of Force Raiding Le Mans”.

From these searches and sources I learned,
– Leonard Greenhalgh went to high school at City Park Collegiate Institute in Saskatoon. The yearbook of 1943 contained an Roll of Honor listing him as a member of the Air Force. It also gave his age of 23 years.
– the newspaper article from March 13, 1944 reported on the bombing of rail yards in France. It quoted Leonard Greenhalgh from the Snowy Owl Squadron saying the raid had gone well and they suffered no losses on this occasion.
– the Voters Lists showed him in Saskatoon in 1949 listed as a custom officer, and in Burnaby in 1962 listed as a business manager.

Using this information and good old Google, I located information on Squadron 420 nicknamed the “Snowy Owl” squadron as being part of No. 5 Group of Bomber Command. I knew he was part of the squadron in 1943. I also found out the squadron was flying Handley Page Halifax III bombers at the time. I even found a website containing logbook entries showing the raid on Le Mans taking place on March 7, 1944. These raids on rail yards were precursors to the Normandy Invasion of June 6, 1944. The intent being to hinder the Germans sending up reinforcements via rail during or after D-Day.

handley-halifax bomber

Halifax bomber in flight. Photo: RCAF

Squadron 420 (Snowy Owl) was based at Tholthorpe, England about 12 miles northwest of York. They were there from December 12, 1943 until June 1945 when their mission in England ended. Later they returned to Canada and prepared to be part of a Canadian contribution to the war against Japan, but Japan surrendered before they were deployed. Much more can be read about the squadron but I focused on the time Leonard Greenhalgh would have been part of it.

Now I have another connection to the history of the Second World War, another appreciation of the sacrifice those young Canadian men made.

Further Reading
Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Books of Remembrance

Canada at War

Bomber Command Museum, Nanton, Alberta

Squadron 420 Snowy Owl Blog

RCAF Squadron 420, Snowy Owl

RCAF History – World War II

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Amelia Earhart: Aviation mystery

December 30, 2017
AmelieEarhart-70th Anniversary of Last Flight

Commemorative cover issued for the 70th anniversary of her last flight.

Amelia Earhart the greatest female aviator of all time and a female icon disappeared on July 2, 1937 without a trace. She and navigator Fred Noonan were flying from New Guinea to Howland Island in the Pacific on the final leg a their attempt to circumnavigate the globe. At the time she was world famous and a celebrity idol.

Born July 24, 1897, Amelia had a thirst for flying. Between 1930 and 1935 she set seven women’s speed and distance aviation records.

Amelia became the first woman to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean on May 20, 1932. She also was first aviator to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii to Oakland, California on June 11, 1935. These were just two of the significant aviation records she set during her career.

One of her goals was to circumnavigate the globe as a solo pilot. She would still need a navigator. All her planning aimed toward that achievement.

In 1937 she began final preparations. At the time she was at the height of her fame. Amelia was a feminist icon inspiring thousands of female aviators. Her charismatic appeal stemmed from her independence, persistence, coolness under pressure, her courage and goal oriented career.

20170411221225!Amelia_Earhart_standing_under_nose_of_her_Lockheed_Model_10-E_Electra,_small

Standing under her Electra in March 1937. Photo: Underwood & Underwood, Public Domain

Amelia did marry publisher George Putnam but they never had children. He was referred to as “Mr. Earhart” and supported her in her career. She retains lasting fame even today some 80 years later.

So what happened and how did she disappear? No one really knows the full answer but there are many theories that have developed over the years.

The most prevalent theories are, Crash & Sink, Gardner Island (Nikumaroro now), and Japanese capture. The first crash and sink is one most historians accept with death resulting on impact or shortly after. The Gardner Island theory says they ditched their plane in the waters off the island and survived only to eventually perish when rescue did not come. Some believe the Japanese military captured them and executed them. There is no firm proof of the last.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) strongly believes in the Gardner Island scenario and has so far sent ten expeditions to investigate. Their extensive research has produced archaeological and anecdotal evidence supporting this theory over the others. It’s possible that some day we will discover the truth about the fate of Earhart and Noonan we’ll just have to wait and see.


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