We serve that men may fly: RCAF Women’s Division

October 29, 2018
RCAF WomensDivision-26-poster-affiche

Recruiting poster for Women’s Division

This is my tribute to the women who served in the Second World War and paved the way for women in today’s modern armed forces.

When Canada went to war in 1939 women pressured the government for the right to enlist. The government was reluctant to allow this, but eventually personnel shortages forced a change.

An order-in-council of July 2, 1942 authorized the recruitment of women and the formation of the Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (CWAAF). This was a component of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). Women were still not permitted to serve in combat roles so it’s purpose was to relieve male members of the RCAF from administrative, clerical and other comparable duties to heavier duty.

Effective February 3, 1943 another order-in-council changed the name of the CWAAF to the RCAF Women’s Division (WD). Their recruitment motto became “We Serve that men may fly”.

The WDs as they became known carried out many jobs during the war including, clerical, telephone operators, drivers, parachute riggers, and many others.

A total of 17,038 women served in the RCAF Women’s Division. Twenty-eight died during the war from various causes.

The RCAF was the first branch of the Canadian armed services to actively recruit women. Recruits had to be between 21 and 41 years old (later reduced to minimum of 18), pass a medical, be at least five feet tall, have a normal weight, be of good character and not be married with children.

Those employed at RCAF Headquarters in Ottawa lived in a barrack block housing up to 800 airmen. These quarters were not well heated or insulated. In winter many slept with uniforms on to keep warm.

WD members were paid only 2/3 of their male counterparts, but by 1943 this was increased to 80 percent of the males wages.

Why did they enlist? This was an age when women were expected to stay at home and wait for their men to come home from the war. They joined for adventure, a steady job, to get away from home, or patriotism.

Helen Sendell from Toronto enlisted on September 14, 1943 when she turned 18. She enlisted to show her older sister and her family she was independent and could live on her own. The family were against it. It was her form of rebellion. My mother always was strong willed.

She was assigned to headquarters in Ottawa where she put her shorthand and stenography skills to good use. She was classified as a key-punch operator in Records Department, RCAF Headquarters.

On New Year’s Eve 1943 she was at a bar in Hull, Quebec across the river from Ottawa with her date. While there another couple joined them. The young flight-lieutenant was smitten with Helen, but he was with someone else. After that evening he pursued her until she finally relented and they began dating. Helen and Mike were married September 30, 1944. Marriage between two fellow service personnel was not allowed and especially between enlisted personnel and officers. Helen was forced to resign from the RCAF. She was almost immediately hired back as a civilian employee and assigned the same job at the same desk. Her discharge from RCAF service became official December 31, 1944 “by reason of married requirements”.

Davis-DLG and Helen 1944

Newlyweds December 1, 1944 just before Dad left for England

After two weeks honeymooning her new husband Mike was sent to RCAF HQ in London, England in December 1944 where he remained until coming back to Canada in 1946.

I am proud of my father and mother’s service to Canada during the Second World War. In addition two of my father’s brothers served one of them paying the ultimate price.

Each November 11th I do not glorify war, but I remember the sacrifices those who served their country to preserve our way of life.

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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


Poppies: Symbols of remembrance

November 3, 2016
Canada's National War Memorial, Ottawa commemorated by stamp.

Canada’s National War Memorial, Ottawa commemorated by stamp.

“In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.”

Lieutenant John McCrae, 1915

When Canadian John McCrae wrote these lines over 100 years ago he wasn’t doing it to glorify war or battles, but to remember the sacrifice of his comrades who had been killed in the service of their country. These men who now lay dead and buried in Flanders Fields of Belgium. He himself would not survive the war.

I’ve actually heard people saying that poppies and Remembrance Day itself on November 11th are meant to glorify war. There couldn’t be anything farther from the truth. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to speak with many veterans including my grandfather and my father. Not one of them has ever glorified war, but they’ve always spoken highly of their fellow veterans and especially of those who served with them.

Remembrance is critical. If we don’t remember those who served and sacrificed in some way, many with their lives, we as a society will make the same mistakes. We remember war not to glorify it, but to remember its horrors so that we make peace wherever possible, and only enter war as a last resort. Unfortunately sometimes it takes our military to fight for and defend our freedoms and values. Evil is alive in the world

We owe a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid to all those who stepped up to defend freedom and especially those who lie still in Flanders Fields where the poppies grow.

Bless them and remember them always.


The Greatest Generation

November 5, 2015
One of many cemeteries in Europe where Canada's war dead lie.

One of many cemeteries in Europe where Canada’s war death lie.

On November 11, 2015 it will be 70 years since the end of the Second World War 1939-1945 and over 100 years since the beginning of the Great War 1914-1919.

Tom Brokaw’s  famous book, “The Greatest Generation”, is in my opinion one of the best reads on war and sacrifice. It is a collection of stories from veterans and their wartime experiences. It’s not about generals and strategy, but rather about ordinary people and how they stood up and fought for our freedom against the evil forces seeking to destroy and conquer the world. Although American it applies to all who were of that generation. These people grew up in the Depression of the 1930s and did what had to be done in the 1940s. They made it possible for us to have the society we have today. The following quote from the book says it all

“They came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War and went on to build modern America – men and women whose everyday lives of duty, honor, achievement, and courage gave us the world we have today.”

These men returned from the horrors of war to short-lived celebration and then resumed their lives as best they could. For years they never talked about their experiences. All that changed after fifty years when they realized age was killing them off at a rapid rate. They didn’t want to tell their stories to glamourize war, but so that we would never forget. Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to know some older vets who told me of their experiences. It is incredible to see a vet tear up when he remembers a buddy from all those years ago. They remember the friends they lost like it was yesterday such was the horror of it. To all the vets who tell the stories thanks for letting us know what it was really like.

To younger people if you want to know about wars don’t read the accounts of generals and politicians, read the stories of ordinary people, the soldiers who went through the mud, the fire, and the blood. For Canadians there is “Testaments of Honour: Personal Histories of Canada’s War Veterans” by Blake Heathcote which I highly recommend.

Other books to read are Stephen Ambrose’s “Citizen Soldiers” or Cornelius Ryan’s “The Longest Day”. These books are far more interesting and enlightening then some general’s memoirs. The movie “Saving Private Ryan” which revolves around the D-Day landings is one of the most realistic war movies of all time. Director Steven Spielberg screened it for veterans of D-Day to get their input. To a man they liked it, but said it lacked one thing, the smell. They told him the smell of blood, gore, death and cordite from shells was overpowering during the combat. They also told him the noise level pierced them to the very soul. These were the things they still remembered all those years later.

When you attend or watch the Remembrance Day ceremonies and you see all the old vets close your eyes and visualize them as young boys and men in their late teens and early twenties preparing to charge off the landing craft into the hellstorm of machine gun fire and shelling. While you’re contemplating that image ask yourself if you could stand up and do what needed to be done.


Remember Their Service Always

November 11, 2014
KEN_JAP

Uncle Ken with my grandmother. Although the youngest he was the tallest at well over 6 feet.

November 11, 2014 another Remembrance Day.

I always think of the young men and women who have given so that we can live in freedom and happiness today.

As a history buff and genealogist I’ve discovered so much to appreciate about these people, especially those who were my relatives.

World War I (The Great War)

Grandfather Bert Sendell

My grandfather on my mother’s side served in World War I. He was in the Canadian Army Service Corps (CASC) from 1915 until 1919. He drove ammunition trucks loaded with shells and ammo for the troops from behind the lines to forward positions. Most times he was under shell fire from the enemy who were attempting to stop supplies from reaching the troops in the trenches. He told me one time that many of his friends were killed when the trucks were hit. Although he didn’t talk about the war much but occasionally he would. One of my heroes for sure.

World War II

My Father – Mike (Lloyd) Davis

MikeDavis with RCAF in Eng 1945

My father with the RCAF in England.

Dad served in the RCAF. He was posted overseas to London, England for several years from 1944 until 1946. Dad told me he served in military intelligence. His group set up phoney airfields around England to fool the Germans. While in London he was subjected to the V-bombs that fell almost daily near the end of the war. He was a newly-wed when he shipped overseas.

My Mother – Helen Davis

Mom served in the RCAF in head office in Ottawa. It was while there she met my Dad and eventually they were married. Because she wasn’t allowed to fraternize with officers she had to resign to marry my father. Ironically after her resignation they hired her back in the exact same position as a civilian.

Uncle Glen Davis

Glen served in the RCAF mainly on the west coast of Canada keeping watch for enemy subs and such. He survived the war and lived a good and long life.

Uncle Ken Davis

My father’s youngest brother Ken served in the RCAF and trained in the British Commonwealth Air Training Program. The day before he was to get his wings as a pilot he was killed in a training accident along with his best friend. He was 20 years of age.

Modern Era

Cousin – Robert (Rob) Davis

Rob served in the Canadian Forces. He was on the frigate HMCS Calgary and based on the west coast of Canada.

Thank you all veterans for your service to my country Canada.


D-Day 67 years later – we must remember.

June 6, 2011

On this the 67th anniversary of D-Day we must remember the sacrifice the servicemen of the Allied Powers (Canada, Britain, the United States, France and Poland) made on the beaches of Normandy, France that fateful June day in 1944.

When you look at the photos of aged veterans commemorating that event, realize that on June 6, 1944 these were mere boys and young men who dashed from the landing craft across the beaches under murderous fire from the entrenched German positions. A terrible number of these young men died there on that beach in the battle against tyranny.

The Second World War had been raging for four long years to this point. The invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 resulted in the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of the war in Europe less than one year later. It was the turning point of the war in Europe. If the invasion had failed the war would have dragged on for many more years.


The Boomer Generation

March 11, 2011

When the Second World War (1939 – 1945) ended millions of men returned home to wives and girlfriends most hadn’t seen in years. Guess what happened? Nine months later there began a baby boom the likes of which had never been seen, and hasn’t been seen since. In Canada anyone born between 1947 and 1967 is considered a “baby boomer” or “boomer” for short.

Truly effective birth control, the pill, wasn’t available until the mid 1960’s, so in most cases sex resulted in babies, lots of them. This was not a bad thing, after all these men and women wanted to return to a normal life after six long years of war abroad and on the home front.

Couples wanted to put the war behind them. They wanted marriage and family, and did they ever succeed. Some factoids on the baby boom:

  • During the years 1947 to 1966 in Canada there were over 400,000 babies born each year. The highest year was 1959 with 479,000 born.
  • In the United States during roughly the same period over 4,000,000 were born each year.
  • At the height of the boom Canadian women averaged four offspring each.

I am a “boomer” as are my siblings. We were born in 1949, 1951, and 1955 respectively. Now over sixty years later our generation is beginning to enter our retirement years.

Our generation makes up the largest individual segment of the Canadian population (more than 30%). With retirement comes two key questions for Canadian society,

  • Can the pension plans handle the massive numbers of retirees?
  • Can the expertise lost by industry and government be replaced?

Most boomers are healther and wealthier than previous generations, but the cost of living has skyrocketed. Better health means longer lives and more stress on retirement income sources.

The anticipated retirement of workers from the workforce will mean more opportunity for the younger generations coming into the workforce.

Baby boomers have a tremendous impact on Canadian society and will continue to be a factor for many years to come. Some factoids on the impact of the boomer generation today (stats are from the United States, but are similar here in Canada.):

  • Control over 80% of personal assets
  • Control over 50% of discretionary spending.
  • Account for more than half of consumer spending.
  • Purchase 77% of all prescription drugs.
  • Account for 80% of all leisure travel spending.

Stay tuned for more postings on my experiences as part of the Boomer Generation.


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