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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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.


70th Anniversary of World War II

September 1, 2009

wwii_book_valor_lgToday is the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War. The worst conflict of the 20th century the effects of which changed the world we live in today. It’s been described as the last “good” war because it was clear to everyone what we were fighting for, good versus evil.

Veterans of this war are dying everyday. We are rapidly losing our direct connections to this time. My father and two of his brothers served. His youngest brother paid the ultimate price.

It’s important in my opinion not to forget those who fought and especially those who gave their lives in the cause of freedom.

I’m fascinated with the stories of those who fought. It’s amazing to me how they suffered through it and got the job done. I’m not all that interested in generals and vast battle plans. I love to read about the men on the front lines, the average soldier. That’s who won the war.

I like to recommend the following for reading,

The War by Ken Burns (companion to the PBS Series)
Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose
Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose
The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw


Interesting Weekend

May 11, 2009

This past weekend was interesting from this writer’s point of view. First May 8th was the 64th anniversary of V-E Day. Germany surrendered on May 7th to the Allies and May 8th was then proclaimed as Victory-in-Europe (V-E) Day.

The next day May 9th was the 60th anniversary of my entry into the world. Yes I turned sixty. A party was held for me and a good time had by all. I’ve in a reflective mood lately, but all in all so far life hasn’t been bad at all. In fact I’m probably happier at this stage of my life, then I’ve ever been.

Finally and likely most important of all May 10th was Mother’s Day. Time to salute those who hold the hardest job in the world. Don’t believe that?  Then try doing it for a day or two without any help. Thank goodness I’ve never had a performance appraisal written on my experiences.


Remembrance Day 2008

November 11, 2008

The eleventh hour, the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Today is the 90th anniversary of the armistice that ended the First World War. Known as the war to end all wars, it unfortunately didn’t achieve that goal.

Since the end of that war there have been many major wars and numerous other quasi-wars. World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan just to name a few.

Remembrance Day here in Canada, or Veteran’s Day in the States are both relevant today. Freedom and liberty aren’t free, they have to be protected and sometimes fought and died for.

So on this special day let’s pause and think of the young men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country’s freedom. We should also think of those who returned maimed physically and mentally as a result of their service to country.

My grandfather served in World War I. He never talked much about his experience, but he sure appreciated life the rest of his days. My father and mother served in World War II as did two of my uncles. I will be thinking of you today. Thanks for your service.

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.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lt.-Col. John McCrae

Turning Point: D-Day, June 6, 1944

June 5, 2008


(View from a landing craft disembarking troops on D-Day)

Sixty-four years ago under overcast skies, Allied troops from the United States, Great Britain, France and Canada sat in landing craft awaiting the fateful order to hit the beaches. They were part of the largest amphibious landing ever.

These men were not professional soldiers seeking conquest for conquest’s sake. Rather, they came from all walks of life back in the real world.  These ordinary young men I am sure were filled with dread as their landing craft negotiated the deadly gauntlet from the ships to the heavily fortified beaches of “fortress Europe”. On the shore above the beaches German defenders waited to drive them back into the sea.

When the steel doors of the landing craft splashed into the surf, the soldiers slogged towards the shore through a firestorm of machine-gun fire and shelling. Many were killed instantly, others drowned in the water, still others made the beach only to be killed before advancing further. Those that did find cover from the German defenders’ onslaught had no rest, they now had to advance and drive a wedge into the enemy fortifications. It was imperative a beachhead be established, or the war would be prolonged yet again. To end the long war the Allies must push the Germans back. The goal, to land on the beach, stay there, and advance to Berlin. Hitler and his evil Nazis must be defeated at all costs. The world was watching and waiting.

Eleven months after these brave men fought and died on the bloodied beaches of Normandy, Hitler was dead, and the Second World War was over in Europe. D-Day, June 6, 1944 was truly one of the most important turning points of the war.


(American cemetery at Normandy)

Those who fought there, and those who died there, I salute you.


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