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British Commonwealth Air Training Plan

A World War II Memory - Sam & Glen Merrifield Part 3
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In the first two installments of Sam and Glen Merrifields story, we followed them as they moved from teenage kids on the Canadian prairies through training in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and onto deployment as ground crew with the Royal Canadian Air Force in Great Britian. Trained as wireless (radio) technicians, Sam and Glen became members of Canada’s No. 405 Vancouver Squadron, the first of many Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons which when combined became known as No. 6 Group, Bomber Command. 405 Squadron took part in the first bomber 
raid over Germany and remained with No. 6 Bomber Group until October 1942 when it was deployed to Coastal Command where it carried out anti-submarine partrols over the Bay of Biscay and anti-shipping action against German ships.

Settled in, we follow the story of these two Canadian airmen, who with their equally innocent friends in the air force, experienced life as warriors and visitors in a land far from home where much was the same and much was different from what they knew in Canada.

  
Like Marham (England), Driffield was a permanent force base but in the early days of the war it had been badly bombed with the result that there were no doors on the hangar in the which the wireless and electrical sections used one common room. When we got there, the highest ranking person in the wireless section was a Corporal named Ford. There was one other RCAF Canadian on the Squadron and also in the Wireless Section named Tom Cranston. There were some Canadian aircrew members who were in the RAF, one being Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Peter Gilchrist. The barrack block in which we lived had half of it blown away by an earlier bombing. When we arrived, there was one aircraft but within a day or two another two arrived and either that night or certainly within a week, the Germans came over one night and dropped bombs on the airdrome and completely wrecked one of our planes and badly damaged another thereby reducing our compliment of aircraft which could fly to one.

My brother and I arrived at Driffield in May 1941, the second and third RCAF types to join the Squadron. The 'drome had been bashed about by 50 JU 88's of Eagle Geschwader KG 30 from Norway on Eagle Day 1940 and no repairs had been done. We slept in one end of an H type brick block, the other end was a pile of rubble. These blocks had an air raid shelter in the basement at the center part of the H. At that time the squadron had two Wellington Aircraft, I think both were dual control jobs for training.


This particular night we were all asleep and a nearby Ack Ack battery started shooting away. The shooting became more intense and I decided to go have a look. Nobody else stirred or seemed to bother. I got up and put my pants and tunic over my pyjamas and had my second foot half into my Wellington boots when a thousand pound German bomb went off about 150 feet from our billet. Well my bed was four feet from the door and would you believe a dozen fellows beat me to the door. The dam guns had made Jerry think something of value was down there. I guess it was. . . . not us. . . . but our aircraft. . . . yes, we lost one .... burned to a pile of ashes and two engines. Here we were a new Bomber Squadron and Jerry's bomb cut us to half strength before we even got operational. We in 405 Squadron gave them back many a BIG BANG but we have to admit Jerry got the first shot .... he sure did.


Glen's other recollection of Driffield was being in town for a movie on Saturday night and buying a pair of pyjamas that caught my eye in a store window. No big deal until I saw the headline of the Sunday papers which announced that clothes were to be rationed effective immediately and enlisted men's ration was zero. The pyjamas did last three and a half years until my return to Canada.


We were at Driffield because Pocklington, the base we were to operate from, was being newly built and was not yet completed. Our time in Driffield was spent receiving new aircraft and adapting them to be operational. I believe we flew one or two operations from Driffield.


These were in early days when there were still gunners with the rank of Leading Aircraftsman, flying as aircrew. It was not too long before all aircrew were promoted to senior non-commissioned officers which was Sergeant or higher. There were never any RCAF aircrew below the rank of Sergeant and to equalize things the RAF soon followed that rule. The main reason for aircrew being senior non-commissioned officers was that if they were shot down and captured their treatment by the Germans was considerably less severe in the prison camps than if they did not hold that senior rank.


Glen here .... Our aircraft at Driffield were the same ones we had at Marham except for the engines. The Merlin engine had become famous through its use in the Hurricanes and Spitfires and we thought it an improvement over the radial Pegasus. Not so as the aircraft had been designed for the radial units. The reason that we had Merlins was because the factory that produced the Pegasus was in Coventry and ceased to exist after the famous air raid when the Nasty Germans bombed that poor little residential town. So much for wartime propaganda.


The nearest good sized city to Driffield was a seaside town called Bridlington and it was close enough to get there after work any evening. Being a resort city there were a number of rides and we had great fun driving around in little bumper cars crashing into each other. There was also, in Bridlington, a school principal who had, many years earlier worked with Tom Cranston's father on a newspaper and still contributed to the paper Tom's father owned in the town of Midland, Ontario, with the result that Tom and I were at his home a couple of times for tea.


In Britain, the canteens were all operated by the Navy, Army, Airforce Institute known as the NAAFI. Cigarettes were extremely scarce and to get them, when they were available, involved lining up and getting five Stars, five Players Weights, or five Wild Wills Woodbines, Which was the maximum allotment, I believe we were still in Marham  when the first parcel of 300 cigarettes came to each of us and what a red letter day. The Canadian government agreed that there would be no tax on cigarettes sent overseas by the tobacco companies and instead of a penny each, which they were on the Canadian market, the tobacco companies would send us 300 in a package for each dollar sent to them. If the sender wished to remit $2.50, they would send 1000 cigarettes.


Our Dad sent us 300 cigarettes a week which gave us all we needed. In addition, the folks in our hometown of Wolseley, Sask. raised funds for the men from the town in the services and two or three times each year we would get 1000 cigarettes from them.


Additionally, once the Canadian YMCA took over providing us with comforts, movies, sports equipment etc., we would usually get a free package of cigarettes when we went to the movies so all in all, we had sufficient cigarettes to share them with the less fortunate RAF fellows with whom we worked. It took some months to get the flow of cigarettes coming and until we left Driffield we had received only one or two 300 cigarette packages which augmented what we could get from the NAAFI but cigarettes were still not plentiful. The scarcity in the spring of 1941 was blamed on the German submarines and the sticky fingers in the army post office which handled all Canadian service mail. Canadian cigarettes could be bought in many pubs, during this period, in London so there is a story there.


It was not until June 20, 1941 that we moved on to Pocklington and until then we had a busy time in wireless section. Not only did we not have a full complement of personnel but during that month, all the squadron aircraft were being assembled which meant checking out all the Wireless equipment as it came and installing the IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) the very first type of radar. It was a brand new device and the earliest aircraft came without it and it had to be installed with our assistance. It was no secret that it was kept under guard in the wireless section at all times that the aircraft were not on operations and it contained a detonator attached to a gravity switch which blew the device up if the aircraft crashed with the device in it. Once the IFF was placed in position the plug from the switch was inserted and we had two instances when the switch was not in the off position and it blew up in the faces of those putting in the plug causing substantial injuries and junking an IFF. Bob Ford and Glen are two I can remember and in the case of Bob, there was concern that he would be blinded but fortunately such was not the case.


When we got to Pocklington, the Wireless section, the Electricians and the photographic section were all in the hut closest to the runway and were the only people to have their hut designated by the red light so we were referred to as the "Red Light District". Shortly after we got settled in, we acquired a Volley ball and net which we strung between our hut and the next and when the weather allowed, we spent part of our noon hours and our evenings playing volleyball. We became so proficient that we were the station champions and when we learned of a tournament at another Canadian airdrome in Yorkshire, we entered a team and won second place.


That is the end of story that Sam (Merrifield) had written when he had the stroke on December 18th, 1987. He had no chance to edit or amend it and I have typed it faithfully as my skill permits. After the 40th Anniversary Reunion of the Battle of Britain in Toronto in 1980 I wrote a few friends and accumulated a few anecdotes for the record. Sam contributed to these and I shall put his offerings into my narrative in the proper order and identify them. There will be similar stories of others. Sam's memory is still keen but his vision and other ailments will not let him continue. Therefore my efforts must suffice
but I shall check with Sam to see my 45 years of remembrance are not too faulty.