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A World War II Memory - Sam & Glen Merrifield Part 7

 When the first Handley Page Halifax four engined bomber landed at our drome I just stood and stared. It was beyond the credibility of a small town prairie boy to know how anything that big and heavy looking could become airborne.

During April 1942 our first crews went to another Yorkshire drome, to a Conversion Unit, to learn to crew the Halifax. This unit was commanded by S/Ldr Cheshire who later commanded the Dam Busters after Guy Gibson. Cheshire later won the VC, DSO and two bars, and the DFC so ranks with the very best.

Hadley Page Halifax Bomber
​​Our crews were trained and our first op with the 'Hallys' was on the night of May 30/31, 1942 which will be remembered as the first 1000 Bomber raid of the war. Cologne was the target and as it was a first, there was concern that so many a/c over one target would lead to collisions. There was only two recorded but one of the a/c was ours. We had 21 Hallys ready to go but only 18 got away and we worked our tails off to do that. These "heavies" carried more than twice the bomb load of the Wimpeys and we could not get the bombs prepared and out of our bomb dump fast enough.

These larger aircraft were equipped with much better equipment. The TR9F gave way to the TR1196, The T1054, R1055 gave way to the T1154, R1155 and the new SBA equipment was added. Also the type and manner of aircraft wiring was superior to the Wimpey so our compliment of section workers changed very little. During the following months, most of us were sent to Swindon for a course on SBA (Standard Blind Approach), and to Marconi Radio College in Chelmsford for a course on the T1154, R1155.

During May 1942 Tom and Sam went on a hitch hiking tour of Scotland during their spring leave. Sam wrote an account home in a letter and it was printed in the local Wolseley paper and you will find an account contained elsewhere in this narrative.

In Britain it is most difficult to travel by train across country. Most lines run into London like the spokes of a wheel. To travel from York to Chelmsford one went south to London and then back northeast to Chelmsford. Because we were seldom stopped and checked for passes it was common to spend a day, unofficially of course, as you passed through London. I was on my way back to York from Chelmsford Marconi Radio College and stopped over. At the Beaver club near Trafalgar Square I met Jack Duller. Together we went to the dance at Covent Gardens, where during the evening we met Vic Lenichek, Lloyd Brown, Harry Halliwell, George Crossley and Spencer Hollowell, all Wolseley (Saskatchewan) boys. Prior to meeting all but Jack I danced with a lovely girl by the name of Eva Elizabeth Frances Butters and she recounted many times during our 38 years of marriage how we Wolseley boys showed such affection for each other on chance meetings. Need I say I was smitten and spent the next leave in London meeting her folks and doing the most worthwhile promotional job of my lifetime. We were not married until after the war but that is another story.

During the winter of 1942 we received an invitation to attend a Wolseley (Saskatchewan) Reunion in London. Seventy five invitations were sent to lads from our town and district. One officer, Captain Terry Cooke, attended and with my camera took the picture in the illustration showing the 31 of us in front of the Beaver Club, just off Trafalgar Square, on March 14, 1942. Note that Rusty Bompas is 'sans hat.' During our London roamings he stayed in the middle of the crowd when we passed MP"s and escaped detection.

The second reunion was held in 1943 at Slough, Buckinghamshire. Ben Barber arranged for a professional photographer so we have a superior picture of that gathering.
On July 1st, Dominion Day, of 1942 we had a field day. The squadron was about half RAF and half RCAF at that time. It got written up in the July 8/42 issue of the Wings Abroad, which is shown as one of the illustrations of this narrative.

My memory of the event caused me to write an anecdote in Feb.'81. It follows; We had a big field day at Pocklington and the rivalry between RCAF & RAF was pretty intense. I think we piled up more points, it's on record in Wings Abroad but that's not the story. I was the first to go up for my prize being presented by the wife of the Group AOC, an Air Marshal, she was a real Brit. Now I was just a raw kid from a small town in Saskatchewan and no one had ever told me that a gentleman waits for a lady to offer her hand before shaking. I had never before been awarded anything without a handshake so I took my prize in the left hand and held out my right. She paused. I held it out there. Then she took it.

I learned a little of England and she learned a little of Canada that day. Probably did us both good.

1942 Wolesley Boys Reunion in Longon
Glen Merrefield Receiving His Field Day Prize
One week later on July 8 another happening caused me to write another anecdote. It follows; We got the S.B.A., (Standard Blind Approach), along with the Halifaxes. Now it was cheaply built and required frequent calibrating but it did the job for crews who bothered to become proficient in its use. It saved many lives but it nearly cost me mine, This day we had just finished tuning the set in this aircraft and I shouted out the pilots window to Alec Hutcheon, my workmate, to phone for the van to take us and our gear back to the workshop. Next thing I knew I was laying flat on my back with both arms and both legs sticking straight up in the air. It felt like they were not mine... no feeling. The feeling returned to my limbs and I got up woozy and left the aircraft. I saw some fitters standing under the wing and approached them and suggested they check the aircraft interior as I thought something had exploded. They pulled aside my tunic at the neck and remarked that I had been injured. I looked down to see a bloody shirt getting bloodier. The van arrived at that moment and off to sick bay, York Military Hospital etc. to be treated. A rear gunner a quarter of a mile away having just cleaned his guns decided to fire a short burst to scare another guy standing close to his turret. Spur of the moment thing. This turret had four Browning 303s in it so just this short burst put 38 holes in the aircraft in which I was working. I just got one. It caused a flesh wound at the base of the neck and exited about a quarter of an inch from my spine. A big investigation was scheduled and I agreed to accept the story that it was a chance deflection. A few nights later his aircraft came down in the village and he was the only one to get out alive. He died on the way to the hospital. Case closed. My luck was better than his. A detail of the incident that was not mentioned in the anecdote was my entry into the base hospital where the M.O. was attending a fellow who was holding a kidney dish under his ear. He yelled at me and asked who I thought I was bursting into his surgery in such a manner. I pulled aside my tunic and he quickly forgot his complaint and attended me. I remember going out the door on a stretcher and this other fellow still stood there holding the kidney dish. The ambulance driver of the day was a chap who often drove for our section and knew me so the trip into York Military Hospital was the most scary part of the whole affair. Before entering the operating room I was given a shot of brandy, my first ever drink of alcohol. The immediate application of anesthetic leaves me wondering to this day what effect alcohol has on human beings. My Doctor at YMH was .a Major Latimore and I later learned he was considered a Saint by many motorcycle dispatch riders for the hours he had spent fitting small pieces of bone together rather than amputating their legs. The official case history shows the diagnosis as a Gun Shot Wound Right Shoulder. Entry and exit of wounds excised. Several portions of metal and softer F.B.s removed. Gauze soaked Dettol drawn through. Corrugated rubber drain put through from posterior wound and anterior wound closed after application of sulphanilamide powder to tube. Tube passed through levator anguli scapulae deep to trapezius. A.T.S. 3000 units. The report shows that on 17/7/42 I had a severe serum rash which I remember well. It also states 3/8/42 healing well, 10/8/42 almost healed and 13/8/42 to Unit. I spent the first ten days in York Military Hospital and the balance at Ascomb Grange, a large Manor House, used as a Convalescent Home on the road between York and Leeds.

Halifax Photo credit -