Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum
Canada 150 Vignette – 074 of 150
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan
​​
A World War II Memory - Sam & Glen Merrifield Part 4
In Part 4 of the Merriefield Brothers' recollection of their World War II experiences, we find them settling into life in 405 Canadian Squadron of the Royal  Canadian Air Force in Pocklington, Yorkshire, England. In this installment, Glen and Sam talk about life on the job with an operational bomber squadron. It explores their duties as Wireless (Radio/Radar) Operator Mechanics, their role and intereactions with their commanding officer and details of a 405 Squadron mission to Germany.

In our time at Driffield we had learned to do a DI (Daily Inspection) on the wireless gear of a Wellington bomber. This was a relatively simple procedure at or about aircrew technical requirement and no problem for a Wireless Operator. However now we were at Pocklington with an operational Squadron and required the expertise to install and repair the equipment and Sam & I had not had this training. Two lads, Alec "Hutch" Hutcheon and Norm "Roxy" Lawson arrived from Cranwell where they had been retrained from WOGs Wireless Operator Ground) to WOMs Wireless Operator Mechanic), the same course Jack Duller had been posted to take. This program was converting Operators, no longer needed due to teleprinters, to Mechanics to staff #6 Group which was being planned.

In mid-summer 1941 when Sam's posting to Cranwell for the course arrived we went to the Padre and he had it cancelled so Sam and I would not be separated. When mine arrived it was also cancelled. We were LAC "B" Group WOGs and Hutch and Roxy were LAC "B" Group WOMs. In the fall we were all sent to another drome to take a trade test to raise the WOMs to "A" Group and see if Sam and I had learned enough to be rated as WOMs. We all sat in a waiting room as Hutch, who was first in, came out and gave us the thumbs down sign. Next Roxy gave the same. Sam went in and also came out with negative results. I knew I didn't stand a prayer so when I went in, I went on the attack. I asked the testing Sergeant how come the RAF lads could join our section and be promoted through the 15
grades by our "Chiefie" (Flight Sergeant in command of a Technical Section as opposed to an aircrew Flight Sergeant who was in command of only himself) and we poor RCAF types had all this trade testing to go through. My point was his theory covered the entire field, not just the equipment we used on our aircraft and knew pretty well. I also pointed up we would get training as equipment changed so why the need of a double standard?  The outcome was that he let his failure of the WOMs stand but agreed Sam and I would be rated WOM "C" Group to allow us to stay with our buddies on the Squadron. I think we went on one more formal trade test and made "B" Group. We were later promoted to
"A" Group at the Squadron. This was important as each trade group rating made your pay increase 25 cents a day. It also made us promotable to Corporal which was only open to "A" Group technicians. This happened later but the next step to Sergeant never came as that would have ended our "togetherness" as our Bomber Squadron only had one.

There were basically three types of airdromes occupied by Bomber Command. The permanent bases, which Sam described previously, of brick, centrally heated with the buildings and hangars in one 
Pocklington Summer 1941 – rear – Sam Merrifield, McQueen, Jack Buller on bed, Jack Burnett, Tom Cranston, Bob Ford above ???, Paddy Hughes down front.
  
RCAF 405 Squadron
Lancaster aircraft
​405 Squadron Wireless Section
Glen & Sam Merrifield at Pocklington
compound. The early wartime built dromes were similar except the buildings were wooden or stucco construction, with no central heating. Our heat was a small pot-bellied stove in each hut and the coal supply was quite inadequate althogh we could get all the coke we wanted but had no kindling and coke is very hard to start. This is the type of drome we had at Pocklington. The third type were dispersed compounds of Nissen (Quonset to North Americans) corrugated iron huts once again heated by the small pot-bellied stove. Beaulieu and Gransden fell in the latter category. When the U.S.A. came over they got an equal share of the good and the bad so you can imagine they were not popular with the people who were moved from a permanent base to the opposite to let them Yanks have the best.
My first recollection of "Pock" was sitting on the workbench in our workshop which was in a lean-to row of workshops on the side of a large hangar. This tremendous crash sounded and I was sure it was a bomb and was half way across the hangar on the dead run when I noticed some guys standing in the hangar doorway laughing at me. The noise I heard was the only thunder I remember hearing in all my more than four years overseas.


A few days later in a hit and run raid we were bombed but no damage except Bob Ford, our Sergeant, pulled a muscle climbing to the top of the hangar to put out some Incendiary Bombs. During this period Jerry and his bombs got to be a damned nuisance. Our drome was 20 miles NW of Kingston-on-Hull which was bombed regularly, being a major coastal port. We were the secondary target and any bombs that got hung up on Jerry's run up over Hull came our way. What was worse was the fact that the Military Police came to the sleeping quarters and insisted in their quaint way that everyone go to the shelters. This caused us a lot of missed sleep and we soon learned to make the best of it. This was done by putting your Wellingtons (rubber boots to Canadians) next to your pants and your greatcoat, along with your gas mask and tin hat in a quick grab position. When the air raid siren sounded, you jumped up, put on your pants over your pyjamas, slipped into your Wellingtons, put on your greatcoat, grabbed your tin hat and gas mask and headed for shelter. If you got there in time to get a spot where you could have a backrest you could doze a little, otherwise, tough luck. This particular night I could not get comfortable in my corner . It was pitch black and although something kept digging into my back I could not find out what it was. When we returned to our billet and took off my coat, the coat hangar fell on the floor... case solved.


One of Sam's 1980 anecdotes follows... It is fair to say that, on balance, the ground crew on 405 Squadron; certainly in Driffield and Pocklington days, may not have been outright disrespectful of rank but neither did they hold a person in awe because of it. Those of us who were in Driffield saw LAC's riding as tail gunner on some of the earliest crews. Undoubtedly, we all respected and often envied them for the job they were doing which certainly extended to the squadron and flight commanders. We were for short periods commanded by a Flight Lieutenant and our Group Captains arranged from that up to and including Group and in each case the job that they were doing was the determining factor.


When Johnny Fauquier came to the squadron, he was a mere flight lieutenant among ten or twelve others of that rank and all were busy doing their thing. At or about that time, we were losing two or three kites every time we flew on operations and with a compliment of some twenty-two aircraft, including spares, of which a couple would be receiving periodic inspections, it took only ten sorties (less than a month) to lose the equivalent of the whole squadron. Additionally, at that time some of our senior crews were being siphoned off to lend experience to the many other Canadian bomber squadrons that were being formed in other parts of Yorkshire.


Thus, before Johnny had begun to show his metal, he ended up as our squadron commander and for a very short time was still squadron leader. In a couple of respects, he was a slow learner. Firstly, he did not have his priorities correct with regard to aircrew vis-à-vis ground crew. He had not yet learned that by virtue of their function, the aircrews were short term squadron members whereas the ground crew was not and whenever a ground crew member came before him on charge his prejudice showed when he threw the book at them. His other problem was that he could not shake his bushpilot habit of getting down to where he could see things beneath him and so when coming home, he always dropped once he was over the North Sea. One Night he came in contact with a barrage balloon cable as he was crossing the coast above Hull. In one fell swoop he quickly learned the value of keeping his aircraft up and of having hard working conscientious ground crew personnel. Fortunately the cable cutters on the leading of his mainplane worked like a charm and very little damage was done. From that night on, "J" for johnny, LQ_J on her flanks, (the finest kite that ever flew according to the scotch mechanic Jock Rose) stayed up where it belonged until it got home  and the members of the ground crew were assured of a fair hearing and minimal punishment any time they came up before Johnny on a charge... end of anecdote.


Johnny did two tours with us, One on mainforce at Pocklington and one on Pathfinders at Gransden. He won the DSO and two bars and the DFC. He was Canada's most decorated airman in the second World War and the only Canadian in any service to win three DSOs. He ended the war as an Air Commodore after a third tour as Commanding Officer of the Famous Dambuster Squadron #617.


The Squadron's first daylight raid was on July 24, 1941. The following is taken from the OPERATIONS RECORD BOOK:


BOMBING ATTACK ON "GNIESENAU" IN DRY DOCK - Pocklington Operations Order No. 12  Aircraft H.V. & M. to carry cameras. Bomb Load - 4 a/craft, 1 x 2000 A.P., 4 X 500 S.A.P., 5 a/craft 8x500 S.A.P. Weather: excellent over target; no clouds, good visibility. Between 1532 - 1540 hours all our a/craft in the face of intense flak and fighter  opposition are known to have been over the target at an average height of about 12000 ft. Owing to an error in the setting of the distributor arm, one a/craft failed to release it's
bombs. One a/ craft definitely straddled the cruiser, and all the a/craft bombed the target with success, some direct hits being certain. One a/craft (S/Ldr Bisset) returned with fine photographs of the target. The docks and surrounding districts were severally asted. The GNIESENAU was enveloped in smoke from fires, both on target and on the quays. "V" (Sgt Craig) was attacked in successive air battles by four enemy a/craft, three M.E. 109's and one unidentified. Fine evasive action, and return fire from the gunner (Sgt Higgins), and the front gunner, (Sgt Hughes) accounted for two M.E .. The first M.E. broke off to attack "O" (P/0 Trueman) the second, hit by Sgt Higgins, was seen to dive seaward, it's engine in flames; the third enemy a/craft hit by two bursts from Sgt Hughes, was seen to fall, tail down; the fourth was not seen, but bullets penetrated the  fuselage of "V" from its guns. The fabric of the fuselage of "V" was on fire, and was extinguished by Sgt Alec Bain (WT/AG). With extensive damage to the whole plane, with the rear turret out of action and the gunner injured; and losing height to sea level, Sgt Craig made for home, all the crew except the second pilot and himself at the tail of the plane in order to weigh it down. 300 yards from land, the plane made a crash landing in the sea. The crew made for shore in a Dinghy and were picked up in a motor boat and taken ashore. Sgt Higgins was removed to hospital injured. Only the tail of the plane appeared above water. "Q" (Sgt Farmborough) was the plane of which the bombs were by error not released. "Q" was attacked by a M.E.109 at 600 yards. At 100 yards it broke away and "Q' s" rear gunner, F/Sgt Parsons fired forty rounds from each gun into it's exposed belly. The enemy a/craft dived straight down. "L"(Sgt Scott) had estimated a direct hit on the GNIESENAU with a 500 lb A.P. "L" was attacked by a He 113 over Brest, but the enemy a/craft broke off the engagement. From dead astern "L" was then attacked by an Me 109 and cannon and M/G bullets pierced the fuselage. The rear gunner Sgt Dearnley, was badly injured, and the a/craft suffered severe damage. A crash landing was made at ROBOROUGH, and the machine was further damaged to extricate Sgt Dearnley. He died later in hospital, Two of our a/craft, captained by our Wing Commander and C.O., P.A. Gilchrist, D.F.C. and P/0 Trueman were reported missing "0" (P/0 Trueman) was last seen diving steeply followed by an ME 109. Photographs were taken as reported by "H", S/Ldr Bisset, 4 machines were lost, and 2 crews.


The Brest raid is remembered as our first 'biggie' and losing the CO did not do much for the squadron image. I am pleased to report that the W/C evaded capture and returned to the battle but not with our squadron. He attended the 1970 reunion and lives in Toronto. Alec
Bain was a well liked WAG and our friendship with him went to the point of our being invited to his home in Aberdeen when on leave there. One of my memories of Pocklington was  written up for the 1980 anecdotes and is as follows...


The Duke of Kent was the ranking Royalty that visited the squadron early in the war. The King and Queen visited on January 10, 1944, but that is another story. His visit came at Pocklington not too long before he was lost on a Scottish mountain in a Sunderland crash.


Now our hut was the closest to the Headquarters Building and so we knew we were to be  inspected when three were chosen as that mornings "hut sluts" because we usually only had one. I was one so nobly chosen and when we had the place spic and span the other  two decided to change to their best blues. Not me; I was, in my own view at least; an old sweat, or at least older than the others. I stayed in my working blues, dirty buttons and all and we stood at the head of the beds as the entourage entered. Now the usual "ten-shun" etc. left us ram rod stiff and the Duke headed straight for me. He asked where I was  from, how long I had been overseas etc.. As he spoke he put his foot up on the bed frame and leaned his left elbow on his knee, very chummy like. Now as I made my reply I noticed  the Group Captain staring at me with eyes on fire and I looked down to realize I had put my  right foot up on the bed frame and rested my right elbow on my knee to see eyeball to eyeball with the Duke. Well I got it down real fast and the Duke smiled and I thought I was for the jumps. I never heard a thing so have always felt the Duke interceded on my behalf. He seemed a real good guy.