- Contributed by
- Stockport Libraries
- People in story:
- Leslie Landells, Buchan family, W/O Davidson
- Location of story:
- Calgary, Canada
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 12 October 2005
Not a good landing! The damage caused to the Harvard aircraft that Les "ground looped" at Calgary, Canada.
This story was submitted to the People's War Website by Eddy Hornby of Stockport Libraries on behalf of Leslie Landells and has been added to the site with his permission. He fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
7 December 1942
After completing the course at De Winton, I was posted to 37 S.F.T.S. Calgary (only 20 or so miles distance away).
Here I was introduced with a fellow pupil to a Canadian family called Buchan of Scottish ancestry. Mother, Father and two daughters; Audrey 18/20 years old and ‘Tiny’ about 15/16.
The parents were so kind and hospitable. They really made you feel at home. They came from a Scottish background. They actually ‘adopted’ four trainee Pilots. Two from New Zealand and an English trainee and myself. We — all four of us — spent a 72 hour leave pass over Christmas with them. We had a lovely Christmas and being Canada it was breathtakingly ‘white’.
At this juncture I find it difficult to recall exactly what happened and in what order, so please bear with me.
After a fairly long solo cross country flight in a Harvard trainer to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, I suffered a severe case of sun blindness. It had been a perfect day for flying, no clouds, and clear sunshine. I really should have been issued with sunglasses to counter the refraction effect of sunlight on the snow covered foothills of the Rocky Mountains (but I wasn’t issued with any). I woke up the following morning and could not open my eyes. My eyelids were completely shut with a sticky discharge. So it was off to Sick Bay. After lengthy bathing with some eye solution my eyelids were freed, but my pupils were blood red and most painful. I then had to wear special dark glasses for quite a while. Until I got the all clear, I had had doubts about being fit to fly.
However I carried on training. We were instructed in the usual aerial practices, aerobatics, aerial combat, cross-country navigation, forced landings, night flying, dive bombing etc.
One of my instructors at Calgary was W/O Davidson, an ex-schoolteacher from Harrington, Cumberland. In fact he had taught woodwork and crafts at Harrington
School. I went there at intervals and recognised him, as he did me. He had also taught ‘Bud’ Storey our Navigator who came from Harrington.
Once when instructing us on night landings he saved our lives. I had selected the wrong lever, undercarriage for flaps. He reacted and made the necessary correction. The aircraft had seemed to almost stop. It was really scary. I received a deserved reprimand but heard nothing more: I think W/O Davidson had favoured one of his former woodwork pupils.
Actually his sister, Miss Davidson had also taught me at Distington village school (what a coincidence I thought).
When the first snow fell it was welcomed by most of us. We had been praying for rain after many, many weeks of sunshine. Everything had dried out. When airborne all you could see was drab looking stubble over the vast expanse of the prairie. Most of us longed for the cool rain and green fields of Britain.
After a very short time we experienced the Canadian Indian Summer. One day everything was snow covered. Within days the ‘Chinook’ wind had blown in through the Kicking Horse Pass in the Rocky Mountains from West to East. Then funnelled out all over the prairie surrounding Calgary. From the air it looked like a wide brown estuary of a river.
The pine forests of the Rockies of course remained evergreen until covered by the winter blizzards. And when they came, you certainly knew it. Temperatures well below zero and gales of extreme force. The snow was more like powdered dry ice. You just couldn’t face it without appropriate goggles. Even then you had to keep scraping them to see even faintly.
In between snowstorms the sun shone and the air was crisp and dry, so altogether it was quite pleasant.
Flying training continued as runways and local roads were soon cleared by snow ploughs. One morning we were awakened by the deep throated roar of aircraft engines. Almost instinctively you knew it was the sound of a different type of aircraft. It turned out to be the remainder of a flight section of twelve American fighter planes. Thunderbolts — powerful radial engined planes. Said to be excessively heavy and most difficult to control. They proved to be so for that flight. Twelve had taken off in the USA, only nine landed at Calgary. The other five had crashed either on take-off or during the flight. Of the remaining seven, only four continued on to their destination, Alaska. The three remaining planes either, having suffered engine failure or crashed.
We of course never found out how many planes made it to Alaska, as it was all top secret.
The Americans had apparently established an air link from America to the Aleutian Islands bordering Alaska and Russian territories near the North Pole. It was named the Alaskan Highway and was created for the purpose of defending North America from any possible intrusion from Russia or Japan.
We, trainee pilots of course were more concerned then relieved we hadn’t to fly Thunderbolts. As at that time we thought many of us would be flying fighter planes before too long. However, this was not to be as the RAF and USSAF were rapidly gaining ascendancy over German fighter squadrons and so the powers that be directed more efforts onto bombing missions (but more on this subject later, as time will tell).
We flew nearly every day on Harvard MKIIs. With a few sessions on Anson twin engined aircraft through December 1942 until and including April 1943. It was quite exhausting, although very interesting and most satisfactory for the morale.
Go to, "Memories of further Pilot Training in Canada in 1942/43 and in the UK Part 2."
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