Wednesday, December 16, 2015

World War Wednesdays: The Second Christmas at No. 4 B&G, Fingal, 1941

     This week we're back at it again with holiday reminisces from the No. 4 Bombing and Gunnery School, Fingal, courtesy of Winston B. St. Clair! If you recall back to last week's account of the first Christmas there in 1940, things had just gotten off to a rocky (or should I say muddy) start, and holiday celebrations were quite restrained for a number of reasons. Here's the account for the next year to see if things had turned around:

     The Christmas Season at Fingal was celebrated in a much more pleasant environment than that of a year earlier. The mud problem was well on its way to being solved by paving the roads and the parade square, and by grassing over construction scars. The heating problems were overcome to a great extent but were never completely solved. A half mile long cinder track with sports field had been built in the spring, and a farm house had been converted to a YWCA Hostess House. A fire hall and a Works and Buildings compound had been constructed, and the hospital was enlarged.
     To improve the overall living environment an ongoing program of station beautification was put in place, and the land for a water pipe line to Port Stanley was expropriated in early December. In addition to being home to No. 4 B&GS, Fingal station was also home to No. 4 Personnel Holding Unit, alias, the Fingal Manning Depot. Hangar No. 1 had been turned into a 500 bed barrack block to accommodate these men and its apron was turned into tennis courts. In spite of the transient nature of the personnel of this unit it provided large numbers of self motivated go-getters who kept the entertainment pot at Fingal boiling.

     Two of the major factors that distinguished the Christmas of 1941 from the previous year were the generous holiday leave policy of the Air Force, and the degree of planning that went into the festivities. Undoubtedly the large scale AWOLS (away without leave) of the previous Christmas at the Technical Training School, at St. Thomas, and to a lesser extent at No. 1 Wireless School at Montreal had been a bitter lesson to the Air Force on the relative merits of morale and training schedules. Also of importance was that by now the social organization of the new schools were fairly well established, and a number of committees had been put in place to keep things moving smoothly.

     Typical of the committees at Fingal were; Canteen Committee; Airmen's Mess Committee; Entertainment Committee; Sports Committee; General Fund Committee; and Fire Committee. On 5 November the entertainment committee met to set plans for the 1941/42 winter season, and a week later it discussed the details of the two weeks of entertainment for the coming Christmas season. On 28 November the editorial board of the Fingal Observer met to plan a special Christmas edition of the magazine.
     The Christmas season of 1941 not only found the Air Force better organized, but so too was the St. Thomas Chamber of Commerce. Considerable advertisement had been directed towards RCAF personnel through the year, and the merchants of St. Thomas again held a special Christmas shopping night just for airmen on 16 December. The Times-Journal of the following day described the event as being very successful. By this time another RCAF school, No. 14 Service Flying Training School was in operation in nearby Aylmer. The Air Force was now big business in Elgin County as about 7,500 service and civilian personnel a month drew pay cheques from one or another of these schools. 

     The Christmas Season of 1941 took on a form that would be followed at Fingal for the remainder of the school's existence. The season was also much happier at the nearby Technical Training School. In contrast to 1940's one day holiday which created many AWOLs and other disciplinary problems, airmen in 1941 were given 5 days leave and special rail cars from three major railroads loaded holiday bound airmen at the London and Port Stanley Railway stop at the Technical Training School in St. Thomas. In addition to the organized transportation out of St. Thomas, over 1,500 young men made their own travel arrangements. 

     The second year at Fingal was thus a marked improvement from the first, and its success set the standard for Christmas celebrations there in the years to come. Stay tuned next week to see how things changed by 1942, when the gals of the Women's Division joined in the festivities!

     Thanks for reading, 

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