Wednesday, March 16, 2016

World War Wednesdays: Close to Home: Second World War Mishaps in Fingal and Beyond

      In my research of the No. 4 B&G in Fingal, I've come across a few accounts of incidents throughout Elgin County which can best be described as "a little too close to home." It never ceases to amaze me how the conditions in the area were so reflective of a wartime setting, with planes constantly flying overhead and training activities being conducted in places that are so familiar to all of us today. Like any group of people learning a completely new task, mistakes were made during these activities, and in this case the stakes were extremely high for the people of Elgin County. Here are a few of Fingal's luckiest (but also scariest) memories!

     Before we get started, I think it's of interest to mention that the young students were frequently scared with horror stories during their training. P/O John Macfie reflects that he and his peers were constantly assailed in ground school with a story of a trainee at a B&G school somewhere in Canada who dropped a bomb through the roof of a dance hall while night bombing, killing one woman. This training was a serious business!
Port Stanley lighthouse, ca. 1940

     The first incident comes from the reflections of Cpl. Harry Brown in Blair Ferguson's Southwold Remembers... The Fingal Observer, No. 4 B&G School. 

"There was a local lighthouse keeper in Port Stanley, Shelbourne "Sob" Taylor, who also ran a boat rental service and operated a small shipbuilding yard."

"In the fall of 1943, just after freeze up, there was an incident that makes my blood run cold when I think of it. Shortly after 0800 hours, on a cold, frosty morning, with poor visibility, a machine gunnery aircraft and a drogue shit were practicing air-to-air gunnery and due to poor visibility, the gunner opened fire right over the village of Port Stanley. I was alone at the Marine Section and had just gone outside when I heard the first short bursts of a few rounds. I could hear the bullets hitting the ground just a short distance away. I jumped down on the ice on the creek and stayed close to the wall of the dock. A few seconds later there was another burst right through the center of the village. I could hear bullets hitting the fishing fishing buildings across the creek. I had just climbed to the dock when Sob Taylor came running across the bridge, waving his arms and shouting, 'stop those gunners.' A bullet had come through the roof of his kitchen, grazed his wife's arm while she was cooking breakfast, hit the floor and bounced up, hit the ceiling and came to rest in a dish on the table. I called the Gunnery Section and they called in all gunnery and drogue ships until the fog lifted. Fortunately, Mrs. Taylor was not seriously injured."

From Perry Clutterbuck, Fingal:

"One day we were drawing hay into the barn where my brother now lives. We were drawing the hay off the wagon with a large hay fork, connected to a big rope. The rope was connected to a pickup truck, which backed down the barn bridge to pull the hay into the mow. Being someone who always wanted to be involved with what was going on, it was my job to pull the rope back up the hill so the truck would not run over it. While doing this I saw a Fairey Battle come down in the neighbor's field. We got over to the fence and had a good look at the plane. It came down with the wheels up and left a large mark across the hayfield. The propeller was bent, but there did not appear to be too much damage. A truck was brought in and the plane was loaded after the wings were taken off. It was not in the field very long."

Another from Cpl. Harry Brown:

"Early in 1941, surveying began [for the school's bombing and gunnery ranges] and after about two weeks, two suitable sites, one south of Melbourne and the other near Dutton were selected."

"The first few days of a new class were wild! Bombing range bombs crews talked about the first and second battles of Dutton and the battle of Melbourne. Bombs were dropped all over the area and at Melbourne one fell on the house of the farmer's wife who had so kindly served coffee and tea to the men clearing the sites. Fortunately it did not explode and no one was injured, but the farmer was irate when he reported it to the control tower. One day I was outside watching and LAC Ed Gilbert was manning the sight when I spotted one coming almost directly at the quadrant. I shouted a warning to Gilbert and fell to the ground to avoid flying splinters. The bomb hit about twenty yards from the shelter. I rushed in to check on Gilbert, as he had no time to get outside and found him crouched under the desk. We both had a good laugh over that one."
A final memory from F/S Carl Colley:

"Practicing continued and Carl was attached to the drogue section where he was required to go out into the fields and around the countryside picking up drogues. On one such occasion, a group of Australians were out picking up drogues and they found one that had been out in the field long enough for a skunk to claim it as her home. The Auzzies brought the drogue back to the station along with the unhappy skunk. Being from Australia they had no idea what the cute little creature was. Well, they found out, and they were not too popular around the station for the next few days."

     I hope these stories gave you even half the chuckle they gave the people who lived them! This week's post is just another piece of the positive outcomes and lighter times that come with every dark chapter. 
     Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

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