By Frank Tibbo
During the summer of 1943, Gander RCAF Station had a "cleaning bee." Airmen were busy scrubbing, cleaning, waxing and polishing everything in sight. One fellow, who was on his knees swinging his brush, moved over a little as another chap, also clothed in coveralls, knelt by him to help clean the area. He glanced at his new helper and muttered a few expletives about the dirty job. The "new" guy avoided looking directly at the complainer but said, "You take a break – get a cup of coffee. I'll carry on here." The complainer said "Thanks" and off he went for his coffee. While he was drinking his coffee, one of the other coffee-drinkers said, "The old man let you off for a few minutes, eh?" It took a lot of convincing before the complainer realized it was the Commanding Officer of the Station who had relieved him for coffee.
The Commanding Officer's name was Group Captain C.L. Annis. He was one of the most respected men ever to be stationed at Gander.
Clare Annis was born in Highland Creek, Ontario, on January 22, 1912. He graduated from the University of Toronto in 1936 with a degree in engineering, specializing in thermo-dynamics and refrigeration. On graduation he turned down a job in the industry because he wanted to fly with the RCAF.
The August-September 1943 issue of "The Gander" (RCAF Gander magazine) notes that in June 1937 Annis flew with the first RCAF Squadron to make a cross-country trip in formation; in June 1940 he made the first landing of a Canadian military aircraft on Gander. On October 25, 1941, while stationed at Gander, he was the pilot of the first aircraft to make an attack on enemy U-Boats in North American waters.
His service in Gander was as a Squadron Leader (1941), Wing Commander (1943) and Group Captain (1943/44). In 1943 he was made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE). Later when he was asked why he had received the honour, he laughingly said, "For singing." He then went on to explain that it was the men and women under his command who deserved the honour and that he had only received it on their behalf. He was later promoted to Air Marshall.
An interesting entry in the RCAF log is as follows:
Nov. 1, 1941
Under direction of S/L Annis, Command Armament Officer, F/L Walton, Station Armaments Officer conducted an experiment with Mk.LL 250-lb. depth charges. An aircraft was fitted with one today and flown at a height of 70 feet over Gander Lake, the mechanism set to detonate at 100 ft. below surface, and observers on shore timed the explosion as being 12 seconds after release. It was considered possible to arm a Digby aircraft with 10 depth charges instead of four 600 lb. bombs and give greater damaging power.
Another interesting RCAF log entry concerns radio station VORG. It is a memo to the chairman of the Gander Broadcasting System from G/C G.L. Annis, dated February 8, 1944.
"The main control room shall remain in the basement of the C.O.'s residence; it shall be known as the radio outlet for the Gander Broadcasting System; the transmitter for VORG will be located in the RCAF transmitter area and will be remotely controlled from the main control room in the G.B.S. (Gander Broadcasting System)"
Contributed by F. Tibbo