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The “Spirit of Lockheed-Vega Employees”: A Counterargument

By Darrell Hillier

First off, I applaud Mr. Beaudoin for his tireless work on RAF Ferry Command. However, after reading the recent GAHS posting “Lockheed-Vega Hudson Mystery,” I felt that a brief counterargument was in order.

Beaudoin leaves readers to believe that the delivery of the gift Hudson T-9465, christened the “Spirit of Lockheed-Vega Employees,” was an event of noteworthy significance, and the absence or lack of media coverage in the United Kingdom therefore peculiar. Perhaps this is a case of assuming too much. For example, while British officials no doubt appreciated the gesture, perhaps they simply did not attach to it the same level of significance as contemporary historians. Indeed, neither its arrival nor alleged loss received mention in British War Cabinet papers, which, admittedly, proves nothing. The papers do reveal, however, that Britain’s primary focus in December 1940 was its very survival. Therefore, the arrival of a single aircraft was perhaps unlikely to garner a place on the cabinet’s agenda. Beaudoin further argues that “there is no known record of its … arrival in any newspaper in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England … at any time in December 1940.” This approach, or fallacy of omission, simply appeals to a lack of evidence to prove a point. In other words, there is no proof that the “Spirit” arrived, therefore, it did not arrive. Yet, later in the same article, Beaudoin discovered evidence to the contrary as a small number of British newspapers did announce the “Spirit’s” arrival. Downplaying this, he counters with a puzzling and unsubstantiated theory tying Lord Beaverbrook with media under-reporting, which conveniently serves to return us to his original conclusion. Furthermore, in attempting to establish this under-reporting as an anomaly of sorts, Beaudoin argues that “in those fledgling years of military aviation,” aircraft accidents were more likely than today to make the news. On the contrary, if Newfoundland and Labrador’s print media is any indication, in the interests of wartime secrecy and security, accidents rarely made the news unless they were fatal.

By focusing on the scarcity of evidence in the United Kingdom confirming the “Spirit’s” arrival, Beaudoin ostensibly ignores evidence to the contrary found in Canada. For example, entries in the RAF Watch Log for Gander, which recorded arrivals, departures and crew surnames, identify the crashed Hudson as T-9446, Captain Smith, pilot. “The machine burned out but [the] crew escaped unhurt,” the log notes. Conversely, the log records Hudson T-9465, the “Spirit of Lockheed-Vega Employees,” as departing Gander at 0032 hours on 29 December and arriving at Aldergrove, Ireland, at 1130 hours. Another Hudson, T-9445, returned to Gander due to engine trouble. Unless one believes these entries are part of a broader conspiracy, we cannot dismiss them as evidence.

The log also reveals that the “Spirit’s” pilot that night was Captain D.C.T. Bennett, who led the first flight of Hudsons across the Atlantic from Gander the month previous. The log identifies Bennett’s crew as Flying Officer Carlisle, and Radio Operators Giles and Myers. Yet, in arguing his case, Beaudoin states that, “There are no known records … of the three crew members” who were on the “Spirit” that December 1940 (as noted, there was actually four crewmembers. Lead aircraft during the early formation flights carried an extra operator in the event that one became incapacitated). In his memoirs, written more than a decade after the war, Bennett tells how he led the December formation flight, and how one aircraft crashed on take-off and another returned due to technical trouble, which is consistent with the RAF Watch Log. With the war over, and resigned from the RAF, Bennett likely had few reasons (save pride), and certainly none morale-related, to hide anything; yet he says nothing to suggest that he crashed the aircraft he was piloting, which is corroborated in the noted watch log evidence.

log

RAF Watch Log entries for 29 December 1940, recording departure and arrival times

Tom McGrath, Newfoundland Government employee with the Civil Aviation Division, was Gander’s operations officer that December. McGrath kept a diary of airport activities and in it likewise noted that Captain Smith’s T-9446, number six in the formation, “crashed and burned out – crew miraculously escaped.” The crash prohibited the seventh aircraft, T-9450, from taking off. As lead aircraft, Bennett’s “Spirit” was first to go, as confirmed in the RAF Watch Log. Had it been his aircraft that crashed, presumably none of the remaining six aircraft could have taken off, which was not the case.

Following the accident, Lieutenant Colonel H. Burchall, British Ministry of Aircraft Production representative in Montreal, instructed Gander aerodrome control officer Squadron Leader Harold A.L. Pattison, RAF (retired), to carry out an investigation. Pattison’s report consistently identifies the aircraft as T-9446, and its captain as V. Edward Smith, and not Harold Clifford Smith as noted in Beaudoin’s article. In addition to sworn statements from each crewmember, the report includes photographs of the burned out Hudson. No lettering or serial number is visible due to the condition of the wreck. Consequently, the photos neither prove nor disprove the identity of the aircraft, so it may be that some at Gander simply assumed it was the “Spirit,” or perhaps rumours circulated around the airfield to that effect. In further arguing that the crashed aircraft was actually the “Spirit,” Beaudoin suggests that someone took panels from the wreck bearing the signatures of Lockheed-Vega employees and used them to re-build another look-a-like Hudson. However, this assertion relies on unproven evidence, and as the photos illustrate, a salvageable panel hardly remained. Nevertheless, there is nothing in the accident report to suggest that the crash was anything but Hudson T-9446.

The basis of Beaudoin’s theory is that in the interests of public relations and morale, “some man with a big heart” intervened to ensure that an aircraft christened the “Spirit of Lockheed-Vega Employees” reached the United Kingdom, supposing that aircraft was a phoney, an imitation. One can hardly dismiss the conspiratorial insinuations implicit in such a theory. To do as Beaudoin suggests, fabricate another aircraft, an actualization of the original “Spirit” as it were, would have required more than the efforts of a big-hearted mystery man. It would have demanded the cooperation (and silence) of RAF and RCAF air and ground personnel, members of the Royal Rifles who guarded the wreck, airport firefighters, Newfoundland government officials, the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Air Services Department, the British Ministry of Aircraft Production, and so on. Furthermore, such a theory would likewise require that someone fabricate watch log entries and falsify Pattison’s accident report. The complications involved in carrying this invention to success are too multifarious to believe. Again, while I respect Mr. Beaudoin for his invaluable work and research on RAF Ferry Command, I am not convinced by his argument.

Submitted by D. Hillier

 

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