Military Ops





Mercy Flights

By Frank Tibbo

The Daily News, a St. John’s newspaper that has been out of business for quite a few years, sent a reporter to Gander in January 1945 to write an article about all the flying that was originating from Gander Airport. Gilmore Place, Gander, honours the Joseph Gilmore mentioned in the article.

The following are excerpts from the article:

When you think of the great Gander airport, you naturally picture to yourself hordes of giant bombers coming in there on their way to Europe, Africa and Asia. You picture them roaring in to alight upon the vast runways, getting refuelled and checked over, and then roaring off again to their destinations. That's the picture of Gander that you form in your mind – and quite rightly so, for since the Royal Air Force commenced operations at Gander in September 1940, the airport has handled literally thousands of aircraft that are devastating the war-works of Nazi Germany.

But that isn't the whole picture; for while Gander has been making international history with its skilled dispatch of the deadly bomber, it has been making local Newfoundland aviation history too. For besides the flying that's been done to and from Gander, an astonishing amount of flying has been done right here in Newfoundland, with Newfoundland herself the origin and destination of many hundreds of local flights.

It would be easy to distort the picture. Gander exists first, foremost and almost all the time to serve the fleets of bombers being delivered to the war fronts; for 24 hours in each day of the year it exists to give the maximum of speed and delivery of bombers. To that end R.A.F. Transport Command continues hourly to devote its remarkable best.

The local flying done has been incidental to R.A.F.T.C.'s bigger, and more fundamental job, but from Newfoundland's standpoint that local flying has been of the utmost value. Newfoundland may congratulate herself upon the fact that her great airport is playing so deadly a part in the destruction of Nazism, but she may also congratulate herself upon the fact that coincidentally R.A.F.T.C. Gander-based planes are flying thousands of miles within Newfoundland, to many dozens of Newfoundland settlements along thousands of miles of Newfoundland coast.

Over 100,000 miles have been flown in Newfoundland, in the past two years by R.A.F.T.C: planes based at Gander. That is almost the equivalent of flying seventeen times around our entire coast, following every indentation of the shoreline. That flying has been done mainly in single-engine Moths and Norsemen planes, and twin-engine Cansos. It has been done with wheels, floats and skis, in all seasons of the year under almost all conceivable types of Newfoundland weather. The ships are based at Gander for R.A.F.T.C.'s air-sea rescue work, and some of the flying has been done in connection with that work. Some has been done as mercy flights to bring patients to Gander or elsewhere for hospitalization. Many flights have been made in connection with searches, with repairs to stricken aircraft, with routine calls to outlying depots associated with R.A.F.T.C., and a variety of other purposes falling under no particular classification.

From Newfoundland's standpoint – from the standpoint of adding valuably to local aviation experience and knowledge – it is a lucky thing that all of this flying has not been done by the air-sea rescue, crews stationed at Gander from time to time. The personnel of these crews has been a changing one, and none of them remained long enough in Newfoundland to accumulate a really all-round Newfoundland experience. Fortunately a great deal of the local flying has been done by two men who have been in Newfoundland for a considerable length of time. These are the Commanding Officer of R.A.F.T.C. at Gander, Group Captain D. F. Anderson, DFC; AFC, and the Chief Engineer of the Unit Mr. Joseph J. Gilmore. Of the 500 or more flights made in Newfoundland by RA.F.T.C Gander-based planes in the past two years, these veteran fliers have piloted well over half. Group Captain Anderson himself has flown over 100 hours, while Chief Engineer Gilmore has flown even more – 241 hours. These have almost without exception been flights made by both pilots apart from their onerous normal duties at the airport.

Again from Newfoundland's standpoint it is a lucky thing that Group Captain Anderson and Chief Engineer Gilmore made so many flights, for each of them almost invariably took a Newfoundland-born member of the Aircraft Maintenance staff with him as aircraft engineer. In this capacity such Newfoundlanders as Angus J. Steele, Samuel Blandford; Harry Young, Frank Richard Gaul, John J. Fennell, John C. MacDonald, Michael Noonan, John Dawson, Claude Burry, James Reid, Gordon Locke and Edward Fitzgerald have flown in and around all parts of the Island. These aircraft mechanists hail from St. John's, Port Blandford, Gambo, Catalina, Wesleyville, Codroy, St. Jacques, Trinity and Bell Island, and on more than one occasion their specialized geographical knowledge proved of benefit in the flight.

Group Captain Anderson and Chief Engineer Gilmore are both of them men with deep interest in and liking for Newfoundland and Newfoundlanders, one evidence of which is the fact that today the overwhelming majority of the aircraft maintenance staff of R.A.F.T.C. at Gander are Newfoundlanders. The Commanding Officer's own confidential clerk, Mr. John E. Murphy, is a native of St. John's. The Chief Engineer's secretary, Mr. Gerald P. Wakeham is also a native of St. John's. Mr. Gilmore's right-hand man, Mr. John J. Fennell, foreman of the department, is a Newfoundlander. And a majority of the aircraft Maintenance Crew Chiefs are Newfoundlanders, some of whom entered R.A.F.T.C. as apprentices and learned their trade at Gander. It's no exaggeration to say that the aircraft maintenance department of this unit is one of the most skilfully efficient operating anywhere.

As for Mr. Gilmore himself, a strong case can be made to support the claim of numerous veteran transatlantic pilots who say that he is the greatest airplane mechanic in the world today. A catalogue of Mr. Gilmore’s connections with the aircraft industry sounds something like history of aviation itself. His introduction to the industry was in 1917, when he worked at the manufacture of airplane engines at Belfast, Ireland. In 1931, at Balonne Airport in County Dublin, he actually built a small aircraft for himself and flew it around 300 hours. For some time he held the gliding record for Ireland. In 1933, having been for several years a civil engineer with the Irish Free State Army Air Force, he made the first parachute descent from an airplane in Ireland, that being, the first of fifteen jumps he made there. In that same year he joined Imperial Airways as an aircraft engineer on loan to the Railway Air Services in the British Isles at Rolandsway Airport, the Isle of Man and Poole. He was then posted to the Atlantic division of Imperial Airways at Montreal in connection with that airline's inauguration of its famous first Transatlantic Air Service. Since then, with the exception of an experimental flight to Arabia, he has been on this side of the Atlantic.


Joe Gilmore

Having returned to Imperial Airways at Montreal in 1939, in 1940 he transferred to Canadian Pacific’s Air Service department which was set up specifically for the delivery of bombers to the United Kingdom. Mr. Gilmore was that new organization's first employee, so that he was in at the very birth of the Atlantic ferrying of "bombers to Britain." Having once before visited Newfoundland, to organize the Imperial Airways base at Botwood, he, was transferred permanently to Gander in 1941 to organize and superintend a new aircraft maintenance department for the newly organized R.A.F. Ferry Command, now known as. R.A.F. Transport Command. Ever since his arrival at Gander, the servicing of every aircraft making the long hops has been his personal responsibility, so that thousands of planes of many types have passed through his hands. With this vast experience, plus eight Atlantic crossings of his own, it could safely be said that Chief Engineer Gilmore has unequalled qualifications in the handling of aircraft on the North Atlantic.

Mr, Gilmore has a number of inventions to his credit and the first aircraft (Hudsons) to fly the Atlantic in wintertime were equipped by him with Carburettor de-icing. This feature is now standard in all types of aircraft and has proved invaluable in the conquest of icing hazards along the northern route. He is a member of; the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences of America and of the recently formed Society of Licensed Aircraft Engineers of Great Britain.

Mr. Gilmore is proud of the fact that he has with him in his department two real veterans of local Newfoundland aviation, in the persons of Mr. Angus J. Steele and Mr. William Manuel. Angus Steele, a native of St. John's, entered local aviation in 1934 as airplane mechanic apprentice with captain Doug Fraser on the small Curtis-Robin high-wing mono-plane used for commercial flying. That same year, the Newfoundland government having imported two Fox Moths, VO-ADE and VO-ABC, he transferred with Captain Fraser to the government service, and continued with that service until it closed out, whereupon he joined the C.P.R. Atlantic Ferry service at Gander in 1940. He continued with them and R.A.F. Ferry Command and is with Transport Command to this day. Since entering aviation Mr. Steele has logged over 1000 hours of flying in Newfoundland. He is the first Newfoundlander to receive a grounds engineer's license. Mr. Manuel, a native of Norris Arm, lately recruited by RAFTC at Gander, first entered the industry at his native home and had some years at it.

Contributed by F. Tibbo


top return to top