“Jimmy” Westaway - Newfoundland's Hero
By Frank Tibbo
Serendipity it’s called – when one accidentally discovers something fortunate while looking for something else entirely. I was researching something for Gander’s North Atlantic Aviation Museum in The Royal Canadian Air Force at War 1939 – 1945 by Larry Milberry and Hugh Halliday, when I saw a reference to Gander and rescue missions.
You will remember the intriguing story of Joe Gilmore (Gilmore Place, Gander), the mechanic/pilot who made many rescue missions in wartime Gander and who was made an MBE (Member of the British Empire). Well, it seems that Gander was blessed with another of Joe’s calibre. He was F/O Horace W. “Jimmy” Westaway (C10734).
I checked the Gander wartime RCAF Station Diary; and sure enough, here was the following item:
Jan. 29, 1945
Gander's Norseman, piloted by F/O Westaway, left on a mercy trip to Seal Cove, on the Strait of Belle Isle to bring in two civilians who are seriously ill. F/O Westaway is shortly leaving the service but many people in the isolated regions of Newfoundland will long remember him. His many trips have been the means of saving many lives.
Westaway was honoured with a MID (Mention in Despatches). The award was effective November 3, 1944, with the following citation:
“This officer has faithfully and capably discharged his duties as a service pilot over a long period of time. His outstanding ability in the operation of aircraft on skis and floats, often in localities far from base and under hazardous conditions, has been most praiseworthy. Many of these flights have resulted in the saving of civilian lives by making hospital treatment possible for serious cases. His cheerful willingness and untiring devotion to duty, under difficult circumstances, have brought high respect for himself and the service in a foreign area.”
Shortly after that on December 1, 1944, he was awarded the Air Force Cross (AFC).
The Royal Canadian Air Force at War 1939 – 1945 has the following which includes the circumstances leading to his being awarded the AFC:
“A near-legendary figure in Eastern Air Command was F/O Horace W. “Jimmy” Westaway at Station Gander. A British-born veteran of the First World War (infantry and RFC), with RAF Middle East flying experience in the 1920s, he had migrated to Canada in 1929 to become a pilot with the Ontario Provincial Air Service. With war declared, he persuaded the air force to give him an aircrew medical exam. He amazed the doctors, of whom it was later written, “They practically took him apart, bit by bit, but they couldn’t find anything that was even slightly worn.” Admitted to the RCAF “General List,” he was assigned to Gander, where he became “Mr. Mercy,” flying a Norseman adapted to carry two stretcher cases, a doctor and a nurse."
Westaway was a superb pilot. In winter he could use an ice hillock to bounce a heavily-loaded aircraft into the air during take-off. Late in 1944, a station press officer wrote:
“Flying Officer Westaway has a personal war with the stork because he is often called to race the old fellow to the hospital here. So far he has always won but he is seriously worried about photo finishes. There are many little Newfoundlanders who claim Jimmy for a Godfather and many of them owe their lives to his superior flying skill which enables him to come through in weather that grounds the ducks."
Although much of his work involved civilians in distress, it was a service-related incident that brought Westaway formal recognition. On September 6, 1944, a Harvard crashed 12 miles from Gander. He took off in deteriorating weather, located the crash site, identified two survivors and landed a ground party at a nearby lake before returning to base. Next day, with foul weather continuing, he flew back to the crash site, making ‘one of his famous small area landings,’ and evacuated two injured survivors. On December 1 it was announced that Westaway had been awarded the AFC: he was 51 years old.”
What the above article did not say was that Westaway found the crashed aircraft after all other rescue aircraft had been recalled. The crashed Harvard was 3068, piloted by F/O E.J. Leonard who had on board ground crewman LAC G.L. Smithers. Westaway was flying Norseman 789 when he found the Harvard approximately four miles north of Gander Lake.
Editor's note; In addition we have found an article published in Gander 1944 by RCAF Station " The Gander" magazine in which they write an article about "Jimmy" Westaway in a more personal manner. He died as a result of an airplane crash in 1948
Contributed by F. Tibbo