The Biggs' Boys
Online by the
By Ken Stofer
Copyright 2005, 2006, 2007 Ken Stofer, All Rights Reserved
Biography of Dennis Ashby
On the outbreak of World War Two, my home was a 100 acre farm owned by
W.E. Boeing of Boeing Aircraft, on the Cowichan flats
at the mouth of the
In 1939/40, if you wanted to join the R.C.A.F. and didn't have a degree you couldn't become a pilot. I guess for some reason or other I had decided that was what I wanted to be.
I heard of
Captain Seymour-Biggs through articles in the paper, about other chaps going to
join the R.A.F., so I went to see him in his office in
I went to see
Bishop Sexton for a letter of recommendation. I got another letter of
recommendation from a friend of Dr. Livingstone, a well-known eye specialist
with the R.A.F. who
after the war retired to
buying my ticket for overseas right there in Biggs' office - $187.50,
I went over in
September, 1940. Nothing
significant occurred on the train trip across
about 40 or 50 RCAF personnel on the ship.
Most of them were from the prairies and the east, so of course we
kibitzed back and forth, they teasing me about being west of the
I went down in the engine room during the trip - and you could certainly feel the tension down there. You are away down, and it's "miles" up to the deck. I passed through air tight doors into the stoke hold...if the ship had been torpedoed they'd really be trapped.
We docked at
recollect how I got from the ship at the dock to the railway station, but I
must have looked absolutely stunned in the railway station, because this porter
came up to me and said, "Where are you going?" I told him that I was going to
"Give me two pounds, leave your bags, I'll get your ticket and you be back here at such and such a time," he said.
I just gave him the money and that could have been the end of it. I think I had two or three hours to wait and I don't remember now what I did, but when I came back, there he was, with my ticket and the bags. Talk about honest - I mean here was a guy (me), who was obviously as green as grass - he could have taken that money and my bags.
He put me on the train. I never gave him a tip. I just thanked him.
forget my arrival in
The next day I
made my way to
I thought I
had come to
The next morning a Corporal comes running in to the barracks hammering on a garbage can lid yelling, "Wakee, wakee! Rise and shine." I remember I had to polish the floor that day in spite of the fact it already looked like a mirror.
I did my
square-bashing drill at Morecombe, on the west coast,
just north of
Later I was
It was rather exceptional here. I was just a lowly AC2 with my white flash (in cap) and yet I had a batman. Four of us would sit down to eat together to a table with white linen tablecloth, silver, sugar on the table (all rationed in those days), just incredible.
Our flying instructor whom we called Basil Rathbone, because of his likeness to the movie actor, was obviously running a peacetime operation. Of the 33 of us there training as pilots, six got through. "Basil" scrubbed all kinds of good guys that I thought would have made excellent pilots.
He was a real nut on spinning. I knew this so I kind of played this up a bit and that probably helped my cause. He'd say, "Do you see that house? I want you to go into a spin and do six spins and come out on that house."
I had one instructor, I don't recall the incident but I can remember him saying "The road to heaven is paved with too much bottom rudder." - and so we flew out of Woodley.
There were no actual runways - just a nice field. We did a lot of our flying out of a farmer's field a few miles away. They put up a Nissen hut, and knocked a few fences down to make a T-shaped field. It was a beautiful summer to learn to fly.
I passed out
of Woodley okay and was posted to
Once again, the field at that time was a farmer's pasture with some fences removed. For night flying the flare-path was those coal-oil flares that you used to see on the road before the days of the present day flashing electric devices. This together with the glide path indicator was all we had.
On this occasion I was up with a Pilot Officer Chance, my instructor, for my first night flying familiarization in an Airspeed Oxford. My recollection is that there was a light ground mist - anyway, P.O. Chance made a nice approach and did a perfect three-point landing - unfortunately it was on the top of the ground mist, about 50 feet up. The aircraft fell like a stone and when it hit the wheels were driven through the wings and the back half of the aircraft fell off. We both unbuckled and walked out through the hole in the back none the worse for wear. The next night, to restore my confidence I was taken up by the chief flying instructor.
I went back in 1983 and was asking around and they said, "Oh you were probably up there on the hill at Ablington." I went up and had a nostalgic look around but there was only some concrete here and there and the runways had been torn up. It had been developed into a more permanent field than when I was there.
I got my wings
It was a very substantial station. There was a brick Sgts. Mess and a WAAFs' Mess. I'm sure it is still there to this day. We worked our way into the winter in pretty grim conditions and I had an interesting experience, one that I fortunately survived.
It had snowed and all station personnel were called out to clear the runways. This resulted in piles of snow on each side of the runway. We had a Rhodesian chap in charge of flying and on this particular day he sent a crew up to do an exercise. The pilot couldn't get the aircraft up off the ground; it kept swinging to the right all the time. He made a couple of attempts and couldn't manage it. The Rhodesian pulls the pilot out and he puts me in, and says: "Ashby, you take it up!" And I, bloody fool that I was, couldn't refuse. I managed to get the thing off the ground but it was swinging to the right. The upshot of the thing was that the controls had been hooked up backwards and the more you tried to correct the swing the worse you made it. Well, we never got the wheels up and just swung around through the tops of the trees and came around and landed across the runway through the piles of snow. How we survived I don't know. I mean the tops of the trees were above us, oh God, and all these other poor guys in the aircraft.
Not long after that my pleurisy
re-occurred and I had to go to the hospital. I was diagnosed as having T.B. I can't
recall just where I was sent at that time but it was some hospital on the
northeast coast of
I came home on the Empress of Scotland. The skipper was a Captain Thomas (remember that name). I think it was either in February or March 1943. It was rougher than blazes. Everybody was sick. I wasn't and so volunteered to do submarine watch on the bridge, just to get out in the open.
After I had
been home for awhile my T.B. broke out again and I went to
I was actually
at home in
I have spent many years (4 out of 6 at one point) in hospital as a consequence of contracting T.B. while in the service.
----- Dennis Ashby
[Dennis Ashby died in 1991]
Copyright 2007 Ken Stofer, All Rights Reserved
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