The Biggs' Boys
By Ken Stofer
Copyright 2001 Ken Stofer, All Rights Reserved
Biography of David Lloyd George Evans
Ground Crew, No. 603 Squadron, 78 Squadron, 6125 Squadron, RAF, 419 Sqdn, 428 Sqdn, 434 Sqdn, 410 Sqdn, RCAF
I was born in Oak Bay, on the outskirts of Victoria, B.C. In 1924 when I was seven years old, my family moved to Brentwood Bay, about 15 miles from Victoria. I went to school at West Saanich and Mt. Newton High. In 1934 I left school and worked at various jobs; boat building, fishing guide etc. My last job as a civilian was from 1937 until August 1938 in the Privateer Mine at Zeballos on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island. I left there and went home to Brentwood Bay.
I attempted to enlist in the R.C.A.F., but they had a waiting list about a mile long. I heard the R.A.F. were recruiting in Canada so I checked with the British Consul. They informed me that a Captain Seymour-Biggs in Victoria, was recruiting for the Royal Air Force. I went to his home. He explained that if the R.A.F. approved my application I would have to find my own way to England. I remember Captain Biggs' parrot, Polly. It used to say something like "pass me the beer" or "I want a drink of beer."
I filled out the application form Biggs gave me and then I had to get some character references. I remember one person who signed it was the Chief of Police of Saanich, Joe Bull. I returned the completed application to Captain Biggs and a few weeks later he advised me my application had been approved. Now all I had to do was somehow get passage to England.
Mr. King of King Bros. Shipping was a friend of my mothers. He got me a berth on an English freighter. The boat was loaded with iron ore for Germany and lumber for England. I signed on as an ordinary seaman to replace a chap who had skipped the ship. We sailed from Ogden Point, in Victoria on the 20th of December, 1938. I remember Captain Biggs along with my mother, sister, and brother-in-law, came to see me off.
I had no problem getting used to ship's life as I had worked on the Mill Bay Ferry and the Black Ball Ferry. We arrived and anchored off the Panama Canal on Christmas Day while waiting for a crew to come aboard and take the ship through.
We were not allowed ashore. That evening we had Christmas dinner and a little bit of a celebration aboard the ship. There was a German cruise ship anchored not very far from us and we could hear the tourists singing all the German songs. I could see the lights going on and off while they sung and danced away all night having a grand old time. On our old freighter we were eating chicken and had a couple of bottles of beer.
In the morning a crew came aboard and took over the ship to take us through the canal. It was very interesting. I remember men marching up and down on the side of the canal with machine-guns over their arms - it was a regular patrol. I think they were Americans, I'm not quite sure.
I talked to the pilot up on the deck and he let me take the wheel over for a while as I was a "sort of honoured guest" aboard the ship...even if they did work me hard.
I recall looking over the side of the ship and seeing crocodiles swimming around in the water. On reaching the Atlantic side of the canal the pilot and crew left and we took over the running of the ship. Now my work really started as all the coal bunkers had to be cleaned out ready for re-coaling when we got to Jamaica. All the rust had to be removed from the hold. We were given a hammer and a chisel to chip it off. It's a long tedious job chipping all the rust away. Because of the noise we put cotton-batten in our ears. It was so hot we stripped right down to the waist in shorts. After the hold was clean we had to wash it, floors and all. Then we had to re-paint the entire hold. I think I must have worked in that hold, all the way to Jamaica.
We docked at Port Royal, Jamaica, Friday, December 30, 1938, and spent Saturday the 31st ashore, celebrating New Year's Eve. We had all day Sunday to recover. On Monday the bunkers were filled with coal and we left there January 3rd, 1939...next stop England. We had fun catching flying fish - they were nice eating, which was a change.
The weather was fine at first and then suddenly with hardly any warning we were in the center of a storm and what a blow. It was bad. Some of the stays that held the lumber had broken allowing it to slide, creating a 10 degree list to Port. With a lot of luck and hard work the crew managed to stop further sliding. Luckily the wind abated. However we had to travel at half speed. We were behind our scheduled arrival in England.
We arrived at the West Indies docks, London, about the 18th of January, 1939. I was paid off and given a message that a commissioner from the R.A.F. would come for me on Monday, the 19th. I can still see him standing at the foot of the gangplank. There was a rather amusing, if not touching scene as I left the ship. The captain and crew lined up and saluted me as I walked down the gangplank. The captain told me should I change my mind about joining the R.A.F. there would be a job for me on his ship.
The R.A.F. commissioner had a van. We loaded ourselves aboard and he took me to the Y.M.C.A. near Victoria Station.
At 9 a.m. sharp, Friday, January 20, I reported to R.A.F. H.Q. London, as instructed, and was put into a waiting room. Later I was sent to another room where I was asked a few questions. I was given some exam papers to fill out, which I did and turned in. I was then sent up to another room where I had a medical examination. I was given some forms and instructions to keep with me and told they were finished with me for the day. I returned to my lodgings at the YMCA. I stayed there all day Saturday and Sunday.
Monday, the 23rd of January, I was picked up in the morning by a lorry along with some other chaps (I was the only Canadian) and we travelled to West Drayton. There they gave us another short arm inspection (medical).
We all lined up for our uniforms; pants, jacket, hat and shoes, and were marched off to a hut where we were told to try everything on.
We were each given a piece of paper with a number. This was our regimental number and mine was 631725. "MEMORIZE IT!" they said, "AND NEVER FORGET IT!" So we all sat there reading our numbers aloud until somebody said, "SHUT UP!" Later, dressed in our uniforms, and with all of our civilian clothes in a duffle bag, we were marched down to the railway station. We boarded a train which took us to a sub-depot of Finningley, Yorkshire, just outside of Doncaster. Here I did my foot-slogging and it was tough - up early - breakfast at 7 a.m. - bed inspection at 8 a.m. - shoes spit and polished, even the soles, and brass buttons shining. We had early morning runs across the Yorkshire Moors, and square-bashing with full pack when we returned: "LEFT-RIGHT, LEFT-RIGHT, EYES RIGHT, EYES LEFT"; saluting, chin in, chest out, and so on. The regulars used to give us a rough time. Seventy-six squadron was there. In those days there were L.A.C. and Corporal aircrew, pilots etc.
The fact I was a Canadian helped me get away with shirking duty a lot more than I should have. I recall the sergeant in charge of the rifle range. When he found out I was a good shot he made a deal with me. I was to shoot poorly the first few rounds and then he would suggest to all within earshot that we each put a shilling into the pot. The best shot would win it all. Well of course I would win and the sergeant and I shared the pot. It was a good deal while it lasted.
We had our passing out parade April Fool's day 1939 and of course who turned to the right on the left wheel order? Me! Some fool. On the 4th of April, 1939, I was posted to R.A.F. Station, Bicester, for reclassification, trying for aircrew, but failed and was posted to #1 Wing Henlow.
I was reclassified Flight Mechanic, AC2 on April 14th and on the 2nd of June, posted to #3 Wing Locking, near Weston-Super-Mare, where I did my Flight Mechanic's training.
Two little incidents happened at #3 Wing that are quite amusing. We were required to stand guard so many hours each evening. One evening I was on guard duty around the hospital. A few ambulances were parked there. Curious, I looked inside one of them and sat down. I decided to have a little snooze. When my duty was over I went back to the barracks, went to bed and was excused training the next day because of the night's duty.
The following morning while shaving getting ready to go to work, I noticed my hands and face had a bit of a rash. I didn't think too much of it. I went for breakfast and then to the hangar and reported to the instructor who was giving us instructions on aircraft engines. He took one look at me and said, "Hey what happened to you? You're all red. You have a rash. You had better go up and see the M.O. right now." I went off up to the hospital and sure enough I had German measles. They shipped me off to the hospital at Cheddar, where I stayed for 10 days. It seems that the ambulance I had climbed into had carried a patient with German measles.
I was sent up to the Orderly Room one day and was passing a parked car beside which a young lady, just a girl, was standing. She had on a uniform of some sort, but I didn't know what she was. To me she was just a young lady. She was cute and I being young, just said, "Hi." as I walked past her. All of a sudden I hear this female voice scream out: "AIRMAN!" I stopped in my tracks. She says, "COME HERE!" I walked back. "Don't you salute an officer when you see one?" she asked. I said "yes."
"Well why didn't you salute me?" she said. I said "Well you're a woman. I don't salute women." I just turned and walked back into the office. I got called up in front of the C.O. and he told me it wasn't the person I was saluting it was the King's uniform (commission). I said I was sorry and he dismissed me.
On December 15, 1939 I qualified as Flight Mechanic AC1 and was posted to #8 FTS Broomfield, Scotland about three miles north of Montrose right on the edge of the sand dunes. It had been an auxiliary and private flying club in 1938. In December of 1939, there were four Tiger Moths, four Mark I Ansons, and I think six Hawker Harts and 603 City of Edinburgh Spitfire Squadron. I was attached to `B' Flight of 603 Squadron. When our group arrived, the barracks had not been completed, so we were billeted in private homes. We were taken to and from the base daily by lorry.
My room mates were two lads from Glasgow and one from London. The lads from Glasgow were real nice lads and very friendly, telling me all about their homes and way of life in Glasgow. All they could talk about was haggis and hoped that they would soon get some. Eventually this haggis turned up. They got out their billy-cans and took the haggis downstairs to have it cooked up. They brought it up to me, put it on the table and sliced it up. They gave me a great big slab of it. I was expecting something real nice and was looking forward to a nice feast with them. I can still see them drooling over it. I took a mouthful of it and phooey! I ran up to the bathroom and got rid of it in a hurry. That was the last haggis I ever had. The lads had a great laugh over that.
The other lad from London was a quiet chap and kept on his own. But one night when we were in a pub and we'd had a few ales, he started asking me a lot of questions about things I thought were not to be talked about during war time. He was later arrested and detained as a member of Moseley's Blackshirts. I had to go up in front of the Chief Constable in Montrose. I was asked to repeat the conversation I'd had with this guy, as well as I could remember. I had to make a statement. They wrote it all out and I signed it, and that was that.
One day I had to go to the stores at 8 FTS. WAAFs had just come to work in the stores at that time. The young lady who served me at the counter was as green as grass. I told her I wanted some files. She got a few files down and I looked at them. Then I said I want that bastard file over there. She immediately called out "Sergeant! come here, this airman just swore at me. He just called me a bad name." Of course he had to explain to her that was what they called a coarse file.
While I was with 603 Squadron I got to know some lads named Peter Pearce, Pinchard and Hillary. They were at that time Sgt. pilots and before they left to go down to Hornchurch, they were promoted to Pilot Officers. Later, during the Battle of Britain they made quite a name for themselves.
Quite a few Canadians joined us while I was at 8 FTS and they were all L.A.C. cadets. I remember one whose name was Brown, another Johnson, and another Beurling. That was THE "buzz" Beurling who made quite a name for himself.
In those days in (1939-1940), they had an unwritten law that all cadets in the last passing out flight had to take up a ground crew member. The routine was to make a couple of circuits and then land. There were so many accidents, with some of the fellows getting killed in crashes, that they had a job getting ground crew to fly with them. They offered us money and we used to charge them a pound, worth about four or five dollars then. We called it blood money. I went up quite often with different fellows. I don't know if I went up with Beurling, but I know I went up with Brown. It was quite interesting. They used to try to scare the heck out of us by doing a few dives and loops and then fly low to chase the farmers off the haystacks. After accomplishing that they were considered to be passed out as pilots.
I stayed with 8 FTS until August of 1940, when 603 was moved to Hornchurch. Meanwhile 8 FTS had been re-stocked with Miles Masters and I later returned to them to work on `A' Flight #4 Wing.
In February, 1940 we had our first bombing. A lone Dornier 17, appeared out of the fog bank one morning. It happened to be NAAFI time. The lads were lined up for tea and hardrock. We were all looking up at this strange aircraft approaching and then suddenly somebody shouted, "Hey, it's a Jerry." I remember myself and another chap diving behind a pile of sandbags that were going to be made up into a gunpit. I think Jerry was just as surprised as we were. I don't think he knew the aerodrome was there. He dropped three bombs and the rear gunner fired a burst in our general direction and then he disappeared up into the fog. By the time 603 got a Spitfire up after him he was gone. I don't think they ever did see him. It was a little quiet after that. We had a few warnings, but that was about all.
We used to put out gooseneck flares on the runways for night flying to aid aircraft coming in to land. Jerry aircraft were always hanging about somewhere, so we were each allotted so many flares. As soon as a warning or a red flare was fired into the sky our job was to run out and put out the flares in our charge, because sure as heck old Jerry would be coming in on our flarepath. He would follow one of our Miles Masters in as it landed and drop a few bombs, strafe a little bit and away he would go again. Then we'd have to clear the runway of wrecked aircraft, because after he had bombed there was always debris or maybe the odd body to pick up. Then out we'd go and put the flares back and start all over again.
A lot of those poor fellows in flying training never had a chance. It was pretty rough on them.
We used to have a regular funeral parade every day at 1 o'clock. There were always one or two coffins.
We had a real bad air raid in September. It's a day I'll not forget. We had been working on a Miles Master. I told my mates I was going out of the camp to get something. I got on to my bike, booked out of the guardroom and had just started down the road when three low-flying Dorniers came over and straffed and bombed the aerodrome. What a mess!
One bomb crashed through the roof of the hangar and exploded on top of the aircraft I'd been working on, killing all the crew and most of the fellows in the hangar. My two Scots room mates were killed. After that I was never able to make a real close friend. We lost 27 men that day. I'll never forget it.
On the 17th of February, 1941 and incidently one of the coldest winters in England in years, I was posted to Cosford #2 S of T.T. to train as a Fitter II. A Flight Mechanic in the R.A.F. could never become an N.C.O. So at Cosford I took my advanced training and passed out as a Fitter II. AC1.
On the 3rd of May 1941 I was transferred back to 8 FTS as an AC1 fitter. Reverting to an AC1 after being an L.A.C. Flight Mechanic didn't sit too good on my shoulders, but it wasn't long before I became an L.A.C. Fitter II again. I was posted to a holding unit just outside Blackpool in December. I spent Christmas there and was then issued with shorts, a Pith helmet and other tropical gear. I thought I was heading for the Far East, or some such place. One day I happened to be passing the Orderly Room so I thought I'd go in and have a talk with one of the fellows. A few were sitting down at a desk making out a list of postings to different areas. I heard someone say, "Well we have this draft going to Canada." Right away my ears perked up. "What's this about a draft to Canada?" I said.I was told there was a draft leaving in January for Canada. Immediately I went over to see one of the officers and told them I hadn't been home for quite a long time. I was lucky. I can remember quite clearly it was a lovely day. I was sent down to Southampton to board an old Dutch coaster called the Volderdam. It was quite an old ship. There were a few returning wounded Canadian soldiers on our ship and some merchant seaman heading back to the States to bring back Victory ships. There was also a complete draft of R.A.F airmen of which I was one, heading for Canada. We formed up in a convoy of about 10 or 15 ships.
I learned that one of the passenger ships contained a lot of war brides going to Canada. All the destroyers were circling around for the first couple of days forming up the convoy and getting organized.
Then away we went. We followed a zig-zag course. The first day out we had boat drill. We all, (except the wounded soldiers), lined up at our boat stations.
The merchant seaman aboard, drank quite a lot and as a consequence caused a bit of trouble. They wouldn't take orders from service personnel.
When drunk, they broke glasses and eventually some of them had to be put behind bars. As far as the merchant seamen were concerned this voyage was taking them to work, and a thankless job at that. Their destination was New York to pick up a few of the Victory ships that were made there. The Victory ships were being used for aircraft carriers at that time.
A couple of days later off the coast of Ireland we had a warning that submarines were in our area. Everybody had to put on lifejackets and stand by their quarters. Nothing came of it. We watched the destroyers circling around, whistling and hooting to one another.
The following day a strong wind came up and eventually we got into a bad storm creating huge waves. It was quite a thing to see these destroyers, one minute away down inside a trough of the waves and the next sitting on top of a wave above us. Then we were down, and they were up, above us.
One night, for some reason we never did learn, we left the convoy and headed south. A couple of days later the weather started to warm up. The merchant seamen told us we were heading for Bermuda, but our course changed again and we learned later it was toward Halifax. We were a lone ship. No convoy around or anything.
When we arrived at Halifax and tied up at the docks there was quite a crowd waiting, many of them were wives of the returning wounded soldiers. They were really happy to see our ship come in. Apparently we were considered to be missing. There had been complete radio silence and they thought we had been sunk.
Most of our R.A.F. draft boarded a train and headed for 41 S.F.T.S, Weyburn, Saskatchewan. I remember as we went across the prairies, all the R.A.F fellows were looking out the train windows for Indians. We Canadians were saying "Watch it fellows. Any time now we are going to be attacked."
I was at Weyburn for only two weeks and then transferred to 32 O.T.U. at Patricia Bay, on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. It was a real nice posting for me, only a few miles from Brentwood Bay and the home I'd left behind in 1938 to join the R.A.F. I could go home every week-end. In fact after my wife arrived from England we lived in Brentwood Bay until the 21st of March, 1944. I played on an R.A.F. basketball team we formed at Pat Bay and I sure enjoyed it.
I was later transferred back to the U.K. and sailed from Halifax on the S.S. Andes, a luxury ship that had been converted into a troop carrier. It was a very fast ship, doing around 25 knots. We sailed unconvoyed. There were about 30 of us in the draft and we were told we were to be allotted special duties aboard the ship. Some fellows were put on security, some in the galley, others to a variety of other jobs. My job was in stores, working with the storekeeper and the purser.
With the exception of the ships captain and some high-ranking officers, no one aboard was allowed liquor. I was popular with the lads, because when the liquor came back from the officers' mess there was always a little bit left in each bottle. I used to pour the contents into a small flask I owned. After a couple of days the flask would be quite full. I would take it down to the hold and we had a little bit of a party on the sly.
It was a very nice trip over, especially for me working in the stores, eating with the crew. The rest of the poor fellows aboard ship had to eat the mess doled out to them. We arrived at Liverpool, without incident.
I was posted to 78 M.U. Laugharne, about 15 miles northwest of Swansea. 78 M.U. was like a wrecking unit actually, like a scrapyard. Our job was to go out and pick up wrecked aircraft. We then removed the good parts and marked them to indicate they were serviceable, and re-stocked them. They were then sent out to the different aerodromes as required. My stay at 78 M.U. was short-lived.
My next posting took me to B.P.S.D Hqrtrs. B.P.S.D stands for British Personnel Special Duties. It was situated at Havant, a little village near Portsmouth. It was a holding unit. Scores of different military units were assembling, just a part of the gigantic preparations for D-Day. Our work was more or less security. Everything was top secret and very hush hush. We had to patrol and make sure that no one skipped out; that everyone was there when they were supposed to be there.
The only exciting part of that place was the buzz bombs. Jerry must have had our area pinpointed because he sent them over nearly every evening and some of them dropped pretty close. It was quite hairy to listen to a buzz bomb come across. You could hear them coming in the distance, the sound increasing putt, putt, putt, PUTT - PUTT - PUTT and you could sometimes see them. Then the PUTT - PUTT sound would stop and you counted to 10 and BOOM! off they would go.
After D-Day, about the 18th of September, 1944, I was transferred to 6125 Service Echelon, an aircraft repair depot at Coltishall, near Norwich, in Norfolk. I was attached to a Mosquito squadron whose job was to fly at high altitude and take photographs of the area to be bombed. The Mossie carried no guns. The fuselage and wings were highly polished for speed on which it depended to get back safely. The Mosquito was also used to chase buzz bombs that were fired over England. Originally they flew up behind the buzz bomb and shot them down. However, the aircraft doing the shooting had to fly through the flak from the exploded buzz bomb and suffered considerable damage.
A new method was developed that was considered to be easier. They met the buzz bomb halfway over the channel flew alongside and then tipped the wing of the buzz bomb with the wing of the Mosquito and threw them off balance and off course. The gyro would go out of action and the buzz bomb would dive into the channel and explode there. Tipping the wing of the buzz bomb caused varying degrees of damage to the wing tip of the aircraft and our riggers were always complaining about having to put new wing tips on the Mosquitoes.
By the 23rd of February, 1945, my six years service in the R.A.F. was up and I was able to take discharge and transfer into the R.C.A.F. I was posted to Six Group Bomber Command at Middleton-St. George, and attached to the Ghost and Moose Squadrons, 419 and 428. They were flying Lancasters. I had just arrived at Middleton-St. George and had booked in to the guard room. They directed me to my barracks so I put my kitbag on my shoulder and started walking down the road. Up ahead I see an officer, a Wing Commander, coming towards me. I still smile to myself when I picture it. He had his left hand in his pocket and his right hand held a pipe in his mouth. He was puffing away as he approached. Just out of the R.A.F.(and its discipline), I naturally gave him a smart salute as I came alongside of him. It was obvious he wasn't expecting it. He scrambled to remove his left hand from his pocket, take the pipe from his mouth and quickly transfer it to his left hand. He gave me a funny sort of look and returned my salute and kept on walking. I looked at him over my shoulder. He was standing on the road looking back at me. It seemed like I was the first person who had saluted him in that camp.
The next morning I reported to the Engineering Officer in the hangar. I remember walking into his office. He was sitting with his feet up on his desk while he smoked a cigarette. I saluted him. He just said, "Sit down Corporal." That was my introduction into the R.C.A.F.
It certainly was a lot different than being in the R.A.F. I don't think there was much discipline. We never saluted very much, that's for sure.
After VE-Day I was returned to Canada and discharged on the 24th September 1945, at Jericho in Vancouver.
In 1949 I rejoined the RCAF, signed on for five years and was stationed at Sea Island until 1951. I was transferred to 434 Squadron, Uplands, Ontario as crew chief on Sabres (jets). A few months later I was posted to 410 Squadron, North Luffingham, England. Shortly thereafter I was sent down to Transport Command and to de Havilands, just outside of London to take a course on the de Haviland Comet. The R.C.A.F had ordered two of them. After completion of the course I went to Heathrow airport London, for pre flight familiarization modifications of the Comet before they were accepted into the R.C.A.F. I was crewman on the first comet back to Canada.
It was around June, 1953 that I arrived back in Uplands and I stayed with the Comet Squadron until I took my discharge in October, 1954.
----- David Lloyd George Evans
Copyright 2001 Ken Stofer, All Rights Reserved
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