All posts by Planecrashgirl

It has been a busy start to the year. Between preparing a presentation in absentia for the Society for Historical Archaeology Conference in Boston, preparing an abstract for the Canadian Archaeological Association Conference in May, #stormageddon, and preparing a talk for the Newfoundland and Labrador Historical Society (February 22, 2020, 7:30pm at Hampton Hall, Marine Institute, St. John’s, NL. Free admission, all are welcome) it has been hectic. But, I always take on too many projects.

A black and white image of a crashed aircraft in a bog with a line of trees in the background.
Text reads:
Aviators and Airfields, Aviation Archaeology Work in Newfoundland and Labrador by Lisa M. Daly
Newfoundland and Labrador has seen many events in aviation history, some of which have been historically significant, such as the plane crash that killed Sir Frederick Banting in 1941. Other events involved early aviators trying to set and beat records, or men delivering aircraft and supplies and keeping convoys safe during the Second World War.
For this talk, Lisa Daly looks at recent aviation archaeology conducted in Newfoundland and Labrador. She focuses on the aviation material culture of the province, the reasons for conducting this type of archaeology, and the activities of various communities in recording a protecting sites. Archaeologists in this province have been leading the way in the relatively new field of aviation archaeology.
Thursday, 27 February 202 at 7:30pm
Hampton Hall, Marine Institute, St. John's, NL
Free admission, everyone welcome!
Presented by the Newfoundland and Labrador Historical Society

It isn’t very often that I can easily share a book that I’m reviewing, but this book is available through the Digital Archives Initiative and Memorial University of Newfoundland, so if you would like to read it yourself, or look at all of the pictures, you can find it here.

I received a well-worn copy of Per Ardua…: A Pictorial History of RCAF, Torbay from a Nelson Sherren as part of a collection of papers and books a couple of years ago. This text was part of his research into the Torbay Airport, a manuscript I am still editing in the hopes to fulfil his dream of publication.

This short book was published in 1944 with sponsorship from the station fund for the exclusive use for personnel of RCAF Station Torbay and features the photographs of Jack Speare and his photography staff. The book does not focus on text, but shares a number of photographs of Torbay from early ground breaking to the height of the Second World War, and is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in historical photography as well as aviation history.

Three black and white photos. Top left is a man walking, knee-deep in the snow toward his surveyor's level. Small scrubby trees are visible. Top right is a muddy, possibly frozen terrain and two surveyor's and their level in the distance. Bottom left is a drainage ditch that is being dredged. Machinery is visible in the distance and a couple of boards are in the water in the foreground.
Early surveying and construction at Torbay

Of course, as the text is sponsored by the RCAF and published during the war, it is very positive about the establishment and operation of the airport, and stresses the need for it to be built. That said, it even makes “months of bog-slogging, hacking through heavy underbrush, and squinting through freezing transists and levels” to survey and plan the airport in the winter of 1940/1 sound like an adventure. The construction company, McNamara Construction Co. moved in with 450 workers who worked day and night, concentrating on the runways, to get the base operational. G.M. Cape Co. worked on the buildings once the runways were surfaced.

A snowy scene where cars and trucks have snow up over their tires. Buildings are on the right of the picture, and have snow built up around the doors. In the middle of the picture, snowclearing equipment are working.
Snow in Torbay

Though lighthearted, the book also covers the seriousness of the situation. An anecdote about a nose-hangar collapsing and damaging one of the aircraft was later mocked by Lord Haw Haw, part of German propaganda, mentioned the hangar as being poorly built on his radio show. The book doesn’t say who might have leaked the information, but, with everyone on high alert, a trapper was fired upon, and from then on, trapping was banned from the area.

A aircraft is back on to the photo with its nose in a small hangar. The hangar just covers the nose, leaving the wings outside of the structure.
A hangar like the one refered to by Lord Haw Haw

This isn’t a long book, really just magazine sized, and does feel a lot like the publications that were coming out of Gander, but a little broader as it was covering many years of RCAF Torbay and the publications in Gander were coming out multiple times a year, so would have some historical information now and then, but would mostly focus on the current happenings (much like the sports section in this one). It does show that there were many of the same kinds of activities at Torbay as at Gander, such as picnics and swimming by the late (here Windsor Lake, there Gander Lake), dances (and finally found the source for a photo that shows up in many later publications), bands, a theatre, library, and debates. Torbay did have it much easier compared to Gander, where it was a much shorter trip into St. John’s, whereas on leave, those from Gander would go to Grand Falls, all the way to St. John’s, or in the case of the Americans, Corner Brook to go to the USO. In St. John’s, the publication praises the bacon and eggs, and the chocolate cake with whipped cream at the Blue Puttee (near Rawlin’s Cross). While much of the talk of St. John’s and surrounding areas as that tinge of condescension that many of these publications carry, the excitement of shipments of oranges and coal coming in to the harbour, of the meagre pebbly fields. While I like this line, it does paint Newfoundland as lesser: “We have come to respect the people’s feeling for this strong land that is not easily loved, their sturdy pride, which makes them desire to create their salvation themselves.”

A group of five Newfoundland men talking in a circle, with one looking at the camera. They are wearing long, heavy coats and salt n' pepper caps. The caption from the book reads: "Rugged faces of seafarers."

This publications does treat the WDs as invaders to the male space of the servicemen. This is also common in these publications, but the RCAF ones seem to like to have their glamour shots of women. The book actually bemoans the WDs arriving at Torbay because the servicemen had to stop swimming in the nude at Windsor Lake (also the city’s water supply). The section devoted to the WDs makes it sound like their only role is planning and providing entertainment, and their goal is marriage, ignoring the clerical work, and even the nursing, that women did at RCAF Torbay. Many classes were offered, and while the pictures show both men and women attending a typing class, it seems implied that most classes were for the men, except cooking and sewing which is specifically for the WDs. That said, one woman does get special mention, LAW Galliot, as she taught the French classes, something important as many servicemen and women from Quebec served in Newfoundland and Labrador because it was not considered to be overseas.

Two photos. Top right is an unnamed outport. In the right foreground is a dock with a small fishing boat. In the back centre is a white float plane with two people standing on the wings and a dory trailing behind it. The photo on the left is of two servicemen on either side of a female nurse who is folding a baby. They are sitting in a dory with a woman who is lying down.
An unnamed outport and a first air party helping a local woman and her child.

Of course, this, like other publications that were likely to be sent home to family or kept as keepsakes, focus on the positive. There is a brief mention of the Knights of Columbus fire, something which would have been devastating to RCAF Torbay, and of missing aircraft, but the focus very much on the light and happy day-to-day activity of the airbase: the dances, the church services, the visiting celebrities, trips around the Avalon. Such publications give so much insight into the down times while incident reports and logs discuss the actual work of the base. Sports were a big part of the social life, usually with friendly competition between the RCAF and the RCN, with the rare game against the US Army (the Americans won in basketball). The women didn’t get as many sports competitions, as the softball schedule was almost completely rained out!

Three photos. Top left are two women sitting next to a rocky stream. Top right are a group of men and women sitting and lying on the edge of a forest. Bottom are four people next to a waterfall, backed by a rugged cliff. Two women are standing at the base of the waterfall while a man is helping a third woman climb a small pile of rocks.
Exploring the area

As someone who loves going to the library (when I visited Florida a few years ago, I just wandered the library close to where I was staying just to explore it), it was lovely to see that apparently the library at Torbay had the highest circulation of any library in Eastern Air Command! The library averaged about 50 books circulated a day!

Top photo: The library. A wall lined with shelves of books in the background. On man sitting at a desk covered in books is having a book to another man standing on the other side. Bottom photo: A woman is walking between rows of desks as servicemen and women are sitting, working at large black typewriters.
The library and the typing class

The best parts of this book, from a historical perspective, are the photos of early Torbay and talk of the construction of the airbase, as well as the group photos and roll call pages. The group photos have everyone listed, which is a wonderful resource for finding people, and perhaps finding pictures of family members who served.

I have only shared a couple of pictures, so I strongly recommend finding Per Ardua… at the DAI and looking through the wonderful pictures of the construction of, and life at, RCAF Torbay.

A large splash in the ocean, possibly from a depth charge. Next to the image reads: " In peace there is nothing so becomes a man, As modest stillness and humility: But when the blast of war blows in our ears, Them imitate the action of a tiger."
Throughout the sports and leisure, it is remembered that RCAF Torbay was built for war.
Share Button

Captain Charles W. Fairfax “Fax” Morgan of the Royal Navy was the first to arrive on the Digby. A veteran British aviator, he claimed to be the descendant of the buccaneer, Sir Henry Morgan. Most of his family had nautical ties, but he was the first to also take to the air. During the First World War he earned the Distinguished Service Order and the Croix de Guerre for taking down German aircraft. He did take a bullet injury to the leg, leaving him without one leg.  

On the boat ride to Newfoundland, he contracted influenza and was hospitalized. There he had conversations with up and coming journalist Joseph Smallwood, who covered the air race extensively for The Evening Telegram.

Morgan told Smallwood about how he would need flat land for a runway, and Smallwood arranged for the land alongside Quidi Vidi Lake. When feeling well enough, Morgan went traipsing through the snow to inspect the field and found it suitable. enough, although far from perfect He returned to England. As Morgan was the first one to come to Newfoundland to try for find an airfield, it did start a fair bit of speculation in the city about what the air race would mean to Newfoundland.

The aircraft the Raymore surrounded by people examining the aircraft, including a man in a greatcoat and another who looks to be a soldier.
Martinsyde flight, The Rooms VA 123a-20.7

On April 11, 1919, he returned with navigator Frederick “Freddie” Raynham and their Martinsyde biplane named through the combination of the first syllable of each of their last names, the Raymor. Hawker and Grieve were, at this point, in Newfoundland and had just conducted their first flight, with Quidi Vidi claimed, had found their airfield at Glendenning Farm.

Raynham earned his pilot’s license in 1911 at 17, and was issued the 85th aviator’s certificate in Britain. He was inspired when he saw the plane Louis Bleriot used to fly the English Channel. He was the youngest of the aviators in the transatlantic competition, was an accomplished pilot, and might have been the first aviator to get out of a spin alive. He flew Avro planes, then Martinsyde monoplanes in aerial derbies and worked by testing aircraft and giving flight lessons. Often though, he was a common participant in derbies, he often came second to Harry Hawker.

In the lead up to their attempt, Morgan did make public jabs at Hawker and Grieve for their life-saving equipment. Morgan was reported to have said “I’m afraid those lifesaving gadgets are of little use. For myself, I have decided that I may as well take one deep breath if we strike the sea. We will be a very small speck in a big ocean out there.”

The aircraft The Raymor surrounded by men, some of whom are looking into the cockpit.
The Raymor at Quidi Vidi, The Rooms VA 123a-21.6

Morgan was actually one of the most popular of all of the aviators in the race. He would talk to everyone, from poor children to the St. John’s elite. He would joke about his cork leg and would play practical jokes on anyone, but would be a good sport when they would backfire. Morgan would take questions, but also make up lies about the aircraft to tell kids. To tell what sort of characters they were, amongst their crates were some labeled “Aircraft Spares: Handle With Care” which actually held two dozen bottles each of brandy, gin, rum, whiskey, sherry, and port. In light of prohibition in Newfoundland, they decided to bring their own liquid encouragement.

Seven days after the Raymor was uncrated,  Morgan and Raynham were ready to test it. The aircraft was wheeled across the road to their airfield. Local reporters, as well as Hawker and Grieve, were present to see the test. They played up the showmanship of the test, wearing their Burberry flying suits, fleece-line boots, and leopard-shin hats. The test was successful and the aircraft took off at the thirty-seven yard mark.

The aviators had a gentlemen’s agreement to inform the others of their attempts, Hawker, Grieve, Morgan, and Rayhnam all ordred extra sandwiches from the Cochrane Hotel the Sunday after the Nancies had made it to the Azores. The day Hawker and Grieve made their attempt, they made a point of flying over Morgan and Raynham, who were also preparing to take off. Their aircraft had the speed potential to overtake Hawker and Grieve in the Atlantic, so the team rushed to takeoff. The Raymor was fater than the Atlantic, so could have potentially overtook Jawker and Grieve. Given that they were at Quidi Vidi Lake, Morgan and Raynham had a huge crowd of over two thousand had gathered. The aircraft was too heavy with a full load of fuel, 350 gallons of fuel, some food, and letters. Raynham decided that they were going to take off, even though the wind was somewhat behind the aircraft. Because it was now a race with Hawker and Grieve, it was an act of desperation. Just after 4pm that evening, the aircraft was started. With a full load, the aircraft didn’t start to lift off until after 300 yards down the runway. When it started to rise, it was due to hitting a bump, rose, wavered, and plummeted down so hard that the undercarriage buckled. It his a soft spot, and crashed nose first into the field. Raynham cut the engines and fuel supply to prevent fire.

Two unnamed aircraft flying over Quidi Vidi Lake
Aircraft over Quidi Vidi Lake in 1919, The Rooms, VA 157-58

The crowd came forward to help, but Raynham managed to pull himself out. Morgan had to be helped as his cork leg made it more difficult to get out, and he was more injured. Raynham had recieved a blow to the abdomen, was bruised, winded, and had a bleeding nose, which was taken care of on site. At the time of the impact, Morgan had been looking over the side of the plane and the left side of his face was hit. He needed to be supported as he walked away from the plane. He suffered from sock and was taken to the home of Gerald Harvey, where he fainted. He was examined, received stitches in his cheek and two over his eye. His left shoulder and leg were both badly bruised, and he was in great pain. He was blind in one eye, caused by the bruising. There had been a small piece of shrapnel received in the war in that eye, which was unknown to the doctors in Newfoundland. Morgan rested for a few days, and, during this time, he said he planned to return to England, but would return to St. John’s to set up a air service. Unfortunately, doctors prohibited him from every flying again. He left St. John’s, but on his way out, he wrote a letter to the Evening Telegram  praising the place and the hospitality he received. He said “The doctors have run the death knell on my ever flying again, but the Raymor will fly again, and a better man than I am. You will be blessed by seeing her rise again. My heart and thoughts will always be with her.”

After Alcock and Brown made their successful flight, Raynham still wanted to attempt the crossing. He first approached Mackenzie-Grieve to be his navigator, but Grieve declined. Instead, he found Lieutenant Conrad Biddlecombe, a pilot and master mariner, to fly with him. 

The Raymor‘s engine had to be replaced, and much of the aircraft had to be rebuilt. Much of this was done in a garage on the outskirts of St. John’s. The aircraft was renamed the Chimera, and on July 17th, they made another attempt. Hundreds of people came out to see this attempt. At 300 yards, the aircraft skipped into the air, shuddered, caught by a side gust of wind, which caused the wing to dip and touch the group. Raynham righted the aircraft, but it crashed down. The undercarriage, propeller, wing, and fuselage were all badly damaged. This time, neither were hurt, but gave up on the attempt and Raynham caught the first ship he could back to England. The pieces of the aircraft were later shipped back as well.

Article from The Evening Telegram about the Raymor's second attempt and second crash.
The Evening Telegram has a very good description of the Raymore‘s second attempt. 1919-07-18, “Martinsyde Biplane Crashes”

Raynham went back to working with Martinsyde, but in 1920, when the company was in trouble, he started to look for a new job. On 21 March 1920, he set a world speed record of 161.4 miles per hour over a kilometre course, but soon went back to finding himself in second place in many competitions. He even played number two to the main actor in a movie called “The Hawk”. He formed the India Air Survey and Transport Company, working in India and Burma. He and his wide, Dodie Macpherson, moved to the United States, bought a motor home, and wandered for six years until he suffered a heart attack and died in 1954. He is buried in Colorado.

Moon, E.
1959 Air Race From Newfoundland: The Story of the Alock and Whitten-Brown Flight Forty Years Ago. Atlantic Advocate, 49(11): 45-56.
Rowe, P.
1977 The Great Atlantic Air Race. McClelland and Stewart Ltd.: Toronto.
Will, G.
2008 The Big Hop: The North Atlantic Air Race. Boulder Publications: PCSP.

Share Button